Series Ten, Episode One — “The Pilot”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. In a pleasantly straight-forward premiere, Pearl Mackie makes her TV debut as Bill Potts, the new companion to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. And what a fantastic debut it was – Bill instantly charms with her quick wit, sincere demeanor and innate curiosity. In Bill, The Doctor has found a logical and no-nonsense associate, refreshingly devoid of sexual tension as it’s made immediately clear that Bill prefers young human women to aging professorial aliens.
There may also be familial implications in The Doctor’s motivation for choosing Bill. When she asks him “Why me?”, his eyes linger on the photo of his granddaughter (Susan Foreman, companion to the First Doctor) before returning to Bill. “I noticed you,” he explained, in his heavy, full-of-burdensome-secrets sort of way. Could this, compounded with Bill’s foster care upbringing, imply she is a Time Lord descendant?
Also, there’s something different about The Doctor this season. He’s softer, kinder, and visibly weighs his words before talking to Bill. What’s this? A Doctor who thinks before he speaks?
The Christmas celebration between The Doctor and Bill was such a brief and simple scene on the surface, but was rife with some undeniably important character-building. It gave us a great sense of Bill being disconnected from her past, and how she’s content to fill in the blanks how she sees fit. But we also saw a brand new side of The Doctor – one that treads lightly around human emotion. Steven Moffat mentioned that the episode’s title, “The Pilot”, referred not just to the featured creature, but to the series undergoing a bit of a reboot. Pushing the reset button on your final season seems like an odd maneuver (one that smacks of control), but I’ve come to trust Moffat’s madness in recent years.
Fear not – some things will always remain the same. The episode closes with a run-in with everyone’s favorite extermination-happy villains (though, when Bill asks where they are, The Doctor is quick to say “In the past!”). How could one pull off a perfect Doctor Who premier without at least a glimpse of the most powerful evildoers in the Whoniverse? With a new vitality and a brand new companion, “The Pilot” provided the sweet promise of a terrific final season of Capaldi and Moffat.
“I fatted her.” – Bill
“I’m very particular about time.” – The Doctor.
“Doctor What?” – Bill
“Everywhere I go I just want to leave.” – Heather
Bill: “Why do you run like that?” Doctor: “Like what?” Bill: “Like a penguin with his arse on fire?”
“Hey, hey! We got there!” – Nardole, when Bill (finally) remarks that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside.
BEST MOMENT: As always, the big reveal of the TARDIS to a new companion is top-notch, and this one didn’t disappoint. The Doctor had clearly been dying for this moment, and could barely contain his bravado. The music swelled as he pontificated over how the TARDIS is the gateway to all that is and was and ever can be, turning his back for effect and waiting for Bill’s swooning reaction… at which point she compared his beloved ship to a kitchen and a lift, and asked to use the loo. Her initial wonder was quickly overcome, and The Doctor was left to recalibrate his expectations.
EPISODE’S MVP: Pearl Mackie absolutely nailed her first episode. She has a fantastically expressive face, and makes larking around with The Doctor just seem so… natural. Why is it so easy to immediately fall in love with this companion? The Doctor summed it up when he noted, “Most people, when they don’t understand something, they frown. You… smile.”
– Clues to how Nardole is back up and ambling around post-decapitation lie in his squeaky creaky movements, and some hardware falling off of him. Just how did The Doctor put ol’ Frumpty Dumpty back together again?
– While Rose’s theme had hints of darkness and loss and Clara’s broke our hearts with wistful notes, Bill seems to have a rather jaunty, pleasant tune to accompany her entrances. We are turning a new page with this companion.
– Speaking of uncharted melodic territory, the montage of The Doctor’s lecture on time and Bill’s encounter with Heather was set to Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. Pop music is an extremely rare addition to Doctor Who, and such a song sets the stage for heartbreak in Bill’s future (far more than this episode’s mix-up with a waterlogged undead alien).
– 23 billion years into the future looks like a glittery Space Utah.
– In one of the final shots, Bill is framed next to a picture of River Song, with their oversized features and curly locks echoing each other more than coincidentally.
– Clara’s theme comes lilting through as The Doctor decides not to wipe Bill’s memory after all. It was a deeply sad moment, and one that makes us wonder how aware he is of his own amnesia.
9 out of 10
Next: “Smile”, in one week.
Before: “Hell Bent”, here.