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Review: Doctor Who – The Pilot
It's that time of year again, TV critic Phil Jones reviews the first episode of Doctor Who's tenth series
Doctor Who is back for its tenth series, this series being plagued by the final appearances of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, and the final series to be written by Stephen Moffat. Despite falling viewing figures and mixed receptions from fans, the past two series have featured as many high points as low. The Pilot continues this trend by featuring a strong introduction for Bill Potts and grounded early moments which fizzle out as the plot becomes slightly too self-involved in typical Steven Moffat fashion.
The grounded approach taken by the opening moments of the episode was a welcome change from the breathless gallivanting of recent series and harked back to the more human approach of the Russell T Davies years. The limited setting of Bristol University allowed for more time to be spent on character moments, meaning by the end of the first half The Doctor and new companion Bill Potts had a fairly firm dynamic built. The Doctor’s antiquarian office was a well-designed set and harked back to Tom Baker’s alternative TARDIS control room.
“By the end of the first half The Doctor and new companion Bill Potts had a fairly firm dynamic built
The episode was based around the threat of a mysterious water-based monster, something which highly suggests Tennant-era episode The Waters of Mars. With the characters seemingly easily able to run from said monster, the character did not carry much menace. This is something which can be forgiven in a series opener however, as this episode was clearly devoted to the introduction of Bill.
Pearl Mackie’s Bill appeared to be a potential nuisance based upon early promotional material, but thankfully appears to be a much less annoying character than was first suggested. Although some of her colloquialisms seem a little like a forced attempt to appeal to a younger audience, Bill does offer something different to Clara and Amy Pond, bringing hints of Donna Noble and classic series companion Ace. It would be unjust to judge the character based upon one episode, but by having Bill just be an everyday person and not the most important person in the universe is a good start. The early scenes in which the mundanity of Bill’s life were highlighted carried an Edgar Wright-esque breathlessness and gave us the most grounded companion since Russell T Davies parted ways as showrunner.
Matt Lucas’ Nardole returned here following his appearance in last year’s Christmas special. The character seems to get slightly less annoying every appearance, but your opinion of him really boils down to whether you enjoy the work of Matt Lucas or not. The lack of explanation for the character’s fate following the 2015 Christmas Special is a constant annoyance however and endemic of the writing of Moffat.
Murray Gold’s music was on top form as always, but one particular scene stood out. In the final moments, where Bill reminds the Doctor that he would not want his memory wiped, a few bars of Clara’s Theme were played in a call back to the Doctor suffering the same fate in relation to his previous companion. Although this moment was touching, I would hope this is the final reference to Clara that we see in the series, as Moffat’s insistence on placing her at the very centre of the universe soured an otherwise entertaining companion.
In terms of references, the episode featured a few treats for fans, with the biggest of these being the photograph of original companion (and granddaughter of The Doctor) Susan Foreman, the first sighting of her since the series’ 2005 revival. Also seen on the desk was wife-of-The Doctor River Song, whose placing seemed less touching and more of a gratuitous inclusion.
Speaking of gratuitous inclusions, the use of The Doctor’s arch nemeses The Daleks in this episode did nothing more than tick a box. The BBC are of course required to use the monsters once per series in order to retain their contract with Terry Nation’s estate, but I do long for the days when one Dalek was seen as a major threat, rather than something to be easily disposed.
“The chemistry between the TARDIS team seems to be good and highly comedic
Overall, this was a decent opening episode. The new companion Bill Potts was given a nice introduction with enough back story to give the character some sense of grounding. The monster was a fairly by-numbers affair but really only existed to create some kind of threat and to give Bill her first intergalactic adventure. The chemistry between the TARDIS team seems to be good and highly comedic, something which may annoy fans of the Doctor’s more serious moments but could carry otherwise empty plots. Doctor Who is back whether you like it or not, and looks set to send Peter Capaldi out on a high.
Watch Doctor Who, Saturdays on BBC1.