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Doctor Who The Pilot

Review by Paul Bowler

[Contains Spoilers]

We’ve had two Christmas Specials and a hiatus between series, but now the waiting is finally over as Doctor Who’s tenth series gets underway with: The Pilot. Worlds collide when the Doctor meets Bill Potts! There’s a girl with a star in her eye, a race across the universe, and old enemies lurk in the shadows as Bill joins the Time Lord and Nardole on board the TARDIS for a whole new series of adventures in time and space!

Even though series ten will be a year of big changes for Doctor Who, with it being Stephen Moffat’s sixth and final year as Doctor Who show runner, and Peter Capaldi final season as the 12th Doctor, The Pilot begins the series’ journey towards a new era with what is effectively a soft-reboot for the series, and of course the introduction of Pearl Mackie as the Doctor’s and Nardole’s new travelling companion – Bill Potts.

If you thought you’d have to wait for series eleven and Moffat’s successor as show runner, Chris Chibnall, to revamp Doctor Who, then you’d be mistaken, as Steven Moffat’s somewhat cheekily entitled series ten premier The Pilot actually turns out to be very effective and refreshing reboot of the series’ overall format. It ticks all the right boxes, there are lots of fun references for long term fans to enjoy, but just as importantly the episode also provides a good jumping on point for new viewers, and serves as a great introduction for the new companion Bill as she becomes embroiled in the Doctor’s madcap timey-wimey adventures.

Pearl Mackie makes a great debut as Bill Potts, a bright, geeky, twenty-something who lives with her foster mum, Moria (Played by Jennifer Hennessy, who also appeared as Valerie in the 10th Doctor story, Gridlock, in 2007), Bill also works at the canteen in at St Luke’s University, in Bristol, where she’s fallen for a girl that she’s been serving extra sized portions of chips to in the canteen. There’s a scene were Bill looks in a box containing old photos of her late mother is also especially touching, it gives us further insight into Bill’s life, and is really well played by Mackie. Of course, The Pilot still has all of the familiar tropes that we’ve come to associate with the series – since its return in 2005 – when a new companion joins the TARDIS: such as a contemporary present day setting, with the explanation for the TARDIS being bigger on the inside than on the outside, and its chameleon circuit malfunctioning Police Box exterior, touching all the necessary bases. Indeed, Bill asks all the right questions, and some rather new and unexpected ones as well! Because of Bill, and in another first in the series‘ history, we also get to learn where the TARDIS toilet is located! While it might take Bill a little while to get to grips with the TARDIS and its amazing interior dimensions, she gets there eventually. Her first moments inside the TARDIS are a joy to behold, and Bill’s introduction makes the Doctor’s world feel all the more richer for her presence as she brings a very real sense of fun, innocence, and wonder along with her.

Naturally, it goes without saying that Peter Capaldi is as superb as ever. The Doctor is now giving lectures at the university, but what is the real reason for his mission on Earth? Capaldi’s eminent Professor becomes Bill’s tutor after he notices her sneaking into his lectures, there’s a great teacher / student dynamic between them, and Pearl Mackie’s scenes with Peter Capaldi are beautifully scripted as the Doctor and Bill explore the mystery of the strange puddle that’s far more dangerous and powerful than anyone could‘ve suspected. Following his appearance in the last two Christmas Specials, Matt Lucas also returns as the alien Nardole, and he’s been helping the Doctor investigate the mysterious Vault they seem to be guarding at the university. Nardole pops up intermittently over the course of the episode, but still has a key role to play, and he gets all the best jokes!

Superbly directed by Lawrence Gough (whose previous television work includes episodes of Misfits, Atlantis, and Endeavour), The Pilot sends the new TARDIS crew on frenetic chase across the world to Australia, before embarking on a voyage to the other side of the universe, and back again. There are a some scary moments with Heather (Stephanie Haym), the mysterious girl with a haunting connection to a liquid spaceship, strange pools of water prove deadlier than they seem, romance blossoms in a war zone, a Dalek battle – featuring the same three minute Friend From the Future scene which was originally shown during half-time of the FA Cup Final last April that announced Pearl Mackie‘s casting as Bill Pott’s – is another highlight and the exciting and emotional finale that will leave you eager to see where the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole’s adventures will take them next.

There are plenty of fun and nostalgic links to past to look out for in this episode as well. The Doctor’s study in the university is reminiscent of Professor Chronotis’ study at Cambridge from Shada (the abandoned story from the Classic series’ seventeenth season in 1979/ 80), framed pictures of River Song and the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan, adorn his desk, there’s even a pot filled with a collection of the Time Lord’s old sonic screwdrivers, and the “Out of order” sign on the TARDIS door is a nice throwback to the one used in The War Machines (1966). The Movellans, a race of robots that waged war on the Daleks, last seen in Destiny of the Daleks ( 1979), also make a blink-and-you’ll-miss- it appearance. The Pilot also has numerous hints towards the modern series as well, especially with its depiction of Bill’s everyday life, which seems reminiscent of Rose Tyler’s introduction in Rose (2005). Most notable though, is when the Doctor attempts to wipe Bill’s memories at the end of The Pilot, which clearly mirrors the moment when the 10th Doctor took Donna Nobel’s memories away to save her life in Journey’s End (2008), but the Doctor’s change of heart and Bill’s subsequent avoidance of this fate uncannily resonates with previous companion Clara’s decision to erase the Doctor’s memories of her during the 2015 season finale: Hell Bent – a point accentuated further by the short inclusion of Murray Gold’s score for Clara’s theme.

But it is the closing moments of The Pilot after the next time trailer for Smile, where the addition of a tantalizing coming soon mini-trailer featuring none other the return of The Master himself, played by John Simm, that really provides the icing on the cake that elevates the excitement surrounding this new series to a whole new level. John Simm’s gave David Tennant’s 10th incarnation of the Doctor a run for his money when he played the Master in 2007’s Utopia, The Sound of Drums, and The Last of the Time Lords, and The End of Time Parts 1 & 2 (Dec 25th 2009 / Jan 1st 2010). Simm’s return is even more thrilling because we also know Michelle Gomez is returning as Missy, so, thanks to the wonders of time travel it looks like Peter Capaldi’s Doctor will be confronting two incarnations of his old nemesis this series. If that wasn’t enough, the coming soon trailer also seems to provide a startling glimpse of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor swathed in even more regeneration energy than we‘ve seen in pervious trailers! Could this momentous event be happening sooner than we think, or are we just being teased?

Posing almost as many questions as it does answers, chiefly the mystery surrounding the vault that the Doctor and Nardole have been watching over at the university and why the Doctor wants to keep his true identity there a secret, The Pilot gets series ten off to a really exciting start. Boasting some impressive special effects, this fast-paced adventure has a decidedly more upbeat tone, along with an energetic sense of fun, and the Doctor even belts out a smattering of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on his electric guitar for good measure too. The Pilot makes the Doctor Who universe feel fresh and invigorated again, a palpable sense of anticipation has built up around this new series, and there is a great rapport between The Doctor, Bill, and Nardole. One things for sure, if the rest of series ten is as good as this episode we are going to be in for one hell of final jaunt around the universe with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor!

Images belong BBC