A good start to a new season, a good reintroduction after a long break, and a good jumping-on point for new viewers.
The focus of this episode, of course, is new companion Bill Potts. She immediately jumps onto the screen full of life, full of promise, and full of spunk. One feels like one has known her forever; she’s a character that instantly connects with the viewer in much the same way Rose or Martha did. When we meet Amy, it takes a while for us to get to know her because we first meet her as a child and not as the woman who will be traveling with the Doctor. And to be perfectly honest, little Caitlin Blackwood made such an incredible impression in the first half of “The Eleventh Hour” that the transition into grown-up Amy seemed a tad awkward. With Clara, our first three meetings are essentially as different characters, and she was more or less treated as just a plot point for her first season. “The Pilot” takes the very welcome step of going “back to basics” with the companion – even Sophie Aldred posted on her Facebook wall “I ♥ Bill!!” When you get the Ace stamp of approval, that’s pretty high praise. Pearl Mackie gives a very grounded, very realistic, very charming performance as Bill. So far, at least, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly special about Bill other than her inquisitive nature, and that’s enough for me. I don’t need her to become the most important woman in the universe or an impossible girl or any of that. I’m very much looking forward to seeing more of Bill and what she brings to the show and to the Doctor’s life.
On the subject of companions, let’s talk about Nardole for a sec. I absolutely love that the show basically slid a new companion under the door with no fanfare, no explanation – he just sort of started tagging along. All this time we’ve been saying that we want something other than a hot modern day Earth girl. An alien would be nice. Or someone from a different time period. Or a male. Someone who’s not the most important being in the galaxy. We basically got all of those things without (at first) even realizing we were getting it. It’s a very sly move, and I find it incredibly refreshing.
And Peter Capaldi … in what we already know is his final season. He was utter perfection in this episode. In his first season, he was a bit grumpy, definitely crusty, cantankerous old coot with flashes of charm and warmth – and I loved him for it. In his second season all that gets tempered by casting him in the role of aging rocker, someone who is uber-hip but slightly out of his own time. And now we see him as the eccentric lecturer, who intends to present a talk on quantum physics but instead talks about poetry because the two things are essentially the same. This teacher role, and this university setting, is perfect for Capaldi and casts him and Bill in “Educating Rita” roles, very reminiscent of the Fourth Doctor and Leela. Since about this third episode, Capaldi has been far and away my favorite of the modern Doctors, and that affection has continued to grow. I will miss him very much when he leaves.
The parts of the story that revolve around Bill, Nardole and the Doctor are lovely and perfect. But once we get away from that the episode starts to show some weakness. The featured monster of the week is nothing special, and it’s far too similar to both the “Waters of Mars” creatures and the “Midnight” entity (in the way it parrots Bill’s words).
We never really know anything about it, and it basically gets “defeated” just by being told to go away. Now, I know that the whole point of the episode was to introduce Bill and that’s where the emphasis was, but surely that could be hung on a slightly more substantial framework.
Apparently, we have our story thread for this season, something to do with a vault and the Doctor’s concern that the water monster was interested in what’s inside it (fortunately, it wasn’t, it just wanted to kill the Doctor and his friends). So what’s inside it? What is the Doctor hiding? What is this promise that the Doctor has made? And more intriguing to me … in the room where the vault is, there was an old wooden board with the words “Mary Celeste” on it. What’s that all about? Is that just some innocuous debris, a random prop just to dress the set? Or is that a clue to something later in the season, a hint that we were supposed to notice and wonder about? It seems too specific for it not to be the latter. The Doctor has, as us old-timers know, encountered the Mary Celeste before, and in an episode with Daleks, no less (“The Chase”, 1965). Surely this doesn’t tie into that.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable episode built around a very derivative and pointless monster. But that’s okay – because what this episode intended to do was introduce us to a new companion and to establish a relationship between her and the Doctor – and it did both of those things beautifully. And gives us Daleks, Movellans(!), a collection of old sonics, and quick shots of River Song and Susan to boot! Will these two emphasised glimpses of Susan lead to something later in the season? Only time will tell!
Coming up next: Emoji Robots!
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