Dr. Who is back for season 10 and its first episode, “The Pilot” started things off with a brand new companion, Bill (Pearl Mackie)! Nardole (Matt Lucas) also returns from having appeared in previous Christmas specials to be a regular companion on the series as well. These actors all deliver their roles with top notch flair and skill. Capaldi returns in proper form and style, with a slightly tired and wounded Doctor, having lost Clara, but not his deep passion, newly re-awakened by his “student” (she’s not enrolled) at the university at which he teaches. Pearl Mackie brings an endearing strength, a low-key resilience to a spunky and interesting inner personality and outer appearance. Though I am still having a mental debate over the lesbian overtones. Was it handled tastefully or was it too forward and not subtle enough? I sincerely hope that her sexuality serves a purpose to her character or the plot as the season develops, and she is not gay just to check a box in the ethnicity/sexuality inclusiveness list. And serving as the non-human comic relief and objective viewpoint/reality checker is Matt Lucas as Nardole, whose facial expressions often say more than his succinct and biting remarks. His character is oddly akin to K-2s0, from Star Wars Rogue One and is as entertaining and dry.
This new trio is an interesting mix and works well for several reasons. There no, or rather little sexual tension, between the Doctor and Bill, because of their differing sexuality, which frees them to explore other avenues of the relationship. The relations between the Doctor and Clara and between the Doctor and Amy Pond, or even with Rose or Donna, were rife with romantic overtones and complications, which while exciting at times and fan-girl fodder, mired the exploration of other types of connections and weighted the show with a more trite, melodramatic feel (though those were still great seasons.) I’m looking forward to a deep and loving friendship develop between these two, based on common love of the wondrous and the mysterious. Clara was also inextricably intertwined to the Doctor’s fate, which also weighted their relationship, where this one seems more light-hearted and fun, at least for now, though that could definitely change. Overall, I already like Bill more than the previous companion! Bill’s youth, and inquisitiveness are as keen as her observational skills (she notices the TADRIS OVER the rug that she gifts him, which you’ll get when you watch) but with less sass or attitude than Clara. She come off as more vulnerable and softer, warmer and more interesting than Clara, and seems to summon these traits out of the Doctor, as he forgets his heavy promise and morose duty from the previous season, abandons his guard of the vault, and launches off into another adventure. responds by awakening his own similar traits.
This episode does a great job thematically as well. It is full of themes of loss and off moving on, as the Doctor has lost Clara and must find a way to move on, and does with Bill. Bill has lost her mom and is stuck in a lame job and in life and must try to move on, and they find their paths forward with each other. This also hints at end of Peter Capaldi’s tenure as the Doctor, as we will need to move on from him at the end of the season! The Doctor definitely rediscovers his love for travelling after staying in one place for 50 years, which is reflected in Bill noting her school crushes’ musing that “No matter where I go I just want to leave.”
Snapshots and staying still are also a theme, as the Doctor, while giving a lecture notes that time is just a series of moments, snapshots, that don’t move, but when you put them next to each other, they appear to move. This reflects the difficulty of moving forward in life for both characters, as they are stuck in one frame and need to somehow move to the next, and not just appear to move there. Also of interest is that the Doctor appears reflected in a mirror in a snapshot of Bill’s mother, which the Doctor himself took! So he knew her mother? A mystery already abounds…
The plot is your standard Doctor who fare: The companion gets chased by an alien (in this case a sentient, liquid component of a spaceship left behind on Earth, trying to leave the planet, but without a pilot or a passenger [Read: Doctor and Companion]) and the Doctor nerds and spazzes his way into a confrontation in which he out thinks the alien, reveals it to be not evil but just lonely, and then Bill manages to convince it to let go. So much theme! In doing so together, the Doctor and Bill are able to convince each other to leave behind their losses and move on, out of the snapshot so to speak, and move forward together. The Daleks also make a guest appearance as the Doctor tries to use them, in vain, to destroy the liquid pilot. But the Daleks have to be there. Because Dr. Who.
This episode had great cinematography and locale selection. It also had great special effects except that water effects on the pilot looked CGI-ish sometimes. Overall it did an amazing job of re-invoking the wonder of meeting the Doctor and his world and at making the old feel new again.We see the Doctor fresh again through the new, youthful, optimistic eyes of Bill (though she has hidden wisdom and pain under the surface) and in seeing him that way, the Doctor is able to see himself in that way again a bit, too.