Much has been made about how ‘The Pilot’ is a soft reboot for Doctor Who, and yet it doesn’t feel remarkably different to previous introductory episodes. It feels no different from ‘Deep Breath’, ‘The Bells of Saint John’ or ‘Smith and Jones’. A simple plot and villain served as a backdrop to the introduction of new companion Bill Potts. And what an introduction she has.
Bill is instantly likeable. Kudos to newcomer Pearl Mackie for making Bill feel like a real person. She’s vulnerable and smart and witty and flawed – and she’s perfectly written. Many complaints have been made previously about how Steven Moffat writes female characters, but surely Bill throws any such qualms out of the water. She is just a normal person.
Just look at her driving motivators. She’s parentless (a recurring threat of Moffat’s companions), in a dead-end job, wants to better herself, and she’s struggling to manifest her identity. It’s always nice to have a human connection back home, and even if Bill’s foster mother Moira isn’t overtly caring, this will act as the tie that allows the story to thread back to Earth in coming stories. Bill is similar to Rose in that she comes from a working-class family and has little education. But Bill appears very happy with the life that she has. Whilst she wants to learn she doesn’t feel as though there’s anything wrong with working in a cafe dishing out chips – because there categorically isn’t. But it takes the Doctor to allow her to realise that there is more to life than chips… again, harkening back to the introduction of Rose.
‘The Pilot’ threat – a killer puddle – acts much in the same way as Prison Zero back in ‘The Eleventh Hour’. It’s a threat that isn’t particularly important. One that is only there to allow the new companion to have their eyes opened. But the unnamed villain here works well in that it allows the show to portray Bill’s much-publicised sexuality without making an issue out of it. Because there isn’t an issue with it. Bill happens to like women, but her being a lesbian isn’t even factored into ‘The Pilot’. Whilst there are numerous references to this, the Doctor doesn’t even batter his eyes. Like everything else to do with Bill, it is portrayed as normal. Thankfully.
The crush between Bill and Heather is utterly cute and entirely heartbreaking in equal measures. You can’t help but feel for Bill when it appears as though her crush isn’t reciprocated – take the look on her face when Heather calls for her to come and look at the puddle, only for Heather to mysteriously vanish. Bill is visibly saddened, and in turn so is the viewer. And later, at the crux of the story, it’s heart-wrenching to watch Bill reach out for connection from Heather, and in doing so view a glimpse across the cosmos.
Bill is struggling to openly show her sexuality – in particular, her foster mother is oblivious – but this simple act of holding Heather’s hand, only to have to let go, is spine-tingling. Already there are rumours of Bill only lasting one series, and much has been made about her voiceover in one trailer saying that she wouldn’t miss travelling with the Doctor even if it killed her – but here’s a novel ideal. Why not simply allow Heather to return, and Bill and her to share a life together on Earth. Sometimes simplicity is best – a notion that is prevalent across the entirety of ‘The Pilot’.
Peter Capaldi is snug in the role of his Doctor now, so much so that he appears comfortably in sync with previous appearances. Nothing has changed, and that’s good. It allows the focus to be entirely on Bill. Likewise, whilst Nardole’s appearance is glaringly tacked-on, he isn’t as terrible as many previously thought. Like his last appearance in ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’, Nadole is nicely being fleshed out… even if he is mostly there for the laughs. I have a feeling he is going to come into his own later in the series. It may be controversial, but I’d quite like a Nardole-centric episode akin to ‘The Pilot’ – something to justify his return.
The Daleks need not have appeared. Though the BBC forever deny the claim that the Daleks are contractually obligated to appear each series, it’s very clear that this is the case. They brought nothing to this story. That said, it was nice, if extremely fleeting, to see a battle between the Daleks and the Morvellans, a classic villain from 1979. They’re not the most memorable of villains, but it’s still nice to see them return… even if I would have preferred a more fleshed out story to justify their return.
It’s blink and you’ll miss it, but the war between the Daleks and Morvellans takes place on Gallifrey, as part of the Time War. Just as the Doctor and Bill exit the TARDIS, a Dalek can be heard saying, ‘The Doctor has been detected’, a line that is taken directly from ‘The Day of The Doctor’. This highlights the wondrous nature of Doctor Who in that a plot thread from 2005 – the ever present Time War – can STILL play a part in the narrative some 12 years later. Just as I argued last series about the positive impact of including fleeting references to recurring races, this notion of the Time War recurring allows the entire universe of Doctor Who to appear fully fleshed out. Ultimately it’s just a nice touch to longstanding fans in what has been dubbed a reboot for the show.
Next week’s episode looks utter trash – with the Emojibots killing humans in the distant future – but I’m hoping I’ll be pleasantly surprised. I’m hoping for a miracle, I know.