It’s finally here! After 16 months (excluding last year’s Christmas and the entirety of Class) Doctor Who is back without Clara! Yes!
It’s been so long since a new companion I actually had to rewatch the Bells of St John to remind myself of the last time a companion got introduced. To be precise, it’s been over 4 years, which is why The Pilot is so refreshing and feels so new.
As usual, this will contain spoilers, so definitely watch the episode first before reading.
Compared with the Bells of St John (which is a stupider title let’s be honest) this is a much more subtle affair. There’s no massive mystery surrounding Bill and the action is subdued for the first half. It’s more comparable to Rose or Partners in Crime, where the dynamic between the Doctor and the companion take centre stage over the alien plot.
I’ve complained in the past how many Capaldi era villains (Skovox Blitzer, moon spiders, Fisher King, Lenny the Lion and to an extent the Veil) have had no impact on the plot, been sidelined or are underwhelming. Here, I’m willing to let the lacklustre villain aside as there was a clear focus on reintroducing the world of Doctor Who and introducing the new companion. I will not be so kind on this week’s Emojibots if they end up being as stupid as some people think they will be.
So what about the rest of the story? Well, obviously this is Bill’s first story and in 50 minutes I already like her more than Clara. To be fair, I liked Nardole in one Christmas Special more than Clara and it’s pretty easy for me to like a companion more than Clara. Bill is the complete opposite of Clara, who was incredibly unrelatable as time went on and essentially became the Doctor by Series 9. Here however, we have a companion who is completely normal with a normal life and with no big mystery surrounding her, which is great. She’s a combination of Donna and Ace (my two favourite companions after Sarah Jane) and I like the fact that the Doctor acts like a father figure to her like the First, Third and Seventh Doctors were to their companions. This is the dynamic we should have gotten with Clara, and it’s a shame Peter Capaldi is leaving this year so this dynamic may be lost (depends who the new Doctor is).
Nardole returns yet again, and once again proves that a bit of comedy is never a bad thing. He and the Twelfth Doctor have very good physical comedy and character beats that remind me of the Second Doctor and Jamie. It’s clear from this episode that Nardole now acts as the Doctor’s conscience, as shown when he tells Bill “He doesn’t see the tears”. He doesn’t appear to be in the next one, so I can only assume he’s staying behind at the university to guard the vault, which seems to be the story arc of the series. Many people, including myself I’ll admit, were hesitant about Nardole’s presence in the series, but from his two stories as a companion I’m very happy with what I’ve seen. I loved the call back to Robots of Death when he explains the TARDIS dimensions to Bill and his “Wa-hay” when Bill says the famous line that all companions say when they first see the TARDIS.
Another great thing about this story is that I actually got scared. Whilst the monster isn’t the most original concept (the Flood and the Midnight Entity come to mind as similar concepts) the scene where Bill is trying to figure out who’s in her house and she sees an eye in the shower plug was genuinely creepy and I had my knees up to hid the screen. My mum thought it was too scary, but that’s the point of Doctor Who in a way. As someone with fond memories of being scared of the werewolf, the faceless granny, the Empty Child, Weeping Angels, the Flood and the Silence, I think it’s great that a new generation have their own behind the sofa moments.
I’ll admit that I think the chase portion of the episode was the weakest aspect. We have a random trip to (CGI) Australia, a BBC quarr- I mean an alien planet and a war between the Daleks and Movellans (Steven Moffat has just outdone the Macra in Gridlock with “random Classic Who” villain returning. What next? The Malus?). This aspect of the episode is entertaining, it’s just a bit random and I wish the whole episode was in the university where the dark lighting could have kept the creepy tone throughout. On the subject of the Daleks, I think this confirms the popular belief that the Daleks have to be used every year otherwise the BBC use the rights (they appeared in the LEGO Batman Movie though so maybe the BBC do own them). Their appearance is very brief, even briefer than their cameos in Waters of Mars and Wedding of River Song, and are just there to add another scene to the plot. That said, I’d rather have a brief cameo than a rushed Dalek story taking up a slot in the series. I just hope Chris Chibnall uses them well.
Despite all this, the story was not the focus for this episode, and what it focused on worked very well. The new TARDIS team is great, the story arc is intriguing (how Missy, the Monks, the John Simm Master, the Mondasian Cybermen and possibly the Landlord fit into all this I don’t know) and it’s just great that Doctor Who is finally back on consistent schedule (I say consistent but this week’s episode may be delayed due to football. If that happens heads will roll). Introductory stories are never the best, but they’ve all been good, and The Pilot continues that trend.
Onto Smile, the episode with the Emoji Bots. Let’s hope it’s better than In the Forest of the Night…