The eras of Doctor Who‘s 50-plus year history are not so much measured by who was The Doctor, as much as who was the companion, especially during the new series. As the tenth season begins, The Doctor takes on a new companion, Bill, for a brand new adventure that may have you steering clear of puddles for a while. Meet me after the time and space jump for my thoughts on “The Pilot.”
Since his extended “honeymoon” with River Song, we find The Doctor not traveling as is his usual modus operandi, but once again staying in one spot. The wanderlust that infected the Jon Pertwee Doctor while he was exiled to Earth has long worn off. I guess between Darillium and Trenzalore, The Doctor has developed a taste for staying put.
We find him as a professor at a university where no one seems to notice he’s been there for decades. If that idea sounds familiar, it’s a nod to Douglas Adams’ unproduced Who serial “Shada.” There are lots of Easter eggs like that in this episode, including photos of River and granddaughter Susan on his desk, and the “out of order” sign on the TARDIS in the corner of his office as in the Pertwee days.
We open on an interview, almost an audition. Bill Potts, played by Pearl Mackie, beyond being the first openly gay companion (pansexual Captain Jack Harkness doesn’t count), is a breath of fresh air after years of Clara. Before the episode aired, there seemed to be a lot of hate for her, but I like her. And she likes chips, so this French fry expert has her back.
Bill has been attending The Doctor’s lectures while not a student so he takes her on as her personal tutor. We know what he’s doing, however; he’s auditioning a companion. Notably this would be the first one the Peter Capaldi Doctor has taken on himself, so he’s being selective and careful, knowing the dangers involved.
Strange Doings at the University
While Bill plows through term papers, lectures, and making chips, she also hooks up with a woman named Heather who has a star defect in her eye—more on her later. Bill also follows The Doctor and Nardole to a secret room with a vault. Whatever is in this vault is what’s keeping The Doctor in one place.
The vault looks as if it could have Gallifreyan writing on it or it could just be a fancy design. Either way it’s unclear if The Doctor can or has even opened the vault. He may be guarding it, keeping others out, or keeping something in. Could it be the renegade Time Lord from the aforementioned “Shada”? Or something more sinister?
Just as this new series has made us fear statues, snowmen, and Bluetooths, among other mundane things, writer/showrunner Steven Moffat gives us a monster in the form of water that will have us avoiding puddles for some time. Heather shows Bill a puddle that gives weird reflections. Eventually however the puddle captures Heather, making her “the pilot” of the episode’s title.
The puddle is super-intelligent water that can travel (beyond believability) through time and space, fuel from a crashed ship in need of a pilot. Linked with Heather, who promised not to leave Bill, the creature keeps following her, even as The Doctor takes it in a merry chase to the limits of time and space, and finally to the war between the Daleks and the Movellans. Toldja, Easter eggs a-plenty in this one.
There’s heartbreak when Bill has to let Heather go, but not as much as when The Doctor tries to mindwipe Bill. When she asks how he’d like that done to him we hear “Clara’s Theme” and he doesn’t do it. I’m liking Bill as the anti-Clara. Nardole, however, seems redundant as a comic relief companion. He needs to be more.
While the plot was weak, I really liked this episode, and loved Bill. I enjoyed watching her slowly discover the basics of the Who world, even her almost ridiculous realization about the TARDIS. Her childlike wonder and naive enthusiasm is so refreshing that I’m excited about Doctor Who again. Despite the illogical internet hate, I am 100% Team Bill and look forward to more.