A puddle perplexes companion Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) in Doctor Who’s series debut, ‘The Pilot’. This strong opening episode should set the tone for executive producer, Stephen Moffat’s final year at the helm of the TARDIS.
After a year away from our screens, Doctor Who is back and finally, with the closure of Clara’s chapter (about whom fans’ views are mixed), we have the introduction of an intriguing new face to the time-travelling team. The episode’s name, although perhaps tongue-in-cheek, is appropriate because it seeks to establish all the fundamental aspects of the legendary science fiction character in a concise 50-minute timeframe. If this is indeed Moffat’s objective following the tying up of many loose ends in his last couple of series’ then he succeeds amicably in giving himself a positive fresh start.
We meet the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) having taken up a lecturing position at Bristol University of all places. More avid fans may know that this is not the first time the uni has been used a location for Doctor Who as parts of 2012’s ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, where a certain Oswin Oswald is introduced, were filmed around campus. Matt Lucas, who stars as the Doctor’s cyborg helpmate, Nardole (whose comedic quips largely fall flat), dropped out of Bristol in 1995 but received an honorary degree in February. The Time Lord’s lectures are proving popular, despite his teaching poetry when he is contracted to talk quantum physics, which he flippantly equates because of “the rhymes”. Canteen worker Bill is an interested onlooker; thus, their paths inevitably collide and he agrees to become her personal tutor.
The question of Bill’s sexuality, which was revealed in a misleading press release prior to the episode’s airing, was tackled pretty much head on from the start – the episode revolving around an instant attraction between her and an intriguingly melancholic woman. Capaldi’s doctor is never one to pry into the personal lives of those he travels with, so there is no cliched moment of recognition on his part, which plays out very fluidly and naturally.
On the pilot nature of ‘The Pilot’, exposition on is done well overall. The introduction of the TARDIS is highly amusing, with Bill mistaking the blue box for a ‘knock through’ and a lift respectively. Moffat’s comedic strengths shine through when Bill remarks with astonishment that because it is morning now, they must have travelled in time and the Doctor replies, “Of course not, we’ve travelled to Australia!” before flamboyantly revealing the Sydney Opera House behind him.
However, one aspect of the Doctor’s backstory was not handled so elegantly – that of the Time War and his exile from Galifrey. Making the trip to what was presumably the Time Lords’ home world just to make a half-formed point of exposition cheapens the Doctor’s origins, although admittedly it’s always nice to see Daleks, and the watery effect of the sentient puddle’s assuming the antsy battle-tank’s form was also aesthetically satisfying.
Pearl Mackie gives life to an interesting and outspoken character in episode one. If Mofatt restrains himself regarding overly complex plots and contrived resolutions, then this series looks set for success.