After a long hiatus, BBC’s Doctor Who returns to our screens for a whole new series. With Peter Capaldi set to step down from his role at the end of this season and a new companion to ground in – the pressure is on for Moffat to deliver a solid ending to one of the shows more loved Doctor’s. Did ‘The Pilot’ deliver, or was it a case of crash course?
The Pilot was an interesting outing for Doctor Who as a show. It landed a number of mystery’s into the mix and asked the audience to ponder on all of them – with mixed results across the board. Clearly Moffat intends for his tenure as showrunner to end in a hail of fan-service and strong storytelling. On both counts he delivered this week, but sets up a number of questions about how the show will be moving forward through Capaldi’s (and his) final season.
The main interest this season seems to come from the mystery around The Doctor and his decision to remain fixed in one location. What’s in that vault he’s been protecting? It seems as though this will be the question we return to throughout the series, with no real answers thrown up right now. On the one hand, I’m happy the show is playing with the idea of The Doctor remaining on Earth for extended periods again. On the other, I’m aware that Moffat’s answers to riddles he poses generally tend to be underwhelming. If he wants to give Capaldi and himself the sendoff both deserve – he’ll have to make sure this doesn’t collapse under the weight of expectation (See: everything involving Matt Smith’s overall arc as a Doctor).
That being said, the water monster (The Pilot’s defacto baddies) weren’t much cop. Their presence looked menacing and the way they were used invoked a genuine sense of horror. But by the time we’d reached the episodes conclusion, it became clear that their initial veneer had washed away. Bills connection to the monster allowed for some deeper pondering of thoughts, but it all felt slightly shallow in the grander scheme. That’s part of the problem with these season opener episodes – they have to serve the new companion over getting themselves over. Shame really, but that’s the price of getting Bill on board I guess.
One huge positive of all this though is Pearl Mackie’s Bill – who feels like a huge step forward from recent companions. Well written and excellently portrayed, it was easy to root for her character throughout. Her instant connection to Capaldi made the transition easy, with Bill straddling the line between clueless and emotional just right. The key to her character will be retaining that sense of open eye wonder and excitement without relegating her to the Doctor’s moral compass. This arguably is why Clara became so unbearable towards the end – so it’ll be interesting to watch her develop and see where her relationship with Capaldi goes.
I’m not so sold on Matt Lucas’s Nardole though. The returning assistant gets a few laughs in here and there, but mostly seems to act as comic relief foil. I wouldn’t mind this, but he adds next to nothing to the ongoing plot, instead existing as an extra voice to chip in a joke. We need to see him doing something other than being the excuse for a cheap joke here and there. Here’s hoping that this isn’t the extent of his contribution this season – otherwise his appearances may begin to grate.
Overall it was a solid return for Doctor Who, if slightly lightweight. The Pilot wasn’t a huge triumphant return but more a quiet reminder that sometimes, Doctor Who as a show works best when it’s delivering on the character moments. Bill feels like a grand addition to the roster of characters and I’m keen to see more of her. The addition of fan service moments (River’s picture, Daleks) will help to mask some of the episodes more awkward issues for most fans, who will be glad to see the show finally firing on all cylinders again.
Roll on Series 10 we say!