After a year without Doctor Who, with only half-baked spin-off ‘Class’ to fulfil Who fans’ hunger, the introduction to Series 10 of the modern series was met with anticipation and a starved audience. A year-long hiatus allowed Doctor Who to take a breather and reconsolidate what it wanted to be, and The Pilot certainly delivers a story that, whilst not groundbreaking, offers a solid, vibrant return. Head writer Steven Moffat wanted the series opener to be a jumping on point for people who have never seen Doctor Who before and he succeeds in his endeavour. With little connection to what has followed, we are introduced to the mad world of The Doctor afresh through the eyes of new companion Bill Potts. Indeed, the story has similar vibes to ‘Rose’, the episode that brought back Doctor Who to television in 2005 – with the main thrust of the story centring on a normal, everyday human being with a thirst for something more in their life. Stumbling upon The Doctor and his TARDIS is the magical bread and butter of Doctor Who and it is written as an introductory episode to the show.
The Doctor and returning character Nardole (posing as a lecturer and his helper) have been based at a university for decades attempting to solve the mystery of “The Vault”, which is seemingly this series’ story-arc. During the midst of this mystery The Doctor takes a liking to the ever-curious Bill, who is a canteen worker that sneaks into his lectures. What follows is a threat from a ‘sentient-alien-puddle-thing’ that chases them through time and space.
The plot in ‘The Pilot’ is weak and a bit of fluff to facilitate the introduction of Bill – there’s not much to it all and it undermines the episode. Whilst it’s naturally okay for the plot to take a backseat for character, when you compare it to previous Moffat companion introductions there’s a distinct lack of meat on the bone. Despite this, the light-hearted tone and balanced pacing complements the story. It’s light-hearted without being silly or childish and it’s paced with the right mixture of grounded character development and briskness.
But how is our new companion? Well, wonderful. Instantly charming and likeable, Pearl Mackie delivers a strong confident performance as the new companion – her presence adds to the fresh feeling the episode exudes – swiftly brushing the Clara cobwebs aside with ease. It almost felt surreal watching The Doctor interact with someone new after what felt like an eternity with previous companion, Clara. Bill is characterised well with real emotional depth. She’s curious and open-minded, street-smart, and a little shy. She’s also funny and I appreciated the fact that she makes quips without being annoying and not being superficially ‘sassy’ or ‘feisty’.
Bill made me see the universe anew, a concept that Doctor Who has perhaps been lacking in recent years. Peter Capaldi as The Doctor is in his element and truly owns the role. The episode was light-hearted and had Bill as the primary character but he utterly shone here, stealing every scene with dialogue delivered with the gravitas and wit we’ve come to expect from Capaldi’s performance. His role as a university lecturer felt right for this Doctor, embodying warmth and an air of wisdom and authority.
Matt Lucas as Nardole was the weak link of this new TARDIS team. Nardole had no real relevance to the story and could have easily been left out. His inclusion smacks of a hurried after-thought, with Moffat awkwardly bending the script to include him in it. Not only content with being narratively weak, Nardole’s characterisation was also disappointing. Included to be a comic-relief character, every line of dialogue coming out of his mouth fell flat and felt like a pointless addition to an otherwise character-driven story.
The villain, too, had no real presence and much like the plot was a somewhat underwhelming part of The Pilot, merely being there to move story sequences along. But, whilst it doesn’t have much of a role to play I certainly didn’t hate the villain and it at least added some creepiness to proceedings. It would have been so much worse if the villain was naff as well but thankfully it wasn’t.
The Pilot was a well-structured episode that produced a degree of mystery and awe without feeling rushed. The scene where our new TARDIS team are hopping about the universe was arguably filler but it was entertaining filler nonetheless that allowed Bill to see time and space in a way not done in the modern series before. The direction was also well shot and my particular highlight was the gorgeous sequence of Bill entering the TARDIS for the very first time.
Overall, The Pilot provides an entertaining jumping on point for new viewers and welcomes old viewers with cheeky nods to the past. The Doctor and new companion Bill have an instantly engaging and lovable dynamic. Whilst plot elements were under-developed, Steven Moffat wrote a clever and joyous character piece that will be looked on with fondness in the years to come.