Two worlds collide when the Doctor meets Bill. A chance encounter with a girl with a star in her eye leads to a terrifying chase across time and space. Bill’s mind is opened to a Universe that is bigger and more exciting than she could possibly have imagined – but who is the Doctor, and what is his secret mission with Nardole on Earth?
I was one of the privileged that got invited to a preview screening of The Pilot, the first episode of season 10 of Doctor Who. It was an interesting event for me because I wasn’t that bothered. If I’m going to be honest I hadn’t missed Dr Who during its hiatus and was more than happy to get my Dr Who fix through the excellent Big Finish audio plays.
The episode starts with Bill Potts, the new companion played by Pearl Mackie being summoned to a University study. It’s pretty obvious it belongs to the Doctor but then questions start to appear. Why has the Doctor got a study? What’s he doing at a University anyway?
From the moment Pearl Mackie takes the screen this television newcomer is mesmerising. She gives a grounded yet open performance. The chemistry between her and Capaldi is so very evident and interestingly in the Q&A session after the screening that chemistry spilled over into real life. I had a chat with Steven Moffat later that night who admitted she was the first person that they auditioned and they were blown away by her talent and it’s easy to see why. Bill is intelligent but not in that annoying “I’m smarter than you” way that certain ex companions had but in her ability to ask the right questions and come to the logical conclusions quite organically. The funniest part about her is that she’s sci-fi fan – you’ll see how that plays out. She’s also gay but whopdedoo – to quote Mackie – “people are gay so…yea”. Moffat added that they hadn’t made her gay to get a pat on the back for gay representation and berated journalists for making a big deal of something that shouldn’t even be noteworthy. Personally, I’m glad we haven’t got another doe eyed secretly ( or not so secretly) companion that’s in love with the Doctor.
What about the Doctor’s valet? Because that’s who Moffat admitted Nardole was. Nardole, the other companion, played by Matt Lucas is funny, verging on maybe a little too funny but just makes it in such a way that you love every line he utters and forgive him when it’s a bit much. Lucas is obviously loving the role. Lucas’ late partner was an avid fan, as is Lucas himself, making his involvement quite an emotional journey. Lucas admitted Nardole has been painted in quite broad strokes but as the series develops his role and reason for being there are defined and his character evolves. In terms of chemistry, Peter, Pearl and Matt have the making of a great TARDIS trio.
The monster in this episode is played with chilling aplomb by an up and coming actress who I won’t name in order to minimise spoilers and when you see it you will appreciate the physical sacrifice she had to make for the role.
I’ve waxed lyrical about the actors but despite their stellar work, the question remains – is the episode any good. It’s called The Pilot for more than one reason I think. The episode feels fresh, like the production team have decided to start again and introduce you to an old concept for the first time. It feels so comfortable and yet so different. As a long term fan, it made me think of “An Unearthly Child” – The very first Dr Who story with William Hartnell. It also reminded me of the early days of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor and nudged my memory of ‘Shada’, an unreleased Tom Baker episode. It did this without adding any weighty baggage to the episode, which was quite a feat. There is something on the Doctor’s desk in the study that brought a little tear to my eye and only old school fans will get it. The production qualities feel really high, the TARDIS looks gorgeous (this episode also answers a question about the TARDIS that many of us have been wondering for years) and the music, the soundscape of the world is fantastic. The story hangs together well as does the dialogue.
Essentially, I went in dubious and came out with a huge smile on my face. If the rest of the season is as good as this episode then not only is Dr Who back but so am I.