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Doctor Who: The Gallifrey Times Team Reviews The Pilot

After a long wait, Doctor Who Series 10 is finally here… and what an entrance! The Pilot introduced us to Bill and set the scene for another run of exciting adventures for The Doctor, Bill and Nardole.

But what did our team think of The Pilot? Well, now that we’ve let our excitement simmer down and rewatched it half a dozen times, let’s find out…

Louis (Editor)

The Pilot is, of course, going to be defined as the episode where the Doctor met Bill Potts. Undoubtedly, that’s a huge change to the show. Yet there’s a different feel to this episode that goes a long way beyond the change of female lead. Where Steven Moffat’s previous season openers began with intricate, splashy episodes defined by an all-encompassing scope and a divisive narrative tricksiness, The Pilot is stripped to the bone plot-wise. That narrative minimalism is, to use the worst reviewer’s cliché I can think of, a breath of fresh air. With only the simplest of weekly narratives, The Pilot is able to re-focus on what Doctor Who can do so well: the joy of travelling through time and space, to everywhere that ever was and ever will be.

A great deal of that comes down to just how terrific Pearl Mackie is. The Pilot, as befitting of an episode that functions as a starter course for new viewers, gives Mackie a proper trial run with a little bit of everything in the typical companion’s experience, and she aces the task. In turn, Mackie is quick-witted, shy, relaxed, thrilled, terrified, confused and heartbroken, and every emotional change feels believable.

Granted, once The Pilot has to extend beyond the simple pleasures of interesting characters spending time together, it’s not quite as assured. It’s a compelling enough threat in spots – the visual of Heather covered in an endless cascade of water drops is a nicely spooky one, with the gushing water that can perforate through any door and travel to any time a classically Moffat example of innocuous objects made terrifying. Yet there’s a lot about the creature that feels half-baked. The revelation that it’s created from some leftover fluid from a spaceship is pretty underwhelming after the intriguing mystique that’s built up beforehand, and the idea that some mysterious creatures are pulling the strings behind it all fizzles out with no answer.

The Pilot is not the most dazzling episode you’ll ever see. While Bill is a fresh pair of eyes, it’s hard to deny that the episode dabbles heavily in the formula that’s played out several times over the last 12 years, with not that many genuine surprises to completely send it in a new direction. Its purpose, however, isn’t to reinvent the wheel. It’s to bring Doctor Who back to basics with the Doctor and a companion (plus Nardole!) whizzing about time and space and fighting monsters, with nothing more and nothing less, and it succeeds in that regard. Bill has boarded the TARDIS, and I can’t wait to find out what’s next.

Ben (Assistant Editor)

Like most fans, I was super excited for The Pilot and thankfully I was not disappointed. I loved it!

The episodes that introduce a new companion are always my favourites. Watching them learn everything for the first time is so interesting and The Pilot really excelled with this, spinning established moments on their heads and giving us a very different – and very current – take on the experience. Of course Bill relates it to sci-fi; that’s what we’d do! This also means that the episode is a good ‘jumping on point’ for new or casual viewers.

I didn’t know what to expect from Bill, but I found I rather liked her character. The glimpses of her personal life we’ve seen have given us an interesting insight and it’s nice to once again see a companion who’s not overly confident and has an unconvincing amount of knowledge of everything; a sidekick rather than an equal. Nardole, on the other hand, seemed a bit unnecessary. Whilst nearly all his lines were gems, he didn’t actually do very much. I’m hoping that this was because the focus was on Bill and that Nardole’s character will develop as the series progresses. The Doctor was on top form; not grumpy or grief-stricken, Capaldi’s pitches his Doctor with a perfect blend of curiosity, cleverness, humour and, above all, alien-ness. Seeing him as a tutor and a fatherly figure instead of a love interest or best friend is very refreshing and it’s a role Capaldi plays well.

The plot itself was fairly strong. Where the focus in these introductory episodes has sometimes been let down on plot, The Pilot offers an interesting story, with a decent villain that sent my mother hiding behind pillows. There were several great moments in this episode (“No, of course not… we’ve travelled to Australia!”) but my favourite has to be the idea of using the Daleks as a weapon against an enemy. This is such a great idea that once again proves Moffat has still got it and brings something new to these (possibly) overused characters.

Sure, there were some flaws. The unsubtle nostalgia-fest, with the Susan photos and classic sonics; the far too brief Movellans cameo; Bill completely forgetting that she desperately needed the toilet a few minutes ago… but these things can be forgiven, because Doctor Who is back! I can’t wait to see where Series 10 takes us and from the looks of the trailer, I’d say it’s going to be fantastic.

Suman (News)

After a lengthy break – two Christmas specials notwithstanding – Doctor Who resists the urge to burst back onto our screens all guns blazing. Aptly-titled, The Pilot is instead a surprisingly low-key series opener that not only serves as a perfect starting point for new viewers but presents all the show’s familiar elements to current fans in a fresh and exciting way.

The plot itself, whilst not wholly innovative, is nevertheless engaging, with the eponymous monster borrowing the creepiest elements from those in Midnight and The Waters of Mars without becoming a direct rip-off of either. Lawrence Gough’s skilled direction serves to ramp up the fear factor, with the scene in Bill’s bathroom lending itself to a couple of particularly effective jumpscares!

Back for his final full series, Peter Capaldi’s sublime portrayal of the Doctor shows no signs of fatigue, with Bill’s arrival taking him in new directions. Gruff yet compassionate, this is a Doctor who no longer needs cue cards to relate to others, and his role as self-appointed mentor to Bill is a welcome contrast to his previous dynamic with Clara. Matt Lucas, also back as Nardole, is as fun to watch as ever, but there is also a sense that his character could be lifted out of this story without affecting it at all, so hopefully an increased role in future episodes awaits him.

This episode, however, belongs to Pearl Mackie, who absolutely nails it as the instantly endearing Bill Potts. The gentle pace of the beginning of the episode allows us to learn so much about Bill that she feels established very early on, and by the time she is thrust into the main action it’s easy to fully invest in her as a companion. Mackie’s excellent comic timing handles the best of Steven Moffat’s one-liners, and she perfectly balances Bill’s vulnerability with her inner strength, especially in her final confrontation with Heather. Bill – and Pearl Mackie herself – have quickly proven themselves as fantastic additions to the show, and I can’t wait to see what new adventures lie in store for the latest TARDIS team!

Andrew (News)

Pearl Mackie aced it bursting onto the Doctor Who scene, being and bringing something awe inspiring and essentially an extreme contrast in new companion as she marvels in meeting Capaldi’s Doctor and his fabulously humorous sidekick, Nardole!

With the Doctor now an ancient, well established Tutor at an unknown University – where he’s rumoured to have worked for around seventy years! – The Doctor takes an endearing shine to Bill Potts who attends his lectures, and who The Doctor is fascinated in by her smiling at things she doesn’t understand rather than frowning.

Something runs deeper though and as Pearl Mackie wonderfully acts heartache and tears whilst she flicks through never seen pictures of her late mother, at one point is amazed to see her new private tutor, The Doctor actually reflected in the mirror taking the photo sometime in the past. Just one of the many intriguing and thrilling themes laced within the episode.

Moffat includes a great twist in that Bill is not a student at all, but actually works in the university canteen mostly serving chips, being especially generous to those she has a crush on! In a brilliant line she explains to the Doctor how ‘I fatted her’ whilst referring to a would be girlfriend.

Moffat seems to want to bow out in giving newer Doctor Who viewers almost a re-education on the basics of Doctor Who. The immortal phrase ‘Time And Relative Dimensions In Space’ (TARDIS) is explained in a lecture but more easily ‘shown’ to Bill in our favourite sanctuary of wonder, the battered blue police box, which is ‘life’ to The Doctor.

The scares were very dark, but not worryingly so, a drowned girl who has fallen victim to an alien force via a puddle of alien fluid haunts Bill who The Doctor helps without hesitation and with great effort. He cares for Bill in a way we probably don’t yet understand.

There was the merest melancholic echo of the Doctor’s former beloved companion as Murray Gold’s music embellishes a moment (‘Clara’s Theme’) where the Doctor is on the point of wiping Bill’s memories of her whirlwind enlightenment to the possibilities of all of time and space, very much against Bill’s wish. The Doctor, this time, concedes. Bill challenges viewers in multiple ways as we see a totally new way of coming to know The Doctor and what has become of him since Series 9! In short, I would say more Human!

The Pilot was a really exciting, scary, funny, silly, and beautiful episode to start Moffat’s final series with and looks set to be followed by some great fun and in depth stories as we continue. You can probably tell I thoroughly enjoyed it. A smashing start to Series 10.