Doctor Who 10.01: The Pilot
With the hiatus between Series 9 and 10 of the modern Doctor Who, not to mention the introduction of a new Companion, there is a bit of a feeling like this is another mid-stream “pilot”. That’s reflected in the title, but it also sets a few expectations. Thankfully this is a good (if abrupt) start, as Bill Potts is neither someone with an immediately evident “mystery” to be solved nor a likely semi-romantic addition to The Doctor’s travels.
It’s very interesting to see why The Doctor finds Bill to be worth his effort, because it speaks to where The Doctor has arrived in his own development. Bill is someone with a level of perceptiveness that he can’t help but appreciate. And he’s been around that university for a while, which suggests he was looking for a bright young mind with the right kind of inquisitiveness. Is it that The Doctor is searching for a purpose again, having lost River?
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some overbearing elements designed to sell the audience as fast as possible on the new status quo. In some cases, the music serves to push reactions and anticipations to the point where we really don’t get to invest fully in Bill as the potential viewpoint character. Instead of discovering her emotions and reactions through her eyes and experiences, everything is telegraphed with such a “wink” to the audience that we see everything coming a mile away. By the end of the premiere, we’re left with a lot of questions about Bill still unanswered.
As with most episodes that introduce a major companion, the story is straightforward. This is most apparent in the weakest link of the episode: Bill’s relationship to Heather. There’s simply not enough time to establish the kind of bond that the final act of the story requires to achieve the intended impact. This is especially true since the chase through space and time inevitably brings The Doctor, Bill, and the possessed Heather to an encounter with the Daleks. It feels forced, to say the least, and ultimately robs the episode of time better spent giving Bill and Heather more time to actually bond.
In terms of the strength of Bill as a character, she will no doubt be the center of unnecessary controversy. She’s not the first Companion of color, but she is the first prominently non-heterosexual Companion since Jack Harkness roamed the space-time continuum. And since Jack was omnisexual, it’s inevitable that some will balk at Bill simply because she won’t have any reason to make eyes at The Doctor. I personally find that refreshing, if the writers can do it justice. One of the strengths of Torchwood, for example, was breaking the conventional mold with its characters.
That said, since this is the last go-round for Peter Capaldi as The Doctor, it will be hard not to want the focus to be on him. One of the strengths of the ninth series was how it remained focused on The Doctor and how Clara’s inevitable departure affected him. It gave Capaldi some strong material. Hopefully Bill’s story will also be more complementary to The Doctor’s instead of overwhelming it. It would also be nice to see Nardole be more than background garnish, especially given his nuanced role in “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”.
- Bill is a very different Companion from the previous choices in the Moffat era, in some great ways
- Everything about the episode pushes the audience response vs. allowing it to arrive organically