Doctor Who airs Saturdays, 9pm on BBC America.
Debuts are never easy. Replacing someone who was widely popular makes things that little bit harder too. Change is hard to accept, but Pearl Mackie’s debut in tonight’s season ten opener made new companion, Bill Potts, a character who is already a real asset to the show.
The pre-title sequence between the Doctor and Bill was a perfect way to kick-start the new season. We were all curious to see what sort of relationship the Doctor and Bill would have, so giving them a five minute chunk of screen time right at the start was a clever way for Steven Moffat to show us the instant chemistry that they had together. Their chemistry didn’t just last for five minutes though. Throughout the episode, it was a joy to watch the pair bounce off each other, and even Nardole chipped in with some funny one-liners. Watching Peter Capaldi’s Doctor interact with a companion other than Clara was very refreshing. He seemed relaxed, in a way we’d never quite seen the twelfth Doctor before. Clara’s urge to be the Doctor’s intellectual equal had him on guard most of the time, but here he was nice and laid back chatting to Bill, exchanging “banter”, as Nardole put it.
The array of different settings used throughout the episode really helped show what a whirlwind time Bill was having. Dashing from the university to Australia, and from a futuristic planet to a battleground full of Daleks was a challenge for us as viewers to keep up with, so goodness knows what it would have been like for the Doctor’s new friend. She dealt with it all naturally though. She displayed bravery, but bravery in a very human way. Sometimes with previous companions, Clara probably being the best example (sorry to Clara bash – I like her character, really), they were so brave without displaying any signs of fear, that it was hard to relate to them or take them seriously. Bravery is of course a key trait for anyone travelling with the Doctor to possess. But we saw with Bill looking sick in the Australian toilets, and jumping out of her skin when she saw the eye in her bathroom plug, that although she is brave, she’s just a normal human being.
A big thing for all new companions, is their first scene in the TARDIS. It’s hard for writers to prevent these scenes from becoming repetitive. After all, usually it’s just a look of astonishment and a quick “It’s bigger on the inside” and off they go. Bill’s has to go down as one of my all time favourite first TARDIS scenes. Starting with the lights turned off so she was unaware she was in a box with inner dimensions different to those she’d observed on the outside, was very clever, and the turning on of the ship’s lights was magical. It felt like this was the moment that the show was truly back after a long sixteen months since season nine ended. It coincided with the Doctor donning his spectacular velvet coat too for the first time, and didn’t he look stunning? Even when they exited the TARDIS, it took Bill quite a while to work out what was going on, which I liked. “Is it my imagination, or is this taking longer than normal?” said Nardole, which was my favourite line of the entire episode. Watching Bill put together what was going on piece by piece, without much assistance from a gloriously dry and witty Doctor, was a pleasure.
As this was a season opener that’s main objective was to introduce us to the new companion, you can allow a certain amount of leeway for other aspects of the episode that perhaps weren’t as strong as you’d expect. The moving puddle and the eye looking at Bill from her shower plug were both very creepy and original ideas from Steven Moffat. Before the season began, I was desperate for Moffat to return to writing strong standalone stories with good monsters, like he did so well in the Russell T. Davies era, with Blink and The Girl in the Fireplace et al. Visually, the girl was a spectacular enemy, and I’m sure she’ll give children across the country and world who tuned in tonight nightmares. But in the end, she sort of fizzled out. Her motive of wanting to just travel with Bill, just because she liked the look of her, was a bit cheesy. As I said though, tonight was all about meeting Bill, making a slightly lesser villain easier to overlook.
A couple of other things niggled me slightly. Tonight all but confirmed the rumours about the Daleks having to appear in every season of the show for the BBC to keep the rights to them. Either that, or Steven Moffat has a thing for the one eyed metallic creatures, because why they were in the episode, I do not know. The Daleks are supposed to be the most fearsome creatures in the Doctor Who universe, so why would the Doctor risk the life of somebody he’s just met by racing through a ship full them, just to try and kill one single life form? It’s another bad day for the show’s most famous enemy and I hope we don’t see them again this year. Also bothering me, a smaller issue admittedly, but why did Clara’s theme have to play? Yes, we get the Doctor is sad he forgot Clara, but she got the callback she deserved in Class. Rose overshadowed Martha Jones in season three, and at times the Doctor treated Martha shoddily just because she wasn’t Rose. It’s essential this doesn’t happen this year to Bill. Forget about Clara for good now. She’s gone. Let the Doctor enjoy a new friendship with Bill. We saw tonight that the pair along with Nardole have everything they need to be one of the most entertaining TARDIS crews we’ve ever had, so please just let them get on with it and have fun.
That last paragraph makes me seem grumpy and makes me seem like I didn’t enjoy tonight’s episode, so let me finish by saying this. Tonight was arguably the best season opener since Rose back in 2005. Steven Moffat has some work to do to ensure the legacy he leaves behind is a positive one, but he made a terrific start with a funny and charming script tonight. The “Coming Soon” trailer wet my appetite for more as we got a look at what’s to come in season ten, and seemingly the kitchen sink is the only thing Moffat hasn’t thrown at his swansong year. Peter Capaldi was totally magnificent too tonight, but that almost goes without saying these days. I’ve had my doubts about Nardole, but even he made me chuckle. The last word though has to go Pearl Mackie as Bill. It was a totally flawless performance, made all the more impressive by how little experience she had in television before tonight. I can’t wait to see where Steven Moffat or the Doctor will take Bill in the rest of the season. Isn’t having Doctor Who back just wonderful?
I give the season premiere a B+.