T - A - R - D - I - S.......it means - what the hell!
So here we are, the final season for both Moffatt and Capaldi, and the premier season for Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts. Season ten has been heralded as a bit of a reboot in what is essentially the 37th series of our beloved show. This, the first episode cheekily entitled The Pilot, interestingly the story was originally called "A Star in Her Eye", a title that works just as well. The Pilot is not only an episode to introduce Bill Potts as the new companion, but also to dangle a few tantalising plot threads in front of us, plot threads that will obviously pay off as the series progresses.
Beware - There are spoilers ahead.
The story opens at St Luke's University in Bristol, where we find Bill Potts waiting for the Doctor in his office. On his cluttered desk we see a mug containing a multitude of colourful sonic screwdrivers, and two pictures - one of his granddaughter Susan, and the other of River Song. The TARDIS sits quietly in the corner with an out of order sign hanging tragically from it's doors.
Bill works in the University's canteen, where she serves chips to a girl that she has a crush on. She is fascinated by the Doctor, and quietly attends his lessons, the rumours are that the Doctor has been lecturing at the University for decades. Bill shouldn't be attending his lectures, so the Doctor takes pity on her and agrees to privately tutor Bill.
Time passes, and on a night out with friends, in a bar, Bill meets a young woman called Heather (played by Stephanie Hyam), there is an obvious, instant attraction between the two of them. Heather is a girl who has a defect in her eye that has manifested itself as a splash of gold and is shaped like a star. Heather later shows Bill a strange puddle, and from here is where things get very Doctor Who.The puddle is actually intelligent 'space engine oil' (which goes some way to explaining Pearl's mis-step on the One Show that outraged so many 'fans'). The oil needs a pilot and a passenger, it quickly absorbs Heather, and then starts a relentless pursuit of Bill across space and time, a journey that takes in the University's basement, Sydney, and the very far reaches of the Universe. The chase ends during a skirmish between the Daleks and a certain silver dreadlocked humanoid robot race. Of course, the Doctor, Nardole and Bill save the day, and Bill becomes a bona fide companion to the Doctor, joining him and Nardole in the TARDIS.
Right - let's address the reboot issue - this doesn't feel like a full on true reboot of series - BUT there are elements of the show that have certainly evolved. The very first line of this review are those spoken by the Doctor at the close of this episode. The character has changed again slightly, softened once more from the lighter side of the Doctor that we saw in the last series. When you compare the character now to that of the Doctor in Capaldi's first series, there is quite a difference. Other changes include (of course) Bill, plus we seem to have Matt Lucas as Nardole full time. I also noticed that Murray Gold's score seemed a lot different, again, lighter than the past few seasons, but still with a hint of his classic themes.
And so onto Pearl Mackie's Bill, who really couldn't be any further removed from Clara. If I were to compare her to any other companion, it would be Donna Noble, but a very savvy, smart and inquisitive Donna Noble. Bill bucks trends from the off, "Doctor WHAT?" she asks when the Time Lord tells her that she can call him simply the Doctor. I honestly don't think that I can recall laughing as much at the show as I did when Bill is introduced to the TARDIS, the moment that the penny finally drops that it is bigger on the inside is perfect. If there is anything of a reboot to the new series it definately comes from Bill, who breezes in like a breath of fresh air.
The Doctors relationship with Bill is as a mentor, but he also obviously feels a lot for his new friend, at about fifteen minutes into the episode, he does something wonderful and quite moving for her that only he could do. Bill's family life seems quite tidy, she lives at home with her foster mother, Moira (Jennifer Hennessy) who fostered her sometime ago, Bill's own mother having passed away when Bill was very young.
Let's quickly touch on the absolute non-issue of Bill's character being gay. It's exactly that. It isn't an issue - Bill's sexuality isn't even discussed, it's just simply accepted that Bill likes girls. In fact, the whole crux of this story is about one girls crush on another. Not one eyelid is batted. I think that it is fantastic that children can have a well rounded, strong, female gay character as a role model in one of the most popular shows on the BBC. Well done Mr Moffatt for writing Bill in the way that you have.
The Pilot has obvious nods to the first episode of 'New' Who, Rose. We witness the mundanity of Bills everyday life - her alarm clock goes off, she gets up, cooks chips and serves them in the canteen and goes home, and then it all starts again with the alarm. Also like Rose, the episode is seen almost entirely from the new companions point of view. There is very little of the story without her in the scene, and watching Bill experience the Doctor and what he does is a true wonder. Bill also has a good knowledge of science fiction, so a lot of what she sees, she just accepts and takes in her stride, which again is something fresh. Everything is neatly and pacily directed by Lawrence Gough, who also directed our introduction to Bill, Friend From the Future which aired during half time of the last years FA Cup Final. A fair chunk of that introduction is in this episode, and its quite interesting to see the changes that have been made to that extended scene.
So - what wasn't so good? Well I think we could have done with an hour for the series premiere. It all feels a little rushed in the last quarter, when we start hopping through space and time in the TARDIS. Another ten minutes would have been a good addition. My other niggle would be the 'space engine oil' itself. I couldn't help but feel that some of the effects used during the oil's transformation into a very wet Heather could have been a bit better, they seemed very patchy - admittedly though, this might have been the effects as seen in the preview copy that I had access to, the effects could well be tweaked by the time the show is actually aired. Some of the 'wet' effects reminded of The Waters of Mars, which I suppose isn't a bad thing at all really.
Overall, The Pilot is a strong opener to a series that will draw a line under both Moffat and Capaldi's time on the show. I think I have an idea where the story might be heading, and what might be stashed in a vault in the basement of the University. Something that the Doctor is so very keen to keep an eye on.
Of course there is one massive mystery solved - at least we all know know where the TARDIS toilets are.....