It’s About Time
♦Our man in Los Angeles, Robert Cave, takes a look at the pilot episode of Doctor Who Series 10…
Director: Lawrence Gough
Writer: Steven Moffat
Stars: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas
Doctor Who is back, and it’s about time. No, really. This whole episode, “The Pilot,” it’s about time.
After the still none-to-subtle title sequence with its clockface motif the soon-to be outgoing Doctor Peter Capaldi gives a whole lecture on the subject. He’s a lecturer now at a university in Bristol. And apparently he’s been there quite some time – over fifty years, apparently.
His new companion Bill Potts, played brilliantly by Pearl Mackie, points out The Doctor’s unusually long tenure, although she’s more interested in the idiosyncratic contents of his lectures.
Bill works in the university cafeteria, but has been sneaking in to the Doctor’s lectures for a while. She’s also black, and a lesbian. This is both kind of both important and not important at the same time. It’s not important because, as should be obvious, Bill is more than just the people she’s attracted to and the colour of her skin. It is important because representation matters.
Bill is an orphan who never knew what her mother looked like, at least not until the Doctor nips back in time and takes some photos, leaving them in a closet for Bill’s foster mum to find.
The Doctor is intrigued by Bill because she’s intrigued by, well, everything – by knowledge itself. Its not overtly stated, but it is implied that she hasn’t had the access to education that she craves, sneaking in to attend his lectures in her free time.
For the Doctor, Bill’s curiosity is no doubt a welcome distraction from whatever is in the big mysterious vault we see him guarding with his other current companion Nardole, played by the comedian Matt Lucas.
Nardole is a robot now, or maybe a cyborg, either one would work as an explanation as to how he got what is probably an approximation of his original body back after having his head removed for comedic/plot purposes in “The Husbands of River Song.”
Up to this point, Nardole has been pretty underwritten, serving alternately as the comic relief and a mechanism to help keep the plot moving in his previous two appearances. Now he seems to be in the role of the Doctor’s mechanical butler, bound to follow his orders, but also privy to whatever secrets he has accumulated off screen since his last televised adventure.
Yes, it is cool to see Nardole wielding an old sonic screwdriver and engage in a bit of banter, I really hope he’s given more to do as the season progresses. Anything less would really seem to be a waste of Lucas’s talents.
Something else that felt a bit superfluous was the throwaway use of the Daleks. Ironically this whole sequence probably owes its existence to Moffat’s one-off scene “A friend from the future” which was originally written to introduce Bill’s character to both the Daleks and Doctor Who fandom as a whole when Pearl Mackie was first cast in the role.
While it’s reasonably fun, to see parts of that scene re-used, especially with the additional fan service glimpse we get of the Dalek/Movellan war from the show’s classic era, it all feels pretty shoehorned in.
Which brings us back to the episodes’ central plot. There is an alien space ship that takes an unhappy woman eager to go anywhere else to serve as its pilot. The girl has a name; Heather, and Bill has taken a bit of a shine to her, though it is never clear exactly why. Nor is it clear why Heather wants so desperately to get away, but in many ways her opportunity to escape her life on Earth mirrors the opportunity Bill faces when she ultimately decides to join Doctor.
Outside of this, poor old Heather is pretty unengaging, which is a shame, because really, Bill deserves so much better, and in so many ways.
This is something the Doctor himself seems to realise when Bill guesses his intent to wipe her mind after their little jaunt across the universe.
After the Doctor then nips away in his Tardis for an undisclosed period of time – this may or may not prove to be significant later – he returns to offer Bill inviting her to travel with him in the Tardis.
Apparently “time” has changed the Doctor’s mind. See? I did say this one was about time. I just hope that Bill continues to be her own woman, exploring the universe with the Doctor on her own terms. Such a move really would make a welcome change, and one that it is high time we saw.