Doctor Who: The Pilot review – “Simple Yet Effective”

Broadcast Date: 15 April 2017
Writer: Steven Moffat
Rating: 4/5

Note: This review contains spoilers of this episode and the series trailer.

It was clear that, during the last series of Doctor Who, major changes needed to occur. Fans were voicing their discontent at how complicated the series arcs were getting and how the resolutions left a lot to be desired (Clara in an American canteen time machine). However I am very happy to say that The Pilot strips back all of the unnecessary plot details and instead chooses a simple storyline that helps new companion Pearl Mackie to shine through.

As the newest arrival in the TARDIS, Mackie’s Bill Potts is immediately likeable and possesses a spark that can’t be taught. It is amazing to consider that this is Mackie’s first major TV appearance. The quality that really makes her special is that she is completely normal. This is someone who serves chips in a university canteen, goes out drinking with friends and responds to the magnificence of the TARDIS in a way that feels real rather than scripted (her asking where the toilet is located was a hilariously down-to-earth reaction). Recent companions have tended to be desensitised to the otherworldly nature of time travel and the monsters and Bill is probably the most ‘real’ companion since Rose Tyler, highlighting how Steven Moffat is giving Doctor Who a soft reboot back towards the personal in his last season at the helm.

The dynamic between Capaldi and Mackie was brilliant, playing the professor and student roles that harks back to the pre-2005 era. The episode was full of small beautiful moments. Probably my favourite was Bill’s discovery of some photographs of her late mother, only to discover that The Doctor had taken them as a Christmas present for her. The script also felt fresh yet beautiful, “smelling the wind in your coat” was a particularly lovely line. The powerful emotional moments between Bill and Heather were also not overdone (I’m so happy Moffat didn’t make a big deal out of Bill’s sexuality) and this shines in comparison to the clunky and tired series arcs where the companion was the most important person in the universe.

With the budding friendship between The Doctor and Bill at the centre of this episode, the ‘monster’ in the narrative was rightly pushed slightly to the side. This isn’t to say that the antagonist was a failure; inspiration seemed to come from sources as far apart as The Terminator and Japanese horror films, creating something that was still scary for younger viewers but was represented as tragic rather than monstrous. This also put Bill’s humanity in the spotlight in the resolution; whilst Clara seemed cold, she was tingling with warmth.

That isn’t to say that the episode was perfect however. I loved the reference to the Dalek-Movellan war and the fact that The Doctor’s granddaughter Susan was in a photo on his desk alongside one of River Song. However it felt like the Dalek scene could have been left for another episode, especially given they cut out Mackie’s dialogue when the scene was played as an introduction to the companion. The biggest problem I have with this episode is with Nardole. There isn’t anything wrong with Matt Lucas’ portrayal or the character in general but it feels like three is a crowd and he doesn’t really add anything when the dynamic between Capaldi and Mackie is prioritised. I am still waiting for him to have his own storyline where we find out why he travels with The Doctor, hopefully that is to come later in the series. Overall though I think that the simplicity of this episode brings the humanity and the emotion back into Doctor Who and I hope this pattern continues for the rest of the series.

A final and quick note on the series trailer. It seems that this series may well be a mixture of the epic (Missy AND John Simm’s Master! The 60s Cybermen! Regeneration!) and the potentially messy (Robots that speak Emoji?). It is the latter that is part of the next episode, Smile, and you will get to read what I think of this episode next week.

What did you think of The Pilot and the new companion? Tell me what you think in the comments section below.

Missed any of my reviews of series 10 of Doctor Who? You can now find them all in one place by clicking the link here.

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