Our Doctor Who expert, Tony Cross, is journeying through all of time and space to bring us his thoughts on every available Doctor Episode. Today is the Twelfth Doctor adventure The Pilot...
So, we begin Series 10 of ‘new’ Doctor Who with ‘The Pilot’ and Steven Moffat takes the opportunity to re-launch the Capaldi era. With Clara gone and forgotten the Doctor seems to have settled down at a University teaching. What he’s teaching isn’t quite clear, but it gets the students to turn up to his lectures so it must be good.
He’s also, we discover, guarding a vault. What’s in the vault we have yet to discover, but it is an important enough ‘thing’ to have the Doctor effectively exiled to the Earth once again. I’m assuming we’ll find out what it is at some suitable future date? *
The Doctor’s also joined by Nardole (Matt Lucas). The Doctor has restored Nardole’s head to his body – or a body. How this has been achieved we don’t know. There’s a hint of robot about it, but also a hint – or should that be a smell – of the organic. Whether we will find out exactly what has happened I’m not sure. I don’t think it really matters. Nardole’s role seems to be part Jiminy Cricket, part Greek chorus and part just plain snark. Matt Lucas does a good job of seemingly making a slightly awkward toddlering feel like it is a little alien. **
Most importantly though we get to meet Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie). Bill Potts is the sort of character that brings people who think representation is just ‘political correctness gone mad’ out in a rash. Because Doctor Who can only be Doctor Who when everyone in it is white and straight. This isn’t the time and a place for a political rant but what’s brilliant about Bill Potts (and Pearl Mackie’s performance) is that she feels like the most ‘real’ companion in New Doctor Who since Donna. The fact that she’s a lesbian doesn’t matter. The Doctor doesn’t care – or even know or notice. It’s a part of the story but no one makes a ridiculously big deal out of it. Bill is like a breath of fresh air. I liked her from the off.
Pearl Mackie brings her to life without doing too much in the way of acting. This is a compliment not an insult. Acting is a difficult thing to do because as soon as you look like your doing it then it seems false. Especially on television or film. Theatre is a slightly different thing, but I’m not Stanislavsky so a long digression on acting technique we can save for another day. But Mackie is natural. It doesn’t feel like a performance. I’m looking forward to seeing how she develops.
There’s definite chemistry between her and Capaldi. Like good double-acts everywhere they seem to compliment each other and raise their game a little when together. This gives me a chance to say – once again – how bloody brilliant Peter Capaldi is as Doctor Who. I’d say this was the part he was born to play, but that equally applies to Malcolm Tucker. I get the impression from interviews though that in real life he’s more the Doctor than he is Malcolm Tucker. But I could watch him as the Doctor forever. He’s displaced Tom Baker as my favourite Doctor for quite a long time now, even though Tom Baker will always be THE Doctor to me.
I’ve seen a theory expressed on the internet that Capaldi’s chosen to play his first season (broadly) as Hartnell, his second as Troughton and this one as Pertwee and I can see how that might feel like a sensible suggestion. Whether it is deliberate or whether we’re doing that human thing of seeing patterns when they’re aren’t any again only a long discussion with Peter Capaldi himself will reveal. His Doctor certainly seems to change over time. I’m interested to see how it all ends.
I’ve not said much about ‘The Pilot’ itself because I don’t think there’s a lot to say. The main purpose of this story is to introduce us to Bill and the Doctor’s new circumstances, which it does rather nicely. The fact that there’s intelligent alien super-petrol copying (and killing?) a beautiful but miserable student with a starry, starry eye is just background. Bill’s feelings for Heather though seem real enough and whatever ‘Heather’ now is she seems to replicate those feelings to some degree. We never find out anything about the origins of this super-petrol, but it doesn’t matter. There’s never a huge feeling of danger, but there is a certain degree of creepiness about her behaviour. There’s also a question about how powerful she is. Perhaps one day we will find out. Or perhaps not.
It’s a good start to the Series 10. It’s a gentle-ish introduction to the new team and if you were stepping into Doctor Who for the first time this might not be a bad place to start.
*I’m pretending I’ve not seen what follows. Whether this makes me enough of a performer to get a Lorraine Kelly style tax deal we will see.
**I recommend his biography btw. It’s rather good. It manages to be quite heart-breaking and deep whilst pretending to be something else altogether. I suspect Matt Lucas is a clever man.
Tony Cross is the creator of the wonderful Centurion Blog's found HERE and HERE.
Image – BBC.