Welcome back to Science Fiction Saturday! It seemed appropriate to to cover something current in science fiction: the return of Doctor Who! Series 10 started up last week, and is back today. I may or may not write about all of the episodes, but certainly this first episode needs some consideration, as it is the introduction of a new companion.
There are other elements that will flavor this season, like the fact that it is Steven Moffat’s last season as showrunner. Because of that, statements have come out about how along with a new showrunner there will be a new actor as the Doctor and a new companion. That means that within this 12 episode season, Moffat has to finish up any plot threads he wants resolved (are there any?) and Bill has to connect with our imaginations and then get left behind. And some sort of crisis that leads to a new Doctor. Busy times!
This episode really only gave us a glimpse into all of that, with it more than anything else giving us an introduction to Bill Potts, the new companion. Onward to some episode talk, surely with some spoilers!
What’s In A Name?
So really the first thing for me on this episode is the name: “The Pilot.” Maybe it’s just the American viewer in me, but a first episode called “The Pilot” makes me think of a show pilot. Makes me think of new beginnings, new creators, new story. That’s not actually wholly the case here, so it was odd.
But that feeling of newness still kind of followed through things. The Doctor was in a new place doing new things. He has before had periods, after and between companions, where he is stuck in one place and not traveling, where he is in a funk. That only somewhat seems to be the case here. He’s in one place, yes. He’s a professor.
And apparently has been for a while. At least 50 years.
That’s not to say he isn’t traveling in between, perhaps. And he’s not entirely alone, either: Nardole is still around, because reasons. But rather than lost an inconsolable, as he has been at times, he has a sense of purpose. We get a glimpse into it, a mysterious vault that either they’re trying to crack or protect, or more likely both.
And then, it’s obviously a “pilot” episode for Bill, new to the Doctor, new to time travel and aliens and everything else. It’s also hopefully not a pilot for her – hopefully this is the sort of character we can expect to see throughout the rest of the season. Because the last companion, Clara, had some false starts and then some lost writing – hopefully this character is much more focused. Which, let’s get to her.
It’s through Bill’s eyes, Bill’s discoveries, and Bill’s knowledge of the situation that we find out more about the Doctor. She questions him, and his 50+ years as a professor. She questions his police box, standing in the corner of the room like it belongs. It’s through her snooping that we discover the vault the Doctor and Nardole are going to. Which is some of why they have companions, to give the human perspective to this alien world and alien character.
I like how close they end up getting, with a whole term or more seeming to pass in the episode. All before doing any traveling. And the professor/student relationship is also a nice, slight variant on the companion relationship. Also, the Doctor’s reason for singling her out is great: when confronted with something she didn’t know or understand, she smiles in wonderment, not frowns in confusion.
Because the companion is supposed to sort of be us, but they’re also not necessarily us: they’re a rare breed. The Doctor doesn’t travel with just anyone. Except, ya know, Nardole.
We also get some story with Bill separate from the Doctor: she develops a crush and fascination, without ever getting to do more about it as things go along. The girl she is interested in (obligatory pause to mention that Bill is both a lesbian and a woman of color and neither is really focused on at all as anything but ordinary in the episode) ends up succumbing to the monster of the week, because of course she does.
It’s Doctor Who… and it’s Steven Moffat.
So used to running…
One of the things that Steven Moffat is known for and good at is coming up with good monsters, particularly psychological monsters. The children in the gas masks, the Vashta Nerada in the shadows, the Weeping Angels… and episodes like “Listen” which involve monster hunting, and a monster that is never seen. This episode saw another of these.
Water. Or, well, hyper-intelligent space ship fuel that takes on the shape of a creature to interact with the world? The denouement was a bit confusing, but the chase! The fear is in the chase, not in the understanding. The Doctor jumps to it once they are being pursued, and travels first across distance – they’re caught up to within moments – and then across time. No escape!
Some powerful force is pulling the creature across all of existence to follow them! The voices we hear from within the fluid describe a pilot, and a passenger, a relationship which, as intelligent propulsion fuel, makes sense to it. But from the human side, what it seems to be picking up on is attraction, is this unrequited crush – which is interrupted because of the fuel. Moffat style tragedy!
But the Doctor is so used to running in a situation like this – something he does hesitate to do because of the vault that he has been staying near, and his worry that the alien is a distraction from his duties on Earth – that he misses what’s truly going on. It serves its plot purpose, for sure: it introduces Bill to the TARDIS and to time travel.
But then, when they finally give up and stop, they find… there’s no malice on the part of the alien. The fuel. Just longing… just sadness. Incompleteness. And things resolve in peace, and simply enough at that. Not everything is a great danger that must be escaped or fought.
And it will be interesting to see how a start like that affects Bill. On the one hand, peaceful alien contact(s). On the other hand, someone still died in the process. Her sense of wonderment certainly isn’t dead, and it’s travel time ahead!
So what did you think of “The Pilot?” And of Bill? I’d love to know your thoughts! And happy Science Fiction Saturday!
Pictures all found on http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5848216/
Aw, I didn’t realize they were planning a new companion as well as a new Doctor. 😦
Quite liked it on the whole. I’ve never really enjoyed the monsters-of-the-week in new Who, they all seem pretty similar to me and episodes with this structure all blend together, but it worked all right and I really liked everything else built around this particular monster.
I mean, I imagine nothing is set in stone yet, but I think it probably will end up a new companion. 😕
And yeah monster of the week can definitely end up formulaic, especially when the Doctor’s default response is “run.” I liked how spectacularly the running failed this time!