Well, that was… wonderful. Doctor Who has returned and not just in the prosaic sense of the new season starting. While the last few seasons have been enjoyable enough at times, they’ve nevertheless contained stories that were lacklustre or unappealing for a variety of reasons. There was a distinct sense that the show was struggling – not for its survival, to be fair, but to fire on all the cylinders it undoubtedly possesses. It’s not the purpose of this short piece of fluffery to analyse the show’s recent problems in detail, but I think that tonight’s episode has addressed at least some of them, the more urgent ones in particular. The following is not a review per se, but more a meander through my initial reactions to tonight’s episode. Feel free to share your own impressions in the comments below.
Bill is fab. I know that’s pretty obvious, but it does need saying. Pearl Mackie’s performance this episode struck chords that the teaser trailer at the end of last year’s Christmas special gave no indication of her being able to reach. (In some respects, that trailer did her a huge disservice, but never mind, eh?) Yes, the persistent questioning is there, and yes there are lots of laughs to be had with her dialogue, but there’s so much more to Bill than comic foil. Not a conundrum to be solved or someone whose life has already been touched (damaged?) by the Doctor, Bill is someone with a fully-fleshed out story of her own told in a very affecting way by both writer Steven Moffat and his director, Laurence Gough. There are no gimmicks here, just an extraordinarily likeable and charismatic character who has, as her reaction to the TARDIS entertainingly displays, a different perspective to the Doctor. I cannot wait to see how she reacts to her new experiences this season.
This was a story with a considerable amount of heart. In fact, it was ultimately a love story and the cleverness of the plotting revolved around that. Avoiding mawkishness, it was character-driven emotionally resonant stuff and that Moffat found time to chuck in Daleks, the ongoing mystery of the ‘vault’ and Movellans (!) was icing on an already satisfying and substantial cake. The story’s very personal scope made it all very grounded and real, for all its fantasy trappings. The pre-existing relationship between the Doctor and Nardole was beautifully portrayed, too. (The Doctor’s slightly exasperated shake of the head after their handshake following the “bigger on the inside” line made me laugh.)
There are hints at a larger story here. That vault is going to open at some point and the notion of the Doctor lecturing at a university for decades seems very unlike him. But the uber-plot appears to be looser, suggesting that individual stories will have the space to breathe and develop – as, indeed, tonight’s did rather powerfully.
All in all, I was impressed by The Pilot. More than that, I was involved emotionally and intellectually; I was engaged, I was delighted, I was hooked. Welcome back, Doctor Who!