Sixteen months on from the last non-Xmas episode of Doctor Who, the two grumpy middle-aged Scotchmen in charge return for their swan-song. A third one – Ricky Young – is just pleased there’s no other songs involved, especially ‘River’ ones, in season-opener ‘The Pilot’.
Oh, there’s a picture of her on his desk, of course. We weren’t going to get off *that* lightly. But there’s one of the Doctor’s granddaughter as well, along with a collection of vintage sonic-screwdrivers, both of which on-the-nose squee-fests give the impression that showrunner Steven Moffat might have got most of his tics and obsessions out of his system now he’s on his final year and may, along with whom we now by law must refer to as The Departing Peter Capaldi, be setting up a gentler, less abrasive, more traditional-feeling way out.
We specifically said his ‘final year’, mind you, instead of the ‘victory lap’ many other hastily knocked-off, low-rent capsule reviews out there have referred to, because, frankly, we really don’t think he deserves one. Russell T. Davies definitely deserved one, and goodness knows he grabbed it with both hands at the end of ‘The End Of Time’, but for all RTD’s flaws, he never handicapped three years of his show with The Impossible (To Warm To) Girl. I mean, if you really want to, you can try and make a case for the ultra-irritating grab-bag of Mary Sue nothings that was Clara, but you’ll probably have to tell it to one of the viewers who fucked off because of it in 2012, and good luck with that.
BUT, you can read all our opinions about those cold, dark days in places like here and here and here, and sure as shit we’ll be back at the end of the season to dickishly hold forth on what we thought of this set of children’s shows, as if it mattered in the slightest. We’re here today to talk about ‘The Pilot’, and – pfft, you know what?
We liked it.
Young, black, gay and female. All of which are things Steven Moffat, unless he’s been particularly good at making things up in interviews, is not. And so quite a lot us had been anticipating the introduction of new companion Bill Potts – who is all of these things, let’s be clear – with the chuntering, finger-nibbling nervousness you see in Twitter gifs posted by people who can’t articulate things for themselves.
But, and long-time MostlyFilm Who-review readers will know how much this pains us, Bill Potts turns out at this point not to be a total fucking embarrassment to all concerned. How much this is down to Pearl Mackie’s natural-feeling performance can and will be debated as the series progresses, but how refreshing it is to have an honest-to-god audience-surrogate back, instead of a technical exercise or faintly-offensive puzzle masquerading as a character.
Working in the canteen at the university where the Doctor and Nardole have been masquerading as a Professor and assistant for some unspecified amount of time, Bill attracts the Doctor’s attention by attending his sub-TED talk lectures though enthusiasm rather than requirement. Handily, this happens just as someone who takes Bill’s fancy turns out to be the Monster Of The Week; one whose inevitable vanquishing means Bill gets a glimpse at The Wonders Of The Universe (a phrase now impossible to utter without doing a Prof. Brian Cox voice) and decides she’d quite like a bit of that, actually. The Doctor – he’s in hiding, remember, and doesn’t really need a sparky, gobby pal hanging around the place – disagrees.
In what we’re going to count as ‘progress’, the Doctor, having decided that for the second time in recent years that he’d quite like to violate a woman’s sense of self in order to give himself an easy life, responds reasonably well when he gets told – rightly – to go fuck himself. And thus chastened, the adventures begin again etc.
From the meta of the episode title to the perky-feeling conceit of introducing the Doctor almost entirely from Bill’s perspective, ‘The Pilot’ felt fresh and reboot-y, so we don’t actually know what sort of series we’re going to get before next year’s *proper* reboot. Old stagers having fun, maybe, now the pressure’s off? Stories to remember, monsters to be scared by, characters to be charmed by, dialogue that sparks? All things Moffat *can* do in spades, and all things he forgets how to do on this programme, really, honestly quite a lot. Or is he going to fall back on that easy, trickster shit he knows makes him seem like some sort of tubby nerd Loki before pissing off to pastures similar?
Well, we don’t know. There are questions that need answering, after all. Why is the Doctor hiding? What’s in that vault? Why didn’t Bill ever reference – or go nutso apeshit about – the Doctor taking photographs of her dead mum? What’s the point of Nardole? (Only on his third ep, mark you, but he feels like he’s been around for ages. Oh, wait, he’s essentially K9, isn’t he? Okay, fair enough.) But we all know how Moffat treats his audience’s desire for answers, so maybe it’s not worth bothering about. Maybe we should just watch how a couple of talented men finish tinkering with the toy that’s been their true love since they were kids, and not get too overheated by it all. That backwards tracking-shot before the TARDIS lights came on was fucking gorgeous, after all. We went back and watched it three times.
Time’s up, lads.
Let’s go our separate ways *without* needing a mind-wipe this time, though, eh?
Doctor Who is broadcast on Saturdays on BBC1, at various times that generally make no sense, and is always in one of the Big Squares on the iPlayer.
Ricky posts on The Tweeter.