Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Pilot

This new series of Doctor Who, the thirty-sixth overall and the tenth since the 2005 revival, was marketed as a good place for new viewers to start watching. I hope not many people bothered because it was inaccessible, poorly paced  and dull. These are obviously things you'd never want a television programme to be, but it's particularly troublesome for an episode intended to act as a an exciting launching point and reason to tune in again.

An ideal introductory episode of (modern) Doctor Who should be easy to follow, light on continuity, and introduce a relatable viewpoint character meeting the Doctor and falling out of their world into the universe. The Pilot achieved none of this. The story wasn't complex but it did require full attention, not good when you should really just be enjoying watching the two leads (and, in this instance, Matt Lucas for some reason) interacting with one another. Flitting to Australia, a quarry planet in the future, and a Dalek war served to show what the TARDIS does, but it was tied into a tedious chase sequence with a seemingly unstoppable enemy1. This was far from this episode's worst offence though, so whatevs.

Continuity was heavy. I'm not talking about little nods for fans to catch here, they're generally alright as long as they're subtle. I'm talking about the bigger problems like infodumping a bunch of stuff about the Doctor's history and reducing the show's most iconic enemies to a non-threat that can be dealt with by Matt Lucas and a sonic screwdriver. For those new viewers that were encouraged to watch it would have just been extraneous information, the sort of off-putting sci-fi nonsense that drives people away instead of enticing them back.

It was new companion Bill's introduction that was main reason this episode felt more miss than hit. Instead of finding the world of Doctor Who seeping into her ordinary, relatable life and leading her to stumble across the Doctor (see Rose and The Eleventh Hour for examples of how to do this right) this episode literally started with Bill being interviewed by the Doctor and then being made his companion in all but name. Not only was it a subdued start2 it robbed us of the chance to see Bill's journey into the Doctor's world. Why Moffat would pass up the chance to do this in his last go around in the producer's chair is genuinely baffling. It's a technique that can't really be used effectively on any other major TV show and works perfectly as an introduction device.

But it wasn't all bad. Bill was likeable, Pearl Mackie showing all the range she needed to for her debut performance in the role. The teases for what's to come (why the Doctor was living in a university and that potentially-Time-Lord-made gate in a basement) were fun. The evil puddle's motivation being that its human host was in love was something a little different for Doctor Who (though, sadly, not quite different enough3).  Peter Capaldi was as good as ever at taking borderline cringe-worthy dialogue and pedestrian plotting and giving us something worth watching. And the final shot of the "coming soon" trailer was of John Simm's Master.

There's potential for Bill to be a good companion and Capaldi to go out on a high. You just have to squint to see it.


1 I won't dwell on the fact that the enemy here is the latest in a long line of Steven Moffat creations that fall into the alien-technology-that-thinks-it's-doing-something-right-but-isn't-because-it-doesn't-properly-understand-humans category.

2 See the above footnote.

3 Not necessarily a bad thing, admittedly.


  1. Just re-watched the episode as I was rather drunk seeing it first time round at 2am on Saturday night/Sunday morning. Kind of liked it for what it was. I thought Bill was very good and I loved the touch of the Doctor nipping back into Bill's past and somehow getting to take a load of photos of her mum when she told him she did not have many pictures of her. Still waiting to get a clue as to Nardol's role in this series - I am sure Moffatt has something lined up. Talking of Moffatt, I forgive him a lot of things if he has come up with the idea of getting two Masters together, just like the multiple Doctor episodes through the history of the show. Really not sure about the Mondas Cybermen, they look a bit shit on screen but live in hope they will work somehow.

    1. There was never a reason behind Nardole coming back beyond the production team quite liking Matt Lucas by the looks of things.

      We've seen the Cybermen and the Master team-up now. What did you think?