A lot of changes occurred in the last few episodes of last season’s Doctor Who. Out of those changes, one the biggest was losing beloved companion, Clara Oswald. That left us with a big spot to be filled this season in The Doctor’s timey wimey adventures.
Luckily, this episode doesn’t take any time introducing our new companion. Bill (Pearl Mackie) is given an episode that puts a lot of focus on her allowing for an extensive character intro. Immediately, Bill comes off as someone who is more than capable of dealing with what we all know to be the cycle of a companion. Maybe it is too early to say, but for me she is already one of my favorites. She is a really grounded, relatable character, who isn’t taking on the quirky or clueless characteristics that some previous companions have taken. She is pretty resolute in her decision making, wise and has good comedic timing in all the moments in between. Mackie seems totally at ease, and Bill makes for an easy and welcome transition from Clara Oswald.
In “The Pilot,” The Doctor has taken up residency as a professor at a University. The reason why remains a mystery but it has something to do with something locked in a vault in the university’s basement. During his time posing as a professor and giving a number of popular lectures to the student body, he has gained a fan base that includes Bill. The Doctor takes notice of her and being a fan of flattery, he steps in as her personal tutor.
If there is something that Doctor Who has done consistently well over the years, it’s putting irrational fears into the hearts of its fans. I know that I’ll never look at gasmasks or statues in the same way. This episode introduces your next soon to be irrational fear in the form of puddles. Yep, puddles.
This particular campus has a secret baddie hiding behind the University in the form of a dormant puddle looking for a host to help it go back home. The puddle manages to absorb Heather, a fellow student that Bill has a big crush on. From that point on the episode becomes a part J-Horror, part It Follows-inspired horror show. The creature who has taken the form of Heather is still tied to a promise that the smitten Heather made to Bill to never leave her. This leads to the entity chasing Bill and The Doctor across time and space. In its final act and in a classically Moffat move, the show takes on horror elements that in the end meld with some pretty heartwarming stuff. I fully realize that this particular ending is as cheesy as Martha being the name of Superman and Batman’s mom, but dangit, Doctor Who does cheesiness right and it always manages to tug my lil’ heartstrings.
Introductions to new companions and Doctor regenerations are things we as fans approach with a cautious optimism. They are almost always great and goose bump-inducing, but there is something really special about Bill's introduction to the T.A.R.D.I.S and The Doctor’s identity. She gives a nice contrast to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and seems free of expositional baggage. Capaldi also seems more comfortable with the role now; Moffat appears to have taken away the dark, gritty edge they were going for last season and instead allows Capaldi to have more fun in The Doctor’s boots.
Right out of the gate, Doctor Who’s premiere episode is one of the best first episodes I have seen of the series in a while. Showrunner Steven Moffat seriously appears to have gone and looked at what the fans want for once. Moffat, who is normally great at creating twists out of an unnecessary amount of complex exposition, seems to have taken a chill pill and let the characters do the work. This episode allows the series to breathe and to take a closer look at its characters. We even get a really great monster of the week episode, which is again a rarity since Moffat took over. “The Pilot” has a classic episode feel to it and has more sensibilities in common with the Russel T. Davies wheelhouse than it does with what we are used to from Moffat. With both Capaldi and Moffat exiting the show soon, maybe the BBC is setting up the groundwork for the next writer and showrunner. Whatever it is, so far, I’m totally on board.