by Paul Kelly
I'm not going to lie, I've been decidedly lukewarm about season ten. The teasers failed to tease me, the promise of things to come felt decidedly unpromising, and there was a real paucity of genuinely interesting news to whet my appetite. Even the John Simm news leak last week failed to ignite my enthusiasm. And Nardole being upgraded to full-time companion felt like the final kick in the goolies. This is your final season, Steven. Your last chance to go out with a bang. Where are the big names, cool surprises, and the promise of gratuitous ex-companion cameos?
Of course, that's the thing about surprises: they tend to be surprising. So once I'd got my head around the fact that we don't know everything that's going to happen this season, and that future revelations are practically guaranteed, I calmly unknotted my knickers, spat the dummy from my mouth, and settled down with an open mind... only to discover that this episode was actually pretty good. It was beautifully filmed (the library and Christmas scenes in particular), refreshingly slow paced, mostly character driven, and gave off a distinctly Shada-esque (Big Finish) vibe. Sure, Nardole was still utterly pointless (I'll get to him in a moment), and it was oddly lacking in the usual thrills and spills we've come to expect from a season opener, but as a companion introduction, it's probably one of my favourites of the new era.
A lot has been said about Bill's sexuality prior to this episode airing. I read somewhere that Bill would be outed as a lesbian in her second line of dialogue. It wasn't quite that quick, but it happened early on, and was effectively done. True, her fat joke felt a little inappropriate in today's (hopefully) more enlightened climate, and the explanatory dialogue occasionally felt a tad incoherent, but I thought Bill's introduction felt organic, and mercifully her gayness wasn't played for laughs or shock value. Pearl Mackie is someone I have no prior knowledge of, so this was my first exposure to her acting, but so far I'm liking what I see. And if at some point they end up finding Heather again, I'd be okay with that. I'd also be cool with the whole season revolving around them scoffing chips.
Interestingly, Bill actually feels like a real person, and I don't think I've felt that way about a companion in a while. Maybe it's because she's working class, or maybe her deductive leaps don't seem quite as improbable as we've seen from companions of old. In fact, the way she reacted to time travel by almost vomiting, and her rational analysis of the Doctor's deceits, all felt reassuringly grounded in reality, and to be quite frank, were a breath of fresh air. Shame Nardole had to pollute that fresh air with his toilet humour. I like a good poo joke as much as the next person (assuming the next person isn't my grandma), but this is the 21st century guys. You're going to have to do a lot better than nicking a gag from the 1960s, bunging it in Lucas' mouth, and hoping that nobody will notice.
I have nothing against Nardole as a character, and I certainly don't dislike Matt Lucas, he just never seems to do anything interesting. He could quite easily have been excised from tonight's episode, and the story would've been none the poorer for it. That's three episodes in a row where he's been virtually redundant. I'm tempted to think that he wasn't even supposed to be in this episode, and was written in at the last minute, such was the generic nature of his dialogue. In fact, his lines could quite easily have been Bill's, and those that couldn't did little to round out his character. He was a gimmick in 'The Husbands of River Song,' was superfluous in 'The Return of Doctor Mysterio,' and did nothing to justify his place aboard the TARDIS tonight. I get that Moffat has a story in mind for him—at least I hope he does—but when's it going to manifest in something compelling?
The villain of the week, despite not really being a villain at all, I thought worked well. She was probably a little underdeveloped, but her bodily secretions were an eerie tip of the hat to 'The Waters of Mars', and the jump scares were effectively done. I'm not sure Heather promising to never leave Bill was the most convincing way of explaining her obsessive behaviour, but it served to tell us something about the Doctor's new companion, set up a potential future plot point, and was kind of sweet to boot. In fact, as an introduction to Bill, I'd say tonight's episode was a resounding success. As a season opener, I'm perhaps less enthusiastic. It was a little too low-key, which in an episode specifically crafted as a jumping-on point for new viewers, is frankly less than optimal. Still, it's early days and we still have the draw of John Simm to come. I just hope Moffat writes his Master with more subtlety than Davies ever did.
—This episode was originally called 'A Star in her Eye' but was renamed 'The Pilot' presumably to reflect the soft reboot. Odd timing for a reboot, though, especially with a much bigger one due next year.
—Bill's hair under that party hat looked magnificent.
—Murray Gold's score seemed horrendously over-the-top at times. Occasionally, it was deliberately beefy to enhance the humour, but more often than not it was far more dramatic than what was happening onscreen.
—The name of the new Doctor has allegedly been leaked online. If you want to know who it is: Google it. Might be a load of bollocks, might not. Isn't the internet exciting/annoying?
Doctor: 'Any questions?'
Bill: 'Is this a knock-through?'
Bill: 'Look at this place. It's like a...'
Bill: '... Kitchen!'
Doctor: 'A what?'
Bill: 'A really posh kitchen. All metal. What happened with the doors though? Run out of money?'
Doctor: 'The vault alarm went off, but it was nothing. A student was sick outside and it registered as a biological attack.'
Bill: 'I know what a mind-wipe looks like!'
For mor peaces eye rote, sea hear.