The tenth season of Doctor Who began today, and with it begins the end of an era in the Doctor Who legacy, and the birth of another. Here’s a look at what we know about season ten and an in-depth take on the new episode, “The Pilot.”
What We Know (Spoiler-Free)
Going into season ten of Doctor Who, there are a few things fans will want to know.
Most Doctor Who fans have seen the news that this will be the final season for Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, but Pearl Mackie, who will be playing the brand new companion, Bill, may already be planning to exit at the end of season ten as well and showrunner Steven Moffat will also be leaving at the end of the season.
Before that happens, however, fans are on the edges of their respective seats for a powerful reunion this season. Actor John Simm, who played the fan-favorite version of The Master during David Tennant’s run as the Doctor, is confirmed to make an appearance in season ten.
“John Simm will return as the Master to battle the Doctor (Peter Capaldi), new companion Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas) in the forthcoming series of Doctor Who.
John Simm says: ‘I can confirm that it’s true, thanks to the power of time travel I’m back. It’s always a pleasure to work with this great team of people and I can’t wait for you all to see what the Master gets up to in the next series.’
[…]As previously announced, Doctor Who series 10 will also star Michelle Gomez as Missy – a later regeneration of the Master. Other returning foes include the Daleks, the Ice Warriors and – returning for the first time in over 50 years – the Mondasian Cybermen. An exciting line up of new faces and adversaries will debut across the series, including adorable-but-deadly Emojibots and David Suchet as the Landlord.”
This season is also breaking new ground for the show with the first openly gay companion in the entire half-century history of the series. Some people might think of Jack Harness when talking about gay characters on the show, but Harkness himself, were he not fictional, might scoff at such a restrictive view of his sexuality. It is also notable that Bill is a gay woman, a demographic rarely represented realistically in the media. It’s a shame such a groundbreaking character may be such a short-lived one.
Today, just in time for the season ten premiere, The Mirror received inside information confirming the identity of the next Doctor to be Kris Marshall. That’s right. A real-life redhead. Finally.
While it seems season ten will send the lead stars and showrunner out with a ‘bang,’ season eleven may end up being a complete tabula rasa for the series, with a new doctor, a new companion, and a new lead showrunner all taking over at the same time. It is possible that Matt Lucas, who plays Nardol, will stay on to provide some stability for fans through the transition, but in the long run, it has always been these drastic changes that have kept Doctor Who so fresh and popular for so many years.
Without constant change, a series could never last 50 years. Embrace the chaos and excitement of regeneration! That’s what the Doctor would do.
“The Pilot” (Spoilers Ahead!)
The episode opens with a ticking clock and a squeaking step. Bill is escorted into an office by Nardol (now the only returning character aside from the Doctor himself) who has a new, albeit squeaky, body. Bill explores the office, and the building blocks of this new season laid out around her, immediately showing off her inquisitive side, which seems to be an important driving force in her life.
As Bill sits in front of a desk the audience is shown two framed pictures, one of River Song and one of Susan, the Doctor’s very own granddaughter, as well as a pencil holder full of sonic screwdrivers. This incarnation of the Doctor has had a difficult time settling on a screwdriver, using sunglasses initially, and eventually giving River the screwdriver he had chosen. It seems that the Doctor has still not been able to replace the screwdriver he gave to River. This detail may hint at plot development going forward. The Doctor may need to face his grief.
While there’s plenty of number eleven on screen, the majority of the episode is focused on Bill’s experience. This is a smart move by the episode’s creators. As the Doctor, who has apparently been settled into life as a professor at a university for a “very long time” now, lectures on the theory that time is all happening at once, we see moments of Bill’s life. We see her falling for a starry-eyed girl at a bar.
The mystery girl with the star in her eye ends up being the episode’s monster of the week in a sad turn of events, but it is her strong connection with Bill and Bill’s own thoughtful intelligence that solves the mystery and saves the day, ultimately bringing a satisfying end to this particular adventure.
This episode fearlessly treats the audience to beautiful and profound moments of humanity from Bill. It’s easy to see Bill as honest, human, inquisitive, skeptical, intelligent, and funny right off that bat. Before the episode has even reached its midpoint, Bill has likely brought half the audience to tears. The focus on her perspective of the events happening, on her experience of the world, goes a long way to making Bill both incredibly likable and surprisingly relatable. This is how a television show introduces a new character properly. If this episode did one thing better than anything else, it was bringing Bill to life.
When the adventure is over and the alien monster is defeated, the Doctor tries to erase Bill’s memory, but she isn’t having it. “I know what a mind wipe looks like!” the sci-fi savvy companion tells our Doctor. When she finally agrees, she asks him to put himself in her shoes.
“But imagine,” she tells him. “Just imagine how it would feel it someone did this to you.”
And then the music from Clara’s theme plays. The Doctor does know what it feels like to have something important taken from your mind. He still has no memory of Clara. He changes his mind and, in classic Doctor Who fashion, he opens the TARDIS doors and invites Bill inside before the end credits roll and another adventure begins.
If this episode is an accurate indication of Bill Potts as a companion, then the audience would be immensely fortunate to have an actress as talented as Pearl Mackie gracing the screen for an entire season if she decides to leave after just one, but audiences are likely going Mackie sticks around after this performance.
It is also worth mentioning that Bill’s sexuality, while certainly addresses and meaningful, was never once made out to be a big deal. The writers handled Bill’s sexuality with care, subtlety, and consideration.
Pearl Mackie as Bill was clearly a brilliant shining light in this episode, but Matt Lucas as Nardol was exceedingly hilarious throughout and deserves recognition for his ability to endear his character to the audience as well. Lucas’s quiet witty quips are perfect and surprisingly effortless considering the pressure of carrying an audience into such new territory.
What did you think of the new episode of Doctor Who, “The Pilot?” What do you think the name of the episode means?