With the exception of The Return of Doctor Mysterio, it’s been a long long time since we’ve had a proper episode of Doctor Who. It was always going to be interesting to see how the show would reshape itself going forward. Series 9 effectively closed the book on a large chunk of Moffat’s contributions going back to David Tennant’s tenure as the Doctor with Clara’s exit as well as the Doctor’s final adventure with River Song in 2015’s Christmas Special. Considering how interconnected Moffat made his own mythos, it’s a testament to how much the show can feel like a pilot (as the title itself handily points out) despite having gone on so long under this showrunner alone.
To start with: the show rectifies easily one of the most awkward parts of Moffat’s tenure which is a distinct lack of visible LGBT characters (I’m sorry but a Silurian doesn’t count in the grand scheme of optics) with the introduction of Bill. Which isn’t to say that’s the only notable thing about her, but it goes a long way towards neutralizing any ideas that her relationship with the Doctor is something akin to that of the ones he shared with Amy and Clara. That’s a good thing especially considering how much time the show under Moffat and Russell T. Davies spent on companions gushing over the Doctor and vice versa. A more platonic relationship won’t hurt anyone, especially considering what a bad idea it might be to try something similar so soon after the end of Clara’s arc on the show.
Peter Capaldi continues to be an amazing Doctor and the change in stride allows him to bring out a different side of the Doctor. While a Doctor trying and failing to retire after loss has been done before with Smith and Tennant, the more melancholy side Capaldi brings in his attempts to save people from being pulled to his orbit is pretty fascinating in comparison to the earlier morally ambigious take he’s played in his tenure. That also does a great job of allowing Pearl Mackie to play Bill’s more saavy companion against the Doctor in situations where he’d normally get away with his brand of shenanigans, whether that’d be his attempt to erase her memories, or his trying to push her away.
That being said: the show does a pretty successful job of essentially rebooting itself. This episode is the closest thing the show can have to a pilot since Rose way back in 2005. The show teases out just enough of its prior history, whilst using Bill as a lead in the most sketched out a companion has been in a lead character since (again) the Russell T. Davies years and Clara post-Smith. This leads to a pretty neat break from the Doctor-centricity of companion stories, and moreover the idea of the Doctor being in one place over decades opens up a different set of storytelling possibilities for a seasonal arc compared to previous seasons, especially with the normally routine-allergic Doctor having to take up something resembling a normal life.
While the episode suffers a bit from having a rather ill-defined villain, that’s not the worst crime a Doctor Who episode can commit. It manages to cram in an astonishing amount of plot, as well as giving the basics of what the show is like in one episode, and introducing a new companion. Overall there aren’t many times that a show running for 10 seasons, let alone over 50 years can loop back into itself and start fresh, and if you’re a new fan looking to get introduced to Doctor Who: you’re definitely in the right place to start.
4 Puddles out of 5