Sunday 16 April 2017

Doctor Who - The Pilot

Fore Play

Doctor Who - The Pilot
Airdate: 15th April 2017 BBC 1

Well this was a very strong start to the latest series of Britain’s most popular science fiction export (arguably more popular than Professor Quatermass, although I really don’t think it could exist without the good Professor clearing the path in the first place, so to speak). This episode introduces a new companion or, quite possibly, an old companion (yeah, alright, I’ll get to my silly speculation bits later) in the shape of lesbian character Bill Pott’s, played by the really very good Pearl Mackie, and also brings back the current ‘sort of’ companion Nardole, as played by Matt Lucas (who is also good... which shouldn’t surprise me but it does). This is the episode which had a preview scene released quite a while ago (over a year?) but I noticed there’s a heck of a lot less dialogue coming from Bill in the version of the scene as it was presented here so I can only assume that the character has undergone some ‘tweaks’ since she was first written in... well they’ve had a very long time between series’ to tinker with her, I guess.

So the episode starts off strongly for me, personally, because we have The Doctor, now seen to be a lecturer at Bristol University, explaining to students as to the nature of time. Time, he says, is an illusion created by seeing lots of static bits placed in such a way that the perception of them experienced one slice after another gives us a sense of a journey over ‘time’. This is nicely demonstrated with a moment which seems like it would better fit right in with Moffat’s other hit TV show, Sherlock, in that the film itself (although we’re really watching digital, right?) is sliced up before us as a metaphor for the explanation of the true nature of time. I’ve been telling people they’ve been looking at time all wrong for years... as a fluid rather than a static state accessed in a specific way we are mostly cursed with looking at it... it doesn’t exist. So it’s good that the universe’s premiere timelord has finally gone on record as saying this.

Okay, so we have a really good opener because it does what Doctor Who does best... gives us a mystery to work on. In this case there’s more than one because we have the introduction of Bill and the mysteries surrounding her and The Doctor’s mysterious ‘secret vault’... and we also have the writer running through the wet paint very fast to distract us with the mystery which gives the story its name. That of The Pilot... who appears as a manifestation of a permanent puddle which can chase you through time from one end of the galaxy to another and reflect your image back as a feedback the right way around, rather than a true reflection. This in itself is good stuff and this underlying plot, which I won’t detail here, helps explore the sexual diversity of the new companion and does it in a romantic way, full of wonder. So that’s all good then.

We also have another encounter with the Daleks which, fortunately, is only a minor appearance and doesn’t hook in with the main plot. There’s one of a few nice little nods to the history of the show which are found in this episode here in that the Movellans are seen with them. I couldn’t believe it because the last and, I suspect, only other time we saw them was in the Tom Baker serial Destiny Of The Daleks back in 1979. My joy was slightly tempered by the fact that the Daleks we see with them are a more updated design than they were when the Movellans were around but... oh, well... that BBC budget thing is getting in the way of authenticity, I suspect.

Another nice and, I suspect, ‘more important than they’re letting on’ reference came up in the scene where The Doctor was persuaded not to use a memory wipe on Bill. The implication of him falling victim of the very same thing in the last episode to feature Jenna Coleman as the deal breaker here was beautifully re-enforced by composer Murray Gold using his old companion Clara’s theme to support those moments... lovely stuff.

But there’s more than one mystery her to solve and, as is usual for the rebooted Doctor Who stories since the time of Christopher Eccleston’s reincarnation of the character, there’s an underlying puzzle thread to be solved which will obviously be an arc for the entire series. We know that Peter Capaldi will be leaving soon, allegedly during the Christmas special but, I suspect, the transformation may be a little sooner than that... after all the Mondas cybermen who are returning for the last two episodes of the series and who haven’t been seen in the show since 1966 saw the death of the William Hartnell incarnation of the character (who I suspect Bill is named after by the writer, in an affectionate tribute) and it would be a nice, fearful symmetry if they were to cause the death/regeneration of the latest incarnation too. But this is not the real mystery and nor, I suspect, is the vault which The Doctor is apparently guarding. He would know better than to have something precious locked up, surely? He’d hide it in plain sight I would have thought. It could be a TARDIS or a nursery even but, I suspect, something timelordy (especially if The Master is making a return) and so I think it’s about time I went into the ‘wild speculation’ section of this review. So I apologise if all this turns out to be silly...

We are used, over the last ten years or so, to seeing references to the previous episodes of the show and they are usually very brief, blink and you’ll miss them, shout outs. However, we have here a Doctor who has a picture of his 'late' wife River Song on his desk at the University along with a photo of his Grandaghter Susan Foreman, as seen in the first year or so of the original series. She was played by Carol Ann Ford and she left the show in the 1964 story The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, which I reviewed towards the end of last year here. And The Doctor keeps coming back to these photos throughout the episode rather than just have this as a throwaway shout out so... the writer wants us to notice something here.

Now I have several theories on the subject but this is my pet one at the moment. I’m betting on something similar to this but, please remember, I’m only one episode in so the pieces of the puzzle might not all have been revealed as yet...

What’s missing from this set of photos? We have The Doctor’s wife and The Doctor’s granddaughter... no Doctor’s son or daughter... whichever that was. That element is decidedly missing. We also have a new companion called Bill who The Doctor has suddenly taken an interest in and whose mother died when she was born. When she is now given some photos of her mother before she died, she spots the reflection of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor in a mirror taking the photo in one of them. And then she, and we, are all promptly asked to forget about it as the ‘puddle story’ takes up the heat for most of the rest of the episode...

However, if we don’t let ourselves get distracted we have the idea that we have The Doctor who knew Bill’s mum before she died and the idea of memory wipes represented. So my number one theory at the moment is that Bill’s mum was The Doctor’s daughter and, since Pearl Mackie doesn’t seem to be expecting to be staying around past this current series, I’m guessing her mind will be wiped a little and that she is The Doctor’s granddaughter and, when she regenerates into the familiar Susan Foreman incarnation of the character through televisual trickery at the end of the show, she will be left with an earlier incarnation of The Doctor (aka William Hartnell) and he will take her to Coal Hill School, sometime shortly before the very first Doctor Who story, An Unearthly Child, takes place.

Well, that’s my most favourite conclusion at the moment, anyway. Although, if that really does prove to be the case, then the LGBT community will want Moffat’s head on a stick for having a lesbian character who regenerates into a character who runs off with a man at some point. So maybe not. But I like the idea that the new companion ‘may’ be Susan or, at the very least, in some way related to her so... lets see if she’s revealed to be in possession of two hearts anytime soon, eh?

And that’s that for me. Great opener and I can only hope the show continues at this quality. I guess I’ll find out next week.

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