The Doctor Who revival series has made it to its tenth season! To me, this feels like almost as much of a milestone as the series’ overall 50th anniversary, and as it turns out the 10th season premiere, “The Pilot,” is a worthy start. In fact, I’d say it’s the best Doctor Who season premiere since “The Eleventh Hour” back in 2010.
I took to new companion Bill Potts very quickly, quicker than I thought, perhaps because she is so different from Clara in exactly the way Clara herself was not very different from Amy. Bill also has a good rapport with the Doctor, one that’s based on a shared intellectual curiosity, which is a nice change of pace from companions who have a crush on him or who are simply thrilled with the adventure of it all. I continue to be amused by Nardole’s presence as the Doctor’s de facto butler, even if he didn’t have a whole lot to do this episode. I hope he sticks around and becomes a more active player in future episodes. I adored the collection of old-time sonic screwdrivers on the Doctor’s desk, as well as the picture of his granddaughter Susan. I was intrigued by the mysterious vault the Doctor is guarding. What’s inside it? It must be something pretty important for the Doctor to give up traveling and disguise himself as a university professor for the past fifty years to keep an eye on it. (Then again show runner Steven Moffat is pretty terrible when it comes to season-long arcs, so I’m halfway expecting to be disappointed when the vault finally opens.)
But mostly I came away from “The Pilot” mourning the knowledge that this is Peter Capaldi’s final season as the Doctor. I think he is superb in the role, a monumental step up from Matt Smith (come at me, Smith fans, I will fight you!), and when the Doctor is written right, as he is in “The Pilot,” Capaldi stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of John Pertwee and Tom Baker. I wish he would stay longer. This “three seasons and out” pattern the actors seem to have fallen into is too bad. We barely get a chance to know a Doctor before the next one comes along, with the unfortunate side effect that the regeneration episodes become trite, formulaic, and expected.
“The Pilot” was written by Moffat, so it does suffer from a few annoying Moffatisms. We get a fat joke right up front when Bill describes what happened after she continually gave her crush extra chips in the cafeteria. Plot threads are raised and then immediately dropped (Bill notices the Doctor’s reflection in the old photographs of her mother but never asks him about it). There’s a needless riddle (“What’s the one thing you never see when you look at your reflection?”). The antagonist’s powers remain just undefined enough to let Moffat do whatever he thinks will make for a cool scene instead of something logical (how and why does it shapeshift into a Dalek? A Dalek can’t look down into a puddle’s reflection, and changing into a Dalek has no strategic importance anyway for a creature that can’t be destroyed by their weapons). The Doctor’s electric guitar and (sonic?) sunglasses make a cameo at the start of the episode, which hopefully will be the only time we see them this season because ugh, enough already. And of course the power of love saves the day, because Moffat can never seem to resist treacle.
There’s not a whole lot of Doctor Who neepery to share this time. I already mentioned the old sonic screwdrivers and the picture of Susan. But one marvelous bit that was only seen briefly made me smile, and that was the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it return of the Movellans, a race of alien androids with silver dreadlocks last seen in the 1979 Fourth Doctor serial “Destiny of the Daleks.” The Movellans were locked in a never-ending war with the Daleks, and in fact it was this war that made the Daleks return to Skaro to resurrect their creator, Davros, whom we saw again as recently as last season.
“The Pilot” is a promising start to a milestone season. Longtime readers of these reviews will recall that I thought last season was a strong one, perhaps the best since Moffat took over, and I’m hoping this season will continue the upward trend. With a cast of characters this strong it ought to. However, the next episode features robots that only speak in emojis, so…