Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Doctor Who Season 10, Episode 1: The Pilot

Hey, look! A new show called Doctor Who! I wonder what it's about?

Yes, Doctor Who is finally back for its tenth season (or thirty sixth, depending on how you count it) after taking off an entire goddamned year. No, wait. Strike that. It's been a whopping SIXTEEN MONTHS since Season 9 ended. Yeah, I know, the BBC aired two Christmas Specials between then and now, but I'm talking about regularly scheduled episodes. Jesus Christ, if a woman became pregnant the day the Season 9 finale aired, she could have carried her child to full term and it would now be seven months old! That's how long it's been 
since the last new episode aired! 

I get that there's always going to be a fairly long gap between Doctor Who's seasons, since each consists of just twelve or thirteen episodes. But sixteen months is definitely pushing it!


It seems like a bad idea to me to go that long between seasons, especially in this day and age. Between TV, Video games, streaming services, the internet and smart phones, there's an overwhelming amount of entertainment out there vying for the audience's attention. Stay out of the public's eye long enough, and they'll find some other way to waste their time, and forget about your show altogether.


On the other hand...


As much as I've bitched and moaned about how long the show's been off the air, it turns out it may not have been such a bad idea after all! Doctor Who felt like a brand new show this week, as the cast and crew were seemingly energized by their time away, and were actually excited at the prospect of filming again. The title of this week's episode
 The Pilot was very appropriate. It very much felt like the pilot episode of a new series. Maybe taking a year and a half off was a good thing!

Anyway, enough of my whining about the show's absence. Now I'm gonna whine about its content!

When Doctor Who returned to the airwaves back in 2005, Russell T. Davies became the series' showrunner. He updated the series and took it to brand new heights, making it a true worldwide phenomenon. Davies wrote many of the series' best episodes, and created many new and memorable monsters.

This week's episode felt a LOT like a Davies' era show. That's a good thing! In fact if I didn't know The Pilot was penned by current showrunner Steven Moffat, I'd swear it was written by Davies himself.

See, Moffat? It IS possible for you to write a decent script when you really want to! If you'd have put out work like this on a consistent basis, I wouldn't have spent the past four or five seasons calling for your head!

As part of the show's fresh start, this week we were introduced to the Doctor's new companion, Bill Potts, as played by actress Pearl Mackie. She was great! I really liked her a lot. 
I have to admit that I wasn't all that impressed with her when I saw her in the preview, but she turned out to be a breath of fresh air. 

Bill actually reminds me a lot of Rose Tyler, the Doctor's first companion in the revived series. Rose was a middle class gal who worked in a shop, while Bill works in a canteen, slinging chips. Rose lost her father at a young age, and Bill lost her mother as a baby. They even have the same accent! Surely this all had to be intentional?

There are a number of mysteries set up in this episode, that I'm sure will be answered before the season ends. Like what's inside the vault that the Doctor and Nardole were tinkering with? Why did he stop traveling in the TARDIS? What made him start lecturing at a college for the past fifty years? Is Bill just a regular working gal, or does she have a secret connection to the Doctor (one of Moffat's pet plotlines)?

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
In the present day (always important to clarify that on this show!), Bill Potts, a young woman who works in the cafeteria at St. Luke's University in Bristol, is summoned to the office of a professor. She's greeted by Nardole, who tells her to take a seat.

As she waits, she looks around the room and sees a blue police box in the corner. She sees photos of two women on the desk (one of River Song, the other of Susan Foreman), along with a cup filled with odd cylindrical objects (which we recognize as sonic screwdrivers, of course). She starts to reach for one, but stops when she hears Beethoven's Fifth blasted out on an electric guitar from an adjoining room. The music stops, and we see the Doctor stick his head out the door.

The Doctor enters the room and asks Bill why she's been attending his lectures even though she's not a student. She says his lectures are amazing, and lots of people who aren't officially in his class attend. She also mentions that even though he's supposedly been teaching at the university for fifty years (possibly even seventy), she can't quite figure out what he's a Doctor of, as he never lectures on any particular subject.

The Doctor notes that when most people don't understand something, they frown. He says that when Bill's puzzled she smiles, which intrigues him. He offers to be her personal tutor. Bill's stunned, but accepts his offer.

Months pass, as Bill attends the Doctor's lectures, as well as their private tutoring sessions. One day Bill sees the Doctor and his odd manservant Nardole walking across the campus, looking around suspiciously. They enter a building and she sneaks in after them. She sees the two of them fiddling with a large vault. Bill accidentally makes a noise, which alerts the Doctor, and she hightails it out of the building.

Bill meets and flirts with a young student named Heather, who has a defect in her left eye that's shaped like a star. Heather looks troubled, and asks Bill to come with her and look at something. They enter a vacant lot with a dark puddle standing in the middle of the asphalt. Heather tells Bill to look into the puddle and see if she can tell what's wrong with her reflection. Bill looks, but doesn't notice anything odd. When she turns around, Heather's gone. Inside the puddle, an ominous voice notes that its search for a "pilot" is over, (Houston, we have a title!) and it's established a link.

During one of her tutoring sessions, Bill mentions to the Doctor that she never knew her mother, as she died shortly after she was born. She says she doesn't even have any photos of her mother, as she didn't like getting her picture taken. A few days later at Xmas, Bill's roommate gives her a shoebox she found in the back of her closet. Inside are dozens of vintage photos of Bill's mother. She stares closely at one, and sees the Doctor's face reflected in a mirror behind her mother. Oddly enough, she never mentions this incongruity for the rest of the episode.

Bill tells the Doctor about the puddle, saying her face looked off in it somehow. Intrigued, the Doctor investigates the puddle, which is still there. He realizes why Bill thought her face looked odd in it— the puddle isn't reflecting, it's mimicking her! She saw her face as others see it, not a mirror image.


The Doctor's unnerved by this, and rushes Bill away, telling her to go back home. She returns to her empty flat, and hears the shower running. She looks in the shower and sees no one's in it, but notices an eye staring at her from inside the drain! Yikes!


She runs out of her flat and is suddenly confronted by a soggy Heather, who lunges at her. Bill runs to the Doctor's office for help. Water flows under the door and reforms into the shape of Heather. The Doctor grabs Bill and they hide inside the TARDIS. As is customary for newbies, she's stunned by the fact that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside.


The Doctor materializes the TARDIS next to the vault, fearing the Heather-thing may be trying to get into it. When he sees it's safe, he takes the TARDIS to Australia. Unfortunately the Heather-thing somehow follows, showing up in front of the Sydney Opera House. The Doctor then travels twenty three million years into the future, to another planet that looks suspiciously like the show's traditional quarries. Sure enough, the Heather-thing appears there as well. Just how a sentient puddle is traveling instantly through time and space is apparently none of our concern (this is a Moffat-written episode, after all).

The Doctor then makes some incredibly intuitive leaps, theorizing that the puddle is made of space engine oil that leaked out of a ship that landed on the campus. And not just any space engine oil— this was intelligent space engine oil. Space engine oil that can shape-shift, and become anything it needs to be. Sure, why not? When Heather looked into it, it absorbed her and took on all her characteristics— including the fact that she wanted nothing more than to leave, and that she was attracted to Bill.

The Doctor then decides to destroy the puddle by "running it through the deadliest fire in the universe." He takes the TARDIS to Skaro, during the Dalek/Movellan War. Sure enough, the Heather-thing follows. It's shot by a Dalek death ray (the deadliest fire in the universe, I guess). Instead of disintegrating though, it takes on the form of a Dalek.

The Doctor seals off all the real Daleks from the room. The Dalek-thing transforms back into the Heather-thing. The Doctor says that after absorbing Heather, it wanted to leave, just like her, and it wanted someone to go with it. 
Bill approaches the Heather-thing and tells it that it has to let her go. It finally collapses into a normal, non-sentient puddle. Um... so much for the monster, I guess?


Back on Earth, the Doctor thanks Bill for her help, and then starts to erase her memory of their adventure. She angrily stops him, asking him how he'd feel if someone tried to take his memories. She storms out of the office.

Outside the building, Bill sees the Doctor waiting for her in front of the TARDIS. He tells her she's right, and he's decided not to erase her memories. He invites her to travel with him and Nardole.


Thoughts:
• For the past four or five seasons, showrunner Steven Moffat has been going hog wild with the "Doctor who?" jokes. The Doctor will meet someone, they'll ask who he is, he'll tell them, "I'm the Doctor" and they'll say "Doctor who?" Comedy ahoy!


It was mildly amusing the first one hundred and forty seven times he did it, but after that it got a bit old. In fact after a while I said I was going to start billing him $20 every time he made a "Doctor who?" joke.


Welp, he almost did it in this episode. When the Doctor offers to tutor Bill, they have the following exchange:


Bill: "Oh, um People just call you the Doctor? What do I call you?"

The Doctor: "The Doctor."
Bill: "But Doctor's not a name. I can't just call you Doctor. Doctor what?"

Cue sad trombone...

I'll give you a discount on that one, Moffat. You owe me ten bucks.


• The opening scene, in which Bill waits in the Doctor's office, is a goldmine of little details.


First of all, the Doctor's TARDIS is parked in the corner of the room, just like the Third Doctor used to do.

See, the Time Lords put the Doctor on trial for messing with time, or the natural order of the universe or something. As punishment, they exiled him on Earth in the 20th Century, and removed all knowledge of TARDIS-piloting from his mind. 


He then became a "scientific consultant" for UNIT, and stored the TARDIS in their lab. It still worked— it was still bigger on the inside and all that— he just couldn't take it out for a spin.


The Doctor's desk features photos of his River Song, his wife, and Susan Foreman. Susan of course was the Doctor's companion during his very first incarnation, way back in 1963.

There's also a little statue of a raven on his desk, which I'm sure is supposed to represent Clara. She was killed by way back in Face The Raven, but a "Quantum Shade" that took the form of a black bird (don't ask). 

This doesn't make any sense, as I'm pretty sure that in Hell Bent, Clara erased all memories of her from the Doctor's mind. I guess his memories are returning? Or maybe he has some subconscious recollection of a raven? I dunno. 


Either way, it seems a bit gruesome to deliberately collect a raven figure. Clara was killed by a weird alien raven. It'd be like displaying the handgun that was used to murder a family member.


Anyway, there's also a pencil cup filled with past models of the Doctor's sonic screwdrivers on the desk.


I'm not a sonic expert, but as near as I can tell, these are the ones on display. The Ninth and Tenth Doctors' sonics were identical except for their handles. I can only see the tips of them here, so I can't tell for sure which is which. You can just make out the Eleventh (and early Twelfth) Doctor's sonic lurking in the back. 

As for the one on the right with the black ring and cylinder— I have no idea it belonged to. As far as I know there was never a sonic with those colors. I'm sure someone out there can help me out and clue me in.


I am also ninety nine percent sure these sonics are all commercially available, store-bought toys, and not made by the Doctor Who prop department. How do I know this? Because I have most of them sitting on my own desk!


That Eighth Doctor appears to be a higher-end model that's actually machined out of real metal. Ditto (possibly) for the mystery one on the right. All the others (which have a much duller silver finish) are made by Character Options. I have those exact same Third, Fourth, Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh/Twelfth sonics!


Even though these sonics are a nice little detail in the episode, their presence doesn't make a lick of sense. As we've seen in previous episodes, the sonics are an extension of the TARDIS. It actually grows them. Any time the Doctor loses a sonic or one is destroyed, it creates another one for him. So why would he still have all these old models? Did he find 'em in his coat pockets? Was he nostalgic for the good old days (back when he was only nine hundred years old?) and ask the TARDIS to whip 'em up for him?


There's also a bust of Shakespeare in the window, which is no doubt a reference to the Season 3 episode The Shakespeare Code. I believe that's also the hat rack that was in the TARDIS control room during the Ninth and Tenth Doctor eras. And if you zoom in, those two circular objects sticking out of the window frame (hinges?) look a little like the Gallifreyan language.

The Doctor also has a bust of Beethoven in his office, which was last seen in Before The Flood.


This one may or may not be a callback— there's a stained glass window in the Doctor's office. In the bottom middle pane, near his elbow, is a coat of arms with the name "Robin Oxley" below it. Does this refer to "Robin Of Loxley," aka Robin Hood? If so, this could be a reference to the Season 8 episode Robot Of Sherwood. The fact that it says "Oxley" instead of "Loxley" though makes me think it's just a coincidence.

Oh, and as Bill waits, the Doctor belts out a few notes of Beethoven's Fifth on his electric guitar, while wearing what look to be his thrice-damned sonic sunglasses.


Whew! I think that's it!


• There's a funny moment when the Doctor's interviewing Bill. She asks (quiet rightly) why, out of all the students in his lecture hall, he's so interested in her. He says, "Well, I noticed you." The camera immediately cuts to the photo of Susan on his desk, who seemingly gives him a very disapproving look. The Doctor glances at the photo and actually looks a bit sheepish for a second, then goes on.

• One of Moffat's most favorite writing quirks is to give the Doctor's various companions little titles. Like "The Girl Who Waited" or "The Impossible Girl."


I realized she's only been in one episode, but so far Bill just seems to be "The Girl." That's a good thing! The idea of each of the Doctor's companions somehow becoming the most important person in the universe, around which all reality revolved, was getting a bit old.


I wonder though... 


As mentioned above, the Doctor keeps a photo of Susan Foreman on his desk. She's been referenced in the revived series before, but not for quite a while. Is there some significance to her (sort of) reappearance in this episode? 


Susan's been something of an unsolved mystery ever since the series began. She was introduced as the Doctor's "granddaughter," even though that relationship has never been confirmed (on TV, at least). Did the Doctor have a family at one point? Or did Susan just call him "Grandfather" as a term of endearment? I dunno.


It just seems odd that Susan would resurface in the same episode in which Bill's introduced. It makes me wonder if Moffat's planning a connection between the two. If Susan's from Gallifrey like the Doctor, then she's a Time Lady, which means she can regenerate. Is Moffat planning on revealing that Bill's a new incarnation of Susan, who for some reason doesn't remember her past? 


Gods, I hope not. Based on Moffat's past track record though, I predict there's a seventy five percent chance of this happening.


• I wonder if there's any significance to the name "Bill?" Is it an homage to Billy Piper, who played Rose Tyler, the Doctor's first companion of the revived series?


• According to Bill, the Doctor's been giving lectures at this college for fifty years— possibly even seventy! This is another of Moffat's favorite tropes— having a huge amount of time pass for the Doctor between seasons or episodes.


Since the Doctor looks pretty much the same as he did last time we saw him (which was fifty to seventy years ago from his point of view), Time Lords apparently age much more slowly than humans.

The fact that the Doctor's been lecturing at this school for fifty years brings up a couple more issues as well. It means Nardole has most likely been puttering around inside the TARDIS for that long as well. 


More importantly, it also means the Twelfth Doctor has spent fifty years living a quiet life at this university while just outside his door, England was regularly attacked by Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans, and every one of his previous incarnations ran around trying to save the place. I guess he was afraid to risk altering time by helping out?


• At one point Bill tells the Doctor that she never knew her mother and doesn't even have any photos of her. A few days later she receives a box of old photos of her mom (taken by the Doctor through the magic of time travel, of course).


The episode kind of glosses over this, but I would LOVE to see just how the Doctor accomplished that feat. Apparently he went back in time, tracked down Bill's mom, said, "Um, yes, you don't know me, but I'm an acquaintance of your future daughter, and since you're going to die soon, I'd like to take some photos of you to give to her twenty years from now."


Does it seem odd that Bill never mentions these photos to the Doctor? Or that she saw his reflection in one? Maybe there just wasn't time in the episode, as she was busy fleeing from the Heather-thing. And maybe once she entered the TARDIS and realized it was a time machine she figured it where the photos came from for herself. Still, something like slightly altering the past for her sake seems like it'd be worth at least a "thank you."


• When Bill noticed that Heather had a defect in her eye that was shaped like a star, I actually groaned a little. OK, a lot

One of Moffat's favorite writing tricks is to give his female characters mysterious little titles, like "The Girl Who Waited" and "The Impossible Girl." I could just see Heather become "The Girl With A Star In Her Eye." And knowing Moffat, he'd mean that literally! Somehow Heather would actually have some sort of interdimentional portal in her eye with a sun on the other side. She'd no doubt use it to fire beams of concentrated starlight from her eye. Thankfully, that didn't come to pass. Yet.

• In a similar vein, Moffat just lovvvvves to create monsters that somehow revolve around bodily functions. The Weeping Angels would get you if you blinked. The Hiders would get you if you accidentally looked at them. The Clockwork Cyborgs would detect you if they heard you breathe.
 He even had a monster made up of the gunk in the corner of your eye!

So imagine my horror when I saw this episode featured some sort of monster in a puddle. I was sure it would turn out to be some kind of pee or drool creature. Again, thankfully that didn't turn out to be the case. It's a testament to Moffat's "talent" though that I honestly thought it could!

• Credit where credit's due— that is one scary-ass image! Even if it does remind me a bit of the Dead Marshes from The Fellowship Of The Ring.

• Apparently Moffat's a fan of J-Horror. It's pretty hard not to think of Dark Water while watching this episode.

• When Bill finally notices that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside, she asks how that's possible. Nardole says, "First you have to imagine a very big box fitting inside a very small box. Then you have to make one. It's the second part people normally get stuck on."


This echoes the Fourth Doctor's explanation of the TARDIS to his companion Leela, way back in The Robots Of Death in 1977. In that episode, the Doctor places a small box on the TARDIS console, next to Leela. He then takes a larger box and moves it ten or twenty feet away, so it looks smaller. The Doctor says, "If you could keep that exactly that distance away and have it here, the large one would fit inside the small one.” Leela says, "That's silly." The Doctor says, "THAT'S trans-dimensional engineering!"


• When the Doctor tells Bill that "TARDIS" stands for "Time And Relative Dimension In Space," she points out a flaw in the name:


Bill: "Doesn't make sense, then."

The Doctor: "What doesn't?"
Bill: "TARDIS. If you're from another planet, why would you name your box in English? Those initials wouldn't work in any other language!"
The Doctor: "People don't generally bring that up."

Whoops! Apparently Moffat forgot that neither the Doctor nor the Time Lords named the TARDIS. It was Susan Foreman who coined the term in the very first episode, An Unearthly Child. Presumably she did this right after arriving on Earth and learning English, which would explain why the acronym works out. No doubt the TARDIS has a completely different name in Gallifreyan.


• It's the return of the quarry!

The Doctor takes the TARDIS twenty three million years into the future to escape the Heather-thing. Once they arrive they exit the TARDIS, and the planet they're on looks amazingly like the rock quarry where they filmed most of the exteriors in the original series! Actually the new series has had its share of "Quarry Planets" as well!


• In order to destroy the Heather-thing, the Doctor says he's going to run it through the "deadliest fire in the universe." In other words, the death ray of a Dalek.

Really? A Dalek death ray is hotter and more deadly than the sun? I bet if he flung the Heather-thing into the sun that'd take care of her. Why does no one in sci-fi shows ever think of using the sun to destroy things? Because it's too easy?


• When the Doctor takes the TARDIS to Skaro, he and Bill wander into a skirmish between the Daleks and a group of humanoids dressed in fabulous attire.

Those would be the Movellans, a race of very Rick James-esque disco dancers. Hey, it was the 70s, what can I say? They appeared in the 1971 story Destiny Of The Daleks, in which they invaded Skaro with the intent of wiping out the Dalek race.

It was kind of cool to see a race from the old series pop up. That said, they're at least the tenth bit of fan service that appeared in this episode. I hope the entire season isn't going to be this reference-heavy.


• The episode wants the audience to feel bad for the puddle of intelligent space engine oil (wow, THAT has to be a sentence that's never been typed before in the history of the English language!), because it's sad and "looking for someone who's looking for it."

Everyone seems to be glossing over the fact that, whether it meant to or not, the puddle straight up killed Heather. I say it got what it deserved!


• Once the Heather-thing's destroyed, Bill seemingly sheds a tear for her friend. Or does she? Nardole looks at Bill and says, "That's the Doctor for you. Never notices the tears." Bill quietly replies, "I don't think they're mine."


Oh god. Some of the Heather-thing splashed onto Bill's face, and now she's going to become infected with intelligent spaceship oil, isn't she? I know how Moffat's mind works!

• At the end of the episode, the Doctor wants to erase Bill's memories of him to preserve his secret identity (despite the fact he's never much bothered about this before now). He starts to place his hands on her temples, just like the Tenth Doctor did to Donna Noble when he wiped her memories in Journey's End.


• This Week's Best Lines:
Bill: "There was this girl. Student. Beautiful. Like a model, only with talking and thinking."

The Doctor: "Time! Time doesn't pass. The passage of time is an illusion, and life is the magician. Because life only lets you see one day at a time. You remember being alive yesterday, you hope you're going to be alive tomorrow. So it feels like you're travelling from one to the other. But nobody's moving anywhere."


Bill: "Why do you run like that?"

The Doctor: "Like what?"
Bill: "Like a penguin with its arse on fire!"
The Doctor: "Ergonomics."

Bill: (referencing Heather to the Doctor) "Look, I know you know lots of stuff about, well, basically everything, but do you know any sci-fi?"

The Doctor: "Go on."
Bill: "Well, what if she's possessed? Something like that."
The Doctor: "Possessed by what?"
Bill: "I don't know. I saw this thing on Netflix. Lizards in people's brains."
The Doctor: "Right. So, you meet a girl with a discolored iris and your first thought is she might have a lizard in her brain? I can see I'm going to have to up my game!"
(today I learned they apparently have Netflix in England!)

Bill: (seeing the inside of the TARDIS for the first time) "It's like a..."

The Doctor: "Spaceship..."
Bill: "...kitchen!"
The Doctor: "A what?"
Bill: "A really posh kitchen, all metal. What happened with the doors, though? Did you run out of money?"

The Doctor: (describing the TARDIS) "What you are standing in is a technological marvel. It is science beyond magic. This is the gateway to everything that ever was or ever can be!"

Bill: "Can I use the toilet?"
The Doctor: "Pardon?"
Bill: "I've had a fright. I need the toilet."
The Doctor: (exasperated) "It's down there, first right, second left, past the macaroon dispenser."
Bill: "Thanks."
Nardole: (seeing Bill in the TARDIS) "Oh, human! Human alert. Do you want me to repel her?"
The Doctor: "She's just passing through. She wants to use the toilet."
Nardole: "Oh. I'd give it a minute if I were you!"

Bill: "Are you from space?"

The Doctor: "No, of course not. Nobody's from space. I'm from a planet like everybody else."

Bill: "Is everything out here evil?"

The Doctor: "Hardly anything is evil, but most things are hungry. Hunger looks very like evil from the wrong end of the cutlery. Or do you think that your bacon sandwich loves you back?"

The Doctor: (to the Heather-thing) "You've already taken one person from the Earth. I'm going to let that pass, because I have to, but I will not let you take another."

The Doctor: "Bill! You all right?"

Bill: "Yeah, I think so."
Nardole: "You don't look all right."
The Doctor: "She's fine."
Nardole: "That's the Doctor for you. Never notices the tears."

Bill: "Yeah, cos I think you're going to wipe my memory. I'm not stupid, you know. That's the trouble with you. You don't think anyone's ever seen a movie. I know what a mind-wipe looks like!"

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