“I Never Know Why, I Only Know Who”

It’s been a long while since we had Doctor Who every week, too long for most our tastes. And between the wait and all the changes announced – from Pearl Mackie’s arrival as the new companion to Peter Capaldi’s imminent departure from the role he made his own (don’t get me started) – there was the usual anticipation and uncertainty about what Series 10 would have in store for us.

Based on that first episode, it looks like we’re in for quite the journey…

Heather and BillAs the kind of reintroduction the show occasionally has to indulge in, Steven Moffat’s “The Pilot” begins with the companion. After the Bad Wolf and DoctorDonna and The Girl Who Waited and The Impossible Girl, Bill Potts (Mackie) is really quite ordinary – which is to say, she’s us. She serves in a university cafeteria. She has a crush on a girl named Heather (Stephanie Hyam). And though she’s not a student, she regularly attends the lectures of everyone’s favorite professor.

ProfessorNo points for guessing that said professor is none other than Twelve. Or for guessing that Bill has caught his notice. There’s a quality to her that he can’t quite identify, and can’t quite escape. (It intrigues him enough that he’s willing to go back in time just so she can have pictures of her mother to look at, in a moment of unexpected kindness from the Grumpy Doctor.) So, one day, perhaps against his better judgment, he calls her into his office…

What follows is less a plot and more a series of vignettes, tied together by the mysterious disappearance and reappearance of Heather. As the girl who’s no longer a girl pursues Twelve and Bill through space and time (including a brief stopover among the Daleks), Bill learns just who this professor is, what he does, and how she fits into the whole thing.

Following “The Return of Doctor Mysterio,” “The Pilot” is another straightforward story from Moffat, and all the better for it. This time, his focus is less on the machinations of his plot than on the relationships between the characters. Granted, he’s still Moffat, so there’s the promise of a season arc – something about a vault that Twelve has sworn to guard – but he seems far more interested in the connection between Twelve and Bill.

Twelve and BillAnd the actors make the most of that connection. Mackie is an absolute delight as Bill, always curious and inquisitive, at once full of wonder and clear headed (seriously, why did it take this long for someone to ask why The Doctor gave his vehicle an English language acronym?). She gives Twelve an opportunity to do one of the things he loves most in the universe: teach. And Capaldi, as he always does, dives into that role with abandon and enthusiasm, whether he’s answering Bill’s questions or asking his own. This is the kind of mentor/protegee relationship we haven’t seen on Doctor Who in years, and I’m excited to see how it plays out over the rest of the season.

If Capaldi must leave (and I’m not convinced he must), “The Pilot” gives us hope that he’ll go out in his usual style.

Thanks as always for reading. I’ll be back soon with my thoughts on the next episode. Until then…

 

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