A Sense of Wonder: Doctor Who – Season 10: ‘The Pilot’

“Do you think your bacon sandwich loves you back?”

One of the great things about Moffat-era Doctor Who is the way he uses the gaps between series to move things on in the Doctor’s life. The great skill of The Pilot is that as Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) was shown into the Doctor’s study by Nardole (Matt Lucas), you really felt as if you were being reintroduced to an old, eccentric acquaintance you hadn’t seen for a long time – in real time, of course we were. Underlining the point, the photos of Susan and River on the Doctor’s desk were a nice touch.

It’s easy to argue that The Pilot was Moffat’s version of Rose because of the basic structure: Bill meeting a strange, enigmatic man, being the first to engage with an alien threat, going for trip in the TARDIS then accepting an offer to travel with him – which even took place at night. Bill even has a single (step) mum she lives with in a flat.

What was different about it was the way Bill and the Doctor took time to get to know each other; he’s spotted her as someone special – ‘Most people when they don’t understand something, they frown… you smile’ – and she enjoyed and was inspired by his lectures, a mutual respect that built over several months (and through one Christmas).

The character moments were evenly paced as Bill, the Doctor, and later Nardole got to know each other. When the narrative needed rapidly moving on and, notably, when Bill felt disorientated by her world-view being radically expanded, there was an adrenalized visual vocabulary of hand-held camera work, speeded up scenes and jump cuts.

New director Lawrence Gough, director of last year’s short Bill intro sequence Friend from the Future, knows how to handle atmosphere and tea-time horror too, with his various, strikingly macabre manifestations of the water creature pursuing the TARDIS trio – Bill’s crush Heather (an excellent, focused Stephanie Hyam); an eye looking up from a plughole; drops seeping through a mirror; a giant face in a water spout…

There was a nice contrast between Bill and Heather’s positions here: both are characters who don’t fit in which was, perhaps, why they were attracted to each other (Heather’s David Bowie-style, mis-matched coloured eyes were a visual clue). While Bill built a way out from her conventional existence through her developing relationship with the Doctor, Heather’s restlessness and attraction to the out-of -the-ordinary led to her being slaved to an alien force.

Hyam was so good I hope we see more of her, which is an odds-on bet as the nature of the alien puddle and its pilot has yet to be explained, along with why the Doctor was ‘undercover’ at a university.

The Pilot was new but different and, it has to be said, as a good a jumping on point for a new audience as Steven Moffat claimed at the IMAX last week. Crucially, Pearl Mackie’s entirely credible performance really communicated a sense of wonder and freshness.

All good, then. And can I just say – John Simm with a beard!

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