“The Pilot” Review

The new term has started in Doctor Who and The Pilot comes close to getting a first from me.

Any Doctor Who is welcome, of course, after the drought. Mind you, even with so few episodes, I’ve failed to keep up the blog. I never got to posting about Husbands of River Song, perhaps because I was disappointed about the uneven tone – and though I always enjoy River, her chemistry with Twelve failed to ignite the fireworks I’d anticipated. (Perhaps either the story or Capaldi’s ‘no romance’ edict needed to give way here…) At least I gave my thoughts on The Return of Doctor Mysterio in a Fusion Patrol Podcast – I loved it like I love Superman. And in the world of Doctor Who my posts about Class petered out… I have to admit I haven’t finished watching it yet; I thought it well made and intriguing, but not especially compelling. Now I’m rather behind, due to it premiering in the holiday, with the new series.

The most anticipated aspect of The Pilot was Pearl Mackie, who we’d only seen in the asBill clip which I found underwhelming. However, I loved the character of Bill, Mackie’s performance, and as ever enjoyed an episode structured from an outsider’s point of view. Having the Doctor as a University lecturer is one of those genius concepts that works so well you just can’t believe it hasn’t been done before, and Capaldi is just getting better and better (as a teacher channelling Hugh Laurie’s Gregory House). Just imagine what we’d get from him if he stayed on for another year… if only!

St Luke’s University Bristol bears a remarkable resemblance to where I work except all the buildings are in different places. In the theatre Doctor lectures in I saw Steven Moffat talk about Death in Heaven immediately following a preview screening.

The episode is full of lovely character moments, and stays on course for a first… until the plot starts to intrude. The delightful small moments (the carpet under the TARDIS, the mysterious vault, the enigmatic but enchanting Heather with her ‘defect’) are woven through an atmospheric first half… I always prefer the powerful suspense of direct and immediate threats than the bombast of the overblown destruction-of-the-Universe plot. The water monster was ok (despite its being less menacing than the puddle) but a time travelling Dalek defeating water monster? That’s some ridiculously over-specified engine-oil there. However I really did enjoy the trip to Australia – night to day not being a journey in time, just space.

Steven Moffat’s script, as ever, was full of delightful one liners. My favourite – narrowly beating Bill pegging the TARDIS interior as a knock-through – was her believing that it could go “anywhere in the Univers…ity”.

There are a number of titles in this series that seem to be making a bit of mischief by adopting names of almost-episodes: in this case unaired pilot from 1963. Most British TV pilots, if they’re aired, end up with a proper title. But the pilot of Doctor Who was re-shot and the unaired pilot is available on DVD and commonly referred to by this title. Now there will be plenty of confusion among fans when we discuss either of these episodes… but there’s also more to come later in the series.

Special mention for the music: while there were some old favourite, there are some great new cues. The direction was sumptuous, a big part of why that first half was so mesmeric: Laurence Gough’s first Doctor Who. I hope he does many more.

Intriguingly, several loose ends. The vault? The Doctor’s interest in Bill? The fate of Heather…?

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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