Welcome back, readers! Damn, it’s been a long time and also HOT DAMN that was a great episode that looks like the start of a great season. So, to review, we saw the Doctor say farewell (…ish) to Clara at the end of season 9 in the finale, “Hell Bent.” Then, in the 2015 Christmas Special, “The Husbands of River Song,” we saw his final (?) adventures with his Sweetie and were introduced to Nardole, who apparently stuck around, because he also appeared a few months ago as the Doctor’s sole companion in “The Return of Doctor Mysterio,” the 2016 Christmas special. As the special ends, Nardole tells the incidental characters “He’s the Doctor. He’s very brave and he’s very silly and I think, for a time, he’s going to be very sad. But I promise, in the end, he’ll be all right. I’ll make sure of it,” so it looks like he’s here to stay.
We quickly learn in the premiere that Nardole was right, as the Doctor has stayed in one place as a professor at a university, the TARDIS idle in the corner of his office, bearing an “Out of Order” sign and framed photos of lost loved ones (one of River and another of his first companion, his granddaughter Susan) staring at him from his desk. Much as I appreciated the callback, as a classic Whovian, seeing her did strike me a bit funny, but after meeting his new companion, the association makes a lot of sense. As when he lost the Ponds, the Doctor seems to have given up travelling and gone into a funk. I’d ding the show for repeating a beat, but Clara and River were both pretty important to him and he was separated from both of them when their apparent deaths were imminent, so I think a grieving period should be allowed. Still, there are few things he loves more than being clever while others look on, so the lecturer role was a brilliant fit.
Enter Bill Potts. I like her. She’s a natural choice for a companion, she doesn’t seem to think like everyone else. It’s a leap to say that she thinks like the Doctor, but it’s fair to say the way she thinks is the way he likes people to think. As the Doctor gleefully notes, she smiles when she doesn’t know something. She doesn’t get bogged down in the obvious, she doesn’t accept everything at face value, she doesn’t let not knowing stop her from trying to figure things out; in short, she’s not stupid. In asking how to refer to her new tutor, she says “Doctor what?” In all my years watching this show, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone ask that question, even though it’s a completely natural way to phrase it. It would have been so easy to make that question yet another play on the show’s title, but that’s not who Bill is. From her “bigger on the inside” moment to her puzzling out the Pilot’s problem with the Doctor, you can see her learning process and how excited she is by it and that’s where the connection to Susan, an inquisitive teen with a bright mind, starts to click. Everyone involved in Bill’s creation, from the actress to the writers to the wardrobe team, have done a great job of giving a clear, strong sense of who she is from the jump.
The show’s powerful theme of the link between memory and reality is as present as ever in this episode. Following their adventure, the Doctor tries to mind wipe Bill and push her away and she calls him on it, asking how he’d feel if someone did it to him. Obviously, given the nature of a mind wipe, he’s not going to remember that someone did do it to him, but there was some sort of recognition in his performance that, combined with a quick strain of Clara’s theme in the soundtrack, makes me think we will probably see her again. As is usual for Capaldi’s masterful performance, I genuinely felt the Doctor’s pain as he honored her request to think about how it would feel if he were mindwiped: either he literally has never considered how it feels or (more likely in my opinion, given his recent experience) he knows the pain all too well but has convinced himself that this is the kinder path. He tried to do the same to Clara when they first met in “The Snowmen,” she him resisted then, just as Bill did. That’s another reason I think Bill’s going to be a great companion, she challenges him, in a different way from Clara or River, but in a way that he needs. As soon as he grabbed her hand and ran away from the Dalek with her, I knew she and 12 would be quite a pair.
The monster of the week was a pretty good way to get the adventures going again. It’s not the coolest plot I’ve ever seen, but it served its purpose. The ship in search of a pilot who wants to leave was reminiscent of the ship from “The Lodger,” which we saw again in the “Day of the Moon.” Does this mean the Silence will be back this season? Their story was pretty well wrapped up in “The Time of the Doctor,” but the show is notorious for bringing back popular baddies (see also: the completely unnecessary Dalek, (PLEASE stop trotting them out, it steadily decreases the shock value you’re going for every time you do it, Show)), so I wouldn’t be surprised. The flow of events, from Doctor finds protege to protege has alien contact to protege pulls Doctor out of a funk to deal with alien threat, is familiar and natural, though it appears the Doctor hasn’t sworn off adventuring entirely, as is evidenced by the mysterious set of doors we see him and Nardole investigating in a basement at the university (I do hope we get back to those). I also thought taking Bill on the run from the soaking Pilot was a nice fresh approach to introducing a new companion to the show’s basics, step by step (and I appreciated the mini celebration by the Doctor and Nardole when she “got there”). It wasn’t the most exciting or riveting episode of Doctor Who, but it had a job to do and it got that job done without being too clunky or heavy-handed.
So, for the first time in a while for me, I’m able to watch the episodes live on BBCA, which is an interesting experience. They REALLY want us to watch Class, which I’m not opposed to in theory, but in reality I have two little kids and sleep is important and it’ll be on Netflix someday. I do hope they won’t be continuing the practice of playing the preview of next week’s Doctor Who during Class. Not cool, BBCA. Also lame? Playing a preview of the end of the episode during the episode. This is not some dumb reality show, this is one of the finest science fiction shows in the history of television. You don’t need to do that to get this audience to stick around. That kind of promo-monkeying never ends well.
All in all, I’m excited to see how this season turns out. It’s been too long since the TARDIS crew had more than one companion coming from different backgrounds (Amy and Rory don’t count), so it’s high time for that to return. They used to have multiple companions all the time in classic Who and it really allowed for more diverse storytelling, deeper investment in the characters, and just a variety of perspectives. Simply put, you can do more with more characters. Much as I was critical of season 9, I really do enjoy Capaldi’s Doctor. I’ll be sad to see him go, but I’m very interested to see how they’ll set up the regeneration this time and I have no idea what to expect from his recently announced successor, Kris Marshall, who may be coming into the story earlier in the season than expected, according to reports. There was some buzz surrounding the final season 10 trailer, fans claimed you could see a few frames of regeneration starting, which wasn’t so shocking to me since we know it’s coming. But since Capaldi has teased that his regeneration won’t be as straightforward as we’d expect and Marshall has already left his other gig, I’m just dying to see what they’re going to do this time. On top of that, we’ve got also got both Missy and John Simm’s Master to look forward to, maybe they’ll be involved in the regeneration storyline as well. Two Doctors, two Masters, anything could happen! Can’t wait to find out. See you all next week!