Doctor Who Series 10, Episode 1
Posted by Sage
AND WE’RE BACK.
Yes, our long, intergalactic nightmare is over. Doctor Who has returned for its first full season in over a year, and this is great news… except that it’s also been that long since I’ve properly recapped an episode, and I’m as rusty as Nardole’s joints.
That makes two of us then, since the Series 10 premiere finds a Doctor who’s been Earthbound for quite some time. About 50 years, his new pupil guesses. (Did the rest of the tenured professors not notice that their colleague wasn’t aging? Discuss.) The why of his pause is one of the long-game mysteries introduced by this episode, and I’ll get to that. But first, let’s appreciate that the Doctor chose the best possible bolthole for himself and the treasure (or weapon) he’s protecting. He wishes he could do that thing that he loves the most – i.e. serving up the universe on a silver platter – without putting the recipient of that knowledge in mortal danger. As a professor, the Doctor can stand in front of a group of hyper-absorbent minds every day and encourage them to look at themselves and the universe a little differently. (“The passage of time is an illusion, and life is the magician.”) Bill confirms that everyone “loves” this man’s lectures, though they are pretty much guaranteed to drift off topic. But with your life laid out in front of you like a city – “the best place you’ll ever be” – then physics and poetry might be hard for you to tell apart too.
The Doctor IS an academic, in that he pursues knowledge just for the sake of sharing it. And I love this backstory, because it lets me think about all the people over the years who had their lives changed just by sitting in a room with him. (The show is asking me to do some mental gymnastics to justify why the Doctor’s office isn’t 24/7 crawling with students who want a little more of his time, but.)
The setting for his self-imposed exile also puts the Doctor in a unique position to sniff out new talent. And the episode wastes no time in introducing the chosen one to us, though the Doctor has apparently been watching her for quite a while. Bill is not a student, but Bill likes lectures. And Bill is not threatened by the amount of knowledge she’s yet to attain. “Most of the time when people don’t understand something, they frown,” the Doctor says to her when she’s summoned to his office. “You smile.” He can sense openness and curiosity from a mile away, though Bill’s magnificent afro and thousand-watt grin surely helped him find her.
Bill is one of those instances where we’re ahead of the Doctor, or at least ahead of where he’s allowing himself to be. Of course, when he offers to privately tutor this gem of a human on nightly basis, we know he’s already selected his new travel companion. But he’s going to pretend for a while that his hearts aren’t raring for adventure for someone else who might really get it, yet his intuitive security system already has this non-student marked down as “friend.” I remember back in Series 8 when Kim and I had conversations about how whoever came after Clara would have to fight her way onto the TARDIS because of Twelve’s inability to recommend himself to strangers (Mr. Darcy reference intended). Look how far we’ve come: He wants someone. He wants someone so bad he settled for Nardole.
Bill, meanwhile, doesn’t need a friend, per say. She needs an opportunity. This girl is way too bright to be serving up chips for a living, and those few scenes we get of her distracted foster mother hint at why she’s operating so far below her potential. As far as the modern series companion relationships go, we’ve had the all-consuming romance, the unrequited crush, the brOTP, the imaginary friend, and the tortured co-dependency. With Bill and Twelve, it appears we might have a mentorship, which is really exciting. Bill is already amazing. I can’t wait to see how she blooms in the company of someone who believes in her.
And that’s not to say that Bill has been moping around, waiting for an older white man to take interest in her life. It appears that despite the loss in her past, Bill is pretty happy. She gets to flirt with girls through the love language of extra chips; she’s confident in her own skin; and she knows what her mom would say to her if she were still around. I get the feeling that our new companion would never consider herself a victim of circumstances, and I think her presence in the Doctor’s lectures tell us that she has dreams. What does Bill Potts want to be, I wonder? The Doctor never does choose a subject for her tutorial – he seems to believe that she could be whatever she wants.
Another thing about Bill Potts is that she’s gay. And I know that the announcement of that fact struck fear into the hearts of some fans. No, her characterization wasn’t perfect. It seems that most of the internet collectively winced at her line about the intellectual inferiority of models and winced again harder at the cutesy but still shaming “I fatted her” comment. Neither okay; neither representative of the way a Millennial as clever and good-hearted as Bill would talk about a person she reportedly liked. But I was pleasantly surprised – especially in the wake of many a “helpful” fan hoping on social media that Bill’s sexuality not be “in your face” – that the monster of the week story was grounded in a big, ol’ lesbian crush. (We were introduced to Rose’s boyfriend right away. Martha was hot for the Doctor from the jump. Donna was engaged. And so on. If anyone wants to try to argue that incorporating Bill’s love life into the show is “unnecessary,” then they have to be forced to acknowledge that to neuter her would be to other her.)
Anyway, Bill meets a girl with a literal star in her eye – a perfect crush metaphor if I’ve ever seen one – and their flirtation is miraculously un-sexualized. (i.e. No wink-wink girl-on-girl titillation factor.) But Heather is unhappy, and I hope the show will eventually tell us why. The monster itself is a hybrid of the Water of Mars from the Tennant era and The X-Files‘ black extraterrestrial oil, plus some “Midnight” in its penchant for repetition. I also got some It vibes from the way that it sucked Heather into its shallow pool (“We all float down here, Bill.”) and a dash of Alex Mack with the way the water-zombie Heather could solidify and then re-liquify, at will. Is the oil slick the BEST monster the show’s ever seen? No, but this fluid version of It Follows gave the Doctor a reason to whisk Bill into the TARDIS, and BRAVO to director Lawrence Gough for that gorgeous wide shot of her standing in the doorway while the lights of the ship flickered on. Bigger on the inside, indeed.
“You’re safe in here and you always will be,” the Doctor says. And maybe that’s not an invitation yet, but it’s definitely a welcome. It takes Bill a while to get to the usual companion intro line, instead asking a very prudent question about the toilets. (I HAVE ALWAYS WONDERED.) Sometimes I feel like the emphasis on quirking-up the travel buddy in their first few outings has a #NotAllCompanions quality to it, and by that I mean Moffat and others have tried too hard to tell us what TYPE of person this is, instead of letting the character breathe and be. But the toilets line felt just right for Bill; most of the time, she’s cheerfully honest and sometimes she’s just honest-honest. (“I see my face all the time. I’ve never liked it, it’s all over the place. It’s always doing expressions when I’m trying to be enigmatic.”) Bill calls them like she sees them, allowing Steven Moffat an avenue through which to poke fun at Capaldi’s famous waddle-run. (“Why do you run like that?” “Like what?” “Like a penguin with its arse on fire.”) Clara was a master manipulator (and I mean that in the best possible way); Bill and Twelve are similarly guileless, which ought to be interesting once they start meeting people together.
The resolution of the monster storyline is purposely not satisfying (despite some bonus Dalek action) – so is this our season-long mystery? Who has Heather? Where did she go? Is there a chance that she can still be saved? Bill will keep searching for Heather because Heather was searching for her. (“What, in the end, are any of us looking for but someone who is looking for us?”) And she seemed pretty lost to begin with, anyway.
The other mystery, of course, is what the Doctor is protecting (or protecting the world FROM) in that locked vault under the university. The news leaked before the BBC had a chance to broadcast the newest series trailer that John Simm will be reprising HIS Master role, while the gloriously bitchy Michelle Gomez stays on as Missy. The vault is certainly big enough to hold a Time Lord, I’m just saying. And maybe Nardole is still there to serve as security? (Please, someone just give me a reason for him.)
I don’t know what’s in that vault, though I pray it’ll be a better answer than what caused the crack in Amy’s wall. I do have a theory about Bill, however. And though it’s pretty out there, I wouldn’t mind it as a Moffat mic drop. Are you ready for it? The Doctor is Bill’s father.
- Bill says that her mother hated having her photo taken. Why, I wonder? Was she shy? Did she not trust easily? In either case, we can assume that it was the Doctor who changed her mind. That would take time, and intimacy. Also, the images in the box are all just of her, alone – not her in a group of friends or with her child. These are the kind of photos someone would take of their partner.
- SUSAN. In their first scene together, after Bill asks why the Doctor wanted to see her, out of all the people who come to sit in on his lectures, he says, “Well, I noticed you.” Then his eyes drift to the picture of Susan he keeps on his desk and the camera takes her in for a beat. WHY? So far, Bill doesn’t seem anything like Susan to me, so I don’t think he’s being reminded of her for that reason. So, a familiar connection then?
- Bill doesn’t mention her dad. We know nothing about him, and it seems that she doesn’t either.
- WHAT IF BOTH WERE TRUE. What if his intention was to go back in time, befriend Bill’s mom, get the photos, and come right back, but instead he fell in love with her? And when she got pregnant, he was like “oh shit, it me”? Basically, I’m asking for someone to write me a fan fiction about the Doctor wooing Bill’s beautiful mother with photography, please and thank you.
Of course, Bill is special regardless of her parentage. (And so is Pearl Mackie – check those genuine tears in the scene where she reverently looks through her gift.) And she proves it most when the Doctor makes a move to vacate her memories after their race through time and space. It’s a violation, whether it hurts or not. And I’ll never get tired of watching companions shut the Doctor down when he tries to do it for their “own good.” It’s very not cool that he even considered this course of action, but a music cue tells us why.
If you’re new here, you should know that HOF strongly believes that the Doctor remembers Clara. (And this is definitive proof, no? I like to imagine the whole score happening in the Doctor’s imagination, a la the Chicago movie. Also: raven on his desk. What a masochist.) It hurts, so a mind wipe seems like a kindness to him.
When he agrees to let Bill keep her memories, the decision is already made. Are she and the Doctor supposed to keep their lessons inside, under the watchful gaze of River and Susan, trying to ignore that big blue box tucked into the corner? I don’t think so. Field trips are an important element to any well-rounded education. The Doctor is apparently breaking a promise that he made to someone to stay put – why? for how long? – but on some planets, TARDIS translates directly to “What the hell?” And I think that’s beautiful.
Timey Wimey Observations:
- LOVE the parallel phrasing of “Am I nearly done?” “Do you wanna be?” and “Am I home?” “If you wanna be.”
- He smiles so much now.
- Here for the Joy Division.
- “You go places, I can tell.”
- “That’s my face, yeah?” “You seem a bit flexible on the subject.” “You’ve no idea.”
- “Texts, snogging, a vegan wrap.” – Moffat’s five-word summation of Millennials.
- The Doctor puts his fanciest jacket on for the TARDIS reveal like the dramatic hoe we know he is.
- “Hardly anything is evil, but most things are hungry.”
- Asking the real questions:
Did “The Pilot” grab you? Are you loving Bill Potts? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
Featured Image Source: BBCAmerica