Saturday, 15 April 2017

Doctor Who: The Pilot

"Why do you run like that?"

"Like what?"

"Like a penguin with its arse on fire."

Well, that was an unexpectedly fun, and genuinely scary, season opener from Steven Moffat. You'd be forgiven for expecting his last season of Who to be somewhat tired, but there's life in the old Doc yet. This is a genuinely creepy episode, with the central idea- a sentient puddle that doesn't show your mirror image but your real image- being so very Moffat in the best possible way. The episode is shot like a horror film, with plenty of shocks and scares. And Bill is a superb character- likeable, superbly portrayed by Pearl Mackie and, in a nice meta touch, as sci-fi literate as we are.

Despite the Daleks and, indeed, the Movellans (these aren't Destiny of the Daleks models, but who's to say it's the same Movellan War?), the season opener wisely eschews continuity, rather heavy of late, in favour of a new start. Some time has passed for the Doctor, who has spent the last five or seven decades doing a Professor Chronotis at a fictional university in Bristol. The introduction to this is wonderful; Bill enters an office, complete with sonic screwdrivers in a cup like pens, and photos of Susan and River Song. The Doctor then proceeds to handwave this young person with a dead end job into a place at the university and a possible future; social mobility in action at a time when we need it most.

I love the way Bill's sexual orientation is handled- mundane, normal, some people are gay, move along. This kind of subtle kick against heteronormativity can be just as radical as anything that seems to shout more loudly. Bill's home life, with her mum Moira's various lovers, is nicely sketched with a similar subtlety.

The way the adventure follows Bill's POV obviously calls to mind Rose, but then this sort of companion introduction story has become almost a trope in itself. Certainly Bill's introduction to the TARDIS's dimensions is the most fun iteration yet, but this is something that will never get stale. It's a nicely balanced episode with pace, wit, scares, action and, well, Bill gets a Dalek on her first go. And heartbreak. And the only exciting time she's ever had. And, eventually, the promise of more. I can't wait.

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