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‘Doctor Who’ returns for a 10th season with a familiar face and a fresh one

A TV show that’s been around for 54 years is bound to need a break every now and then, in addition to having to reinvigorate itself from time to time. “Doctor Who” consists of an alien known simply as the “Doctor” and a companion who journey together through time and space. This formula is simple enough to ground the show while remaining open ended, ensuring that it always has new stories to tell. The popular science-fiction show debuted in 1963 and seemed doomed to end in 1989. In 2005 it was revived, much like the regenerative titular character himself. The modern “Doctor Who” recently took a relatively short two-year hiatus before season 10 premiered on April 15 with “The Pilot.”

Although far from being the actual pilot episode of the series, “The Pilot” acts as a nice refresher and introduces a new companion for the Doctor to travel with. The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is now working as a professor, which he has been doing for the past 50 years or so of his life, thanks to the wonders of time travel and his being more or less immortal. Capaldi’s world-weary Doctor seems to have settled down here until an enthusiastic student of his, Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), helps re-instill his sense of curiosity when a mystery arises.

Overall, the episode serves to introduce viewers to a new main character, which can be a make-or-break moment as this is someone who will become a major part of the series. Just because the show has aged gracefully does not mean that its actors stay young; therefore, a new Doctor or companion arrives every couple seasons or so. Mackie’s Bill Potts takes over the position from Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald, who didn’t quite find her groove until a few episodes in. Bill Potts, however, is immediately likable. She isn’t inexplicably powerful or filled with constant childlike wonder like previous companions. Rather, she’s a regular human being, inquisitive yet level headed.

Most of the episode focuses on the Doctor getting to know Bill and showing her what it’s like to pal around with him. This includes the obligatory introductory moments that each companion initiates. Realizing the Doctor isn’t human? Check. Asking the Doctor what his name is? Check. Remarking that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside? Check, although it takes Bill some time since the fake police box is inside a university, so she guesses it is a knock-through at first. This section might seem repetitive for longtime fans of the show, but Bill is such a joy to spend time with that it doesn’t slow the episode down too much. Plus, it serves as a nice introduction for anyone jumping onto the series with the season 10 premiere.

Surprisingly, the episode actually starts to lag once the first sign of danger appears, in the form of a puddle. A puddle so menacing that anyone who looks at it remarks that their reflection seems off. Not scary, not missing, just “off.” Not a great way to introduce a conflict or a mystery, but things start to get interesting once a friend of Bill’s is “taken” by the puddle. Maybe things aren’t that intriguing yet, but it isn’t too much longer before the puddle transforms into Bill’s friend and proceeds to chase Bill and the Doctor across time and space. The real fun begins as the two of them have to work together to find a way out of their predicament, and Bill gets a chance to truly shine. By the time it ends, the episode does leave a few questions up in the air, which will hopefully get some sort of explanation later on in the season. There is a side-plot involving a vault that the Doctor is forced to protect, which is almost certainly part of season 10’s overall story arc.  

“The Pilot” is a strong refresher to “Doctor Who,” even if it is not likely to be a particularly memorable episode. Mostly, it serves to introduce a new character and see how she works with the Doctor. Pearl Mackie is wonderful as Bill, and embodies the essence of what a “Doctor Who” companion should be. Her chemistry with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is great, her own personality showing when she asks him questions that reveal more of who he is. She drives much of the plot herself, such as in one scene when she explains a problem to the Doctor by asking if he is familiar with science fiction. The monster of the week is not a solid one, physically or otherwise, and the episode ends with a few unanswered questions. Nevertheless, there is more than enough time for mysteries to be solved throughout the season as the Doctor and Bill continue their time-traveling journey together, and “The Pilot” gives them a good start.

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