Doctor Who Review: “The Pilot”

The Doctor is back, with a new companion.

Cast and Crew

Peter Capaldi as The Doctor
Pearl Mackie as Bill
Matt Lucas as Nardole
Stephanie Hyam as Heather
Jennifer Hennessy as Moira

Directed by Lawrence Gough
Written by Steven Moffat

Original Airdate

This episode originally aired on April 15, 2017.


The Doctor has been a Professor at the local University for many years, lecturing on whatever he wants to. One of the fry/chip cooks, whose name is Bill, has been dropping in on his lectures. Unlike pretty much every other human, when she doesn’t understand something, she smiles instead of frowns, which gets the Doctor’s attention. On a completely unrelated note, Bill meets an attractive woman named Heather. The two hit it off until Heather gets sucked into a sentient puddle that keeps chasing Bill.

High Point

It’s another “new companion” episode, but this is different. Statistically speaking, we’re overdue for an LGBTQ spectrum companion according to many. (Questions have been asked about Tegan and Nyssa, and I know what my head canon says their relationship was like, but this is the first time the series regular has been explicitly homosexual.) This companion gets involved in something fantastic, but only after catching the Doctor’s attention. She was chosen just because of her reaction to the unknown from the safety of a regular University lecture. That’s a nice change, compared to the last few companions.

Low Point

The Doctor’s first plan for dealing with Bill. It seems out of character. I may change my mind about this by the end of the season, as there is clearly more going on here than we realize, and the Doctor’s current perspective may be more appropriate by the time that gets fully revealed.

The Review

It’s tough to stay original in the 36th season premier of a TV series. We have a nice blend of references to the past while taking us somewhere new. (Somewhere out there, there’s a story to be told about the absence of Susan’s parents in the story so far.) I give it 5 out of 6.

The effects are well done. CGI water rarely looks like water. The fact that this isn’t quite water helps us dismiss any flaws in the composition. The other effects are pretty minimal. I give it 5 out of 6.

The story works well. We have a monster with very unusual motivations, a new kind of companion who promises not to get romantically involved with the Doctor. (At least, not until a future regeneration.) If anything, the only issue is that it’s all from Bill’s perspective rather than the Doctor’s leaving some dangling questions. (Who unrolled the rug? Nardole? Did the Doctor do it just to see if Bill would notice?) We also have a lot of moments that are clearly there to set up the ongoing story for the season. I give it 5 out of 6.

The acting is great. Capaldi could very well end up as my favorite Doctor, and virtual unknown Pearl Mackie steps into the role with no signs of effort or difficulty. I give it 6 out of 6.

The emotional response is good. It’s enjoyable, it’s great to see the Doctor back, and Bill is genuinely interesting. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production is great, as usual. It’s one of the BBC’s highest funded shows, finally, and the money is well spent. I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, it’s a good season opener, though not quite as riveting as some in the past. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, The Pilot receives 37 out of 42.

13 replies on “Doctor Who Review: “The Pilot””

  1. I kept waiting for a Waters of Mars throwback, but apparently that didn’t have anything to do with this.

    Also, anyone else suspect that the Doctor we see at the tail end is significantly older than the one we saw inside the building?

    • I was *so* waiting for a Waters of Mars link, too. There still could be one. I suspect the obvious siimilarity was intentional as was the lack of a lampshade on it. Also, it’s entirely possible the Doctor and Nardole had a chat about it at some point but that happened when Bill wasn’t there to see it. A future episode could come back and explore that in some other situation, but I think it would have distracted from the rest of the episode had it been covered here.

      • I also enjoy the fact that there is so much that The Doctor does that’s weird or not quite explained that we don’t question or even mention it. Nardole’s robotic? (At least his arm) Sure, of course he is. The Doctor promised not to take companions? When? Space ship made of water visited. Who cares, we are just concerned that it’s missing a bit. Everything might be a plot point later, or it might just be a natural part of the way the world is.

        And we love it!

    • I was “almost” disappointed that it wasn’t mentioned..
      There are differences, tho, I suppose.
      Obviously the creatures from mars cannot travel through time and space.. or they would have reached earth already! :)

  2. It ok that Bill is lesbian, and it’s really ok for her to not have any romantic inklings towards the Doctor, but I really also don’t like forcing LGBT characters into stories either. Hopefully Bill is a natural fit there, and IMHO Captain Jack was so…

    It is hopeful, from this review and another I’ve read, that it seems Doctor Who is trying to get back to being lighter. Frankly the end of season 8 was so dark, with such an “everyone dies” feel that I stepped away for a good bit of season 9. Still haven’t seen it all.

    • Whatever the reason for Bill’s orientation (political, etc.), in universe they’re treating it as something that just is, and that is exactly the correct way to handle it. There’s no particular reason Bill’s orientation matters. The story could have been told with only very minor changes had she not been lesbian.

      I would recommend giving the previous season another go. In my opinion, the payoff at the end is solid, especially from a character perspective.

      • I wonder if Bill was originally written as a male, but Pearl Mackie was so perfect in the audition they cast her anyways. Or if some BBC bigwigs insisted they weren’t allowed to make the companion a male despite the perfect scripts they wrote, so they didn’t change the scripts but cast a female.

  3. It has that great, slightly spooky, completely bizarre premise that Doctor Who can do so well. I also note a pun in the title. This really could be, after all these years, a pilot episode or, at least, a good episode for bringing in new fans.

  4. And thus begins Moffat’s farewell tour!!!
    it’s gonna be an awesome ride I think!!

  5. Now, wouldn’t it be timey wimey …
    if Riversong and Susan were somehow related….

    (am I the only one who is SOOO GLAD that Rose didn’t make it to his desk???)

    • I’ve wondered that too, especially given the way that they’ve left subtle hints to the overall series plot in the first episode – and there were just *so many* possible clues in The Pilot. Factor in the rumour that the first doctor may be returning in the Christmas special and it’s possible they are going to at least start to answer that mystery.

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