After an extended hiatus, Doctor Who returns for a tenth season and the final season with Steven Moffat at the helm of the show. In this season opener, the Doctor is posing as a university lecturer and has summoned a somewhat bewildered student to his office. Bill reluctantly admits that she’s not a student but still attends his lectures as she’s been fascinated by the random nature of them but she did have ulterior motives for being at the university.
Adventure ensues when Bill has a encounter with a strange girl with an unusual star pattern in one of her eyes. Following her after a subsequent meeting, the girl shows Bill a puddle that isn’t all that it appears. From herein, the girl continues to appear following Bill but not quite in the same form as she was originally and it’s down to the Doctor to find out why…
Before I continue, a great deal of media hype has surrounded the sexuality of Bill, and while it was introduced into the episode early on to establish this facet of the character, from thereon the rest of the plot simply became what can only be described as a love interest story and it was never what could be described as being “an issue”. Certainly I think the casual and light-hearted way it was brought in at the start removed any element that could have seen to be overplayed or over-emphasised which I know man people feared. While it had been said before that the show had other LGBT characters, some had been portrayed to excess such as Captain Jack, but this was handled superbly.
Back to the episode itself and like many over the last few years it seems to be set over an extensive period of time, allowing the Doctor to establish his role at the university and his friendship with Bill to develop naturally without it being forced and rushed into as many have done so in the past. I’ve often found it strange that the Doctor has arrived in an unknown scenario, met a complete stranger and by the end of the episode they are ready to give up their day-to-day routine and travel the universe with him. This time, it’s allowed for a logical build up of a genuine friendship, and at the episode’s conclusion it makes more sense that Bill is happy to join the Doctor.
The story, while not one of the best Doctor Who episodes, it’s certainly one of the better ones we have seen in recent years and it’s refreshing to see Capaldi given a solid script to work with for a change. While I think he was a fantastic choice for the role, I think he’s been let down so far with poor stories that hasn’t let him shine as an actor. That’s not the case here. We’ve had an episode that has managed to avoid the need for the Doctor getting involved in any form of conflict, no technobabble, just a deep engaging storyline that has been about an adversary that has been woefully misunderstood. It’s not the first time that plot device has been used in the series, but it’s been handled exceptionally well here and I found it impossible to take my eyes off the screen throughout the entire episode.
Despite the serious nature of the episode, I was somewhat disappointed with Nardole. I can’t fault Matt Lucas for his work with the script he was given but he certainly seems to have been written as the comic relief for the show. I don’t think there were any moments throughout the entire episode where he was used for any serious dialogue and I do wonder if that’s all he is likely to be used for throughout the rest of the season. I certainly hope note as Lucas is capable of far better things.
One thing that did irk me (aside from Nardole) was the use of the Daleks. The made a token appearance during the pursuit near to the end of the episode for all of a couple of minutes and I felt that they weren’t there to progress the story in any capacity but merely to fulfill the BBCs contractual agreement of using the Daleks at least once every season if they wish to continue using them in the show. I would wager that we won’t see them make an appearance until Season 11 now but it felt like a waste of their time on screen.
Finally, it has to be said that the episode was packed full of little details and nods to the fans and past seasons that we all obviously love to look out for. For the casual viewer these would have gone unnoticed but there were some wonderful moments – from the photos of River Song and Susan on the Doctor’s desk, to the desk tidy full of Sonic Screwdrivers from past incarnations of the Doctor. Probably my favourite of the entire episode was Bill’s first encounter with the TARDIS though. As she was making comments and observations about it, the Doctor and Nardole were marking things off a verbal checklist until they got to the main thing that everyone notices – “it’s bigger on the inside”. Yes, as fans we’ve seen that with new companions countless times over but it’s great to see the Doctor acknowledge it as well.
Overall this was a great opener, certainly one of the best episodes for Capaldi and if the rest of the season follows this standard then he’ll certainly bow out on a high.
All photos are © BBC and used with permission.