Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Pilot - "Look, I know you know lots of stuff about, well, basically everything, but do you know any sci-fi?"

The Pilot - Wikipedia

Series 10, Story 01 (Overall Series Story #266) | Previous - Next | Index

Trippy Bill, image via GIPHY
In "Hell Bent," the Doctor explains the Matrix to Clara as "a big computer made of ghosts, in a crypt, guarded by more ghosts." He might as well have been a critic analyzing the show itself. This episode hammers the point home: Doctor Who is a show made of ghosts. Ghosts, echoes, reflections ... positively every scene is haunted by an element of its past.

And, that's OK. Everything old becomes new again, after all.

But, I don't want to start there. Rather, let's consider how Doctor Who exists in a TV universe alongside a show like The Expanse -- a series which I also enjoy very much, despite it's stark differences from DW. This is a tangent that probably has no place in a reaction post to this episode, but hear me out. The Expanse is classic, almost Heinlein-ian hard sci-fi. No time travel, no FTL travel, not even transporters or replicators; it's a show that, at first, we could be excused for thinking could never have anything to do with the magic-y, ghost-laden sci-fi/fantasy of the DW universe. Yet the Roci and her crew are exactly the sort of ship the TARDIS has materialized aboard any number of times. This Doctor and Bill could totally drop in to any of The Expanse's settings and the show would instantly be Doctor Who in a way Doctor Who could never be The Expanse.

Consider "The Waters of Mars," for instance. It's one of the haunts in "The Pilot," you couldn't help but recall it when Heather got all watery. That crew and that base are an example of exactly the kind of milieu the Doctor drops into all the time; but, imagine if the TARDIS never materialized near that particular base. The story of the Mars colony in "Waters" could have been a show of it's own. A show that might have been very, very like The Expanse. (The protomolecule not so unlike the life found on Mars ... ) This isn't to say DW is better than The Expanse, or that they *should* crossover, only how easy it is to imagine they could once you concede that DW, while not hard sci-fi, encompasses that genre, without being of it. DW is large, it contains multitudes. It is, after a fashion, bigger on the inside.

(This isn't to argue that Doctor Who is better than The Expanse, as a series or episode vs. episode. I dig The Expanse and don't intend to slog it, only to use it as a means to consider one facet of what's magical about DW.)

Reviewers that get to watch the episodes and write about them well before I do have already done an ace job ticking off all the boxes I might've here -- things like noticing the piece of the Mary Celeste down in the basement of the university where the Doctor's got a vault he's protecting -- so I'll link them, per usual, below and recommend giving 'em a read through.


  • Pearl Mackie deserves every nice thing that's been said about her as Bill. If some asshole has disparaged her performance in print, on the web, or out and about ... well, fuck that asshole because he's an idiot.
  • Look, it's very meta. But it stays this side of being entertaining because and in spite of how meta it is. It's not a new pilot, but it toys with the idea it could be.
  • I'm OK with Nardole, for now. I wasn't sure about him coming back for the last special, am less sure I want him sticking around as companion for a full season ... but maybe there's a point to him, and he's got good chemistry with the Doctor anyways. Worried though that I'll be sick of him soon.
  • Susan is going to be back, in some way, shape, or form, yeah? I mean, OK, I was sure she was going to be back a while ago, too, but this time it looks like a mortal lock.
  • Starting to read rumors today, not sure how credible, that David Bradley is going to return to play the First Doctor like we nearly have been asking for him to do since An Adventure in Space and Time. That would certainly make the return of Susan more likely. 
  • It should probably go without saying, but how great is it that Bill is gay and it's not A Very Special Episode of Doctor Who forced big deal? Extra great.
  • The way this episode shows moments in time as fixed images during the Doctor's lecture on the subject was quite well-executed, I thought. More of this kind of visual storytelling, please. Will the show take little risks like that under Chibnall? I worry that it won't. As much as we all have Moffat-fatigue to some degree or other, we may miss him more than even his biggest fans might think possible when he's no longer involved.
  • I cringed at the "I fatted her" joke even though it wasn't body shaming, the opposite, in fact. So I shouldn't have cringed, but I still wished Moffat hadn't even gone there. Is that some vestigial liberal guilt thing holding me back from appreciating a moment where a TV show, perhaps bravely, says "yeah, that girl is big, but she's sexy, deal with it"? 
  • The badge on Bill's jacket, that's the ghost of Ace. (Whose badges, it must be said, were much cooler.)

Additional Resources:
Tardis Wikia Entry
chakoteya.net transcript
Sandifer post 
This results in an episode that’s not so much uneven as threadbare. He [Moffat] clears so much room for selling the mundaneness of Bill that the episode plot is an afterthought. The puddle - that’s clearly what this monster needs to be called - is, charitably, a minimalist creation. Its explanation does not make anything vaguely resembling sense, and more to the point doesn’t actually try to. The best bits end up being what they often are with Moffat, which is the ritual performance of set pieces. His last big “bigger on the inside” is his most baroque yet, a glorious shaggy dog working its way towards the straightforward classic resolution. Objecting to the TARDIS being named in English is a solid choice of “let’s have Bill say something different.” The Australia gag’s actually great. As are a plethora of details: the Doctor’s “how can I help,” Bill’s “I don’t think they’re mine,” and of course Susan, River, and the TARDIS yelling at the Doctor to take her as a companion. But the whole is less than the sum of its parts. It still adds up to a lot, but that’s still an entirely true statement about “The Pilot.”
AV Club review - gives it a B grade.
A Steven Moffat episode is always good for at least one brilliant, off-kilter observation on the nature of the world. The Doctor’s explanation of how hungry looks a lot like evil from the wrong end of the cutlery is this episode’s entry in that particular canon.
TV Tropes page
When Bill and Heather first meet, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is playing in the background.
Forgot to mention how much I loved that.

Radio Times

Locations guide

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