Doctor Who is back, and although it may not be back with a bang, it’s not quite with a whimper. With the first two episodes of series 10 – ‘The Pilot’, and ‘Smile’ – now behind us, and latest companion Bill introduced, it’s about time (and relative dimension) for a review. And so, without further ado: allons-y!
I must admit, I approached series 10 with low expectations. When I sat down to watch ‘The Pilot’, sighing audibly as I read the words ‘written by Stephen Moffat’, it was very much with the impression that I was just giving Doctor Who another pass for old times’ sake. Doctor Who was fast becoming the ex that you text from the smoking area of Arena: “I miss you. Do you remember the good times we had, like ‘Blink’, and that one where Jack Harkness refused to wear any clothes?” It’s not that I dislike Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. Much as I miss the joys of watching David Tennant’s fantastic hairstyle flopping its way down some LED-lit corridor every week, and Matt Smith’s – well, all round Matt-Smithiness, I suppose – I actually think Capaldi, with his more reserved and weary approach the character, is a very good fit. And yes, this is – for those who haven’t quite twigged yet – the obligatory ‘slamming of Stephen Moffat’ paragraph. In the interests of self-restraint, I will say no more, except for this: Doesn’t he look tired?
Besides, both Moffat and Capaldi are set to depart after this series, and this should mean that we can expect some fairly momentous plot events, both prompting another regeneration and concluding any leftover plot threads Moffat has yet to tie up. Thus far, the flow of this overarching series plot has been relegated to a bit of a trickle, but it has at least been an interesting trickle. In ‘The Pilot’, we learn that the Doctor – posing as a university professor, which provides Capaldi an opportunity to actually indulge his genuine enthusiasm, and giving lectures that even I would get up for at 8.30am (well, maybe – not on a Wednesday) – is guarding a mysterious Vault. This is a task so vital that he has vowed to remain on Earth, with only the severely annoying Nardole (Matt Lucas) for company. (This is a fate which I would not wish upon anybody, including myself, to which end I have my fingers crossed for minimal Nardole this season. I fear I will be sorely disappointed in that respect. If this is comic relief, I will be removing my pituitary gland, and henceforth injecting my endorphins manually.) We then learn in ‘Smile’, by ways of a particularly useful forced-exposition-spouting videographic obituary book – welcome to the land of tomorrow – that soon enough almost the entire population of Earth will have been destroyed, an incident we can only assume has something to do with our friendly neighbourhood Vault.
“Capaldi, with his more reserved and weary approach the character, is a very good fit.”
It’s a little too early to decide whether this series’ plot will prove to be a strong one or not, but I feel safe in saying at this point that it is being handled fairly well. ‘The Pilot’, whilst in itself not containing a particularly strong plot, left me surprisingly hopeful for series 10. Pearl Mackie is a delight as Bill, a character who (from promotional material) I expected to find gratingly dull. Instead, we are graced with a companion who manages to balance light humour with evident intelligence, and also seems delightfully normal. Although we currently know very little about her, Bill seems set to be an engaging and enjoyable (not to mention canonically LGBTQ) addition to the show.
The addition of each new Doctor and companion runs the risk of feeling too much like a soft reboot, and series 10 is no exception. Doctor Who suffers, in a way, from being such a long-running show – with 36 seasons under its belt, newer viewers are going to need a jumping-off point, and turning over to a new companion is an excellent opportunity for such expositionary exercises. Unfortunately, this cyclical structure also restricts the show’s ability to conduct longer plot arcs, leaving established viewers unfulfilled. Whilst ‘Smile’, with its gimmicky emoji robots and forced moral commentary, was typical second-episode filler, it did at least leave us with a few little hints as to series 10’s overall plot, building in this way upon ‘The Pilot’. Mackie is off to a strong start, and if the mysterious Vault pays off, this latest season of Who looks set to be at least enjoyable – and if not, we can keep our eyes fixed firmly on a Moffat-less horizon.