Doctor Who Review: The Pilot

Y’know, every year I manage to forget how tedious Capaldi’s Doctor is.

Happily, every year Steven Moffat is here to remind us.

The Pilot, the first episode of the new series, introduces us to the Doctor’s new companion Bill, an intelligent, sassy woman working in a university canteen. For unknown but probably boring and stupid reasons, the Doctor is undercover as a lecturer at the university. He spots Bill illicitly attending his lectures, and plucks her from intellectual obscurity to become his protegee.

Bill is, also, the first openly gay Doctor Who companion (depending on whether you count Jack Harkness as a proper companion). Which is wonderful, not only because it means that her entire character won’t be based around her flirting with him. Only, well, her entire first episode is based around her sexuality.

See, the monster of the week is a puddle of spaceship engine oil that shapeshifts to be whatever it needs to be. It possesses a young woman at the university, Heather, who (quite poignantly) can only think of getting away from wherever she happens to be at any one time – so she unwittingly, uniwllingly becomes the titular pilot. Heather and Bill just happen to have met at a night out recently, and have a crush on each other, which is why Possessed Heather starts following Bill around and trying to possess her too…

I mean, obviously the gay love interest becomes a sad, emotionally rapacious alien, right? And obviously the very first love story about the first gay companion is a Bury Your Gays story in which Heather loses her humanity.

I mean…really, Moffat? This is how you choose to introduce the new companion?

To compound matters, Moffat seems to be setting up another storyline in which the woman is a mystery to be solved by the Doctor. And this will make up the entirety of her character arc. Why does the camera look so pointedly at the photograph of Susan Foreman on the Doctor’s desk when Bill is mentioned? Where did the Doctor get the photographs of her dead mother from? Why did the vault’s “friends only” security setting let her through? (Thanks to Den of Geek for reminding me of these questions.) Just Who Is Bill?

We went through all this with Clara, and it was tedious then. We do not need another fucking Impossible Girl. How about a female character whose history and character arc is not contingent on the Doctor?

And, oh, the Twelfth Doctor is so tedious. We’re told that his lectures are amazingly inspiring, drawing lots of people who aren’t even supposed to attend them. But the one we see isn’t really a lecture at all: it’s a bombastic monologue about the nature of time, a metaphor that doesn’t refer to anything around it. The Doctor patronises Bill. He gets her enrolled in the university, without any kind of selection process or oversight from the wider faculty. He embodies nepotistic privilege, the behind-closed-doors dealing that does no-one any favours in the long run. He tells Bill exactly what’s best for her – as if she, an adult woman, couldn’t make her own decisions. He’s manipulative and paternalistic and controlling.

Yes, to some extent this has always been the case. It’s part of the Doctor’s character to know more than anyone else in the room, and to assume that, therefore, he knows best. The difference is that Moffat seems to think his superior attitude is okay. The gaze of the camera, the companion, the audience is not ironising or critical (as it was when Rose Tyler was around, or Donna Noble, or Romana, or even Amy Pond – the role of all of whom was to question, to act as conscience for the Doctor); it’s overwhelmingly idolising. The Doctor is now the centre of the universe – and not just in his own head any more.

There are brief moments of resistance: the way Bill’s face hardens when the Doctor dismisses her catering job; her appeal to him when he’s about to wipe her mind of memories of the TARDIS. “Imagine how you’d feel if it were you.” It’s these that give me a little hope that this series things might be different – that this series, the Doctor’s companion will get to be a person instead of a mystery.

Next week, what looks to be a classic deserted-city story, with emoji robots. As ever, I’m cautiously optimistic.

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