Peter Capaldi last series kicks off with The Doctor grounded, lecturing at university, when he meets Bill Potts and the fun starts all over again
It was December 2015 when the series nine of Doctor Who ended with the brilliant “Heaven Sent”/”Hell Bent”. We’ve had two Christmas specials since then and a year ago we got a short scene introducing Pearl Mackie as the new assistant, Bill Potts, but that is a long time to wait. And not just for us fans, endlessly speculating about new Doctors and what direction the new show runner will take: The Doctor himself has spent the time since we last saw him lecturing at St Luke’s University in Bristol.
We start with Nardole (Matt Lucas) showing Bill Potts (Mackie) into the Doctor’s office. She works in the University canteen, but attends all of the Doctor’s lecture. The Doctor’s lectures are very popular, as he lectures about whatever he wants, whether it is quantum physics or poetry. He has noticed Bill however, as when she doesn’t understand something, she smiles. The Doctor offers to be Bill’s tutor, as long she is never late – “I’m very particular about time”
While becoming a proper student (“texts, snogging, a vegan wrap”) Bill meets Heather (Stephanie Hyam), a girl with a star shape in eye. Bill thinks they have a connection, but Heather seems obsessed with a puddle in a closed off part of the university. When Bill shows the Doctor the puddle, he sees what had interested Heather so much about it. The water is actually some sort of super intelligent alien oil that is using Heather as a way to travel. They end up having to use the familiar looking blue box in the corner of his office to escape across time and space – but what exactly is chasing them? What does it want with Bill? And what is in the Doctor’s vault?
As ever when a new assistant is introduced, we get to see the Doctor, the TARDIS, and his whole world through a new set of eyes. There is a feeling of bit of a reboot, but to be honest the constant evolution of the show is part of its long-term appeal. We set up a lot of backstory of Bill Potts, and the relationship between her and Doctor feels pretty real already, and one that I’m looking forward to seeing more of over the next few months. Pearl Mackie makes an excellent first impression, and the banter between her and Capaldi sparkles.
Whether Bill becomes a regular assistant might not be as straight forward as it has been. The role has changed a lot over the past decade, going from travel companion to partner in crime. Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy, and Clara have all brought something different, but with Nardole they already have a literal personal assistant for the Doctor, Bill is more freed up for however long Matt Lucas will be around. And it has to be said he is a restrained presence here – basically a supporting character. He does have the best line that cuts to the core of Capaldi’s Doctor: “that’s the Doctor for you, never notices the tears”.
We have seen the Twelfth Doctor soften through the time we have spent with him, and we see it again with a series of photos being found in the back of a cupboard. This last series of Capaldi adventures promise to cover a lot of ground, and apart from some dodgy water CGI this was a promising, horror infused, start. Compared to other opening episodes it was a bit throw-away, and I doubt we will remember the water based monster beyond this one episode, but there were plenty of story lines planted in this episode which will err… sprout (grow? flower?) over the rest of the series. For all his faults, Steven Moffat doesn’t usually put past reference in for no reason… well, not always. Will River Song make a reappearance? Or his very first companion Susan (the other picture on his desk)? Seriously, what is in the vault? Oh… and this…
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.