“You’re an excellent tutor”
Last week’s opening episode “The Pilot” (read my review here) had plenty of the hallmarks of the soft rebooting that comes with a new assistant. Picking straight up from that, we see The Doctor offering Bill a chance to pick where they go for her first “proper” trip. After pointing out some of the stranger parts of the TARDIS’ set up (why aren’t the chairs near the control panel?), Bill settles on a trip to the future, to see if “it all turns out ok”.
They arrive at one of the first human settlements (slightly reminiscent of “New Earth” from David Tennant’s first trip with Rose Tyler) on another planet. A colony has been set up, but where are all of the people? Why do the robots only communicate through emoji? And do they use for compost?
Capaldi and Mackie have had two very strong episode together so far. Bill and The Doctor already have a good relationship, which I suppose is understandable: she has been going to his lectures for a long time and he has been her tutor for months. Pearl Mackie has really impressed me in the first two episodes, Bill is ready to challenge the Doctor but not in a way that feels similar to Clara or Amy. And having a character with a knowledge of science fiction, but not a total nerd, is a nice change of pace!
Also, these first two episodes have focused almost entirely on these two characters – there were only three other cast members in the opener, and after the brief opening, only the third act featured anyone outside the core pair this week – and the two actors are making the most of it. There’s some really good stuff from both of them here, with The Doctor’s smiley faced panic slowly growing through the first part of the episode. His “not Scottish, just angry” line was a cracker, and there just one of a few lines dropped in from previous Moffat-era stories (the browser history and the great “everything that ever happened or ever will” option that Bill is given have both been used before).
Not that the episodes are dull. After the horror-fused “The Pilot”, this was more like a scifi film from the 1970s, with a supposed utopia coming across as sterile and dead. The Vardys (apparently not having a party) misunderstanding human emotion were great “villains”, the type that could turn up again in the future. Surely other ships might have had similar nanobots to terraform planets, maybe the Doctor stumbles across another one? The also reminded me of the Futurama version of Santa Claus from their various Xmas episodes (which I wrote about here), who had his niceness levels set too high and so deemed everyone (bar Zoidberg) to be naughty. And obviously the classic Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life” had some influence on that chilling opening scene.
The ending even sets up next week’s episode, in an old time London with a frozen Thames and an elephant. Will they get back to Nardole before that cup of tea gets cold?
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.