Well, Whovians. We're finally back where we belong with a new series of Doctor Who. Except for the fun romp in "The Return of Doctor Mysterio" at Christmas, it's been a long time. This time, we meet Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts in "The Pilot".
Considering how much The Doctor likes the sound of his own voice, it's a bit of a surprise that the first few minutes of "The Pilot" are without any dialogue. Nardole leads Bill into an office, creaking and dropping a screw (reminding us that he's mostly metal these days), and we take in what looks like a professor's office with photos of River Song and Susan (wife and granddaughter!) on the desk and the TARDIS in the corner with an "out of order" sign. It's a lovely old room. Bill notices a pen caddy full of old sonic screwdrivers -- with a raven behind it? -- and, as she goes to touch them, Beethoven on the electric guitar rings out from the adjacent room. Ahh, it's our rock star Doctor.
He accuses Bill of sitting in on his lectures, which she first denies and then explains by telling the story of how she gave extra chips to a beautiful girl to get her attention and eventually made her fat. It doesn't explain anything, but it does sound like a Doctor-y way to not-explain things. She wonders how the TARDIS got into the room, and, when he presses her on why she attends his lectures when she's not even a student, he says that she smiles when she doesn't understand something. Most people frown. She is a curious sort; after all, she took a job in a university canteen because she always wanted to go there.
Instead of going along with the same train of thought as The Doctor, she wonders why he doesn't seem to know the difference -- or see one -- between physics and poetry. He offends her, but it doesn’t put her off as much as she might have him think at first. If she gets less than a first, even once, he says, he’s done with her. Until then, he’ll be her personal tutor.
Flipping the script, she asks him “Doctor What?” Oh, she’s going to be a riot to have around!
Seeing the title card makes me realise that PILOT is found within BILL POTTS … leaving us with BLTS …
It’s probably nothing. But now I’m hungry.
We get a montage of Bill serving chips and going about her day along with The Doctor lecturing about how time doesn’t really move. Bill’s foster mum isn’t about this ‘foster tutor’ – she’s worried he might be a predator. We also get a little snippet of Bill flirting across a pub with another woman from The Doctor’s class.
One day, Bill spots The Doctor and Nardole slinking through campus and into a basement storage building. She tries to open the door, which first resists and then swings straight open for her. Narole is asking The Doctor what he’s teaching her while they are pinging and buzzing a big piece of machinery. The Doctor hears something and asks Nardole how he set the security on the door, to which he replies ‘friends only’ – she’s officially a friend of The Doctor!
As she’s leaving, she just about forgets the experience altogether when she sees the woman from The Doctor’s class/the pub. She’s sad or worried, and Bill says she likes the woman’s eye where it looks like a star; she insists on calling it a defect and says she’s getting it fixed. When Bill asks her what’s wrong, she invites Bill to go look at something that’s bothering her.
The woman takes Bill to a cordoned off area with a puddle in the middle. She points out that it hasn’t rained in a week – where exactly in the UK are they meant to be?! She tells Bill to go look in the puddle. She keeps looking at her reflection, prompted by Heather (we learn), until she finally realises something IS off about it. Just then, Heather darts away, and a voice from inside the puddle says “Pilot is located. Link is established.”
Time is passing (or perhaps it’s not), as evidenced by the fact that Bill is wearing progressively more clothing. She has brought The Doctor a rug as a Christmas present. They’ve pulled crackers, and Bill mentions that her mother died when she was a baby, and there aren’t really any photographs of her, though she’s meant to look like her. Back at her flat, it’s now Christmas morning, and her foster mum tells her there’s a box of photographs of Bill’s mum she found in the back of a cupboard that she didn’t know they had.
Bill does, in fact, look much like her mother, but the big surprise is that, in a mirror reflection in one of the photos, you can see The Doctor was the one snapping it. When she bursts into his office next, she notices the TARDIS is sitting ON the rug she gave him.
Bill walks past the puddle again and sees Heather staring into it. She wants her to come around and look at it again. Bill makes her promise not to run off, but, when she comes through the other side of the fence, Heather is gone. After Bill walks away, we see that Heather’s reflection (is it?) is still in the puddle, and the voice says, “Pilot confirmed. Pilot engaged.” So, which one is the pilot?
The Doctor immediately knows something is wrong with Bill. As she is staring out the window and explaining Heather and the puddle, she sees him darting across campus. He’s gone to see the puddle. Bill is suggesting that Heather could be possessed (like something she watched on Netflix), but The Doctor realises that it was easy for Heather to be bothered by her reflection because her face wasn’t symmetrical. It’s not a reflection; it’s mimicking.
He’s obviously spooked, as he tries to chase her off. The puddle says, “Passenger selected. Pursuit engaged” and takes off after them.
Bill arrives back to her flat and hears the bath running. She gets a call from her foster mum, which makes her realise it’s not her who is in the bath. She confirms that no one is meant to be staying with them, and, threatening whoever or whatever is in the bathroom, goes to check it out. The bath is empty but wet, and she sees wet footprints leading to the shower. There’s no one there, either, but water is still leading down the drain. When she looks closer, she sees an eye with a star peering back and runs for her life.
She gets to the campus and sees The Doctor in his office window. Before she can go up to him, she sees a soaking Heather standing in the quad. (Anyone getting real Ring vibes here?) Heather isn’t just wet; water seems to be pouring off her. Bill speaks to her, but she only repeats, mimicking. When Bill says “You’re dead” in fear, Heather replies the same then lunges at her. She rushes into The Doctor’s office, barring the door. The water seeps through and takes form as Heather again.
The Doctor suggests they pop into his police box, and he’s particularly smug about revealing the name TARDIS, as he’s taught about Time And Relative Dimensions In Space in class. She’s impressed, but not as he’d like. She thinks it looks like a really posh kitchen. We also learn where the toilet is – and that there’s a macaroon dispenser! I’ve never wanted to travel with The Doctor more!
Bill still doesn’t quite get the TARDIS. Nardole’s explanation (a very big box put inside a smaller box) is reminiscent of The 4th Doctor. Heather is still following, though, and she’s not interested in the vault. Remember that door Bill only got through because she’s a friend? That one.
What follows is a sequence of Bill coming to terms with the fact that they can move through space and time AND still being chased by Heather. She asks pertinent questions, like whether The Doctor is from this planet, why he named the TARDIS in English, why it’s disguised with “Pull To Enter” on the door, etc. They go to Australia, to the other end of the universe 23 million years in the future, and Heather still follows. Here’s the important thing, though: is it evil?
“Hardly anything is evil, but most things are hungry. Hunger looks very like evil from the wrong end of the cutlery. Or did you think that your bacon sandwich loves you back?” The Doctor explains.
Heather wanted to leave, and “the puddle found a passenger”, Nardole says. The Doctor says that she’s actually a pilot for it, and Bill finds Heather in the puddle again. This time, she screams and grabs her.
The Doctor suggests making Heather run through the deadliest fire in the universe, meaning they have to go through it first. They are visiting the Daleks! A Dalek shoots Heather several times, which does nothing but make her mimic it.
A Dalek approaches them, but it’s wrong – it’s Heather taking another form. She doesn’t kill them even though she could. Her last thought was that she wouldn’t leave Bill (when she disappears from the puddle site the second time); as The Doctor says, “never underestimate a crush.”
Bill and Heather have a touching moment, telling each other through mimicry that they have to let each other go. Bill literally touches her next, and Heather shows her the possibilities of ‘traveling’ with her. They say goodbye, and, this time, Heather says Bill’s name instead of her own. She is quite shaken, which Nardole notices but The Doctor doesn’t.
While Bill debriefs, The Doctor wants to wipe her memory. She sees what he’s doing – she’s seen movies! – and calls him out on it. She wants to keep the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to her for a short time, anyway. “Just imagine how it would feel if someone did this to you?”
She unknowingly invoked Clara for him. He knows he’s lost someone, parts of himself, and he can’t do it to her. He forces her out of the office, and, before she can leave campus, he’s waiting for her with the TARDIS. He’s changed his mind because “… what the hell?” (A little Doc Brown reference, anyone?)
They dash into the TARDIS, and that’s the end of this episode!
What did you think?! Do you love Bill as much as I do? She’s smarter than she knows, she’s quirky, she challenges him, and I think she’ll end up being a great companion for him in this stage. I was also happy to see Nardole isn’t in every scene. I like him in short bits, so he’s useful as almost a tool for The Doctor rather than an outright companion.