We are but a few hours from the official premiere of “Doctor Who” season 10, and Whovians around the world are planning their viewing-parties and cementing their theories on what mysteries and adventures the new season will bring. This season is particularly special, we will welcome a new companion to the franchise, and we will have to say goodbye to another great Doctor. I won’t spoil any of the premiere episode for you, but I will express my fondness so far with the season.
After previewing the first episode, I’m certainly hooked on the new partnership between the Doctor and Bill, though I must admit that I had my reservations at first. I was very excited to meet Bill after discovering the casting earlier this (played by the very talented Pearl Mackie) but the early trailers painted Bill as a bit too naive and excitable for my taste. If you had the same worries that I did, fear not, Bill is actually one of the more astute pupils of the Doctor, and picks up things very quickly.
The parallels and contrasts between the Doctor and his companions have always changed, and I don’t want to dive too far into the dynamic between Bill and the Doctor. That’s a relationship you should experience without pretense, so you can draw your own conclusions later on. I will say that the duo start things off with a student/teacher relationship, and it’s a terrific model to start off the new season. I think Bill works as the perfect blank-slate, a great starting off point for the writers to finish out Peter Capaldi’s wondrous run as the Doctor. I am still a huge fan of David Tennant as the Doctor, but Peter Capaldi has certainly cemented his portrayal of the Doctor as one of my all-time favorites in the franchise’s history. I will miss him terribly when he leaves the show.
In the first episode Bill and the Doctor aren’t strangers to one another, though they aren’t friendly acquaintances either. The Doctor has been lying low, for some time it seems, and teaching at a University. Bill does not formally attend the University, but finds her way into the Doctor’s lectures time and time again. This setup cut-out a lot of the introductions and explanations that normally slow a season-premiere to a crawl. Bill’s panache for Sci-Fi pop-culture also helped to create a fast-paced episode. The episode itself offered a fantastic story to introduce the two, and kept things exciting even when introducing Bill to the wonders of space and time-travel. All in all, the episode was one of the fastest moving introductions to a new companion I can remember. Of course the first episode still has the one-liners, the explanations, and the moments of realization that all companions go through. They are all just streamlined this time around, I think it worked perfectly. These are all necessary tidbits for new viewers of course and can’t be left out. As Peter Capaldi explained, “It allows people who aren’t experienced in Doctor Who to experience it for the first time.”
Without spilling any of the details, the first episode has all of the ingredients that a great Doctor Who story needs to succeed. You have a mystery, an alien or two, a touch of terror, and a lot of suspense. Bill is independent, not romantically attached to the Doctor in anyway, and consistently proves to be both resilient and intelligent. These are the makings of a truly fantastic companion. As Capaldi himself stated, “Well the companion (and Bill is a very good example of it) is sort of their own person. They tend to be characters who are fully formed and independent so I think to be a companion in Doctor Who you have to be your own person.”
Pearl Mackie certainly plays Bill as an independent entity from the Doctor, and it shows from the start of the episode.
Capaldi added, “It doesn’t really work if the companion is just an adjunct to the Doctor. There’s always got to be an element of conflict there, I think.” The Doctor went on to say, “Whether it be just “Why didn’t you tell us you were taking us to this planet of flesh eating monsters” or whatever – it always needs a little bit of grist in it.”
As I said earlier Pearl is a bit of a Sci-fi fan. Not only does this help speed along the space/alien/time-travel premise, it’s an interesting plot-point to make her more relatable to fans of the show. Bill is also the first openly gay companion, which I loved, and it means that we can sweep that whole plot-point of the companion falling for the Doctor under the rug. We already had a wonderful story with The Doctor (9) and Rose, and The Doctor (10) and Clara Oswald had their moments, but this isn’t a romantic-comedy, and the T.A.R.D.I.S isn’t supposed to be used like Tinder. (On a side-note, I’m considering The Doctor and River Song to be a separate piece, since she wasn’t exactly a traditional companion).
Matt Lucas also returned to the forefront for this episode, reprising his lovable role of Nardole for the season premiere. Lucas’ character is quickly growing on me, and he serves as a perfect go-between for the Doctor and Bill in the first episode. Nardole spoke about his character in the upcoming season saying, “He’s more textured, more three-dimensional. You couldn’t go through a whole series with him being as cartoonish as he was in ‘The Husbands Of River Song'”. Lucas added, “That episode was played for laughs because it was a Christmas Special. We get to learn more about him and why he’s there. He has a purpose.”
Watching Capaldi play the Doctor in the first episode is bittersweet. He is the perfect choice for playing the character while the Doctor is in such a frustrated and struggling part of his arc, but in the back of my mind I know he’s leaving the show. Capaldi talked about his first meeting with Pearl saying, “It was great meeting Pearl – she brought a whole new vigor and excitement to the role of the Doctor’s companion.” That excitement shows on-screen, and I really can’t wait to see her character evolve this season.
It also helps that the Doctor and Bill’s first adventure is a pretty great one. I won’t ruin any of it for you, but it’s always a treat when the writers take the horror-thriller route with companion stories. In the past it has created some of the best episodes, from the Weeping Angels to The Silence, I just love them all.
The first meeting of the two actors in real-life was a bit of baptism by fire for Pearl Mackie. The actor explained the first interaction with Capaldi, during the recall for the part at the Soho Hotel.
“It was mental – obviously I was sworn to secrecy so I couldn’t tell anyone what I was doing or where I was going so I turned up to the Soho Hotel in a baggy T-Shirt, a pair of jeans and a pair of bright tallow trainers” Mackie explained. “We read the first scene (Peter and I) and we read it sitting down. It’s one of the first scenes in the first episode. For the next scene he said shall we stand up as we were going into the TARDIS. So I said ‘OK’ but I’ve been taught for camera auditions you sit down and move your face as little as possible so standing up was new for me.” Mackie went on to say, “But obviously it was in the TARDIS so Peter was running around pressing buttons and pulling levers that aren’t there and I didn’t know what was going on. Luckily Bill’s supposed to be doing that in the scene anyway so that worked in my favor!”
Mackie described her character saying, “She’s very real – she’s not had a very easy upbringing and whilst she doesn’t really let that affect her day-to-day life, it’s there under the surface – she can be quite defensive.” Mackie continued, “She’s fun, she’s excited, she’s a bit geeky – she quite likes sci-fi stuff, she’s into space and that type of thing so when she does go on adventures with the Doctor and discovers aliens are real and that kind of stuff it blows her mind which is really cool.”
If you haven’t set a reminder yet, the season 10 premiere will air on April 15th AT 9/8C. Fans of the series should stick around afterwards though, the season premiere of “Doctor Who” will be followed by the first episode of the spinoff “Class”.