So what happened?
After settling at St Luke’s University as a professor and his assistant, the TARDIS tucked away in the corner of his office with an ‘out of order’ sign on the door, The Doctor and Nardole see the potential in Bill Potts, a young woman who works in the canteen, and invite her to come and speak with them. Having noted that she already attends his lectures, it’s there that Twelve convinces her to sign up as a student so he can tutor her.
Several months later, with a string of highly marked assessments under her belt and after spying on her tutor and his assistant trying to open a mysterious vault in the basement of the university, Bill encounters a fellow student called Heather, who has a birth defect that makes it look like she has a star in her eye. A mutual rapport and attraction develops between them, and Bill follows her when she asks her to take a look at a suspicious looking puddle elsewhere on campus. After Heather gazes into it and tells her new friend her reflection doesn’t look right, Bill looks for herself and realises the same thing, unable to pinpoint what exactly it is that’s wrong. As she turns around to ask more questions, she realises Heather has already gone, prompting her to leave as well, as some sort of creature inside the puddle states that a search for a pilot has begun.
Some time later, Bill repeats the same ritual with the other student, this time though Heather vanishes completely, leading her to ask The Doctor to help her find out what’s going on. He duly investigates the puddle, and comes to the conclusion that water isn’t actually water at all, but the fuel from some kind of alien space ship that mimics their reflections. That night Bill goes home to her flat, and ends up being chased by the alien fluid, which has taken the shape of the girl she was falling for. As she runs to the university, ‘Heather’ follows her across the grounds and even into Twelve’s office, forcing him to drag his student into the TARDIS to escape. After Bill tells him it’s like a kitchen and asks where the toilet is, he and Nardole move the space ship to the basement where they’ve been keeping an eye on the vault, initially surmising that the alien is after whatever is locked inside it, but soon coming to the conclusion that it’s actually only after Bill just as it materialises again to get her.
Pulling her into the TARDIS again, The Doctor flies them to Sydney Harbour, and it’s there that he just has enough time to reveal he’s from another planet when ‘Water Zombie Heather’ catches up to them again, forcing them this time to travel to the other side of the Universe, to another planet millions of years in the future. The alien is persistent though, catching Bill off-guard as she stares into another puddle of water, and grabs her. Nardole and Twelve manage to snatch her back, however, and hatch a plan to have it follow them through a brutal battle between the Daleks and the Movellans. Things don’t exactly go to plan though, and ‘Heather’ takes a shot that was aimed at Bill and The Doctor, which makes her morph into the form of a dalek. After her professor surmises that the alien knew Heather wanted to run away, and therefore adopted her as a pilot in attempt to leave Earth, Bill steps forward and reaches out. Touching her allows her to see all the places in Space they could go together if she allowed herself to become the alien’s passenger, but The Doctor convinces her to stay with him and Nardole, and she frees ‘Heather’ from her earlier promise not to leave her, leading to the alien’s sudden departure.
Afterwards Twelve and Bill return to his office where she figures out that he’s going to wipe her memory, and asks him not to, pleading with him to understand what it would be like if someone took his memories from him. In spite of his concerns about keeping a promise and hiding his identity, he eventually relents and allows her to go. By the time she gets outside, The Doctor has already parked the TARDIS on the lawn to meet her. He asks her to travel with him, and she accepts.
Monster of the Week
Marieke: A super scary idea seen before in Japanese horror provided the monster of the week. Although, monster… A crush with a stalking habit more like. Heather’s appearances were chilling though. In a very Moffat fashion, something as ordinary as water became scary because it is basically unstoppable. Heather’s appearances were actually scary, as was the vision of her trapped beneath the puddle. She was so strong, she could even disable a Dalek. A Dalek! In the end though, it was a pleasant twist that Heather did not want to kill Bill (badam tssch), but merely adhered to the promise she was sworn to keep. It was a crush gone wrong, turning Heather into a fluid stalker. The true monsters were the beings which made her a pilot. Will we come across them again this series, or was this just a brief intro?
Danielle: It’s amazing really how water-like rocket fuel was the main threat in this series opener, and yet it still managed to be suitably terrifying, rather than laughable. The ability to mimic someone’s reflections and then take them over is a pretty damn insidious superpower for a puddle. I’ll be looking at them differently in future!
Marieke: The scenes of our trio being followed around by Heather, whose arrival was announced with the sound of dripping water, was creepy. However, the creepiness was slightly sidelined in favour of introducing the new companion, which was the right choice. A little bit of creep, a little bit of new, a little bit of old turned into a nice cocktail to knock back.
Danielle: I think I might agree about them dialling back on the creepiness if it wasn’t for that scene in the bathroom. My worst nightmare is to look down at a plughole and see an eye staring back up at me. Spiders are bad enough! It makes me shudder just thinking about it. There is something quite unnerving about looking at your reflection, and it not being quite right too. Hmmm. Weird!
Marieke: For Moffat’s last stint as showrunner, a few mysteries were nicely set up. The foremost one being, what is in the vault that The Doctor and Nardole are trying to protect so badly??? Their security is setting is so strict that even a vomiting student trips the alarm. This must be incredibly important. There was also the picture of The Doctor’s granddaughter and first companion being zoomed in on whilst he was talking to Bill. Will there be more to this, or is this simply a signal that Bill will be a bit like her, companion-wise? I am also left wondering if the thing in Heather’s eye will have any importance going forward, as well as the aliens who made her a pilot. More than this, I wonder if Moffat has thrown any hints at us in this episode, besides the obvious defect. The series where Eleven went back in time, and one of the clues we got was that one version of him had one jacket, and the other had another, has been my favourite series so far.
Danielle: Aside from the mystery of what’s inside the vault, and Bill’s possible links to Susan, I’m really intrigued as to why The Doctor is in hiding, and who he made a promise to that’s he’ll remain incognito. Is this someone who wanted to protect him from harm like his now deceased wife, River, or someone else who’s threatened him? With *spoiler alert* two versions of The Master locked in to make an appearance at some point this series, I think we already have possible candidate(s) on that front. Speaking of River, I do wonder if either her, or the memory of her is going to be significant as we hurtle on towards Twelve’s regeneration. I’m still mindful that the name of the company in the Christmas Special, Harmony Shoal, sounds a whole lot like yet another pseudonym of his gone, but not forgotten, spouse.
Going back to Bill’s identity, a question mark does hang over her seemingly natural academic abilities, and The Doctor’s instant affinity with her. She even lives with a foster mother, and although Twelve did go back in time and take photographs of her birth mother for her, if there is Time Lord DNA somewhere in her family, a regeneration somewhere along the way could obscure the identity of someone he might otherwise recognise. Of course all of this could be a red herring.
Twelve and his Companion(s)
Because this is Twelve’s last series, we wanted to take a moment here to focus on him and the people he brings along with him in the TARDIS, before Peter Capaldi’s reign as The Doctor is over.
Marieke: Readers of this blog will know by now that I am not a fan of Twelve. The relationship between him and Clara did not work for me. Clara was a leftover from Eleven and whenever Twelve said ‘my Clara’ I just did not believe it. Their companionship was a disservice to the both of them. This soft reboot is very welcome. I took to Bill immediately, and she seems to bring out a side of this Doctor I would have liked to see when his run started. Bill is street smart, and as it turns out, academically minded, covertly attending The Doctor’s lectures. She is frank, open and not afraid to call him out. Her curiosity triggers the old ‘the Doctor wants to show you the universe’ trope, but after the all-knowing Clara, funnily, this comes across as fresh and new. Time will tell if she will stay on after the regeneration, but if she keeps the good work up from her first episode, she will no doubt leave a lasting impression.
Nardole is also back and sometimes I feel like me and my Fezzy colleague are the only ones liking him. I think (and hope) there will be more to Nardole than just a funny sidekick, even though he has already shown to be quite competent and assertive in the Christmas specials. Knowing Nardole and curious Bill have the potential to make an unforgettable new TARDIS duo.
Danielle: I got about halfway through this episode, and I suddenly realised that I haven’t enjoyed a companion this much since Amy’s early days. It’s not that I had the same problems with Twelve that Marieke did. After an initial hiccup, I hit the ground running as far as enjoy Peter Capaldi’s incarnation, to the point that he’s now a serious contender for my favourite Doctor. It’s more that, as Marieke suggested, Clara always felt like she belonged alongside Eleven, where her chemistry with Matt Smith was more straight-forward, i.e. the light flirtiness really worked. With Twelve, it always seemed a little confused. Like they couldn’t decide if there was a romantic spark between them, or not. With Bill, the teacher/protege dynamic is really refreshing. Furthermore, to completely misquote a British comedian, she asks all the right questions, just not necessarily in the right order. Aside from that, whereas teacher Clara characteristically liked to give the orders, student Bill seems willing to listen. I think that’s an important difference.
I LOVE that we know for sure that The Doctor literally rebuilt Nardole. Whether that’s affected his level of competence, or if it’s simply because he’s spent so long in Twelve’s company, is something that remains to be seen. Regardless, I don’t understand the level of animosity towards him from some. How can you not love the post ‘someone finally said it’s bigger on the inside’ handshake he shared with his boss?
Stephanie Hyam, who played Heather, also had a smart part in Fezzy favourite, Peaky Blinders. It certainly looks like her part in Sherlock’s ‘The Abominable Bride’ has earned her this memorable villain role though.
Marieke: For the first time I truly enjoyed a Twelve episode. This soft reboot is what the show needed. Bill is incredibly likeable and the professor-student dynamic between her and The Doctor works a charm. Nardole provides some comic relief, but also works as a knowing factor between curious Bill and the Teacher-Doctor. After all the fuss in the media about Bill’s sexuality, it was pleasantly and calmly introduced in the episode. Bill likes girls, so what? No one batted an eyelid. There is one point of criticism however. Was the ‘I gave her extra chips and then I noticed she was fat’ line really necessary? After rightful criticism about Moffat’s take on his gay and bisexual characters, and how he writes women, this episode felt like he actually learned something. That line seemed like an unforced step backwards. This aptly titled episode (The Pilot) has created a freshness not seen in Doctor Who for quite some time. I cannot wait for the next episode, which is something I have not felt in a long time. Hopefully this will be Twelve’s best series, making him regenerate with a bang. If I actually end up being sad to see Twelve go, this series will have done something really right.
Danielle: First things first, I’m so, so pleased that Twelve finally has a companion to call his own. And what a companion she is so far! As Bill was written, she may not have worked. That’s not necessarily a slight to Moffat, it’s just that a wide-eyed, working-class young woman might have felt like a redo of Rose in less capable hands. Fortunately that wasn’t the case with Pearl Mackie, who was a revelation, and the absolute stand-out in this series opener. I’m only expecting good things in the weeks ahead if her first outing was anything to go by. I also really enjoyed the new university setting. It too felt like a breath of fresh air.
That’s not to say that Twelve has completely shrugged off previous elements of his life/lives. I especially liked the fact that both River and Susan were very much in his thoughts, as exemplified by the way his desk was furnished. Coming off the back of those twenty four years he spent with his wife in Darillium, it seems like a pitch perfect detail. Capaldi’s Doctor is as sentimental as he can be fierce. I can’t help but wonder if ‘family’ is going to be the buzzword for this series.
- Is that a real Rembrandt in the Doctor’s office at the university? Knowing him, it could very well be. He has a thing for Dutch painters after all. (M)
- With regards to River’s picture on his desk, as opposed to Clara, I felt River actually gelled best with Twelve. Their chemistry was the best out of the three Doctors we’ve seen her encounter on-screen, and I would have liked to see more of them together. (M)
- Possible crack theory alert: is it just me or did Heather’s ‘star in her eye’ look a lot like both a supernova AND the moment the Doctor regenerates? (D)
Our Fezzy Score:
So what did you think to the series opener? How did you take to Bill? Let us know in the comments…