Review: “Doctor Who – The Pilot” (TV Show Episode)

Well, the new series of “Doctor Who” started yesterday- so, it’s time for a review.

Although I’m not sure how many of the new episodes I’ll end up reviewing or how long it will take me to review them (eg: the review probably won’t appear for a day or so at least), it has been way too long since I last reviewed an episode of “Doctor Who” (and, yes, I know that I reviewed the Christmas episode a few months ago, but still…).

So, that said, let’s take a look at “The Pilot”. Needless to say, this review might contain some SPOILERS.

The episode begins at a university, where the Doctor is teaching. He’s asked somone called Bill to his office because she has a habit of attending his lectures, even though she isn’t a student at the university (she works in the cafeteria).

Yet, instead of complaning or ordering her not to attend lectures, The Doctor is intrigued by the fact that she apparently smiles whenever she doesn’t understand something. So, he wants her to become one of his students and offers to become her tutor.

Needless to say, it isn’t long before Bill realises that The Doctor is slightly… strange.

After a strange series of events involving another character called Heather – Bill, The Doctor and his friend Nardole find themselves fleeing through time and space in the TARDIS in order to escape a mysterious watery ghost who seems to be chasing them across the universe….

The first thing that I will say about this episode is that, as the title suggests, it’s an episode that can be enjoyed if you’ve never watched “Doctor Who” before. It spends a while reintroducing and re-explaining various elements from the series, which slows down the pacing of the episode slightly. Still, as introductory episodes go, it manages to cram a lot of characterisation and storytelling into just fifty minutes.

Plus, unlike the previous series, it’s a proper stand-alone episode. It tells a single story that is concluded by the end of the episode. After the relentless over-use of two-part episodes in 2015, it’s great to see the series returning to what it does best!

Still, despite all of the cool stuff in this episode, the pacing isn’t quite right. The beginning of the episode is surprisingly slow-paced for a “Doctor Who” episode and, whenever something thrilling, suspenseful or creepy happens later in the episode, it is often broken up by a subsequent scene with a different emotional tone.

This is especially disappointing since this episode really, really tries to be a horror episode. There are even a few scenes that are reminscent of late 1990s/early 2000s horror films too. But, many of the creepy parts of the episode aren’t really allowed to develop to their full potential since the suspenseful atmosphere is often broken by something random and/or silly.

For example, this had the potential to be a really suspenseful scene. But, Bill and the Doctor get into the TARDIS and flee to Australia long before the ghost even gets close to them.

But, although this episode fails slightly as a horror episode, there is still loads of really cool stuff here. In addition to lots of hilarious dialogue and subtle references to earlier parts of the show, there are all sorts of interesting locations and we also even get to hear the Doctor delivering a lecture about time too. Plus, there’s a vaguely “Blade Runner”-like scene that involves a mirror in an old photograph.

One other cool moment in this episode is where The Doctor uses the “monster infighting” tactic from the original “Doom” in order to try to defeat the ghost. In other words, he tricks a Dalek into fighting the ghost by standing in front of the ghost and diving out of the way just before the Dalek fires it’s lasers. Seriously, it’s great to see classic 1990s FPS gaming tactics in TV shows.

Well, the corridor was too narrow for circle-strafing, I guess.

As for Bill, it’ll be interesting to see how her character develops as the series progresses. The scenes involving her include a good mixture of both comedy and serious drama. She comes across as a fairly realistic character, even though she has a habit of asking hilarious questions almost constantly. A lot of the drama and comedy in this episode comes from the fact that Bill has only just been introduced to the TARDIS, time travel, other planets etc.. So, it’ll be interesting to see how her character changes when she gets more used to going on adventures with the Doctor.

One other outstanding feature of this episode is the set design. This episode contains a ridiculous number of locations and they all look suitably interesting, realistic and/or futuristic. In addition to the cool blue/orange colour scheme used in the locations where the Daleks appear, there’s also a scene set on another planet that includes almost Hollywood-level effects:

Seriously, the CGI in this series has really improved over the past decade.

All in all, it’s great to see “Doctor Who” back on TV again. Although this episode doesn’t really “work” as a horror episode and the pacing isn’t quite right, it’s an absolutely great introduction to the series for people who have never watched “Doctor Who” before. It’s kind of like a “greatest hits” compilation of everything that makes “Doctor Who” what it is – even if it ends up being slightly less than the sum of it’s parts sometimes.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would maybe just about get a four.

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4 comments on “Review: “Doctor Who – The Pilot” (TV Show Episode)

  1. babbitman says:

    Some good bits of dialogue and nice nod to “Destiny of the Daleks” where we see Movellans being on the receiving end of Dalek fire power. I thought there were some similarities with Waters of Mars (which was a proper good scary episode) but yeah, it didn’t quite work as well. Thought that the Doctor would have been a bit more interested in the liquid, too. I liked the fact that Bill approached the whole introduction to the TARDIS thing in a new, interesting way and actually bringing up the issue of the acronym only working in English. She may turn out to be a fun character or she might end up being annoying. I liked Heather – sullen, mopish student with a star in her eye… having both of them on hand would have made things interesting. Overall, I’d give it 7/10.

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Ah, I haven’t really seen any of the older “Doctor Who” episodes, although I’m kind of surprised that I didn’t realise that the battle on board the spaceship was a reference to an older episode (I mean, the Doctor even mentions that they’re in the past).

      I can’t really remember that much about the waters of Mars episode, was it the one with the giant lava pit near the end of the episode – or am I confusing it with another episode?

      I didn’t really think about it when I wrote the review but, yeah, one of the flaws with the episode is that the liquid really isn’t explained that well. For a central part of the plot, the only real explanation is that it’s some kind of engine oil that likes to copy things LOL!

      But, yeah, Bill’s line of dialogue about the TARDIS’s acronym was quite interesting. Although, given that “TARDIS” isn’t really a traditional English word, I guess that the Gallifreyan acronym probably sounds better LOL!!!

      But, yeah, I can see how Bill has the potential to either be an interesting character or an annoying one, although I’m leaning more towards the former (at the very least, she’s considerably less annoying than Donna was in a few of the earlier series of the show. Not to mention that the dynamic between Bill and the Doctor is considerably better than the constant bickering between Clara and the Doctor during most of series 8 [?]).

      I don’t know, Heather was probably my least favourite character in the episode. I was originally going to include a paragraph in the review about how her miserable personality and Bill’s more cheerful personality seemed somewhat mismatched, but I ended up removing it for length reasons (since the review was already getting fairly long). But, yeah, I guess that it’s theoretically possible that she might return in a future episode.

      7/10 probably sounds about right, I guess.

      • babbitman says:

        Waters of Mars ended with the Doctor breaking the rules of changing history by rescuing the commander of Bowie Base One and delivering her home, whereupon she commits suicide. A dark tale with a weird ending.

      • pekoeblaze says:

        Ah, for some reason, I don’t quite remember that one (I probably watched it at the time but, although I can remember some TV shows quite well, I seem to be terrible at remembering details of slightly older “Doctor Who” episodes). But, yeah, that sounds like a surprisingly depressing way to end an episode of “Doctor Who” – I guess that it was probably meant to be an ending about the timeline restoring itself or history being pre-written or something like that.

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