Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor and Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts in "Doctor Who"
Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor and Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts in "Doctor Who"

“Doctor Who” season 10 episode 1 is full of Easter eggs and references to the old series and previous episodes of the revival. “The Pilot” did not disappoint, with the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Nardole (Matt Lucas) and new companion Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) making the most of a simple yet engaging plot.

The following contains spoilers from the first episode of “Doctor Who” series 10. The episode aired Saturday in the UK on BBC, Sunday in Australia on the ABC.

The Doctor is in disguise as a professor at a university when he took a shine to Bill after seeing her in his lecture regularly. Bill isn’t a student but a cafeteria worker, and the Doctor perhaps reminded him of his own granddaughter, Susan Foreman (played by Carole Ann Ford in the original series), whose photo was on his office desk.

As he explained, when students don’t understand something, they frown, but not Bill. Bill smiles, and that’s how the Doctor noticed her. He offered to be his personal tutor, and the young chips server agreed.

Naturally curious, Bill asked the right questions, like “Doctor what?” “If you are from another planet, why would you name the TARDIS in English? It wouldn’t work on any other languages!”

“Can I use the toilet?” Bill asked Twelve just when the Gallifreyan was proudly flaunting the features of the TARDIS. “It is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside!” she exclaimed, finally figuring out the TARDIS to the delight of Nardole, who appeared to be waiting for her to mention exactly that.

When she mentioned that her mum died when she was a baby and she hardly had any photographs of her, the Doctor travelled in the past and took pictures of her mother for her. Capaldi’s Twelve isn’t a bad person, though he could be self-serving at times. He could hardly be called sweet, but in this instance, he proved even an old, broken man has his moments.

The alien of the week was a water monster that absorbed Bill’s potential love interest. The doctor explained that the puddles on the ground were like leftover motor oil from a vehicle, which was actually from the alien’s spaceship of some sort. It was looking for a pilot (hence, the episode’s title), and Heather was a good fit because anywhere she went, she wanted to leave immediately.

While the usual trope of a story would be that “love would save the day,” this time it’s the opposite. The last thing Heather said to Bill before she was taken was a promise that she wouldn’t leave her, and so she – or the creature that she has become – followed Bill everywhere, from Australia to another time on another planet. She let go after Bill told her to.

Notes and references

“The Pilot” is a treasure trove of references from the old and new series. As Capaldi and showrunner Steven Moffat’s last season, season 10 could bring back even more references in the future episodes. The first episode certainly did not disappoint; Whovians can have a blast pointing out familiar things, quotes and characters in this episode alone. Here are some of it:

  1. First, was Twelve wearing a coat that has a blue lining instead of red? Still looks cool and cosplay-worthy, though.
  2. Photos of his wife, River Song (Alex Kingston), and his granddaughter were on his desk.
  3. There’s a can of sonic screwdrivers on his desk as well. He even threw one to Nardole while they were trying to outrun Heather.
  4. Just a few inches from the sonic screwdrivers was a raven, which could be a reference to the raven that killed the Doctor’s previous companion, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman).
  5. Twelve played the first chords of Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” while Bill was waiting in his main office. The masterpiece was heavily featured in last season’s “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood.”
  6. The Doctor explained why the TARDIS remains the same police telephone box. This was already mentioned by the First Doctor (William Hartnell) in the original series, but Twelve again told Bill that the TARDIS’s cloaking device, a feature that was supposed to make the TARDIS blend in everywhere, was broken. Therefore, the TARDIS is stuck looking like the blue box.
  7. Nardole’s explanation of why the TARDIS is bigger on the inside was borrowed from the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker). “First, you have to imagine a very big box fitting inside a very small box. Then you have to make one. It’s the second part people normally get stuck on,” Nardole cleverly told Bill. As Radio Times notes, that was just a more simplistic version of Four’s explanation. See video below.

‘The Pilot’ unanswered questions

There are also some questions the episode left, though. How did Twelve end up teaching in a university? It wasn’t explained how or why he even wanted it. Also, why did he say he couldn’t get involved anymore? Bill was getting upset when she found out Twelve would be wiping out her memory. The Doctor tried to justify it by saying he promised he would stay away, perhaps even saying he couldn’t bring another companion anymore. Whom did he promise it to? And more importantly, why?

As for the vault, which Twelve and Nardole hid underneath the university, what’s inside it that the Doctor even remarked that it was taking more time than usual to open it? Could it be another Pandorica that hides a person? And about the aliens who left their vehicle’s motor oil all around time, who are they exactly? Are they some kind of important characters the show would be featuring at some point this season?

‘Doctor Who’ season 10 episode 1 review

Overall, “Doctor Who” season 10 episode 1 “The Pilot” was a fun, less taxing first episode. It was refreshing to have a companion who isn’t the plot herself. We got that from Clara, Donna (Catherine Tate), the Ponds and even River, so it’s nice to see Bill being essential to the story without being the centre of it.

Her sexuality, which Mackie herself addressed days before the episode aired, was made obvious early on but the Doctor never mentioned it. Of course the Doctor doesn’t care if his companion is gay, straight or even asexual, but it’s good to see that it wasn’t swept under the rug or just mentioned in passing. It was spelt out immediately and proudly.

Read more:
‘Doctor Who’ season 10 to bring back John Simm as the Master
‘Doctor Who’: Companion Bill Potts reportedly will leave show after just one season