By the time season 10 of Doctor Who started, we’ve already been told this is Peter Capaldi’s last season as the doctor, that John Simm and Michelle Gomez are both returning this season as the Master, and the gossip rags are circulating rumors that Kris Marshall is to regenerate into Capaldi’s shoes before season’s end. Episode one, “The Pilot,” doesn’t skimp on lining up clues about the trajectory of the rest of the season either.
Moffat has his finger on the pulse when he casts the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) as a university lecturer. Science has become cool (and let’s face it, vital to saving our planet), so an alien dealing out handfuls of quantum information to thirsty-minded students (such as quantum mechanics and poetry are the same thing because of the rhymes) is attractive to equally thirsty-minded viewers. During his professorial stint, the Doctor has taken up the habit of personally tutoring the cafeteria worker Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) and simultaneously tinkering on some weird vault with Nardole (Matt Lucas), his slightly more competent companion. The introduction to Bill and her tragic past (her mother died when she was young) could have carried the show, but Doctor Who isn’t one to start without a flurry of alien activity, so of course there has to be a low-rent monster that ensnares Bill in the type of sci-fi danger that follows the Doctor wherever he goes. Enter Heather (Stephanie Hyam), a girl with a star in her eye who Bill has a crush on.
Heather leads Bill to an alien oil slick (you read that right), which turns Heather into a time traveling zombie who chases Bill, the Doctor, and Nardole to the ends of the universe and backward in time (including an almost frivolous run-in with the Daleks). At first, you think this oil slick is infected with the virus we met on Mars, The Flood, but its motivation seems to be different. Rather than wanting to take over the world, it just wants to escape the planet. Then you think, because of the way it learns to mimic people, it might be the unnamed alien entity found on planet Midnight, but that thing got inside people’s minds; it didn’t turn people into watery zombies. So are these clues or just recycling old tricks?
Aside from the uninspired monster, “The Pilot” is a fun entrance to season 10. The Doctor hiding out as a teacher is a bit “The Family of Blood” meets “Shada.” His budding friendship with Bill is sweet, and she is instantly likable. Her past will no doubt be a thread this season. Although she enters the TARDIS on the pretense that she may find her zombie crush out there somewhere, I can’t help but think this is going to go a bit Rose Tyler when she joined the Doctor with the sole intention of meeting her dead father.
When will Bill tell the Doctor she saw his reflection in the photograph of her mother, and will it as usual come up at the most inconvenient time? Will we return to the warriors (Movellans?) we saw fighting the Daleks? What will be the dynamic between Bill and Nardole, and will Nardole reveal greater depth of character? Will we see clues of the Master’s return scribbled in the background the way we saw “Vote Saxon” scribbled everywhere leading up to his entrance before? Keep your eyes peeled, Whovians.