Although leaving some questions unanswered, the episode is full of wit and well-rounded characters, as well as being original and sometimes even genuinely creepy. Not perfect, but getting closer.
Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) is the new young, black, gay companion, who smiles at things she does not understand. For the first half of this series premiere, I smiled for the same reason. In the second half, I just smiled.
Alongside the introduction of the new companion, the episode sees viewers hiding behind the sofa as in days of old, offering genuine creepiness and a number of jump-scares in the form of a puddle mimics rather than reflects. In true Steven Moffat fashion, the episode has taken advantage of an everyday object, and warped it into something unrecognisably fearful, as well as being easily quotable and full of witty one-liners.
The scene is set thus: the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is, for some reason, lecturing at a university where Bill works as a dinner lady, and becomes her personal tutor after noticing her attendance at his renowned lectures. Because of this, the beginning of their relationship is skipped over, in favour of a montage of their meetings over time. While we lose them getting to know each other, their Doctor and companion relationship is yet to develop.
Instead, the focal relationship of this episode seems to be that between Bill and Heather (Stephanie Hyam), the ‘girl with a star in her eye’ (the original title of the episode), who becomes possessed by the puddle and follows Bill to the end of the universe just to invite her to travel with her. The best love story Moffat has written? Joking aside, it makes for a wonderfully emotional tale.
The story is original, watchable, and full of humanity. We get to see Bill at home with her foster mother (Jennifer Hennessy, an actress you’ll remember from Series 3’s ‘Gridlock’), sorting through pictures of her own passed mother, suggesting a level of depth to the new companion that has been lacking in recent series. Bill herself is full of wit, with both street-smarts and academic intelligence that makes her a perfect asker of the audience’s questions. Her sexuality is treated wonderfully, apart from a few jarringly forced lines, which is fantastic to see.
The TARDIS entry was also refreshingly original, with the heavily cliched “it’s bigger on the inside” line being delivered effectively and lightly. However, the other cliche introduction line – “Doctor What?!” – was slightly jarring, much like the episode’s wibbly wobbly timeline.
The episode left many unanswered questions. Why did the space-engine-oil take Heather? How did the space-engine-oil monster travel to Australia? What are Bill’s bad dreams? What’s in the Doctor’s mysterious vault? Will any of these questions be answered?
Despite this, the episode had many redeeming qualities, the return of Nardole (Matt Lucas) offering light comic relief, and Bill’s introduction offering hope for a well-rounded companion for the next series. To add to this, the teaser for the rest of the series offers many joys to come, including a glimpse at the return of John Simm. The first episode of series 10 of Doctor Who sees the show getting back on its feet, and bodes well for the remainder of the series. And whether out of confusion or enjoyment, it will leave its viewers smiling.
Doctor Who returns next week at 7:20 on BBC One. Take a look at our Series Guide for an idea of what’s still to come… Watch the trailer for the rest of the series below: