Well that was odd. I mean that in a good way, but how wonderfully downbeat. If someone was introducing you to a TV series and suggesting a jumping on point, this would probably be the episode to go for. Or Matt Smith’s debut. Either would work, I guess.
But lets be clear. There’s not what might reasonably be called a plot here. There’s a bunch of events that are strung together in order to let you know what the key points of the show are and that’s your lot.
But plot-lite or not, it’s a strange, sad and beautiful episode.
The villain isn’t really a villain and is simply there to show you who Bill is. The action scenes are functional at best – and over in seconds. But the crux of the programme is how The Doctor and Bill bond. How he picks her up and nurtures her and helps her to realise her potential.
What’s unusual here is the The Doctor actively seeks her out. She is noticed in lectures that she shouldn’t be at and called in to see The Doctor who has been lecturing at the university for over 50 years, apparently. It’s all a bit Professor Chronotis, really.
But the interesting thing here is that Bill is a genius – flipping through her University marks, she’s getting 97%/98% regularly and savvy, too. She knows her sci-fi and recognises a mind wipe when she sees one! It’s not the first time he’s travelled with a genius of course, there was Adric, Nyssa, Romana and Zoe for example and Liz, although she didn’t actually travels as he was exiled to Earth at the time. And then there was Susan.
She gets a lot of airtime and lingering looks in this episode. The Doctor has her picture on his desk – alongside River Song’s – and looks at it quite regularly. Is Susan going to show up? Is The Doctor wanting to see his family again? We even had a discussion as to whether Bill is a regenerated Susan. One pocket watch and a quick adoption and she’d never know . . . although Susan was left in London 2174, or there about, so that might not work . . . although it is a programme about time travel, so who knows.
But ultimately, this isn’t a programme about how Bill finds and loses a potential lover, it’s a programme about the Doctor losing Clara and how he is dealing with it. Bills telepathic moment with the water girl is essentially everything that could have happened between them, but speaks metaphorically of everything The Doctor has lost.
You leave the episode just a little bit sadder, but thrilled that The Doctor now has someone he can trust.
As a character piece, it about as fantastic as you can get. It’s sensitively written, full of emotion and insight and about as unlike Doctor Who as it’s possible to be. I can see this being a problem for some people, but put expectation aside for a moment and just listen to that dialogue! It’s glorious. There was one line that made me wince, the one about “There’s chips and there’s beauty” which rattled my PC bone a bit, but in a deluge of such wonderful writing, I can let that one slide this once.
What I’m less prepared to forgive is the casual way the Movellans were reintroduced and then abandoned. The Dalek/Movellan war, along with the Sontaran/Rutan war are two of the great unseen stories in the Whoniverse. I really want the to be more than a walk-on part. Thirty seconds of screen time simply isn’t enough for the silver dreaded disco killers. More please! You have the costumes now, so there’s no excuse!
And, lets just be clear about this . . . Bill is a wonderful character. There fears I had about her being an idiot and annoying – as suggested by the first teaser trailer – were unfounded, thankfully and I am really looking forward to having her character bloom and grow. Is Bill the next Donna Noble?
I do wonder what the point of Nardole is, though… he’s fun enough but little more than ‘Handles’ at the moment.
Now, my views on Moffatt are well known but with the exception of Blink, I think this is probably his best episode. After the horror of the last season of Sherlock, I genuinely thought that this season of Who was going to be atrocious and was preparing myself to ditch the show until the next Doctor came along. Even if it does turn out to Kris fucking Marshall.
In the light of this episode, I am really, really hoping this is a return to form for both Moffatt and Who.