Thoughts on: The Pilot

I think I owe Steven Moffat an apology. This time last year I was grouching over his choice of new companion. Another young modern female companion cast from the Amy/Clara mould who, let’s face it, at this point wasn’t going to out-Amy Amy or out-Clara Clara — as I complained. To be fair, Bill’s first appearance in that shoddily-written teaser involving her and the Doctor hiding from a Dalek hardly endeared her to me. Bill’s treating the Dalek as a joke (“Fat, though!”) and the whole situation as whimsy made me despair for the series ahead afflicted by this annoying, gobby, glib, woman-child with her extraordinary hair and clothes.

It looked like minimal thought had gone into creating Bill, as though Moffat had just rearranged his favourite companion tropes — outgoing, perky, feisty, witty, flirty — into a slightly different configuration and went ahead and found a new actress to play to that tired script. And, to be honest, that is in a way what Moffat has done with Bill. Bill embodies many of the same character attributes as Amy and Clara (and River), and she can be seen as yet another new iteration of the same character formula Moffat has trotted out three times before this.

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But I underestimated Moffat. Sure, Bill is similar in many significant ways to the two (or three, if River counts as a companion) companions who’ve come before her. But I was struck in this, her introductory episode, by how much better she was written than her predecessors. Far from minimal thought having gone into Bill, it feels like a lot more thought and care has gone into creating and writing Bill than ever went into Amy or Clara before their first jaunts in the Tardis. This is palpable from how much more relatable Bill immediately felt than arguably Amy or Clara ever felt. Amy was a fairytale and Clara was an engima. Before they were characters they were concepts. Don’t get me wrong, I adored both Amy and Clara, but I don’t think either felt completely like real people.

Bill, on the other hand, just from this introductory episode feels more real than Amy or Clara ever felt. We’ve been given a tour through her life: her foster home, her job at the university canteen and what she does for fun (attend lectures on quantum physics apparently). We’ve seen how her experiences have affected her and shaped who she is. And the intimacy with which Bill’s character is written adds a level of nuance and detail to her character that I think was lacking in Amy and Clara. By the time Amy and Clara exited the show respectively there was still a degree to which they remained enigmas to the audience — like celebrity royalty, there was an extent to which they were simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar to us. There’s none of that with Bill, with whom the contrast is striking. We feel we’ve got to know Bill intimately right away. We feel familiar with Bill, like there’s little more we feel we need to know about her.

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And we like her. She’s a likable and endearing character. I wasn’t right in thinking I’d be bored or irritated by Bill, even if she is a reiteration of the Amy/Clara/River model. That’s substantially due to the writing, because I imagine I would be bored by Bill if she weren’t written as well as she is. Bill is distinguished from Amy and Clara in one respect worth noting though (other than her sexuality), and that’s that she’s probably the first genuinely normal companion in Doctor Who since Donna — that is, since Russell T Davies’ era. Unless I’m tragically premature in making this observation about Bill, she does appear to be the first of Moffat’s companions who isn’t at the eye of an elaborate narrative arc. No Girl Who Waited, no Impossible Girl. And frankly, that’s bloody refreshing. Unlike, it seems, most fans, I found the Impossible Girl arc intriguing and interesting, but it’s nice to return to a companion who’s just normal. Just Bill. Even her name is refreshingly simple and unfrilly.

I’ve just spent five paragraphs talking about the new companion and haven’t even spared a word for anything else in this episode yet. That’s because, by far and away, the new companion was the most important thing in this episode. The plot, let’s face it, was pretty lacklustre. For a writer who usually insists on making everything far more complicated than it needs to be, Moffat has turned in a fairly threadbare and unremarkable story. As a story concept, strange women emerging from mobile ponds sounds like something that belongs in Class or Torchwood’s early series, or maybe Doctor Who’s sillier early days under RTD, than as the opener to Moffat’s swansong series. But that’s not really the point of this story. This story has one objective and one objective only: introducing Bill and setting her up as the Doctor’s new companion. The star-eyed girl in her locomotive puddle was a pantomime threat deployed as the impetus for bringing the Doctor and Bill together. As an aspect of the story, it wasn’t important. It played a secondary role.

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And it served its purpose. As far as companion introductions go, Bill probably received a better character debut than any companion since Rose. Maybe even better. As an introductory episode, I think I’d give it a more middling ranking — The Eleventh Hour is still the superior introductory episode in my book. Because I do think a case can be made that, while The Pilot‘s plot served its purpose in the story, it still could have been, well, less predictable and pedestrian. Less Series 1 Sarah Jane Adventures. The visual realisation of Heather as the phantasmic eponymous “pilot” was appropriately freaky, but the revelation of what the creature was and the way its threat was resolved was something of a lazy anticlimax. Still, it all provided for some very fun whizzing around in the Tardis as the Doctor attempted to outrun the creature (and I’m delighted that Australia got a look in).

On that note, just as the whirlwind whiz around time and space in the Tardis was supposed to be Bill’s first exciting voyage with the Doctor, the impetus for her boarding the Tardis as the Doctor’s companion, this episode was obviously supposed to be scripted as a soft reboot to the show. That was certainly how it was being touted by the likes of Moffat and Capaldi, a new “jumping-on point” for new viewers of the show à la The Eleventh Hour. Certainly, everything old was made new again in this episode. Old fans will have smirked knowing smirks as familiar tropes of the show were hashed out again for new viewers, albeit with subtle variation for the old fans: the “bigger on the inside” scene, “Doctor Who What?” and the companion’s traditional vomit of questions about the Doctor and the Tardis (“Why are the initials in English?”). Even as a veteran fan, though, the moment Bill turned around and saw the inside of the Tardis, wide-eyed and stunned, and the Doctor said those words, “Time and Relative Dimension in Space — TARDIS for short”, I got chills. This show never stops being magical.

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As effective and accessible this episode was as a reboot to the franchise and a jumping-on point for new viewers though, it was also deft in setting up what looks like it’s going to be the arc of this series. There’s a big, menacing-looking vault in a cellar under Bill’s university, and the Doctor doesn’t want anybody to know about it. He’s apparently set himself up as a professor at the university and has been there for as many as 70 years keeping watch over that vault. It’s a credit to Moffat’s writing that the most curious aspect of this episode — why the Doctor has been earthbound, lecturing at a university for upwards of 70 years — almost passed unnoticed. Attention wasn’t drawn to it. It was written as though it didn’t even need explanation, and as a result the audience just accepted it without asking for an explanation. It was understated and clever and not overt and heavy-handed like last series’ Hybrid arc setup (as intriguing as I found that, too). The subtle and inconspicuous way the arc was set up allows narrative space and time for the Doctor to go gallivanting around the universe with Bill at his leisure before he inevitably needs to return to the vault, and in that respect it was well deployed.

Apart from the introduction of Bill, what I really liked about this episode is that it represents such an optimistic and exciting beginning to this series of Doctor Who. Everything is fresh, everything is new, and we have a bushy-tailed new companion chewing at the bit to get into the Tardis and see the universe, and a Doctor apparently excited by the prospect of taking her to see it with him. I think I’d like to have seen some more caution and trepidation on the Doctor’s part of drafting Bill into the Tardis, more acknowledgement by him that the last time he did this he got his companion killed (technically) — the episode rather skirted over that — but I suppose when you’re trying to reboot the show anew again for a new audience, that audience might find it confusing if the show referenced too significantly events of previous series. But the result, the conclusion to this episode was always going to be the right one: Bill breathlessly hops aboard the Tardis and she and the Doctor take off into the universe, a whole series of exciting adventures ahead of them. This episode made me excited for the series ahead, and for that reason it was successful.

Rating: 8/10.

Five predictions for Doctor Who Series 10

Doctor Who is today. It’s literally today. Well, tomorrow for me (sometimes it sucks being an antipodean). I decided to write this last-minute post sharing five of my predictions for what we might see in Series 10.

The Doctor will be different

Within the first few minutes of the Twelfth Doctor’s initial appearance in Series 9, the character development he had undergone offscreen since we had last seen him was conspicuous. The cold, brusque and callous Twelve we met in Series 8 was nowhere to be seen. It was clear that between Last Christmas and The Magician’s Apprentice, the Doctor had found his heart, learned some social skills, taken a figurative chill pill or two and possibly smoked some pot. He was still recognisably the Twelfth Doctor we were introduced to in Series 8, but a developed and more emotionally mature version of that character. I liked it, and I liked him. The personality adjustment, I think, was successful and necessary character development which it would have been unsatisfying for him not to have undergone.

And I think we can expect to see further character development in Series 10. Some of the advance reviews of The Pilot have noted that Twelve has once again undergone a degree of personality adjustment offscreen. I don’t think there’s anything surprising about that. Twelve in Series 9 wasn’t a fully-developed character either. He was developed, but not matured, like a fruit that you can eat but isn’t fully ripe yet. It still tastes a bit sour. Twelve in Series 9 was like the teenage version of his character— let’s say late teenage. He had his electric guitar and his black sunglasses and his scruffy clothes, and he was still riding the high of his intense and exhilarating relationship with Clara.

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I think in Series 10 we can expect to see a matured Twelve. Especially after the events of Hell Bent and The Husbands of River Song which have forced him to mature from his teenage mindset of Series 9. I think we can expect him to be softer and gentler, wiser, more emotionally stable, and psychologically older. A more rounded, nuanced and more mature person in general, but maybe jaded from experience and age, like Matt Smith’s Doctor was in the latter days of his regeneration.

I’ve mentioned my feelings about Bill before, but perhaps a companion like Bill is exactly what the Doctor needs in Series 10. Bill is young and energetic and starry-eyed and enthused by the prospect of all of time and space at her fingertips, and someone like that is exactly the kind of person Twelve needs after the losses of Clara and River Song. As that brief sequence of dialogue between Twelve and Nardole in The Return of Doctor Mysterio revealed, the Doctor is clearly still hurting from his losses, and I would not be surprised if it’s aged him and jaded him. He needs someone to make him feel excited about life again.

Bill will leave at the end of Series 10

There’s no reason necessarily why Pearl Mackie shouldn’t cross over into Chris Chibnall’s era of Doctor Who. There’s no rule saying the companion has to leave with the Doctor, or that the entire personnel of Doctor Who has to leave when the showrunner leaves. As we learned, Chris Chibnall asked Peter Capaldi to stay on as the Doctor under him. It’s not inconceivable that he also asked Pearl to stay, too.

But somehow I think Bill is going to be a one-series companion. There’s no doubt that the appeal, for Pearl, of remaining in the role after 2017 is definitely there. Before now she was virtually unknown in British entertainment (this is her first television role), but she’s gone and landed herself one of biggest and most sought-after gigs in television. The longer she can stay, the more experience and visibility she will receive, and the steeper the trajectory of her career will be from this point onwards.

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But at the same time, Bill just looks like a companion who was never intended to stay for more than one series. She’s simple, Bill. A simple concept, that is. For once, we have a companion who’s relatively uncomplicated and normal. She’s not an enigma or a mystery like Clara, the Impossible Girl, or Amy, Fairytale Amy, the Girl Who Waited. She’s just Bill. Bill from Bristol. And Bill from Bristol looks like the kind of companion who isn’t going to obsess or enthrall the Doctor for multiple seasons. She’s going to come aboard the Tardis, have a great time, tag along for a while, then decide she’s had her fun and learned a lot about herself but that it’s time for her to get back to the real world. Nothing complicated. No intense, emotionally-charged relationship with the Doctor à la Clara Oswald. No elaborate arc consuming her and no nagging mystery hanging over her that the Doctor needs to solve. She’ll go adventuring with the Doctor in her summer holidays and then head back to school for the Autumn term.

And I think Pearl might feel she was obliged to leave along with Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat. It was always going to be an awkward position to be in, to continue as the companion after the Doctor regenerates. It’s going to be especially awkward if the showrunner is leaving at the same time. Maybe Pearl would feel that it’s appropriate for her to bow out with Peter and Moffat, having done her brief but hopefully respectable stint on the show.

The Master won’t be the only other Time Lord the Doctor meets

We already know that the Doctor will encounter not just one, but two Masters this series. So Series 10 is already jam-packed with Time Lords, but I think there’s a good chance we’ll be getting at least one more than we expected. Gallifrey made its triumphant return to Doctor Who in the Series 9 finale, after all, and the Time Lords are once again on the Tardis radar and active in the universe.

I think there is a possibility that two known characters in Series 10 could be Time Lords. The first is the character played by David Suchet, “The Landlord”, in episode 4 of the series, Knock Knock. You’d be right in thinking my only reason for speculating that David Suchet’s character is a Time Lord is that, much like the Doctor and the Master, we only have a title (with a “the” in front), not a name. Not much to go on, I grant, but it’s true that, from the description of the episode, David Suchet’s character sounds tantalisingly enigmatic:

Bill is moving in with some friends and they’ve found the perfect house! So what if it’s strangely cheap to rent, and the landlord is a little creepy? The wind blows, the floorboards creak and the Doctor thinks something is very wrong. What lurks in the strange tower at the heart of the building – and why can’t they find any way to enter it..?

And what is it that “lurks in the strange tower at the heart of the building”? If you can say with a straight face that you didn’t just think “Tardis”, then you’re lying. Given that they’re dialling up the enigma factor on David Suchet’s character, I think it’s likely that the episode will climax in the character’s “true” identity being revealed. Maybe he’s a Time Lord. Or maybe we’re just supposed to think that while his real identity is something completely different — a misdirection. But if he is a Time Lord, I think it’s more likely he won’t be a returning Time Lord character. A one-off new character is more likely. This won’t be a regenerated Rassilon, in other words. Or, God forbid, a regenerated Romana.

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The other character whom I speculate may have Gallifreyan origins is Nardole. Nardole was never supposed to be anything special. He was the comic relief character played a comedian in the 2015 Christmas special. He exited the episode having parted ways with nine tenths of his body, a disembodied head sharing a robot body with another disembodied head. But for some reason seemingly unbeknownst to everyone apart from Steven Moffat and Matt Lucas, Nardole returned in the 2016 Christmas special and, we were nonplussed to learn, is set to return as a full-time companion in Series 10.

I’m almost certain Nardole is going to leave at the end of Series 10, but the question is what he’s doing there at all. Moffat has dropped hints that there is actually a purpose to Nardole’s presence in the Tardis in Series 10. I’m wondering if Nardole will turn out to be a more significant character than we realise. For all his comedy and bumbling ways, there’s a certain mystery about the character, because we know very little about him. Why did the Doctor “reassemble” Nardole at all? Why Nardole, of all people? Is he a Time Lord? It’s one possibility. There are certainly others. Given that we know so little about Nardole, it’s hard to speculate with any accuracy, but the two things I’m confident in conjecturing at this point is that there is something special or significant about Nardole, and that he will play an important narrative role in Series 10.

Which still doesn’t change my feelings about the character at all, to be honest.

This will be Moffat’s best series yet

I just have a hunch. An intuition, if you will. Moffat has spent his whole career as Doctor Who showrunner foraging around, experimenting, trying to find out what works. You can perceive the common voice throughout all five, now six, of Moffat’s series, but still each has felt different. He’s tried new formats, new moods and styles. From the “fairytale” theme and mood of the early days of Matt Smith he’s moved onto the darker, grittier feel of Capaldi’s era. From monster-of-the-week in Series 5 he’s graduated onto the joined-up and interconnected narratives of Series 9.

By now I just feel that he’s got it figured out. Sure, after eight years at the helm he may be casting around for new things to do, but I discern that Moffat isn’t someone for whom interesting new ideas are ever very far from his mind. And he has a stable of very young, talented and ingenious writers at his disposal who are doubtless brimming with ideas of their own. I do think he has a pretty good feel now for what works and what doesn’t, and I sense that, for this series, he’s really done his utmost to best himself once more before he leaves.

Everything I’ve heard about Series 10 has persuaded me that I may be right in thinking Moffat has gone to great lengths to try to make this his best series yet. Have a look at the preview of each episode Moffat gave to the Radio Times. Every single episode is unique and interesting. Each script sounds absolutely intriguing, and I’m struggling to pick which I want to watch most. There’s a conspicuous absence of The Caretaker and In the Forest of the Night type filler stories in this selection. Each episode looks like event television.

And the way Moffat has been describing Series 10, as a “reboot” or “jumping-on point” of sorts, sounds like he’s taking Doctor Who back to its purest, rawest essence — adventure and fantasy and thrills and monsters — and is trying to make that version of Doctor Who as well as he can. That certainly sounds like the kind of Doctor Who I’d want to watch, and it really does look like Moffat has tried to produce a consistently high-quality and faultless series. If these episodes are as good as they sound, there’s a good chance that’s exactly what we’re going to see.

The Twelfth Doctor will regenerate in the finale

The latest trailer for Series 10 briefly showed the Twelfth Doctor hunched over in pain, gold regeneration energy wafting out of his hand. It was a very brief couple of frames at the end of the trailer which made Twitter explode. Because the Doctor isn’t supposed to be regenerating in Series 10. No. He’s supposed to regenerate at the end of the Christmas special, and then the new Doctor will appear for exactly 17 seconds before the credits. That’s how it happens. That’s how it’s supposed to happen.

Then why was the Doctor regenerating in the Series 10 trailer? The Doctor has no business regenerating at any point before the last 2 minutes of the Christmas special, let alone in Series 10.

I don’t think we should put it past Moffat to mix things up a bit. Moffat isn’t the type of showrunner who will opt for the well-trodden path (which he himself helped forge) over the opportunity to do something very different and more exciting. I don’t think the Twelfth Doctor will regenerate in the Series 10 finale and that the Christmas special will feature the Thirteenth Doctor. No one wants that and that’s obviously not what’s going to happen. But one commentator has speculated that Twelve will begin regenerating at the end of the Series 10 finale, and will spend the Christmas special in “regeneration mode”, vulnerable to actual death but trying to hold off regenerating until he vanquishes some urgent threat (possibly the Mondasian Cybermen again), until he finally collapses and regenerates into the Thirteenth Doctor.

Much like the First Doctor did.

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I think that’s a fantastic idea, and I would be very satisfied if that is how the Twelfth Doctor’s regeneration is executed. But I think I’m more partial to an idea of my own, that the Doctor will begin regenerating in the closing minutes of the Series 10 finale, but, much like the Tenth Doctor’s “regeneration” in The Stolen Earth, we won’t actually see him change. It’ll be left on a cliffhanger. A six month cliffhanger which won’t be broken on 25th December by Twelve immediately regenerating into Thirteen, but by a dream sequence or perhaps a flashback. In the classic series the Doctor would hallucinate about his companions in the moments before he regenerated. This is what I’m thinking of, except the Doctor’s hallucination or dream or flashback sequence would extend the length of the episode — and it would feature Clara.

Because how appropriate would it be for the Twelfth Doctor to dream about Clara in the moments before he regenerates? How perfect would it be to have Jenna Coleman back as Clara for an episode, and to have Twelve and Clara back on our screens together again one last time before the second half of that couple makes his final leave? Maybe it would be a dream about Clara, or maybe a montage of (new) flashbacks about Twelve’s memories with Clara, but to see Twelve with Clara again, even in a dream or a flashback, one more time before Peter Capaldi leaves would be beautiful.

And when Twelve stirs from his dream state, he will rise slowly and his eyes will cloud. He will utter a word, “Clara…”, and a single tear will slither down his cheek. Then he will smile, a tender, affectionate smile, a special smile he hasn’t remembered smiling for such a long time. And then golden fumes will start to envelop his body as he closes his eyes, still smiling that smile. And then he will regenerate.

Some final thoughts before Series 10

Wait, what? Doctor Who is less than a week away? Gosh. As far as hiatuses go, that was, well, an unexpectedly tolerable 16-month break. The pains of absence, such as they were, were definitely soothed by the constant, almost weekly drip-drip of news about Series 10. I don’t think we ever went for long without getting more exciting news about what was happening in Series 10, whether it was news about writers, episodes, guest stars, or announcements that the Mondasian Cybermen, or John Simm, were going to make a very public return to the show.

As someone who’s been following the Series 10 news avidly since Doctor Who decided it needed to spend some time apart from us in December 2015, I have a lot of feelings about what I expect, anticipate and want to see over the following twelve weeks. I’m taking this opportunity, on the eve of Series 10, to organise and set down my thoughts.

My attitude has totally changed

I’m not sure I was alone, earlier into the hiatus, in feeling cynical about Series 10. I wasn’t impressed by what we had seen and been told about Bill. I thought she looked like a lazily-conceived companion cast in the same repetitive mould as all Moffat’s other female companions to date. I was completely nonplussed by the decision to bring Nardole back — at all, let alone as a full-time companion to the Doctor. By the way Series 10 was being framed by Moffat, I was frustrated that Series 10 sounded like it was going to be largely a “fluff” series pitched at the lowest common denominator of the audience: the venerated “casual viewers” who were apparently considered incapable of paying attention week-to-week (but who can follow the interwoven multi-series storylines of Game of Thrones just fine).

It felt like, after the arc-heavy and high-frequency affair that was Series 9, Moffat was deciding to really dial the show back to basics as an early-evening children’s show about poorly-designed space monsters and little more. It sounded to me like Moffat really intended to phone it in in Series 10. After delivering his masterpiece and what was supposed to be his coup de grâce in Series 9, it seemed like he was opting to phone in a final dozen scripts of simplistic plots and superficial characters before claiming his salary and leaving.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Maybe I’m being swept up in the hype and the publicity about the new series, which has been reaching intensity levels in recent weeks leading up to the new series, but at this point I’m as excited as I’ve ever been about a new series of Doctor Who. I think it was the news that David Suchet was going to play a figure called The Landlord in one of the new episodes that started to change my attitude. That particular episodes sounds fascinating, as does the character, and anything with David Suchet in it is objectively worth watching. More recently we’ve had the terribly exciting news that the Mondasian Cybermen will be making their return in the finale, and that John Simm will be returning as the Master alongside Michelle Gomez.

The latter two items, really, have given me a whole new impression of what we can expect to see in Series 10. No, this isn’t going to be a phoned-in series of fluff before Moffat steals a Tardis key prop from set and scarpers. It may well turn out to be a “back-to-basics” series of Doctor Who, but it sounds like it’s going to be back-to-basics in a different way from what I was anticipating: not a return to banal children’s entertainment but a distilling of the show back to the basic elements of what makes it great, what we all watch Doctor Who for — the pure adventure and fantasy and escapism and imagination. If any reference point is appropriate, I think it’s like dialling the clock back to the early 70s glory days of Tom Baker in that Series 10, like Season 13, looks like it’s going to be a very pure iteration of Doctor Who and the essential elements that make the show what it is.

And no, this won’t be a series directed at the philistines “casual” viewers. The return of the Mondasian Cybermen and John Simm are about the two most fan-pleasing things the show has done in years.

But I’m still not sure about Bill and Nardole

Although I’ve definitely warmed towards the series itself, I’m still somewhat sceptical of this year’s Tardis team.

I didn’t understand why Nardole was being brought back when I first heard the news, and I still don’t now. It sounded then like Moffat just enjoyed working with Matt Lucas (or, at least, enjoyed his jokes) and didn’t realise that the prospect of the very-comical comic relief character from the Christmas special coming aboard as a full-time companion didn’t excite the fandom nearly as much as it excited him.

I’ve been somewhat reassured by the more subdued appearance of Nardole in the most recent Christmas special, and by the suggestion that there is actually a purpose to Nardole’s being there (some sort of “secret mission”?), but I’m going to reserve judgment until I actually see Nardole with the Doctor and Bill. Because, honestly, I thought the character we met in The Husbands of River Song was good for a laugh but I recoil from the prospect of seeing him in every episode in Series 10. I thought it must have been some sort of joke when I heard.

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As for Bill, my complaints from a year ago stand. Bill will be the third companion in a row (four, if River Song counts) cast from a particular mould: an outgoing, bubbly, feisty, self-confident young 21st Century British woman who’s unrealistically fearless and glib in the face of extraterrestrial danger. I may have loved those qualities in Amy, River and Clara (I actually did complain of those same qualities in Clara, too, before I eventually warmed to her), but the fourth time round it’s become tiresome and boring. Bill seems like a minor reconfiguration of the personalities of the two or three companions who have come before her, mixed with a bit of Donna’s gob, and for that reason it’s going to be very easy to find her uninteresting and bland.

And, no, the fact that Bill is gay doesn’t make her interesting. At least not by itself. It’s great that a companion is openly gay, but Steven Moffat is right: normalising homosexuality in film and TV means not blinking an eyelid when a character is revealed as gay. It means not making a character’s homosexuality something that consumes the character and dominates their personality in our eyes. If a character is uninteresting, they shouldn’t automatically become fascinating just because they’re gay. That isn’t how this is supposed to work.

Of course I’m prepared to have my mind changed. I want to enjoy this series as much as possible, and I’m going to enjoy it much more if I can warm to Bill and Nardole. I want to have my mind changed, and I half expect it to be, if the quality of the writing this series is as good as it sounds. But it’s not like Moffat has never disappointed me before, and I think my reservations about these characters are fair.

I’m expecting something big

This is Moffat’s final series. If I know Moffat (and I do), he’ll want to go out on a fairly deafening bang. We’ve never known Moffat to balk at the opportunity to do something earth-shaking. He’s a continuity-builder, Moffat. He’s one of us, and he dorks out over geeky fan theories and wild headcanons just like us. This is his last opportunity to advance the 53-year narrative of Doctor Who and he’ll want to seize it with both hands. Since hearing the news that two Masters are going to feature, I’m under no doubt that Moffat has probably saved one of his biggest tricks yet for the Series 10 finale.

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As for what, we’ll have to wait and see, but I have a suspicion it will have something to do with Gallifrey. Gallifrey is back in the sky, the Doctor knows where it is, but more importantly Gallifrey knows where the Doctor is. After making such a triumphant return to the show in Hell Bent, Doctor Who can hardly ignore its existence from now on. It’s a permanent fixture of the show now, at least until the next time the Doctor blows it up. Even more urgently, Rassilon is still out there and doubtless nursing a major grudge against the Doctor for kicking him off his own planet. Whether we’ll see him this series, who knows, but he’s now another Big Bad to add to the list of the Doctor’s dangerous enemies.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Master were to be the big enemy of Series 10, given that there’s going to be two of them in the finale. Missy so far has not been an enemy of the Doctor as much as very bad friend. In Series 8 she wanted to buy his friendship with a Cyberman army. In Series 9 she accompanied him to Skaro and nearly tricked him into killing Clara. In neither of those instances was she definitively evil. But it’s time for her to be the bad guy now. After all, the last time we saw her, the Doctor had left her for dead on Skaro in the middle of a horde of angry Daleks. I’d be pretty pissed at my so-called “friend”, too, wouldn’t you?

Given that Missy’s previous regeneration is making a long-awaited reappearance, I’m getting a better idea of what Missy’s “clever plan” is going to be. And given that the only place John Simm’s Master could have come from is Gallifrey, I’m starting to wonder if the Master(s) won’t be the only Time Lord the Doctor meets.

The Mondasian Cybermen are back!

The original Mondasian Cybermen from The Tenth Planet are returning in the Series 10 finale and oh my god you have no idea how freaking excited I am about this. I’ve wanted this for so long but I never thought Moffat would be bold or visionary enough to actually do it. I take back everything I said about Moffat phoning it in in Series 10, because this is some seriously meaty and ambitious and fan-pleasing stuff.

It was Peter Capaldi who once said he’d love to see the Mondasian Cybermen back on the show, but that Moffat has agreed that it would be a good idea to bring them back—in his last finale no less—shows that he’s interested in what the fans want to see (in this case the more nerdy and opinionated section of the fandom) and is engaging with the conversations we’ve been having, since the Mondasian Cybermen have been pretty high on so many hardcore Whovians’ wish lists. If Moffat brings back the Valeyard in the Christmas special he’ll have absolutely made my year (although I’m not expecting that).

For those who haven’t seen much of Classic Who and don’t get why it’s so exciting that the Mondasian Cybermen are being brought back, let me enlighten you. You could do worse than to read my paean to the Mondasian Cybermen in my review of the Big Finish audio Spare Parts. What The Tenth Planet gets right and what pretty much all subsequent Cybermen stories (especially in the revived series) have got wrong, and what Spare Parts tried to rehabilitate, was a conception of the Cybermen as a chilling reflection of ourselves. Look past the primitive costume work on the Mondasian Cybermen and see the compelling concept they’re supposed to embody: the Cybermen are us if we’re not careful about how far we take artificial augmentation of our bodies. The Cybermen are what we could become. They’re supposed to be tragic, not frightening, or frightening only in the sense that they should be a warning to us about what we could become. The Cybermen are not Daleks with legs—they’re not killer robots—as they’re regrettably portrayed in the modern series. They’re us. They’re literally the human race. That’s the reason why they’re supposed to be scary.

Even though the costuming and voices and movements of the Cybermen from The Tenth Planet are quite primitive and probably seem quite comical to us, I think those original models actually embody this concept of the Cybermen as humanity’s “dark mirror” really well. The zombie-like movements, the weird half-human, half-machine sing-songy voices, their chillingly human dialogue (actual rational argument, not “DELETE”), the creepy fleshy faces and hands. It all makes for a version of the Cybermen that I find so much freakier and creepier than the stomping killer robots in their Iron Man suits screaming “DELETE” that the show is afflicted with today. The Cybermen, true to their original concept, should really, as the Mondasian Cybermen did, evoke zombies, which are another human-but-not-human creature, rather than robots, which are human in no way at all. I really just hope Moffat gets them right.

If you haven’t already, I’d definitely recommend watching The Tenth Planet (which is also the First Doctor’s regeneration story!) to see the original Mondasian Cybermen at their freaky, zombie-ish, ‘Sixties best. After The Tenth Planet, listen to the Spare Parts Big Finish audio play, which sees the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa return to Mondas to witness the genesis of the Cybermen—which is an amazing Doctor Who story in itself, but also, in my opinion, the best Cyberman story ever precisely because it’s such a faithful portrayal of the iconic villain.

New companion: first impressions

…And it’s Pearl Mackie! She plays Bill, who seems to have an ’80s vibe going on with that wicked style (and hair) of hers. We’ve had a brief glimpse of Bill and Twelve working together in a short trailer the BBC released introducing the new companion, allowing us to form our first impressions of Pearl Mackie as Bill.

I have to admit, I didn’t take to Bill immediately. My initial reaction when I saw the trailer was: “annoying”. Maybe it was just the poorly-written dialogue, but Bill comes off as someone who will prove to annoy me over her time on the show. That she doesn’t take the threat of the Daleks seriously, but rather makes glib jokes when her life is in danger doesn’t bode well on that front, to be honest. Nor was I very inspired by the chemistry between Bill and Twelve. Perhaps it’s still just strange and uncomfortable seeing Twelve with someone other than Clara, but this partnership feels a bit jarring.

Moreover, she comes across to me as another iteration of the standard Moffat strong-female-companion archetype, i.e. she’s a bubbly, feisty, perky, self-confident, quick-witted young woman who’s unrealistically fearless in the face of danger, just like Amy, Clara and River. I love Amy, Clara and River for those qualities, but the trope has run its course, and to make Bill another iteration of this archetype is going to feel repetitive and unsatisfying: Bill is simply not going to out-Amy Amy or out-Clara Clara, because she’s not Amy or Clara and she’s going to look inadequate in comparison if she tries (talking about Bill here, or rather Moffat-writing-Bill, not Pearl, who, I’ve no doubt, will do her valiant best with the hand she’s dealt).

I’m hoping there’s more to this character than it seems so far. I’d be more prepared to accept another standard Moffat-style companion if she were to undergo some significant and meaningful character development over her time with the Doctor that clearly distinguishes her character and makes her into someone unique and interesting and more relatable. I’m not going to be happy if the character we saw in the trailer is the character Bill will remain for the rest of her time on the show.

I guess I’d just like to see something different. A companion who represents a stark change from what’s come before. An introverted companion, for once, an intellectual, an actual realistic, relatable person, or someone with loads of space for genuine, positive character development. Moffat has a type, and it’s getting old. From what we’ve seen, Bill is just more of the same.

All that said, though, I don’t want it to seem like I’m not going to give Bill a chance. Of course I’m going to give her a chance, and of course I want to go into Series 10 as open-minded as possible about the new companion. I don’t want to make rash judgments from a two-minute trailer (he says, after making rash judgments from a two minute trailer…), and I’d prepared (albeit sceptical, based on Moffat’s record), to have my first impressions of Bill proven wrong. It occurs to me just now that I thought precisely the same things about Clara when she became the new companion in 2013, and, although it took me a while, I ended up loving Clara. So it may well be that I’m proven wrong once again.

Ideas for the next companion

So Clara’s gone. That happened. She flew away in a stolen Tardis with Maisie Williams, and the Doctor’s memories about her were deleted. You know, it took me a long time to warm to Clara, but now she’s gone I know I’m really going to miss her. She and Twelve became one of my favourite ever Doctor-Companion teams; I thought they worked so perfectly together, and it was a gut-wrencher having to see them parted. But times change, the show moves forward, we move on, and a new companion is on the way.

No announcement has yet been made about who will be playing the new companion, but I think we should expect some details quite soon, given that filming for Series 10 is supposed to be starting in April (or at least it was, before Moffat threw a spanner into the works…). I’ve had some ideas, though, on possibilities for the next companion…

A teenager

maisieinthetardisI’m not sure why I’ve become so enamoured by the prospect of a teenager accompanying the Doctor on his travels, but a teenage companion is one of my favourite possibilities for the next companion. Perhaps it’s the interesting contrast a teenage companion could pose to the companions we’ve had in New Who so far, which, with the notable exception of Donna, have all been ordinary, well-adjusted, twenty-something year-old British women. There’s nothing wrong with ordinary, well-adjusted, twenty-something year-old British women, but it’s starting to get a bit repetitive and tiresome.

A teenager, though, presents very different, and unique, possibilities. Teenage years are a formative, difficult, confusing, sometimes terrifying, sometimes perilous, but also vibrant and ecstatic, and beautiful, time of life. One is almost always a very different person as an adult, even a twenty-something adult, to when one was a teenager, and twenty-somethings who dispute it have forgotten what it was like to be that age. There are possibilities and directions in a teenage companion that aren’t realistically available with an older companion, and the Doctor’s dynamic with a teenage companion, if the companion is actually written well, promises to be very different from any Doctor-Companion dynamic so far in the modern show.

A Tardis Team

tardisteamA Tardis Team, as I define it, is a team of two or more companions who are equally important as characters in a narrative sense. Examples from the show’s history include the companions who travelled with the First and Second Doctors, who both liked to travel with more than one companion at a time, including the very first set of companions: Susan, Ian and Barbara with the First Doctor; also, notably, Jamie and Zoe with the Second Doctor. In addition, the Fifth Doctor for most of his time travelled with at least three companions at a time, at first Adric, Tegan and Nyssa. New Who has never had a (regular) Tardis team; the Eleventh Doctor travelled with Amy and Rory, but Amy was clearly the principal companion.

For a shake-up, I’d welcome a new Tardis Team. I don’t think it would be a good idea to go for three permanent companions, as it would get far too crowded (not to mention expensive), recreating the difficulties of the Davison era, but a two-companion team could definitely work. The drawbacks of a Tardis Team are that less time can be afforded to developing characterisation for each main character, leading, perhaps, to characters that feel less fleshed-out, but the main areas of potential are variety in characters and a unique group dynamic. It’s the potential for group dynamic that really intrigues me about the idea of a Tardis team, as it would present such a stark contrast to the Twelve-Clara dynamic, which took the personal, one-on-one Doctor-Companion relationship to an extreme. A group of companions would be something completely different, and I’d be interested to see Twelve operating in such a contrasting character setting.

My favourite idea for a Tardis team is a male and female set of companions, who aren’t necessarily romantically involved (at least at first; I could get on board with a blossoming romance between the companions). I call to mind Ian and Barbara, Ben and Polly, Jamie and Victoria, Jamie and Zoe, as useful precedents. I can see Twelve as the madcap grandfather zooming about in time and space with his companions, who are like his adoptive grandchildren. There would be a very warm and engaging familial and paternal dynamic.

Someone not from Earth

romanadvoratrelundarI’m using “someone not from Earth” as an umbrella term to include all manner of companions of non-terrestrial origin, including both non-human aliens and humans from elsewhere in the universe (presumably from the future). The reason I’m attracted to a non-terrestrial companion is much the same as the reason I’m attracted to a teenage companion: it would make for an interesting change; it would be different. Maybe I’m just desperate at this stage for a new companion who doesn’t conform to the conventional profile, but I do actually think there are very interesting possibilities in a companion who comes from a radically different society, civilisation and culture from ours. It would mean a wholly different perspective, especially with regard to ourselves: there are great opportunities, for the willing writer, for commentary on our society from the point of view of an outsider.

I’m particularly attracted to the idea of a Time Lady as a companion. Now that Gallifrey’s back, a Time Lady companion is now eminently possible. Romana (both of her) was my favourite companion from the classic series, and I think Four and Romana were a brilliant Doctor and Companion team. That said, I don’t necessarily want another Time Lady companion to be Romana 2.0 (and the writers would have to be careful not to make her so). I like the idea of a young (for a Time Lady, so 100 years or so), energetic, relatively inexperienced, immature Time Lady, who, like the Doctor, doesn’t fit into oppressive, stultified, hidebound Gallifreyan society, and wants to escape and explore the universe. She has more energy and wanderlust than experience and prudence, and needs the Doctor as a mentor and guide of sorts. There’d be a master-and-apprentice dynamic. There’s also the potential for a spinoff that doesn’t involve Arya Stark in a flying American diner. But I’m rambling — the point is, a Time Lady companion would be brilliant.

The main pitfall of a non-terrestrial companion might be that the show would be too inaccessible to the audience, especially if the companion is a non-human alien. The narrative role of the companion is, strictly speaking, an audience avatar, and it’s obviously less possible for the companion to play that role if she or he is just as alien as the Doctor. That is, definitely, something the writers need to have at the forefront of their minds if a non-terrestrial companion is settled upon.

Someone from the past/future

victoria2I’m just going through all the possibilities now for a companion that isn’t an ordinary twenty-something British woman. The opportunities presented by a companion from the past or the future are similar to those presented by a non-terrestrial companion, in particular the different perspective a companion from another time would bring to the Doctor’s adventures. We’ve had companions from the past (Victoria, Jamie, and Victorian Clara; and Leela may as well have been from the past), and the future (Vicki, Zoe, Steven, Jack Harkness).

For my own part, I’m more drawn to a companion from the past. A companion from the future would still be very interesting, but I feel that the wonder and the novelty of space-time travel and advanced technologies and civilisations would be more emphatically conveyed through the eyes of someone from Earth’s past. I’m also a huge history geek, so I love the idea of plucking someone from ancient Rome (or better yet, the Middle Ages, where most people’s whole worlds were two-by-two square miles) and taking them on adventures in time and space. A historical companion might come with the drawback of the Doctor needing to explain what a mobile phone or a touchscreen or indoor plumbing or Twitter is every five seconds. That danger could be avoided with skill, though, as the show did with Leela.

Someone the Doctor knows

susan2

Read: Susan.

#BringBackSusan


What do you think of my ideas for the next companion? What are your ideas?

On Steven Moffat’s departure

Save your #moffatmustgo tweets, Moffat haters, because you’ve finally got your wish: Steven Moffat is retiring as Doctor Who showrunner after Series 10, to air in Spring 2017 (Autumn for we antipodeans), to be succeeded from Series 11 onwards by Chris Chibnall. I don’t mean to be resentful: it’s fair to say that Moffat’s era and style of Doctor Who hasn’t been received with universal adoration by the fandom — Moffat has had his legions of ardent fanboys and fangirls (like me), and conversely, a sizeable contingent of dissenters for whom Moffat’s interpretation of Doctor Who rubbed them the wrong way and who’ve never stopped clamouring for him to go. I know personally someone, a good friend and devoted Whovian, who will be delighted by this news. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with either perspective.

For my own part, I’m both saddened and gratified by the news. Anyone who reads this blog would know that I’m a huge Moffat fanboy, an unabashed Moffat partisan who will defend him and his era to the death. I think he’s by a substantial distance the best writer ever to contribute to the show, the best showrunner Doctor Who has ever had, and, I would propose, one of the best things ever to happen to Doctor Who. His era is easily my all-time favourite; he created my two favourite Doctors, Eleven and Twelve; and my favourite ever companion, Amy Pond. I became a fan of the show during Moffat’s tenure. Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who, in short, is my Doctor Who.

At the same time, I’ve been of the opinion for a long time that it’s about time for Moffat to go. As much as I’ve loved Steven Moffat as showrunner, Doctor Who thrives on change and renewal and reinvention, and the show should not ever become synonymous with one person’s creative vision. I don’t think Moffat had begun to run out of ideas at all — Series 9 has been the most creative and pioneering series in years, I would suggest since Doctor Who came back, in terms of pure boldness of vision. It suggests Moffat is still brimming with interesting ideas for Doctor Who. I’ve no doubt that Moffat could, if he wanted to, go on indefinitely directing Doctor Who and producing a high-quality show. But, by the end of Series 10, Moffat will have pretty much reached the limit of how long a single showrunner should be in charge of the show. If Moffat were to continue on after Series 10, it would be too long for the show to have been stuck in a familiar style, directed by a familiar vision employing familiar tropes and motifs. A new voice is needed. Which is why I’m glad about Moffat’s departure, even if I’m going to miss the man enormously. It’s, frankly, the perfect point for him to leave.

chrischibnall

As for Moffat’s chosen successor, Chris Chibnall, this isn’t an announcement about which I’m not without reservations. To be sure, I’ll be glad of a fresh vision guiding the show, but Chibnall would not have been my first choice (that would have been Jamie Mathieson, although I realise that was a pretty optimistic hope). Chibnall has commendable showrunning experience in producing Broadchurch, an absolutely fantastic show which is a huge credit to Chibnall’s ability to make high-quality television. He was also showrunner of a lesser-known BBC period drama called Born and Bred, which is also an exceptional show, and one of my favourite ever dramas (I highly recommend watching it). It’s his work on Broadchurch and Born and Bred that makes me very excited about the thought of Chibnall as Doctor Who showrunner.

But it’s Chibnall’s work on Doctor Who about which I have reservations. In his Doctor Who scripts to date, he has never particularly distinguished himself as a writer. His best script, in my opinion, was Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, which is a delightful romp, and in my opinion the best episode of Series 7, but not really what I’d call the most memorable of episodes. In contrast, when Steven Moffat was announced as showrunner, he’d written four all-time classics under Russell T Davies: The Empty Child/The Doctor DancesThe Girl in the FireplaceBlink and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. Chibnall has nothing like Moffat’s Doctor Who writing record under his belt going into assuming creative control of the show. That said, he’s written a few very good scripts for Torchwood: CountrycideAdrift and Fragments. But he was also responsible for Cyberwoman, one of a small handful of stories in the wider Doctor Who franchise that I can say without hesitation that I hate with a visceral passion.

On balance, I think the jury’s still out for me on Chris Chibnall as showrunner. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see what he produces before I pass judgment. And, frankly, at the end of the day, I am very excited, as well as trepidatious, to see how Chibnall does. At the very least, it can be said that he’s a real Doctor Who fan, he understands the show, and he’s likely to have an interesting vision for the show, which will probably be quite different from Steven Moffat’s. He’ll also be inheriting probably the best stable of regular writers the show has had since it came back: Jamie Mathieson, Peter Harness, Sarah Dollard, Toby Whithouse, so he’ll be very well-equipped as showrunner. One thing I will say unreservedly in his favour, though, is that he seems to have tremendous skill and instinct for writing characters. This is unmistakable from his work on Broadchurch and Born and Bred (again, I can’t recommend watching this show highly enough), as well as his writing for Doctor Who; he did create the character of Brian Pond Williams, after all, for whom the only apt description is “amazing”.

One last thought, on the 2017 air date for Series 10. Of course, I’m greatly disappointed that we won’t get any Doctor Who this year apart from the Christmas special (what is this, Sherlock!!?!?!?), but I can agree that the extended wait might be worth it. It’ll give Moffat and the crew plenty of time to perfect and hone Moffat’s final series. Moffat will want to go out on a bang, and I can anticipate that Series 10 is going to be huge, especially if Capaldi also leaves at the end of Series 10 (which I think is likely). An extra 6-8 months should surely give Moffat et al. enough time to hone Series 10 into the best series it can be, and, above all, make it worth the wait and worthy of the showrunner’s swan song. At the same time, though, I’d have thought, at least, that we’d get some Doctor Who in 2016: at least a couple of specials (à la 2009), or a split series. In that case, though, Series 10 better be worth the wait. I’m just wondering what on Earth I’m going to write about for the next year.

On the Series 10 debacle

So there have been rumours hovering around for some time now that there will not be a full series of Doctor Who in 2016, initially reported by the magazine Private Eye. The Mirror (whose track record on Doctor Who rumours is infamously deplorable) recently caused considerable hubbub among the fandom with its report that the number of episodes in Series 10 will be “halved”, supposedly because Peter Capaldi wanted to work on other projects.

These rumours appear to have been laid to rest with Steven Moffat’s confirmation that Series 10 will, indeed, be a full 12-episode run. This has been taken in many quarters to mean that, yes, 2016 will feature a full 12-episode Series 10, same as this year and last year. That may well yet turn out to be the case, but I have reasons to doubt that a full-length Series 10 in 2016 is guaranteed, at least at this point.

Reading Steven Moffat’s “confirmation”, it seems like he’s chosen his words very carefully. He didn’t say “there will be 12 episodes in 2016”. What he actually said was, yes, Series 10 will be 12 episodes, but “I don’t know when it goes out. That’s up to someone else. And even if I did know – which I genuinely don’t – I wouldn’t be allowed to say so as I have absolutely no say in it whatsoever.”

So Series 10 will be 12 episodes, but when it airs, and over what time frame, we don’t know—not even Moffat knows yet.

That Moffat has — finally — spoken up about the Series 10 situation, when these rumours have been circulating for approximately three months now, since the original Private Eye article was published, is curious. Why allow the rumours circulate for so long?

My hunch is that the situation of Doctor Who for at least the next two years is up in the air at the moment, that the BBC or whoever be the relevant powers that be have not yet decided what is happening with Doctor Who in 2016. Moffat’s “confirmation” of a full Series 10 has only come now to hastily cover Doctor Who’s (and Peter Capaldi’s) back after the damaging Mirror report.

I talk about hasty back-covering without resentment. If a full series of Doctor Who isn’t possible in 2016 for whatever reason, that’s fine. I just wish that the BBC had put out a statement earlier making the nature of the situation clear, so the rumours wouldn’t have been allowed to get out of hand, as they did. So no undignified covering of backs was necessary.

For my part, although a full Series 10 next year would be fab, I wouldn’t mind too much if we got, say, a split series (à la Series 7), or a year of specials before a full Series 10 in 2017. If we don’t get a full series next year, my preference would actually be for the latter, a succession of 3-6 Sherlock-esque feature-length specials spaced evenly throughout the year. It would make for a very different kind of Doctor Who than we’re used to, and I’d be very interested to see what Steven Moffat does with the 90-minute time-frame in Doctor Who.

Even a split-series might be an interesting experiment, if Moffat has learnt his lessons from Series 7 (i.e. “blockbuster of the week” is no substitute for quality narratives). Six regular episodes a year should, one would think, allow more time and effort to be put into writing and production of those episodes, making for better stories.

But we’ll see.