Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Aragon vs. Anderson: Robot of Sherwood

Now that I have a few minutes free, I thought I'd go back to one of my great passions...bashing The Whorist (or as it's generally known, The Nerdist), in particular their Doctor Who reviews by one Kyle Anderson.

Mr. Anderson (now doesn't that sound sinister) in my view, has rarely if ever met a Doctor Who post-Rose story that he hasn't loved. I don't mean liked. I mean L-O-V-E-D, to where that particular episode is the Best Doctor Who Episode of All Time...until the next episode when THAT becomes the Best Doctor Who Episode of All Time. It's gotten to be almost a point of parody to see how Anderson rarely finds fault with a Doctor Who episode. I don't mean just to nitpick on a few things. I mean give a bona-fide negative review. Even I, someone who has been vociferous in my condemnation for many NuWho episodes, do admit when I see a good one (like Flatline or Mummy on the Orient Express). Anderson, however, will almost always find something to wax rhapsodic about, even on something as atrocious as In the Forest of the Night.

I was intrigued by this, so a little research was required. I went as far back as I could regarding Anderson's Doctor Who reviews, and the earliest one I could find was the Series/Season Six opener, The Impossible Astronaut. What I've done is taken Kyle Anderson's review verbatim, and offered my own 'translation' to the text to see what Anderson is, in my view, really saying. I also throw in my own thoughts as to what is being said.

I hope this will be a fun and informative journey into the strange mind of the Functioning Nerd.

I present Part 33 of The Nerdist as Whore: Robot of Sherwood. My 'translations' are in red.

Comic adventures are not the most common kinds of stories in Doctor Who, and the ones that have existed in the new series have tended to go for zany rather than funny. It’s a difficult tone to strike, and really the show hasn’t done it super well since the 1960s.

"Deep Breath" had a lot to do, and that fact that it did that, plus added wackiness, cracking dialogue, and tense if not downright terrifying moments just solidified once again why this is my favorite show.

Is it me, or is there something just a bit, well, odd, about saying how Doctor Who hasn't done 'comedy' "super well since the 1960s" and also say that Deep Yawn, a mere two episodes ago, managed to do 'wackiness' so well?  Perhaps 'wacky' is his 'zany', and thus, not in the 'comedy' genre, so I think we can cut him some slack.

Still, most modern Who is funny despite the terror, but this week’s episode, “Robot of Sherwood”, is just funny all on it’s own.

Grammar Police Alert: "It's" is a contraction of 'it is', not the possessive form of 'it', which is written 'its' (without an apostrophe).  Unless of course he meant to say that "'Robot of Sherwood', is just funny all on it is own".

I don’t remember the last time I smiled that much throughout an episode.

My guess would be when you saw Into the Dalek, since you liked that one too (just like you like almost all of Moffat-Era Who: 28 out of 33 positive reviews so far for our 'analytical critic' who is 'quite critical' when necessary).

It was just so delightful with its dialogue and not-quite-over-the-top silliness,

Geez, if Anderson thought Robot of Sherwood was 'not-quite-over-the-top silliness', one can only wonder when he thinks something IS well over-the-top!

but it also tells a good message about not giving up on legends because any hero can be real so long as they inspire heroism in others.

There is a marked difference between believing in mythological heroes enough where they inspire heroism...and believe that they are actual, historical figures that existed in real life.  My heroes as a child were Underdog and Indiana Jones, but even as a child I knew they didn't actually exist.  Robot of Sherwood is making the claim that "Robin Hood" was a real as Richard I or Winston Churchill.  If the Millennials cannot make that distinction, then it is proof positive that Common Core is a disaster.

My gosh, what an ep!

My gosh, what rubbish!

Written by perennial writer Mark Gatiss and directed by newcomer to the series Paul Murphy, “Robot of Sherwood” does what few episodes have done before, which is to blend comedy and adventure in a way that isn’t dumb,

and to let the series for once be about a “fictional” character from the past.

The quotation marks around "fictional" are enough to inspire derision for anyone who claims to be 'analytical' on this topic.

Being the huge classic series fan that he is, surely Gatiss was channeling a bit from the First Doctor story “The Myth Makers”, in which the Doctor and companions go back to Ancient Greece in the middle of the Trojan War and inadvertently cause the events surrounding the Trojan Horse, which the Doctor claims would never work because it’s just an Epic Poem. Of course, this episode forsakes “The Myth Makers”‘ horribly tragic ending

...because we all know The Trojan War was a knee-slapping bit of comedic hijinks...

and just stays with the swashbuckling adventure theme.
Clara wants to go meet Robin Hood, one of her favorite historical figures, but the Doctor tells her he’s just a myth and she’d be disappointed, then trying to get her to want to see the Ice Warrior encampments on Mars (bo-ring).

Now, let me see if I have this straight.  Clara is a teacher, which suggests she has a basic knowledge of various subjects and is educated.  This "teacher" also believes Robin Hood is a real, historic figure, someone who actually existed in real life.  Is it me, or do these two ideas fail to be logical?  Oh, I forget...Doctor Who is never and has never been about 'logic', not even internal.  It's about how it makes you 'feel'. 

Clara insists and the Doctor sets the TARDIS controls to Sherwood Forest, 1190AD-ish. He exits expecting to be 100% correct and is immediately met by Robin Hood (Tom Riley). That can’t happen, right?

Isn't it extraordinary that The Doctor managed to set the coordinates to where they would so easily stumble across a fictitious character just wandering about.  What Ever Are the Odds?  Is "1190 AD-ish" now the standard for accurate time-travel?

He’s just as brash and prone to fits of derisive laughter as his myth and Hollywood movies would lead you to believe.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Robin Hood with Russell Crowe didn't have a laughing, preening lead, Kyle.  Come to think of it, Errol Flynn's version in The Adventures of Robin Hood didn't have HIM laughing all the time either.  There were times in that film where Robin was quite serious and somber (let alone romantic with Maid Marion).  Maybe the Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. version can have this 'brash and prone to fits of derisive laughter' style, but this interpretation, EVEN if I grant you was a 'real' person, is more based on a stereotype of Robin Hood than myth or even Hollywood movies.

The Doctor asks if laughing ever got him punched in the face (hilarious) and the Prince of Thieves says he’s going to still the bony man’s blue box,

He's going to 'still' the bony man's blue box?  Why?  Is it moving?  Why would The Prince of Thieves want to 'still' anything?  Now THAT makes ME laugh!

despite Clara and her period-appropriate attire and her undeniable glee that they’d found Robin Hood so quickly.

A detail we need not bother questioning.

Robin draws his sword and the Twelfth Doctor

...in 14th Form...

shows what he’s made of by drawing his own weapon… a spoon.

The Twelfth Doctor in 14th Form is going to fight off a fictional character...with a spoon.  Remind me again, Kyle, this Doctor is supposed to be a 'darker' Doctor, right?
After the duel ends, Robin takes both of our heroes to meet the rest of the Merry Men (what an apt name for them) and the Doctor still thinks something is wrong and that these people aren’t real. They can’t be!


He thinks they might all be in a Miniscope (reference to Third Doctor story “Carnival of Monsters”).

A story most NuWhovians have never seen, probably never heard of, and have no interest in.

Clara asks when he stopped believing in legends, and he asks when she started believing in mythical heroes.

I usually put that around 8 to 12.  Next thing you'll know, Doctor Who will say Santa Claus is real...

“Don’t you know?” is her very heavy reply.

She then talks to Robin and he tells her everything she already knows about his own mythos and that it was Maid Marian who convinced him to stand up to Prince John’s tyranny.

If memory serves right, in the movie The Adventures of Robin Hood (which Robot of Sherwood is shamelessly drawing from), Maid Marion was firmly on the Norman side and against Robin of Locksley, until she saw both how cruel some Normans were against the Saxons and that the divisions between Saxon and Norman was wrong.  They were all English now.  However, we'll go with Clara's version.

She also knows she’s sad because, the Doctor’s right, he laughs too much.

This sentence is a little confusing.  "She also knows she's sad," makes it unclear whether 'she' refers to Clara or Maid Marion.  For the longest time, I read it as "She also knows he's sad," since Anderson refers to Robin Hood as the "he" in "he laughs too much".  I figure it's a typo, which is not a terrible thing.  We all make mistakes when expressing ourselves.  I know I have (and will in the future).  However, this is the second or third curious error so far in this brimming press release that passes itself off as an objective review. 
If this is Robin Hood, there must also be a Sheriff of Nottingham, in this case played by guest star Ben Miller. He’s pretty darn evil all right. He has set up the famous archery match as a trap to catch Robin Hood. Naturally, Robin does amazingly well and is about to be awarded the golden arrow when another arrow splits his own. It was fired by the Doctor who doesn’t want the arrow, he wants something else. What follows is an increasingly ridiculous show of skill between the Doctor and Robin until finally, Robin reveals he is indeed who he says and the Sheriff’s knights attack. One gets its arm cut off and then the Doctor knows he’s right. He allows himself, Clara, and Robin to be captured because capturing is the best way to find out what someone’s evil plan is.
What follows is one of the funniest and best scenes in the episode, which is already pretty amazing with Capaldi-awesomeness.

It’s all about the Doctor and Robin Hood trying to out-hero each other with regard to coming up with the better escape plan. Neither of them have anything, and Clara knows it. The sheer amount of bickering is enough to driver mad;

"The sheer amount of bickering is enough to driver mad".  Is this the fourth error in an increasingly badly-written review?  Was it written with some type of Auto-Correct system that made erroneous choices?  I figure he meant to write "driver her mad", but the growing number of odd sentences is making this more and more hilarious than Robot of Sherwood itself. 

luckily, she is taken to see the Sheriff pretty quickly, and the Doctor and Robin are left to come up with something.
Clara is a genius!

Ah, yes.  I'm old enough to remember when The Doctor was the genius, the Companion less so, but Times Have Changed.

She manages to trick the Sheriff into telling her what happened with lights in the sky and the robots and everything. He wants to use them to overthrow Prince John and become king not only of England, but of the whole world, after Lincoln of course.

Villain wants to TAKE OVER THE WORLD.  Now that's new.

The Doctor and Robin do manage to escape and, after removing their shackles (the Doctor makes a joke and regrets it when Robin laughs), they find the control room. Seems the castle itself is a spaceship and its engines need repairing, in the form of gold.

One thing is certain: no Cybermen were involved in the making of Robot of Sherwood.

They were looking for the Promised Land too. Weird, eh?

A fellow reviewer made an interesting point about this season-long thread: since when do robots have a concept of "The Promised Land" or "Heaven"?  Details, details...

The robots databanks have a history of Robin Hood (including a picture of Patrick Troughton as Robin Hood in Robin of Sherwood from which this episode gets its name) and he thinks this is definitive proof that Robin isn’t real, but when the Sheriff bursts in and the robots begin firing on Robin, the knave takes Clara and jumps out the window into the moat below. The Doctor is then captured.

So let's see if I have this straight (again).  Doctor Who is going to make a story out of the fact that the 14th Form of The Doctor looks like a Roman from a previous Doctor Who episode, but the fact that the Second Doctor looks like Robin Hood (who ostensibly is a fictional figure) is going to be totally ignored?

The Doctor determines the robots plan to blast off soon, but they still don’t have enough gold and the ship will likely explode, destroying half of the country, if they do.

After a bit more hullabaloo, Robin is in a duel with the Sheriff and it’s learned that the Sheriff has been turned into a robot as well, so the only thing left for him to do is the Doctor’s sword fighting trick and knock the blaggard into the molten gold. But the robots still want to take off, so the Doctor, Clara, and Robin work together to fire the golden arrow into the ship to allow it to enter orbit, but then it explodes anyway. The Doctor and Clara leave Robin, and Mr. Hood

Shouldn't it be "Sir Robin of Locksley?"

tells the Doctor they’re both legends and that he doesn’t mind not being remembered as a real man so long as people take up the good fight in his name. Maybe people will do the same for the Doctor.

As I said before, this episode is just a delight. I loved everything about it.
SHOCKED that Kyle Anderson liked a
Doctor Who episode!

Even some of the sillier moments like the archery tournament worked for me because the overall tone of the episode made it work. The constant rivalry between the Doctor and Robin, not to mention the Doctor’s constant irritation at the very idea of the Merry Men, made for a lot of laughs.

He’s grumpy and older-looking but decidedly childlike and petulant about things.

Just like Donald Trump, or "Donald Tramp" as my mother keeps calling him in her delightful malapropism.

Both Tom Riley and Ben Miller were brilliant and gave very funny but not mawkish performances as their respective characters. Robin Hood’s incessant laughter was constantly hilarious to me.

Robin Hood's incessant laugh was constantly irritating to me. Anderson is a fool unto himself. 

This has to rank as one of my favorite Mark Gatiss-penned adventures, up there with “The Unquiet Dead” and “The Crimson Horror.” I can’t wait to see what he does for Series 9.

Next week, it’s a very intriguing-looking episode: “Listen” written by Stephen Thompson and Steven Moffat and directed by the exceptional Douglas Mackinnon and will see the return of Samuel Anderson as Danny Pink. The Doctor doing a bottle episode? Can’t wait!
These Doctor Who episodes are enough to have anyone start hitting the bottle. Second time he cannot wait for a Doctor Who episode.  If I see this one more time...

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Ice Capades Of The Doctor


We go to the same pattern with Doctor Who on Season Ten that we've seen with the show.

Episode One: Meet the New Companion.
Episode Two: Travel Far Into the Future.
Episode Three: Travel Into the Past, British History Only (far be it for a show about travel through time and space to visit Byzantium when Suleiman was laying siege to the fabled city).

If it sounds like I'm complaining, let me dispel you of that.  Thin Ice, the Episode Three of this pattern, is something that I haven't seen on Doctor Who of late: a smart, well-written, well-acted story.  It had monsters, menace, and a touch of humor.  Overall, Thin Ice is a sign that the hiatus might have done the show a world of good.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and his newest Companion, Bill (Pearl Mackie) aimed to go back to present-day, but ended up in 1814, February 4th to be exact.  It is the last great Frost Fair on the Thames, and Bill is highly concerned about how her race will impact her presence there (slavery is still legal at the time).  The Doctor dismisses her concerns, especially when we see so many black people running around, even being in the military.  He tells her that there's a lot of whitewashing of history and that there were more blacks in history than has been told.

Even Jesus was black, he assures her, a point of debate but I digress.

Bill is also concerned about how her presence could alter the whole of history, how if she steps on a bug there could be chaos in the future.  The Doctor pokes a little fun at her expense about that, but then tells her things will be all right.

Things aren't all right though, after a pickpocket steals The Doctor's sonic screwdriver.  The leader of the urchins, Kitty (Asiatu Koroma) sees her accomplice swallowed up by a monster who encircles its prey with little lights.  The Doctor and Bill also see this and are horrified, though the Doctor is not as broken up about it as Bill is.

He has seen death, and caused it, too many times to be that involved. 

The Doctor and Bill now work to solve this mystery and end the horror (not to mention, save others from a similar fate).   They literally dive in to find beneath the Thames is a giant fish monster, and that it has been feeding off humans.  Kitty also tells them that the urchins are paid to lure people to the Frost Fair, and thus, to the monster (though the children know nothing of the monster itself).

The villain is Lord Sutcliffe (Nicholas Burns) whose family has enriched itself for centuries thanks to the monster, which they keep chained and whose waste they sell to provide power great than that of coal.  Lord Sutcliffe is enraged that Bill would receive him sitting down, and the Doctor is outraged that Sutcliffe would use humans to profit, seeing him as the real monster.

Sutcliffe decides to kill two birds with one stone by having the Doctor and Bill killed with a bomb, and that bomb will bring more food to the chained-up monster.  The Doctor, however, has a few tricks up his own sleeve.  They escape and warn people off the ice with help from the urchins, and when an enraged Sutcliffe sees they haven't been killed he accidentally falls into the water.  The bomb had freed the fish monster and taken Sutcliffe, and the Doctor alters Lord Sutcliffe's will to make one of the urchins his long-lost heir.

Back to the present, Nardole (Matt Lucas) scolds the Doctor for taking this little side trip, reminding him of the Vault that has to be protected at all costs.  Nardole goes down there to hear it knocking, telling whatever is inside that it won't get out.

Thin Ice has a couple of curiosities, particularly due to race.  Bill, as a mixed-race person, worries about how her presence in Regency-Era Britain will make her stand out, but we see many black people at the Frost Fair (Kitty among them).  There is an attempt to cover that by saying that there is more blackness in history (down to Jesus Himself being black) but given that Doctor Who is fantasy, I wonder if the audience would have given it a second thought.

For example, when Lord Sutcliffe became angry at seeing Bill seated in his presence, I put his fury up to class, not race. Put that up to my naïveté, but I didn't think race was that important.  It is also the fact that we see many black actors in Thin Ice in both supporting and non-speaking roles that I wonder if in the end, Bill's race was that important.

I also disliked a scene where we end with Bill about to say, "No sh..." and cut out the rest with a horse's neigh.  It is a family show, and yes, they cut off before Bill could finish saying something, but I'm wary of moments like those.

However, those are minor points, as Thin Ice harkens back to more traditional Doctor Who: an otherworldly mystery, some humor, and a sensible plot (the last being the biggest surprise given how convoluted the show has become).  It has a mild negative in that it harkens back also to another NuWho episode (The Beast Below): a chained-up monster, children in danger, the monster being used/abused by humans, the Doctor releasing it, and all ending well.

Still, what we have in Thin Ice is a good, tight script where the elements came together (a fisherman who appears briefly is tied into the story later on).  We also have some fun with a trope of time-travel shows: the idea that being there will alter the whole of human history.  Mackie's performance underscores the humor in those moments of Bill's worry: her excessive worry being fodder for the Doctor's jabs at her fears.

Mackie does a great job not just in Bill's fears, but in her joy at being in the past and her anger and hurt at the Doctor's curious reaction to a child's death (though again, for a family show, is suggesting a child's death a bit much).  There's a strong sense of tension and fear in Thin Ice, and that comes not just from the script but from the performances.

The Doctor too is in fine form.  Capaldi's mix of regret and remoteness, his anger at the abuse Lord Sutcliffe inflicts, and his teasing of Bill all shape a great performance.  It solidifies my view that Capaldi could have been a great Doctor if not for the scripts.

Burns' Lord Sutcliffe was a bit weak as the villain (he was missing the mustache to twirl) and the character wasn't overwhelming, but that is probably due to the rushed nature of the episode,

Still, despite some weaknesses, Thin Ice is a pretty solid Doctor Who episode, and one of the better ones to come down the pike in a long time.

"Passion fights, but reason wins," The Doctor tells his Companion when explaining why he didn't just take a swing at Sutcliffe to start with.  Many a true word (though if memory serves correct, he does take a swing at him later). 

Humor and horror...on the whole, Thin Ice is pretty strong.


Next Episode: Knock Knock

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Happy Face of The Doctor


When I learned that Doctor Who was going to build an episode around emojis, those small pictures that many Millennials use to communicate emotions, I was aghast.  It's the lowest point on a show that has had too many low points.  A show about emojis?  Is the show now catering to the fanboys who use these via texts?  I was filled with dread.

Smile, the episode built around emojis, defies low expectations.  It doesn't mean that it is good, or that we don't get a quick resolution and some weak moments.  It just means that there is some logic to using emojis.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) offers his newest Companion, Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), a chance to travel on the TARDIS.  It has to be done a bit under the table, as the Doctor's other Companion, Nardole (Matt Lucas), scolds the Doctor for so much as moving the TARDIS even if it's to avoid taking the stairs.  Nardole tells the Doctor he has to stay on Earth, having made a pledge to do so, especially with regards to safeguarding a vault (which appears to be the recurring theme this season...what's behind Door Number One?).

The Doctor pretty much dismisses Nardole's warnings and offers a chance to show Bill some sight either from the past or the future, and she chooses the future.  With a bit of travel, they arrive on the Earth's first colony, patiently awaiting arrivals.  There is already a native population of sorts there, the Vardy, nanorobots who have literally built up the city.  There are also robots who communicate through emojis.  All this thrills Bill, whose tag has a happy face.  The Doctor's tag shows more questioning, but at least it's not a sad face.

There is some sort of glitch in the system among the robots.  They detect sadness as being bad, so bad that they have to kill you if you aren't smiling.  We know this because was saw some of the crew die as a result of showing grief, but to The Doctor and Bill, all they see is a world ready to be occupied by the colonist.

They soon however put two and two together when they discover what happened to the-now literal skeleton crew.  Fearing that there will be a massacre when the colonists arrive, the Doctor and Bill attempt to blow everything up before they arrive.  Bill, however, makes a few discoveries.

One, she finds the corpse of an old woman and a visual journal detailing the chaos they left behind.  Two, she finds a little boy looking for his Mummy. 

That means that the ship bringing colonists isn't coming.  It's already here. 

The Doctor finds that the emojibots, programmed to have happy colonists, didn't understand sadness and took it for disease that had to be exterminated.  As such, when they saw some showing grief, they were promptly killed.  Worse, the crew has started waking up and when they find the bots are murdering them left right and center, they will attempt to wipe them out, unaware that the nanobots are the real danger, not the emojibots.

The Doctor races to stop them from going to war, and he does so by essentially rebooting the emojibots: setting them back to a default status before they knew what grief and sadness were.  With that, trouble avoided and the two travelers can go back in time for tea. 

Unfortunately, they end up in a frozen Thames, with an elephant walking towards them.

I think my issue with Smile is a bit two-fold.  The first part comes from the fact that Smile hits similar themes as a Classic Doctor Who story: the Seventh Doctor story The Happiness Patrol.  Frank Cottrell-Boyce, I don't think, intentionally meant to hit on similar plot points with Smile that were hit on by The Happiness Patrol (people who were killed for not being happy), but in many ways Smile can be called at the least a variation of The Happiness Patrol.

If you want to call Smile a remake, reboot, reimagining, or flat-out rip-off of The Happiness Patrol, that is your business, not mine.

I figure most NuWho fans have never heard, let alone seen, The Happiness Patrol, so they wouldn't think anything was amiss.  Classic Who fans, or at least those with vague or hazy memories of it, might, and that might lead them to look a little askance at Smile.

The second part comes from the quick resolution, one that pretty much would have or perhaps should have come to the Doctor earlier.  It's almost a 'push the magic button' type resolution: all you had to do was reboot the robots and there you go.  It's almost a wonder why the Doctor didn't think of it sooner.

I suppose if he had, there wouldn't have been as much 'tension' as Smile wanted to have.  I didn't feel a great deal of tension for the most part, but when he basically tells us that all that was needed was to restart the system, one almost gasps at both how quick the resolution is and how easy it all was.

This entire 'the colonists are going to war' thing wasn't building up to a great deal.  Perhaps some reworking of Smile might have amped up the tension (such as having the colonists find the skeletons and, becoming enraged, then going off to war, with the Doctor and Bill desperate to stop the chaos).

If it weren't for those two primary elements (and the gruesome nature of the human fertilizer), I think I'd be more inclined to like Smile.  There are good elements, such as both Capaldi and Mackie's performances.  They are working so well together that Lucas can be forgotten (and frankly I wish he were).

Oh, and one last thing.  The name of the colonists' ship, the Erehwon, may be a nod to a novel, but it still spells 'Nowhere' backwards.

Smile did not cater to pop culture trends with the emojibots.  I don't think that in fifty years time we will be able to rewatch Smile without seeing it as slightly dated because of the emojis.  They are ready-made for toys, aren't they?  It wasn't a horror but it could have been more.


Next Episode: Thin Ice

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Gay Companion of The Doctor


It's no secret that Doctor Who has been having a bit of a crisis.  Despite the constant propping up of professional sycophants like The Nerdist's Kyle Anderson, who keep telling its readers that the show is still both brilliant and highly popular, the formerly can't-miss sci-fi show has lost a lot of its luster.  Apart from the Christmas Special that met with mixed reviews and interest, Doctor Who has been on hiatus for a year (and for some, not been missed).   The show also has lost its lead, as star Peter Capaldi will have his final season this year.

With all that, we turn to The Pilot (formerly known as A Star in Her Eye), as pun-worthy a title as any we've seen.  For the uninitiated, The Pilot is what you usually call a premiere episode of a new series.  It's as if showrunner and writer Steven Moffat, held in equal terms as a genius and a monster, wants us to think of this season as a fresh start, as if in effect The Pilot were a whole new beginning for the decade-long plus show.  The Pilot also refers to the thrust of the story: aliens who find someone to 'pilot' them out of Earth.  The Pilot also introduces us to a new Companion: Bill Potts, who is touted as the first openly-gay Companion on Doctor Who (Captain Jack and River Song notwithstanding). 

Now, the question to ask is, "Does The Pilot work to restart the show, or is it a case of false branding?"

Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) serves chips, and is a biracial lesbian (aside: is it me, or does it look like Doctor Who has some sort of list of minorities it feels it has to check off to meet some kind of quota).  She serves chips at the university, where The Doctor (Capaldi) and his other Companion, Nardole (Matt Lucas) have been hiding out (shades of the unfinished Fourth Doctor Shada).  The Doctor is intrigued by Bill (who despite being in her mid to late twenties apparently still lives with her foster mother).  She's not a student but attends his lectures, and her reactions are always different from all the other students.

Taking her under his wings as a mentor, even getting her enrolled at the University, Bill proves a sharp and inquisitive mind.  She also finds herself attracted to Heather (Stephanie Hyman), whom she met at a club and who also goes to the University.  Bill quickly gets involved in the Doctor's mysteries when she follows him and Nardole to where they have a secret vault containing something wicked, and when it comes to Heather, she notices what looks like a star in Heather's eye (which Heather describes as a defect).

Heather appears rather obsessed with a puddle and asks Bill to look at it, asking two questions: how can there be a puddle when there's been no rain, and if there is something wrong with her reflection.  Bill doesn't give that much thought, but does sense that something is off.  Shortly after, Heather is at the puddle again, and she promises Bill that she won't leave.

She does disappear however, and Bill is a bit upset about that.  However, something wicked this way comes in the form of a water-dripping Heather, who now pursues Bill with an almost murderous abandon.  The Doctor, Nardole and Bill first go the vault, fearing that Water-Heather is after whatever is in the vault. 

Nope, it's after Bill, and thus the trio fly on a mad race: first to Australia, then to the very edge of the universe, only to find Water-Heather following them.  Finally, the Doctor takes them (and the pursuing Water-Heather) to a place with fire: the war between the Daleks and the Movellans (a nod to the Fourth Doctor story Destiny of the Daleks).  Heather-Water even takes the form of a Dalek, and this hunt has been to try and get Bill to be the passenger.  Over the Doctor's objections, Bill takes Water-Heather's hands and sees the universe, but tells her she has to let go.  Water-Heather does so, and thus ends the crisis.

Back on Earth, The Doctor wants to erase Bill's memory but she pleads to remember for a week, or at least this night (reminding me of Desdemona's plea to Othello, "kill me tomorrow, let me live tonight).  The Doctor doesn't have it in him to wipe out her memory and tells her to run.  Quickly, however, he offers her a chance to go on the TARDIS.

The Pilot is an improvement over some of the horrors of the past few seasons.  Granted, that's a low bar, but at this point, one should be grateful for getting any positives.  A good part of the credit should go to Mackie, working on her first big project as an actress.

I personally don't care whether Bill's a lesbian, biracial, a biracial lesbian, or a biracial lesbian who lost her virginity to a non-binary transgender and celebrated this by doing cartwheels while singing I've Written a Letter to Daddy.  

Her sexuality isn't a major part of the story, at least to me because I didn't believe that she'd be that heartbroken about losing Heather.  I'm going to put her sadness to seeing a person die, not because she lost someone whom she didn't have an actual romantic relationship with.  I didn't buy that Heather was this big love of Bill's life (at certain points, I don't think Heather even knew who Bill was despite meeting at a club).  Yet I digress.

Mackie's Bill is smart, eager for a change, and genuinely pleasant. Her longing for her birth mom, her lack of honesty with her foster mom (who thinks she's straight), and her ability to put things together quickly are all positives in the characterization.

I can do without the comic stylings of both Nardole and Matt Lucas, who didn't have that much to do here (and whose appearance as a full-on Companion is strange to me).  Why he has become so important to the series is something I can't get behind, and some of his comments are cringe-worthy (such as telling Bill to "give it a minute" before going to use the TARDIS toilet).  I think he could have been written out of The Pilot without it affecting the story.  Capaldi does strong work as the not-as-grumpy but still a bit eccentric Doctor, and he brought a sense of tragedy to his role (even if it involved that awful River Song via photos of her and Susan Foreman, whom I know some NuWho fans have no idea who she is).

There were other elements that I didn't care for.  Moffat still cannot resist throwing in a "Doctor Who?" line, or in this case, "Doctor What?".  That pretty much has grown stale to being cliché in any Moffat-penned script.  While I did enjoy hearing Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart (one of the great songs in my opinion), it's another case of something being too on-the-nose to what is going on.

I suppose there was a logic to having Water-Heather being able to fly about through time and space in pursuit of Bill (though seeing Heather all wet wasn't scary as it was slightly amusing). 

I just wasn't overwhelmed with The Pilot, though if it had been an actual pilot it might have scored higher.  I don't think you can ask Who fans to ignore a lot of what has happened, and I don't know that they would even if they were overtly asked like they were with The Pilot.

Neither a horror nor a masterwork, The Pilot is slightly above average.  Given some of the absolute drivel we've been handed, that in itself is almost a miracle.



Next Episode: Smile