Rejoice, Doctor Who fans, because the show is back for its 10th series since the reboot in 2005. With the introduction of a new companion, Bill Potts, played by Pearl Mackie, and the hinting at a strong storyline for the season, the show is off to a strong start.
The new companion, the human who travels with the doctor, Bill, steals the show. She is likeable, funny and unique. Jenna Coleman left her role as Clara at the end of last season after nearly three years on the show. Compared the writer and showrunner Steven Moffat’s unpredictable and flat writing of Clara, Bill’s personality cleared the air.
This change to a more genuine character matters because Bill is Doctor Who’s first gay companion. Fans and news sources chronicle Moffat’s history of writing unrealistic and stereotypical women during his time as the showrunner, and many related their anxiousness about how he would approach writing a woman of color and a lesbian.
Fortunately, Moffat broke from his traditions and wrote a more realistic and relatable character that echoed characters from previous showrunner Russel T. Davies’ era. Bill’s awkward but loveable persona comes out right at the beginning of the show. During a meeting with The Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, who currently teaches at a university, he asks why she comes to his lectures. She skips over his question to explain how she had a crush on a girl, so she would always give her extra chips during lunch.
The Doctor and Bill bond over the school year. During Christmas, she brings The Doctor a rug. As the evening progresses, Bill reveals that she never knew her mother. Later that evening, Bill’s foster mom brings out a box of photos, saying that she didn’t know she had the pictures. Full of pictures of her mother, the box shocks Bill. In one picture, she notices a picture in the reflection of the photographer in the mirror, making it apparent that The Doctor, guilty that he didn’t get her a present, traveled back in time to get her the best gift possible. This moment represents the bond to grow between Bill and The Doctor, and it is beautiful.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Doctor Who if a mysterious, potentially dangerous alien didn’t show up. Bill’s crush, Heather, shows her an unusual puddle that reflects people incorrectly. The puddle eventually consumes Heather, drowning her. She turns into a sopping wet ghost that follows Bill across space and time because Bill made Heather promise to not leave without her before her death.
The creature in this episode felt derived from previous episodes like 2009’s “The Waters of Mars” and 2014’s “Flatline”, combining eeriness of evil water and the fantastical chases from the two episodes. While the show couldn’t sustain itself with repeat monsters, the familiarity of the creature worked for this episode because it highlighted Bill and The Doctor’s new relationship and allowed Bill to work her way into being a companion.
During the chases, The Doctor and his assistant, Nardole, hint at pieces of the future plot. They visit a vault holding something important, and The Doctor says near the end of the episode, “I’m here for a reason,” explaining to Bill why she can’t know about the secret. Even though it felt a little heavy-handed, the intentional building of the plot at the beginning of the season builds an enthusiasm for the rest of the season.
However, Nardole, a strange character, detracted from the episode. His character appears throughout the last several seasons of Doctor Who in minor ways. The choice to make him a “secondary companion” of sorts to The Doctor feels out of place when introducing a new companion. His awkward personality also took away from Bill’s humor and the drama of Bill and The Doctor’s attempt to escape the watery ghost.
Despite the small misstep of including Nardole, the episode set up Doctor Who for a strong 10th season. The rest of the season will hopefully continue to be bolstered by Bill’s personality and humor mixing with The Doctor’s seriousness and mild insanity. The new episode also promises viewers the chance to see Moffat return to his best work, like 2007’s “Blink” and 2008’s “Silence in the Library,” and the return of powerful, realistic female characters from the show’s history.