Discussing Doctor Who: The Pilot

Doctor Who The Pilot

Just like the Doctor, I’m back with my friend Kevin Harvey to talk about the latest episode of Doctor Who.

Kevin is the author of All You Want to Know About The Bible in Pop Culture and a fellow Whovian who enjoys watching and breaking down the latest adventures of the Doctor. You can follow him on Twitter at @PopCultureKevin.

If you need a refresher on last season before we start season 10, here is our recap of season 9.

How did “The Pilot” work as a Doctor Who comeback?

Aaron: I’m just glad it’s finally back—a 16-month break is more than I can handle. But I thought this was the perfect way to come back, if not the perfect episode.

One thing I’ll miss with Steven Moffat, the man behind Doctor Who stepping down after this season, is his cheekiness (to go all British). Calling this first episode back with a new companion “The Pilot” plays with the idea of this being the pilot for a new show.

Having an inquisitive college student (whom we’ll discuss next) asking questions gives the audience a way to rediscover the Doctor and the wonder of it all—the TARDIS, the adventures, the mystery, time and space.

In the midst of all the newness, there were still nods there to previous seasons (Hello, photo of River Song, the Doctor’s wife), previous villains (the Daleks were a nice touch) and even previous Doctors (Hello, photo of Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter and first companion), which were fun.

I appreciate the lightness of this episode, in contrast to the extreme seriousness of last. We need to balance out the Doctor’s personality. But I wanted the episode to carry more weight than it did. Hopefully, this was a fun introduction to a new companion that allows this season to move deeper.

Kevin: I, too, missed the Doctor tremendously since 2015’s “Hell Bent.” I know we had two Christmas episodes between seasons, but either I was still mourning the loss (not death!) of Clara, or they were truly a little bit disappointing for the usually exciting Christmas episode.

But either way, I’m relieved to finally be enjoying Capaldi’s final season as the Doctor. He took a few episodes to grow on me his first season, but then I thought he was near perfect last season. So I look for him to go all out in the coming weeks.

As far as the episode itself, it seemed to focus more on introducing all we need to know about the new companion and less on the plot and the latest antics of the Doctor. Thinking back on previous episodes that premiered a new companion, I feel that their strengths lay in the companion simply coming along for the ride and we learned more about her as we got to know her.

In short, the emphasis stayed on the show’s strength, which was the Doctor and the fun storytelling. “The Pilot” for whatever reasons seemed to focus more on Bill. Yet she’s not the one we’ve been missing for sixteen months. I would’ve rather it been less about her, at least for now.

What do you make of Bill, the latest companion?

Kevin: I’m a little worried, to be honest, but I will withhold on any kind of final judgment until much later in the season. I was never a fan of Donna Noble until near the end of her time with the Doctor, and now I can rewatch “Partners in Crime” and have some good laughs.

Another reason I need to hold to a “wait and see” approach is that, admittedly, I held the remote in my hand at many times wondering if I was going to need to be switching the channel, as my kids, including my 8-year-old, were watching it with me, since we have enjoyed this show as a family for a few years now. I’m okay with them going in a different direction with a companion after several heterosexual companions, but starting next week can we not make it such a gigantic part of the episode?

And assuming they do, I will hopefully start seeing the strengths of this new character that the Doctor will be traveling in the TARDIS with, at least for a season. But for now, let’s just say I had much better feelings after the introductions of Clara, Amy, and Martha.

Aaron: It’s interesting you bring up Donna because I think that is the best companion comparison. Bill is most like Donna with a little bit of Rose’s younger, working class girl thrown in.

I do like that they’ve moved away (for at least one season) for having the Doctor companion relationship be so serious. Even if there wasn’t the hint of a romantic relationship (like with Rose, Martha, early Amy), the relationship was taken so seriously (Clara was the “impossible girl” who saved the Doctor). Bill could be a fun break from previous seasons and a bit of reset for the next Doctor and companion (depending on how long she sticks around).

The sexual orientation of Bill is obviously a significant moment for the show. Broader culture has praised the “inclusiveness” of the character, while those of us who hold to a biblical view of sexuality can be a bit uneasy.

I think her presence does give Christian parents the opportunity to talk about what Scripture teaches and how we have to evaluate the TV shows we watch (provided our kids are old enough for those conversations). But I hope it does not become like Supergirl, which was ruined this season by the show’s desire to focus more on cultural propaganda than effective storytelling.

Did the water monster make your list of favorite Doctor Who villains?

Aaron: No, but first, I want to focus on the positives. There were some genuinely frightening moments that elicited jumps in our living room. Having your enemy be “space oil” that can travel at impossible speeds through time and space could be a formidable enemy for the Doctor.

The idea reminded me of the Weeping Angels and some of the best horror ideas—turning something ubiquitous and ordinary into something terrifying by giving it a tell that is a little off. That was brilliant. The implementation of it … not so much.

It fell into the trope that Doctor Who (especially Moffat) often does—the non-malicious monster. The bad guy isn’t bad, they’re just misunderstood or they misunderstand others. Think “The Empty Child,” which was one of the more frightening episodes before undoing it all by explaining away the horror as medical equipment that was only trying to help.

The monster, which seemed awfully similar to one on “The Waters of Mars,” served only as a reason to throw the Doctor and Bill together for an adventure. Again, I’m OK with that for an introductory episode, but I want the season to move forward (with better bad guys) from here on out.

Kevin: Yeah, I’m not even sure if it counts as a monster or villain, but that being said, there were some jumps here in North Carolina too. So I suppose if you have a “monster” that’s not really a monster yet can still make you jump in your seat, then that’s a pretty darn good introduction of a new villain even after fifty years of episodes.

I can think of more than a handful of Doctor Who monsters I’d rather not waste time on again (Hello, eye crust monster from last year’s horrendous found footage effort), and the “water monster” isn’t on that list.

This time it seemed fairly harmless, just going after a “passenger” it had made a promise to, but what if it had more disturbing motives for following the Doctor through time and space? That could be pretty cool.

Where is this season headed?

Kevin: Well, we know Missy is coming back, so that can’t happen soon enough. And knowing this is Calpadi’s last season, we can only hope she’ll play more of a role with the season climax than she did last year (Read, none).

Being unsure about the new companion, I do hope that Nardole sticks around. He was definitely a bright spot in both “The Pilot” and “The Return of Doctor Mysterio,” two average episodes in my opinion.

But for now, I suppose we are only left to ask, “What’s in the vault?”

Aaron: Yes, I think the vault will be the driving narrative arc for this season, which eventually leads to a Doctor regeneration. That has promise, but I worry that it might be another previously unknown mystical object that really is a MacGuffin thrown in to give some forward direction to the season.

I agree about Nardole. His sticking around and Bill’s personality make me think this will be a lighter season with darker notes, as opposed to last season that was the opposite. I’m interested to see Moffat stretch his comedic muscles a little more in his final season.

There have also been rumors of a previous Master returning (in addition to Missy) and previous Doctors. I have to admit that I’m a sucker for the different iterations of the Doctor interacting with himself. And if we get a Missy and the Master episode … I can’t wait.

Favorite quotes or one-liners?

Aaron: It’s always welcome to see the Doctor banter and argue with his companion. He needs someone to challenge him. I loved their back and forth and Nardole egging them on to the point of telling Bill when it’s her “turn” to respond with a witticism.

The other moments that were fun were Bill’s ignorance of the Doctor. He gave the perfect look when she asked him, “Do you know any sci-fi?”

But my favorite line from the episode was one that I’ll expand on later, when the Doctor told Bill in the TARDIS, “You’re safe in here; you always will be.”

Kevin: “Poetry, physics, same thing . . . because of the rhymes!”

“Nothing gets through these doors.” “But they’re made of wood.” (It’s not the line necessarily, but Pearl Mackie’s delivery that was so hilarious. A good sign for her future on the show.)

“Human alert! Do you want me to repel her?”

“First, you have to imagine a very big box fitting inside a very small box . . . Then, you have to make one.”

What some spiritual takeaways from this episode?

Kevin: I loved the Doctor’s final conclusion on the puddle and why it kept going after Bill. “What, in the end, are any of us looking for? We’re looking for someone who’s looking for us.” Watching this on Easter weekend, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the incredible sacrifice that Jesus made for us, all so that he might be able to share his kingdom with us.

In the Doctor’s terms, he came looking for us, and whether we know it or not, we are all looking for him too. Meaning, we are looking for purpose, for love, for peace. Many of us search left and right in all the wrong places, but what we are looking for is indeed Jesus, who came looking for us.

Aaron: Great insight and especially poignant for the Christian on Easter weekend. Like I said, I loved the line where the Doctor reassured Bill that she would be always safe with him in the TARDIS.

That’s an interesting promise because it’s not one the Doctor often makes because it’s not one he can always keep. He can promise adventure and never-before-seen sights, but if previous companions are any indication he can’t promise safety. So why did he promise that to Bill? What about her caused him to say that?

But in Christ, we are given the ultimate adventure, the promise of things so wonderful no eye has seen nor ear has heard, and still we have safety. When we come to Him and are united in Him, we know that Satan and all the “monsters” of this world no longer have power of us.

We are protected by seemingly insignificant wood as well—the wooden beams of the cross on which Jesus died. Hidden with Christ behind the cross, we are safe and secure for all of eternity. That’s some really cool time travel.

Next week on Discussing Doctor Who: “Smile”


  1. I’m thinking that Bill is going to be more like a Donna/Ace type of companion. As to the what is in the vault I am guessing “the hand of Omega” from “Remembrance of the Daleks”. The big spiritual connection that you overlooked was the name of the university itself, St. Lukes, which was named after a doctor who was a traveling companion to the Apostle Paul. Also, Luke wrote a Gospel – a Good news Story.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.