Doctor Who returns for the Twelfth Doctor’s last season, and Moffat’s last run heading up the show, with an episode heavy on the romance of science fiction.
Since the return of Doctor Who to the airwaves in 2005, the science fiction program has at times been criticized as trending too romantic. From Rose’s romance with the Tenth Doctor to Martha’s unrequited crush, to the weirdness between Amy and the Eleventh Doctor to River Song, fans have argued that the show makes too much of the Doctor-Companion relationship, and trends too close to love affair.
Bill: “What good is getting into a box going to do?”
The Doctor: “What an extraordinarily long and involved answer this is going to be….”
But the truth is, ever since the show returned, it has been a romance. An escapist romance, one of being in love with adventure, with the unknown, of the escaping the humdrum every day cares of the world, and running away. The defining moment for me of the Davies era was not the image of Ten fading out just before he tell Rose he loves her. It’s that moment at the end of the very first episode with the Ninth Doctor, as Rose runs away from Mickey, from the present, from the life of failed O-levels and shop girl jobs. Her face is one of a girl who is running towards her greatest love–jumping into the TARDIS and going anywhere.
I bring this up because of the last moment in tonight’s episode–one with a slightly incoherent plot that doesn’t quite hang together, but nevermind. The point of tonight was not the plot. It was to meet Bill Potts, our latest companion in the Whoniverse, and enjoy seeing the Doctor introduce her to all the things we’re already familiar with. The TARDIS, sonic screwdrivers, Daleks, the end of the Universe on another planet 23 million years in the future where the sky is made of lemondrops (ok not really on that last bit.) Over the course of the hour we establish (some might complain over-established) that Bill is not into men, and that any sort of romance of that nature is not in the cards.
Bill: “Am I on time?”
The Doctor: “That’s a very big question.”
And yet–her face, as the Doctor pulls up in front of her, TARDIS next to him, the door open, the invitation loud and clear. Her face as she runs with joy towards him, and that open door, heading out for a beautiful adventure, with no idea where it will take her. It was the same look on Rose’s face twelve years ago when the series returned from their decades long hiatus. The plot of the adventure is not the point–it’s the going that’s the wonder.
This is also, very much, a love letter to the fans. There are things that Moffat is preternaturally good at, and one of them is fan service. Those pictures on the Doctor’s desk–his wife River and his granddaughter Susan. The pencil cup full of every sort of sonic screwdriver the Doctor has ever used. The “Out Of Order” sign on the TARDIS from the last time the Doctor had an office and was stuck on Earth for decades on end. (That would be the Third Doctor). The call back to Clara with her theme music when Bill asks the Doctor how he would feel if someone tried to wipe his memories. (There was also a sense as he looked round the desk afterwards that he was looking for a photo of Clara and unable to find it, or even know quite what he was looking for.) And of course…that monologue.
Bill: “Why do you run like that?”
The Doctor: “Like what?”
Bill: “Like a penguin with its arse on fire.”
The Doctor: “Ergonomics.”
There are many things that Capaldi has brought to the table during his time as the Doctor. He’s brought a return of the older, crotchety Doctor. He’s brought a fanboy’s sense of joy to playing the role. He’s brought a gravitas to the production it was rapidly losing after the dreadful Series 7. But most of all, what Peter Capaldi can do is deliver the bleeding hell out of a monologue. And what do lecturers at University do, other than stand around for hours on end and deliver long winding monologues? That we were at St Luke’s University instead of a more “known school quantity” to the show like Coal Hill was merely a formality.
Now, chances are that we will eventually return to those Gallifreyan inscribed vault doors we saw under the University tonight–maybe not next week, but before the season is over. But chances are far smaller that we will be so lucky as to have the Doctor stand and lecture us on time and space (or physics and poetry) every week as he did tonight. But Moffat understands this is one of Capaldi’s greatest strengths and I hope we get many more of them over the next eleven weeks. I certainly would have attended the hell out of his lectures.
The Doctor: “Hardly anything’s evil. Most things are hungry. Hungry can look a lot like evil from the wrong end of the cutlery. Do you think your bacon sandwich loves you back?”
As for the plot this week, as I said before it was something of a throwaway. A girl Bill gets a crush on gets possessed by an alien that turns her into a water creature, her feelings for Bill mean that she chases Bill first from her flat, then across Campus, then to Australia, and finally across time, space and into the Time War, just because she promised to wait for Bill. (Yes, like communism, the Daleks in the episode were just a red herring.) After 50 minutes of running, which was mostly an excuse for the Doctor–and Nardole–to show Bill what their souped up jimmy in the shape of a Police Box can do, she easily solves the issue by telling said girl crush goodbye. Surprising how simple these adventures can be solved sometimes.
But though the plot was just a throwaway, Pearl Mackie shone as Bill. If the actors can keep up this level of chemistry and magic for the rest of the season, Moffat’s last season may just go out with a bang. She had barely been on-screen for fifteen minutes when the “box of her mother’s pictures” mysteriously turned up in the back of a cupboard after Bill mentioned to the Doctor she barely had any and didn’t know what her mum looked like. The scene where she sat on the bed looking through them was so affecting, it moved me to tears.
Bill: “C’mon let me have some good dreams for once.”
Her elongated response time to getting to the classic “It’s bigger on the inside” line felt a bit weird, but it certainly managed to change-up the cliché. Also we finally found out where the loo is on the TARDIS! (Just past the macaroon dispenser! Obvs!) And her response upon actually grasping the enormity of the situation was the truest the show has ever depicted. That is, running to the nearest bathroom and trying not to be sick from the sheer overwhelmed factor. Any sci-fi fan finding themselves in the middle of a sci-fi adventure would probably do that same. (Oh, and that’s *was* a Stranger Things reference when she was talking about the “Netflix show” she saw recently, right?) And that’s not getting to her reaction when the Doctor tried to wipe her memory. She’s fine if she can’t keep them forever but…just for one night?
Speaking of going out with a bang! That shot. You know the one. In the Next Time trailer. We’ll be doing a separate post on that in the morning, but obviously the Christmas special just got a HELL of a lot more interesting.