Doctor Who Recap: The Pilot, The Puddle, And The Professor

It’s amusing to call the premiere episode of a series (especially one in the tenth season of it’s second incarnation) ‘The Pilot’, but it’s fitting, too: Season 10 is new Companion Pearl Mackie’s first. It’s also Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi and showrunner Steven Moffat’s last, and Moffat, who has been piloting the series since 2005, has kicked off his victory lap with a fan-pleasing episode heavy on clever references and one-liners (even when it’s a bit light on plot).

But that’s what a pilot is: all building blocks, introductions, and key reveals (eg. the TARDIS travels through space, through time, and right past the laws of physics—something Mackie’s Bill takes slightly longer to realize than your average Companion). ‘The Pilot’ serves up all this and Daleks, too. After some debate, the footage we saw last year introducing us to the Doctor’s new sidekick ended up making its way into this season’s debut after all.

The Doctor, posing as an extremely long-tenured professor at an imaginary university in order to guard… something, picks cafeteria employee Bill out of the crowd of bright young things auditing his lectures. She’s not a student but she’s obviously clever, so he offers to tutor her (everyday at 6pm sharp, tardiness not tolerated).

As Bill gets to know the Doctor, she’s also getting to know one of her equally enigmatic classmates (to the tune of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’), a girl with a ‘star’ in her eye and an obsession with a puddle at a nearby construction site. Soon, the girl (Heather), Bill, and the Doctor all realize that there’s something wrong with the puddle—it doesn’t reflect like a regular pool of water, it imitates.

After Heather and the puddle become one unified ‘Pilot’, they/it go on a mission to make Bill their ‘passenger’. They’ve got competition. The Doctor and Nardole (Matt Lucas is back in the TARDIS) aren’t about to let Bill become an LAO (that’s liquified alien object, FYI). Using the TARDIS, the Doctor puts this new ‘Waters of Mars’-esque, screaming puddle monster to the test, leading it on a time and space chase across the universe and 23 million years into the future—but even a Dalek war zone doesn’t deter it.

In the end, BIll has to formally let her crush go—and the Doctor, just as formally, must decide to invite a new Companion into his life, setting aside his oath not to (framed photos of River Song and Susan Foreman chastise him from his desk). The episode ends with Bill stepping aboard the TARDIS to travel for the time being—whatever that means.

Five Questions About The Episode And Upcoming Season

1. What’s in the vault? The Doctor’s hidden something of great importance in the basement of a university building. He and Nardole have been monitoring and guarding it for decades, it seems. So, what is it?

2. The Doctor says he’s on Earth for a reason and that he has promises to keep—what are they and who is he keeping them for?

3. That scene where Bill spots the Doctor’s reflection in an old photo of her mother… Was it a Blade Runner reference?

4. The tear in Bill’s eye after she says goodbye to the puddle that used to be Heather: Bill says it isn’t hers…. Is Heather in there somewhere still? Will they see each other again?

5. Was Bill’s nauseous reaction to time travel the most relatable and real reaction we’ve seen from a Companion when they’re first introduced to the TARDIS’ capabilities? We’d say say so.