Well, after far, far too long, here we are, back in action with new ‘Who!’ Each week this season, I’ll be here to break things down and speculate a bit with you – so let’s jump right in without any further ado!
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘Doctor Who’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: Serving as a bit of a soft “jumping-on point” for potential new viewers, this episode follows a similar path to the last time that “modern” audiences were re-introduced to the series, back in 2009 when Christoper Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor debuted in the episode “Rose.” In fact, that series (season) is often referred to as “Series 1,” which is why this current season is deemed “Series 10,” in current time-keeping affairs. But I digress: this episode was clearly designed to give those largely unfamiliar with DW lore the chance to climb aboard without feeling too terribly lost – but long-time fans will also have plenty of “easter eggs” and in-universe references to enjoy, as I further outline below in the “Observations” section.
As the episode opens, we meet Bill, a college-aged young lady hanging out at St. Luke’s University – except she’s not enrolled at the school but is simply a worker in the cafeteria. That doesn’t stop her from heading to certain lectures, though, in particular, she’s quite keen on the Doctor’s lectures as our man Twelve seems to have taken up residence on campus as a way of calming himself down and “resetting” a bit after his recent, fairly traumatic experiences. It’s hard to keep a good man completely down, though; Bill discovers that the Doctor and his… bro-buddy? Platonic guy friend? Now that bumbling-but-likable Nardole has been around for a bit, do we bestow the title of Companion on him officially? In any case, the Doctor and Nardole are working to get into “the vault,” a mysterious area beneath the university, and Bill discovers their work, but not before running in to an otherworldy issue of her own: a girl named Heather that she likes gets sucked into a talking puddle (scarier than it sounds), and when Heather comes back as a water-dripping ghost/zombie thingy, Bill and the Doctor (and Nardole!) have to solve the mystery of the wet, dead girl before they end up joining her in a similar fate.
- Man, where to start with this episode – it was surprisingly heavy in the “callback/reference” arena for being a simple “jumping-on” point for new viewers! Let’s start with “the vault,” which we see the Doctor struggling to break into and the insinuation that he’s been working on it for a very long time. Even though this episode didn’t give us any specific information on what might be contained therein, it seems fairly obvious that we haven’t seen the last of the vault this season. To my eyes, the design and general vibe of the vault seemed very similar to the Pandorica, another “vault” featured during the last Doctor’s run. The Pandorica was designed to trap the Doctor within, however, I may be way off here, of course, but (as is my favorite ‘Doctor Who’ pun of all time) only time will tell.
- Speaking of the vault – Bill gained access to the vault area awfully easily, didn’t she? Nardole tells the Doctor that he set the door security access to “friends only” … odds are good that he didn’t specifically include Bill on that short list, meaning that she may have some deeper connection to the Doctor that we may currently be aware. In fact, for more speculation in this area…
- Of the more prominent “personal artifacts” that are seen in the Doctor’s office – which also included a pencil cup full of the old iterations of his Sonic Screwdrivers, a bust of William Shakespeare (whom the Doctor has met), and a stained-glass portrayal of Robin Hood (whom the Doctor has also met) – are a pair of pictures on his desk. One photo is of his temporally-crossed wife, River Song, and the other is of Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter who was first introduced way back in the series’ very first episode, in 1963.
- So, let’s talk more about Susan. She featured prominently in pretty much every episode of the show’s first few seasons back in the 1960s, and hasn’t been seen on-screen since a 1993 BBC Doctor Who/EastEnders crossover special “Dimensions in Time.” Carole Ann Ford, the actress who played Susan, is still alive and well; in fact, Capaldi himself has stated numerous times that he’d like to see Susan return in some form. Certainly, she’s “back” in reference this episode, but could there be a Bill/Susan connection that hasn’t been revealed yet? Perhaps Bill is Susan somehow, or is related to her in some fashion? Did Twelve simply make a convenient visit to Bill’s mother in this episode to provide Bill with some photographs as she desired, or did he know her in some deeper fashion?
- Even Bill’s character name may give us hints at a deeper connection between this season and the very, very first season of Who. The First Doctor was portrayed by William Hartnell – or Bill, for short – and the announcement of Pearl Mackie’s casting was made almost to the day of the anniversary of Hartnell’s passing. Hartnell’s wife and daughter were both named Heather – the same name in this episode of the girl that Bill finds herself strangely attracted to. Coincidence? Homage? Or… something more?
- One final bit of trivia, for those eagle-eyed fans who wondered just who the heck the Daleks were fighting in this episode: that would be the Movellans, a race of androids (yes, androids with dreadlocks – it was a 1970s fashion choice, don’t question it) who have fought the Daleks for generations. They first appeared in 1979, and were featured throughout many Dalek-centric stories in the 1980s on the show.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: We’re off to a really fun start in what is, sadly, Capaldi’s “farewell tour” of his run as the Doctor. Before we get caught up in the speculation of who will be cast next and what the show will be like next season with new showrunner Chris Chibnall at the helm, let’s simply take the time to enjoy what will hopefully be another great season of Capaldi’s acting and Moffat’s writing ushering us back to a bit of the “golden age” vibe of Doctor Who. After all, everything old is new again, isn’t that what they say?
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
- Peter Capaldi as The Doctor
- Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts
- Matt Lucas as Nardole
Tony Schaab wonders who would win in an epic, Gladiator-style fight between the Grumpy Cat and the “This is Fine” Dog – an animal-heavy meme battle for the ages! A lover of most things sci-fi and horror, Tony is an author by day and a DJ by night. Come hang out with Tony on Twitter to hear him spew semi-funny nonsense and get your opportunity to finally put him in his place.