Ah Doctor Who, it’s been a long time since a proper, non-holiday episode, returning with a new season and a new companion in Bill. Bill has a few unique qualities going for her. First and most talked about in the blogosphere is that Bill is the first openly gay recurring character in the Whoniverse. That comes into play and is explained in a natural and tasteful way. Rather than making a statement out of it, her sexuality is offhandedly thrown into conversation indirectly and never made into a thing. If you weren’t paying attention you might not even pick up on it.
I’m always for more natural inclusions of diversity, not making a character’s race or sexuality the driving force of their being but just a happenstance. So far Bill has been very well done. I get the feeling that she might have more going on than we see here though. Bill lives with a foster mother, having lost her mother as a baby. No real mention of her father though. Also The Doctor upon meeting her looks to two photos on his desk. The first his wife, River Song, and the second Susan, his granddaughter from way back in season one of the original series.
Significant? Perhaps. Both are his family. Maybe he just sees a spark of them in Bill’s eyes. But they also are both people dear to The Doctor who he has lost, possibly foreshadowing Bill’s own eventual fate. Rumors are out there that with Capaldi leaving Who this year that Bill will be a one season companion, providing a clean slate for the next showrunner.
Bill works her way into The Doctor’s life by being a smart and surprising person. I love that he singled her out because of how she smiles when confronted by that which she does not understand. Then later when asking his name, a fun twist on the norm when she asks “Doctor what?”. I wouldn’t mind if the bulk of the season followed The Doctor as a professor on campus. The TARDIS in the corner, old sonic screwdrivers in a pencil cup. Also I love the fact that he’s been supposedly teaching there for seventy years. Only in Doctor Who could you write years of a character’s life off screen and not have it cause a problem. I’ve always enjoyed the idea that his life isn’t all adventures, that after particularly rough times he takes decades of simple living.
So there has to be a monster right? Well sort of. Initially I thought it was a blast from the past. There definitely is a line or two steering us that way. Bill meets a girl with a star shape in one eye. Later after she is consumed by a strange puddle (full on Who craziness) and replicated, she begins mimicking Bill. The Doctor says, “It starts reflecting you.” Any long time Whovians must have gotten a chill up their spine as this was incredibly similar to “Midnight” from Season Four of the new Who. In that story an entity took a person’s body and began parroting what was said to them until they eventually synchronized and surpassed. While this ended up not being that same creature, much of the same eeriness was at play.
While the eventual reveal that the creature is basically sentient spaceship oil was a big let down, what it allowed was a crash course for Bill into The Doctor’s world. Travel through space in time? Check. Run from a monster with mysterious desires? Check! Get the Tardis and Daleks introduced in a five minute period? Double Check!
Oh and that drawn out realization about the Tardis was just delightful. Capaldi and Matt Lucas’ banter about how slow to understand she was and once she finally gets to the standard “bigger on the inside” line their absolute glee, just perfect. Both playing against expectations by having Bill undercutting The Doctor’s grand statements while still hitting all the touchstone companion moments was great.
Threatening to erase her memories was a hollow moment since we all knew Bill was sticking around for a while. But if you listened close you would hear some of Clara’s theme as they talked about losing memories. A touching moment as The Doctor decides against stealing her memories as his of Clara were taken. I’ve been a big fan of Capaldi since he took over and his final season looks to be a fantastic send off for the actor.