I have a confession to make: I’m not actually a Doctor Who fan.
I don’t mean I don’t like the show, it’s just that I’ve never really got into it before. I’ve caught a few episodes here and there, but aside from that there’s been a Tardis-shaped hole in my life.
That may be about to change, though.
On Tuesday, I went along to watch the premiere of Doctor Who Season 10. The only previous Peter Capaldi episode I’d seen was the recent Christmas special, and to be honest it didn’t really do that much for me — I found it silly and not all that scary, the jokes were a bit corny and the story as a whole felt sort of rushed.
But this episode was different.
We come into the story at the same place as the Doctor’s Season 10 companion, Bill (Pearl Mackie). She’s a university canteen worker who’s caught the Time Lord’s attention after he noticed her sneaking into his lectures (he’s in disguise at a university in order to guard a mystery object, it turns out).
As the episode progresses Bill learns more about the Doctor’s true identity, and they end up working together to solve the mystery of a strange (and strangely sinister) puddle behind the university building.
As a Doctor Who newbie, this was the ideal setup for me — the Time Lord’s world is entirely new to Bill, and the episode acts in part as an introduction to his character and the bizarre universe he inhabits.
“The story begins again,” explained showrunner Steven Moffat, speaking at a Q & A directly after the episode. “We actually were thinking: let’s do an episode that explains the entire format.”
As well as acting as a handy refresher course, the episode also strikes a better balance tone-wise than the Christmas special.
One of the thing that’s put me off Doctor Who in the past is the family-friendly comedy vibe, which can occasionally border on cheesy.
Unlike the special, though, this episode was scary. The strange puddle, which at first seems like a light-hearted mystery, takes a creepy twist partway through the episode that leads to a bunch of effective jump scares (and by effective I mean I had to wilfully restrain myself from covering my eyes at certain points so that I didn’t embarrass myself in front of the other journalists).
It is also funny, too. Mackie nails her new role, bringing a blunt, say-it-as-you-see-it personality that contrasts amusingly with Peter Capaldi’s blustering quirkiness and Matt Lucas’ cheery asides. In short, the trio work well together. Their chemistry is clear early on and bodes well for the season as a whole.
Don’t get me wrong, the episode wasn’t perfect. There were still a few moments that bordered on being slightly hammy — I may just have been on the lookout for this, though — and the setup with Bill’s love interest felt a little bit underdeveloped.
For the most part, though, the story worked well. It felt like the beginning of something promising.
I can’t speak for the feelings of hardcore Whovians — judging by the reaction the episode received during the premiere I’d say the majority of people seemed to enjoy it, but you can never really tell — but for anyone who hasn’t seem much of Doctor Who and wants to give it a go, I’d say this will be a good place to start.