PA­TRICK FREYNE

Dr Who is back in our di­men­sion, and once again he’s act­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ately, and be­ing chased by Daleks

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS -

It’s Easter (well, just af­ter), and that means it’s time to cel­e­brate some­one who ex­ists out­side time and space and once came back from the dead to save mankind. I mean, of course, Doc­tor Who, who has now, like a cos­mic Worzel Gum­midge, changed heads 12 times. Nowa­days he sports the griz­zled nog­gin of Peter Ca­paldi. (TV fact: Worzel Gum­midge was played by the third Doc­tor, Jon Per­twee.)

The first episode of the new se­ries (BBC One, Sat­ur­day) is called The Pi­lot, which sug­gests a kind of re­boot of the 54-year-old tele­vi­sion show, al­though it’s also an al­lu­sion to a plot point about an ex­trater­res­trial space jockey.

Like all good re­boots it’s pre­sented from the per­spec­tive of an ap­peal­ing new char­ac­ter, Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), who in the open­ing scene is sub­jected to what amounts to an in­ter­view for the role of “com­pan­ion” by Ca­paldi’s el­derly Space Je­sus. “I’ve been hired as a ‘com­pan­ion’ by an older gen­tle­man of means,” are, of course, the words ev­ery par­ent wants to hear.

So let’s talk a lit­tle about the Doc­tor’s hir­ing pol­icy. He largely em­ploys young pretty Earth women. “There’s noth­ing wrong with that,” I imag­ine the Doc­tor’s HR depart­ment say­ing. “The younger pretty Earth women just hap­pen to be the best can­di­dates for the job – ex­cept on spo­radic oc­ca­sions when he prefers a ro­bot dog, an om­ni­sex­ual space hunk or a portly alien cy­borg” (Matt Lu­cas, also present in this episode).

Yes, it’s a law­suit wait­ing to hap­pen, but it sort of makes sense. Be­ing a com­pan­ion to the Doc­tor in­volves a lot of pa­tiently re­press­ing rage as an older man ex­plains what’s what. This re­minds most young women of “be­ing on the in­ter­net”, which prob­a­bly makes them best suited to the role.

When the new sea­son be­gins, Ca­paldi’s charis­mat­i­cally aso­cial it­er­a­tion of the Doc­tor ap­pears to have wran­gled an oak-fur­nished of­fice and a job lec­tur­ing at an English univer­sity. If I un­der­stand academia at all, this brings an un­spo­ken sub­plot of the se­ries to fruition: when will the “Doc­tor” get a tenured univer­sity po­si­tion? (This is the un­spo­ken sub­plot of any se­ries with “doc­tor” in the ti­tle.)

Po­etic li­cence

His lec­tures are idio­syn­cratic. “Physics, po­etry – they’re all the same thing,” he says, set­ting up bridge-build­ing en­gi­neers for a life­time of law­suits, and giv­ing any po­ets who hap­pen to be present no­tions. Th­ese classes have also at­tracted the at­ten­tion of Bill, who isn’t even a stu­dent at the col­lege but works in the can­teen, where she over­feeds peo­ple she fan­cies. (She’s the first gay com­pan­ion, if you don’t count Jack Hark­ness, which, be­cause he’s not a young earth woman, we don’t.) She seems nice enough. She cer­tainly has pluck, spunk and moxie, the sec­ondary pre­req­ui­sites for Doc­tor com­pan­ion­ship, so the Doc­tor sin­gles her out for spe­cial tu­ition.

“What do I call you?” Bill asks, rea­son­ably as­sum­ing he has a name. “The Doc­tor,” he says. Well, some­one is very proud of com­plet­ing his PhD.

The plot of the first episode re­volves around Bill de­vel­op­ing a flir­ta­tious cam­pus re­la­tion­ship with a girl called Heather, who, it turns out, is slightly ob­sessed with a pud­dle. The pud­dle is a space pud­dle. Those who gaze into the space pud­dle – Heather, for ex­am­ple – are ab­sorbed into it and then re­turn – and this is the spooky part – a bit wet.

Heather re­turns, a bit wet, and tracks down Bill, who seeks refuge with the Doc­tor, who pro­ceeds to run around the place with Bill in tow, which is what con­sti­tutes aca­demic men­tor­ing in Tory Bri­tain af­ter all the cuts. The Doc­tor won­ders aloud if the pud­dle is seek­ing ac­cess to his se­cret closet of mys­tery, a spe­cial vault that he keeps be­neath the univer­sity and that will clearly have much sig­nif­i­cance as the se­ries pro­gresses. Nei­ther I nor the pud­dle, it turns out, is in­ter­ested in the Doc­tor’s stupid vault.

The Doc­tor and Bill and Nar­dole (the afore­men­tioned Matt Lu­cas) es­cape into the Tardis, the big blue box with which he nav­i­gates through time and space when he’s not nav­i­gat­ing the UK ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem. Bill re­alises it’s big­ger on the inside than the out­side, like a re­verse Boris Johnson, and she asks good ques­tions about why the acro­nym Tardis – time and rel­a­tive di­men­sion in space – is for­mu­lated in English given that the Doc­tor is from an­other planet. The Doc­tor wisely baulks at this slightly meta line of ques­tion­ing.

They travel to Aus­tralia, which im­presses Bill. The pud­dle fol­lows them there. Then they go 23 mil­lion years into the fu­ture, which isn’t as im­pres­sive, to be honest. The fu­ture looks a lot like a quarry. The pud­dle fol­lows them there too. It’s ap­pro­pri­ate, at this point, to start hum­ming the tune to Weather with You, by Crowded House.

Wheelie dan­ger­ous

The Doc­tor then de­cides to go to a planet where his arch en­e­mies, the Daleks, are making a hames of things. The Daleks are, we are re­peat­edly and un­con­vinc­ingly told, the most dan­ger­ous wheeled pep­per dis­pensers in the whole galaxy. Well, they’re at it again, rolling around on their cas­tors, avoid­ing cat­tle grids, wav­ing their phal­lic pro­trubenc-es about and shout­ing “Ex­ter­mi­nate!” at every­one they meet. This is the kind of thing you’d ex­pect from Daleks – “Ex­ter­mi­nate!” is their “Nice to see you, to see you nice!” – but it also al­ways makes me in­vol­un­tar­ily say, “Je­sus, lads, would you ever re­lax?”

So the Doc­tor leads the sen­tient pud­dle into a Dalek-shaped trap. The Dalek does what the Daleks do best – it to­tally over­re­acts – but then the sen­tient pud­dle does what it does best and makes the Dalek a bit wet. Wait, says the Doc­tor, per­haps the sen­tient pud­dle is just mis­un­der­stood. He’s right. It just wants a meta­phys­i­cal hug. Don’t we all, says you.

So Bill and the Heather-shaped sen­tient pud­dle share a sort of mind-meld­ing tele­pathic mo­ment. It is, it turns out, a sort of liq­uidy space­ship seek­ing a “pi­lot”. Bill briefly sees all of time and space – which is, frankly, some­thing that could have been ar­ranged for her with­out the ne­ces­sity of en­coun­ter­ing dan­ger­ous Daleks.

And then this ad­ven­ture is all wrapped up, and the Doc­tor de­cides to wipe this typ­i­cally half-baked sci-fi codol­ogy from Bill’s mind with his time-lord pow­ers. Wait, says Bill, is it eth­i­cally right for an el­derly aca­demic to tam­per with the mem­o­ries of a youth­ful fe­male mentee on what is, es­sen­tially, a big-bud­get chil­dren’s pro­gramme? Good point, says the Doc­tor, why don’t you join me in­stead, trav­el­ling the galaxy and hav­ing char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally en­ter­tain­ing but in­creas­ingly over­wrought and over­promis­ing ad­ven­tures un­til, inevitably, I change heads? I’m para­phras­ing.

Fair enough, says she, and off they go.

So let’s talk a lit­tle about the Doc­tor’s hir­ing pol­icy. He largely em­ploys young pretty Earth women. “There’s noth­ing wrong with that,” I imag­ine the Doc­tor’s HR depart­ment say­ing

Pearl Mackie and Peter Ca­paldi in the new se­ries of Dr Who

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