5 References and 4 Mysteries in DOCTOR WHO “The Pilot”

The following gets all SPOILERy about plot points and theories from the Doctor Who Series 10 premiere episode, “The Pilot.” Proceed at your own risk! But also, go watch it and come back because we got stuff to talk about!

When you look back at the now-seven premiere episodes in the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who(Series 7 basically had two premieres, “ Asylum of the Daleks” and “ The Bells of Saint John“), you often get the most bombastic, the most mind-tripping, the most continuity-shattering episodes of the year, and that’s perfectly fine. Start with a bang. For Series 10’s premiere “The Pilot,” Moffat started with a bang, but a character-based one, with a story that seemed small and intimate but still managed to have us asking a lot of questions and picking up on a ton of references.

Before we get into that, though, I want to say I categorically loved “The Pilot.” I loved the Doctor being some kind of perpetual professor of the university, talking about whatever the hell he wants in his heavily attended lectures. I loved Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), who’s the kind of companion I’ve been wanting for a really long time: smart, plucky, ready to learn, and disinterested in the Doctor as anything more than a friend and mentor. I love that the plot was about her without her being the plot (a very important distinction), I love that she’s gay and the Doctor never mentions it, and I love that by episode’s end, she’s told the Doctor off for being cavalier about mind wiping and it changed his mind. She’s going to be exactly what the show, and what the Twelfth Doctor, needs.

But now, let’s get into the real meat of the episode. This being both Capaldi’s and Moffat’s last season, and the pair of them being lifelong Whovians, one would expect a lot of bucket-list-style references and inclusions. Capaldi, for example, is a huge fan of Mondasian Cybermen, and so Moffat included them this year. Get it? They’re doing what they want. Also true to form, even if this premiere was more intimate than most, it nevertheless set up a ton of mysteries and questions about what’s going on that will doubtless be the narrative arc of the season.


1. The Doctor’s Family Pictures
Now that the Doctor’s got an office (which is huge, by the way) and a desk, it’s only right for him to have pictures of his family, right? Adorably, he has two. One is River Song, which makes sense. We know he’s sad at having to finally say goodbye to her, and she was his wife technically so totally. But the other picture, the black & white one, that’s a photo of Susan, his granddaughter, whom he’s not seen since his first incarnation said goodbye to her in the 1965 story “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” This is another thing that is important to Capaldi; in multiple interviews, when asked if he’d like to meet any previous companion, he said his granddaughter Susan. And it’s entirely possible he could meet his granddaughter; even though original actress Carole Ann Ford is still around, she’s a Time Lady, so she could literally be anyone. She could be Bill, even…

2. A Cuppa Sonic Screwdrivers
Something we saw in the trailer that I erroneously thought would be a big huge reference to previous Doctors turned out to just be a kind of fun throwaway joke, and that is that the Doctor has on his desk a mug full of sonic screwdriver, and not only that, but sonic screwdrivers from his previous incarnations.

3. Beethoven!
Right at the beginning of the episode, as Bill is waiting for the Doctor, we hear him in another room (seriously, how frigging big is this office?!?!) noodling on his electric guitar, and he’s playing the familiar opening chords of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. This piece of music was featured heavily in the story “ Under the Lake/Before the Flood,” as the Doctor spoke directly to camera about the Bootstap Paradox, and asked us who really wrote Beethoven’s Fifth.

4. The Chameleon Circuit
When Bill asks why a space ship would look like a police telephone box, the Doctor replies that the cloaking device that’s supposed to blend in everywhere was broken and it’s stuck looking that way. This, like Susan, is a direct reference to the First Doctor, and moreover, to the very second episode ever. After forcibly taking Susan’s teachers, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, for a ride aboard the TARDIS, they land in prehistoric cavemen times and the Doctor is confused as to why the exterior didn’t change shape.

5. The Dalek/Movellan War
My favorite reference was also the only one directed related to the plot. The Doctor needs to expose the oil spill alien lady to the hottest fire in the universe, and he determines that to be the blast from a Dalek. One place he knows the Daleks to be is in a war against the Movellans, a humanoid android race who look like attractive humans and have long silver dreadlocks. The Movellans were seen only once, in the 1979 story “Destiny of the Daleks,” and they arrive on Skaro to destroy the Daleks once and for all, wanting revenge for a war they lost several generations ago. None of this is explained, of course, in “The Pilot”; it’s just a little something for people who know. And now you do!


As much as I love references to stuff, I like the mysteries this episode presented even more. I was left with a metric butt-ton of questions about what we saw, but there are, to my way of looking at it, four main ones. We start with 1. What’s in the vault? The Vault seems to be the narrative whatsit for this season. The Doctor and Nardole brought it to the college and hit it underneath so they can work on it. Evidently, they’re concerned about things coming to get it, so it must be exceedingly valuable or dangerous. I can’t imagine it’s a person again, like the Pandorica, but then what would be so precious as to be locked up beyond the Doctor’s knowledge?

And speaking of the college, 2. How did the Doctor come to bring it to the college? Someone must be allowing him to use it as his base of operations, and let him keep lecturing even though there’s no way he’d be grading papers or following a curriculum. My first instinct is that it could be thanks to Ian Chesterton, his former companion and a science teacher, however we already saw via a sign that Ian was the headmaster of Coal Hill School where Clara used to work. I would be surprised if it wasn’t a former companion, though. And I also think that whoever that is, they will be the reason for question 3. Why can’t the Doctor get involved? He seems very wary about bringing another companion on board and says he made a promise; I’m guessing Ian (or whomever) said he can only use the college if he leaves the students alone. Obviously that didn’t work.

And finally, the only question truly relevant to the episode at hand, 4. Who were the aliens that left the sentient oil? The only reason I can see for why aliens would have landed near the college is because they’re looking for the Vault and then, not finding it, they flew away, leaving oil behind that needed a pilot. But who exactly are they? I would be very surprised if that is not revisited in some way this series, and given that the Mondasian Cybermen are the big bads at the end of the series, I’m thinking maybe the Cybermen are involved. Just a theory, though.

Next week, we get Frank Cottrell Boyce’s “Smile” which features the Emojibots. Looks like a neat jaunt for Bill in her first official adventure as companion.

Let me know what you thought of “The Pilot” in the comments below, and share your theories while you’re there!

Images: BBC

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor and the resident Whovian for Nerdist. Follow him on Twitter!

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