When every other beloved series is being rebooted, revived or remade, when every mediocre movie spawns a sequel or — heaven forbid — a poorly-made franchise, very little of pop culture feels particularly novel or exciting at the moment. With more than 50 years under its belt, Doctor Who should probably be running on fumes, and we should be delirious from breathing them in over the years.
And yet the iconic British sci-fi series somehow manages to make its repetitive nature feel as exciting now as it did during our own first adventure in the TARDIS, whether that was during the show's original run or after Russell T. Davies revived it in its current state in 2005.
The long-running show's greatest and most imaginative asset has always been its ability to reinvent itself by inserting new actors into the roles of Doctor and companion when someone decides to depart the role. And while we should probably be bored or unmoved by watching the same illusion play out again and again after all this time, we're not. There's something beautiful and sweet about watching the Doctor's face light up at the prospect of sharing all of time and space with someone new. There's something oddly comforting about new companions making the same "it's bigger on the inside" comment the first time they step inside the TARDIS' blue doors.
Each time Doctor Who reinvents itself — which seems to be approximately every three seasons of late — it's a bit like coming home to a house where everything is the same but the furniture's been rearranged. You're definitely going to trip over the couch in the middle of the night when you get up for a glass of water, but it's still the same inviting couch you curl up on every Saturday. It only takes a little while to adjust to this new reality, but eventually you do... until you you get a bit bored and move the couch against the other wall and start the entire process over.
Doctor Who's Season 10 premiere, titled "The Pilot," is the beginning of this process, and altogether it is a successful reintroduction back into the world of Doctor Who, which has been off the air since December 2015 save for a pair of Christmas specials. But it's also a successful introduction for the Doctor's new companion Bill (Pearl Mackie), an energetic young woman who works at the university where the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is currently in disguise as a lecturer, though he's really guarding a mysterious vault for reasons we're not meant to know at the moment.
If we don't include the aforementioned specials, we haven't seen the Doctor since Clara (Jenna Coleman) erased herself from the Doctor's memories and took "the long way 'round" back to Gallifrey in her own TARDIS with Ashildr (Maisie Williams) as her companion. It's unclear how much time has passed since then, but it's probably safe to say it's been a little while given the "Out of Order" sign hung on the TARDIS.
Clara certainly had her detractors, especially near the end of her run, but Bill is immensely likable from the moment Nardole (Matt Lucas) brings her into the Doctor's office for him to inquire why she attends his lectures when she's not actually a student at the university. She's inquisitive by nature, which is an important trait for any companion, but while Clara was intrinsically linked to the Doctor, Bill is like most of the show's other companions: she's just a girl thirsting for a bit of adventure in a life where there's been none. She's Rose when she worked in a shop, she's Donna as a temp, she's Amy working as a kissogram.
But Bill also stands out from the others who've come before. Her reactions to the Doctor and to the TARDIS are unique and a little baffling at first — she compares the inside of the TARDIS to a kitchen; it takes her longer than most to grasp that the TARDIS can travel through space and time — and the show knows how to play all of it for laughs, which is a nice change of pace after the dark, sometimes overwrought, dramatics of the last couple seasons. Bill also asks questions that no one has asked before, like "Doctor What?" instead of the typical "Doctor Who?" and why the TARDIS is called the TARDIS when the Doctor's native tongue isn't English and the acronym from "Time and Relative Dimension in Space" relies on the words being in English. "People don't generally bring that up," says the Doctor.
Despite the escape from reality Doctor Who regularly provides via trips to far off planets in galaxies on the other side of the universe, the driving force of the series isn't this sense of adventure, it's the relationship between the Doctor and his companion. It's why Matt Smith's Eleven never quite fit with Coleman's Clara; he was bonded to Karen Gillan's Amy in such a deep way that the producers brought her back for his emotional swan song. It's why Freema Agyeman's perfectly brilliant Martha was regularly pushed aside for Billie Piper's Rose during David Tennant's run. Certain Doctors are simply bonded to certain companions in more meaningful ways, and despite the Doctor's emotional tether to Clara — which we were told existed but some may say never quite felt genuine — it also feels a bit like we're still waiting for Capaldi's Doctor to share that bond with someone. Might Bill be that person?
Though we've only seen one episode so far, their teacher-student dynamic is sustained in comedy and also feels reminiscent of the relationship that existed between Donna (Catherine Tate) and Ten in that both women are vocal about their feelings but neither has any romantic interest in the Doctor. In fact, Bill is the show's first openly gay companion — John Barrowman's Captain Jack Harkness was bisexual and never a full-time companion — which is refreshing but also a relatively easy way to eliminate a nagging piece of the show's history since the Doctor became a romantic lead during Tennant's run. There exists a possibility for Twelve and Bill to become bantering best friends in much the same way Donna and Ten were, and that's exciting after spending years immersed in a convoluted plot with a Doctor-like companion who held the Doctor's life in her hands.
With Mackie's Bill and Lucas' lovable cyborg Nardole on board, Capaldi's final season in the TARDIS has the chance to start fresh, and after more than half a century spent running from aliens or monsters or weird water-like substances that mimic what it sees (honestly, it's hardly worth explaining at this point), that's the true beauty of Doctor Who. And we can't wait to see where the show takes us next.
Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9/8c on BBC America.