Spoilers ahead for "The Pilot" because hey ... it's a TV Recap.
The Short Version: Bill Potts has been summoned to talk with a university professor, aka the Doctor, because she's been attending his lectures even though she isn't a student. The Doctor, who's hiding out at the university with Nardole, agrees to privately tutor Bill. When Bill meets a pretty girl named Heather, who has a star in her eye and an obsession with a puddle of water, that leads to a dangerous chase across time and space with the Doctor and Nardole.
The Good: Welcome Bill Potts, Nardole settles in, and TARDIS fun
Doctor Who gets a reset through the eyes of the Doctor's latest companion, Bill Potts. The episode kicks off with Bill being called in to talk to the Doctor about why she's been attending his lectures, as if she was being called into the principal's office. Bill's intro while she's waiting for the Doctor gives us an idea who she is and a good look at the Doctor's office, which has a TARDIS in the corner and pics of River Song and the Doctor's granddaughter, Susan, on his desk. Bill is awkward and charming and a little sad, and you can see why the Doctor would be drawn to have her join him as his new companion.
It's great to see Bill's crush, Heather, be another girl. Much like with Captain Jack, Bill's sexuality is noted but not drawn attention to other than the fact that Bill has a boy's name. Bill's attraction to Heather, a girl with a star on one of her eyes, feels comfortable and right, even when Heather asks Bill to come look at a weird puddle of water. In the Doctor Who universe, you just know that that puddle of water is going to be more than a puddle of water, and it is.
Of course it doesn't take long before Bill, the Doctor and Nardole end up on the run from a watery-Heather-creature in the TARDIS traveling across the world to Australia, and then to the "end of the universe, 23 million years in the future," and then into a war involving the Daleks. Bill's the most modern companion yet, and the way she both accepts what's happening and challenges it seems pretty perfect.
We also get a real idea how Nardole will fit in on these adventures. He's not around as much as Bill, but pops in at key times to say something funny and help the Doctor just enough. Wisely, the writers have taken Nardole from a fairly silly character from his introduction in "The Husbands of River Song" and turned him into someone who's smarter than he seems and a companion in his own right for the Doctor.
Overall, it's a good reset and an appealing new team with a lighter feel than the past few seasons. The episode has plenty of fun with some of the classic lines and concepts. The title of the episode is "The Pilot," which has a dual meaning of being both a reset or a new pilot for the long-running series, and being literally about the watery-Heather-creature who is considered the pilot in search of a passenger.
The Bad: That puddle, and the Daleks deserve better
After nearly 40 seasons of any show, it's understandable how it could be tough to come up with new villains and storylines. But this is the 10th season premiere since the reset in 2005, and the very talented showrunner, Stephen Moffat, could have done better than that puddle.
Heather apparently can't stop looking at this puddle because her reflection is weird. It turns out the puddle is not really water but some sort of really intelligent watery oil left over from when an alien ship landed, and the watery oil is now looking for a pilot and a passenger for some reason, and it's going to do whatever it has to to get them.
Somehow that turns into a chase across time and space after Heather is turned into the pilot, aka watery-Heather-creature, with Bill selected as the passenger. As with the best episode endings, watery-Heather isn't evil, she just wanted to fly off with Bill. Once they have a good chat, no more watery-Heather-stalker.
But the entire puddle thing makes no sense and reminds me of when Star Trek: TNG's Tasha Yar got the stupidest death ever by being killed by an all-powerful oil puddle. Puddles are not exciting or interesting or menacing. The Doctor, Bill and Heather deserve better, as do the actors who play them, than to have to make puddle-starring a convincing dramatic point.
The only other real negative for me was the Doctor's thinking that taking Bill into the middle of a war with the Daleks was a good thing. How exactly was that supposed to stop watery-Heather-stalker? After last season's very good two-parter involving the Daleks, "The Magician's Apprentice/The Witch's Familiar," it seemed like a throw-away use of the Doctor's most classic villain. So, yes -- even the Daleks deserve better than that puddle.
The biggest lingering question from this episode is how the Doctor managed to spend years not traveling. Really? And if he did travel with Nardole, what's he been up to? Where did he go? Did he save the universe again? Or maybe just Earth. And why wasn't Bill a student? It seems like she could have gotten some sort of scholarship. What does Nardole do when he's not assisting the Doctor and dropping bolts from his cybernetic body? Why hasn't the Doctor started a band? Or has he? What happened to the aliens that left the space puddle goo, and are they leaving puddles of intelligent pilot-and-passenger-wanting goo all over the galaxy? And what ever did happen to the Doctor's granddaughter, Susan?
Lines of the Night:
"The Doctor's not a name. I can't just call you Doctor. Doctor what?" - Bill
"What you are standing in is a technological marvel beyond science, beyond magic. This is the gateway to everything that ever was or ever can be." - The Doctor
"Can I use the toilet?" - Bill asks the Doctor after seeing the TARDIS for the first time.
"First you have to imagine a very big box fitting inside a very small box. Then you have to make one ... it's the second part people normally get stuck on." - Nardole tells Bill about the TARDIS
"That's the Doctor for you. Never notices the tears." - Nardole
Best Line of the Night:
"Hardly anything is evil, but most things are hungry. Hunger looks very like evil from the wrong end of the cutlery. Or do you think your bacon sandwich loves you back?" - The Doctor