Doctor Who's New Sidekick Takes Her Time
In an infinite universe, is there a finite number of ways to bring a character on board the TARDIS?
The Doctor, especially in the Moffat era, is generally heartbroken when one of his companions leaves. Losing the Ponds led him to mope in a Victorian cloud indefinitely and literally, and he still suffers a lingering sense of loss over Clara despite not having memories of her any longer. It's understandable, I suppose. As the last of his kind (or is he still? Who can keep track?), doomed to a life of travel, loneliness is permanently baked into his existence. Plus only certain people are worthy of passage on the TARDIS, which makes them hard to replace. But the worst part of all is that when he does replace them, he's got to go through that whole process of explaining the TARDIS all over again.
Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright first blundered into the TARDIS in that junkyard almost fifty-three and a half years ago. That kicked off the Doctor's first-ever televised explanation (or, more accurately, non-explanation) of how the TARDIS is bigger on the outside than the inside, that it travels in time and space, that it is merely disguised as a police box in order to blend in with its surroundings. That explanation seemed to wrap itself up about fifty-one years ago.
I'm exaggerating, of course. It didn't really take that much time to cover all of that in the series premiere; it just felt like it. TV didn't exactly happen at a breakneck pace in 1963 anyway, but the writers really took their time with this scene. There was a lot to go over, and they probably didn't want to have to do it again. Ever. Well, look how that worked out.
Since Ian and Barbara, scores of companions and dozens of guest actors have found their way into the TARDIS for the first time. But as the expected pacing of television has accelerated to keep up with shrinking attention spans, they're allowed much less time to marvel before they have to get back with the program. Even the Doctor doesn't have much patience for the process anymore; he's got things to do.
Furthermore, from the point of view of the current writers (by which I mean Steven Moffat), it must be exhausting to have to keep coming up with new ways to bring TARDIS crewmembers up to speed. It must seem like it's all been done by now. Though one of my favorite moments of this type was when River Song invited the Doctor onto his own TARDIS, not realizing who he was, and warned him that he was in for a surprise. Obligingly, the Doctor launched right into a hammy, overblown monologue of hyper-dramatized shock that he had probably been rehearsing for thousands of years against this very opportunity. It's going to be hard to top that one.
You would think that with the Doctor as her personal tutor for at least a term, Bill Potts would have been somewhat more prepared than most for her first entrée into dimensional transcendentalism. However, you would be wrong. She's been looking at the outside of the TARDIS in the corner of the Doctor's office at the University for months before he finally bundles her into it to escape a water-beastie. When she's finally inside, she's more focused on what's right outside the doors (namely, a water-beastie) to notice at first what's inside them. When she finally turns around to notice her bleeding-edge surroundings, she compares the TARDIS control room not to a spaceship, like most people do, but to a high-tech kitchen. The first thing she wants to see is the bathroom. And when she realizes they're moving, she thinks they're aboard an elevator.
Much of this is, of course, on the Doctor, and not just because of how he had the TARDIS parked. Most people at least have the opportunity to walk a full circuit around the TARDIS's outer shell before they find themselves gawping at the interior. But Bill had only ever seen it pressed flush against the Doctor's office wall, so she had no initial reason to suspect she hadn't simply stepped through into a previously hidden room inside the building. And why, when it started moving, would she surmise that it had dropped out of our dimension and was suddenly hurtling through the space-time vortex? The thing doesn't even have proper windows.
But that's the least of it. What, exactly, had the Doctor been teaching her during all this time as her personal tutor? He ruefully admitted he had to up his game earlier in the episode, when Bill was proving to be a little slow on a different uptake. And that is clearly the case. It's a little obnoxious later on, when he's remarking on how long it's taking her to get to "it's bigger on the inside." (It's a little over three minutes from the time she steps inside, which is definitely longer than normal, but still). The Doctor was the one who was supposed to be broadening her mind to things beyond lifts and kitchens; he and Nardole don't get to be all Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering now.
But Bill's briefing isn't over, nor does it get much more brief. Before they're done, the Doctor has dragged her to the other side of the planet, to the other side of the universe, and -- recklessly -- to the middle of firefight between the Daleks and the Movellans (a race of warrior robots who may have visited Earth years ago and given rise to the long-extinct culture we now know as Milli Vanilli). The only thing that gets more tedious than bringing a new companion on board is taking her on her first trip offworld, so let's hope that box has been considered checked now as well.
Whatever the case, it's the last time Steven Moffat has to pull this off, and I can't imagine he's not relieved about it. The next one will be Chris Chibnall's problem. Perhaps by then, the Doctor will have gotten around to producing an orientation video that he can just pop in. It's not like he doesn't have time.