Last week’s “World Enough and Time” was one of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who in years, full of great twists and utterly terrifying in its treatment of it’s villains. “The Doctor Falls” closes out what has been a generally strong series for the show and begins the inevitable end of Peter Capaldi’s time as the Doctor.
(Full spoilers for “The Doctor Falls” to follow)
The greatest strength of Series 10 has been Capaldi and Pearl Mackie as Bill, whose interactions and performances held the power to elevate even the weaker episodes. Their chemistry was an immediate strength and offered a different dynamic than previous companion, Clara. Where the Doctor and Clara enabled each other, he and Bill challenged each other instead and they have been fantastic watch travel through space and time.
Fortunately both of them are at their absolute best in “The Doctor Falls.” Just as he did in Series 9’s “The Zygon Inversion”, Capaldi perfectly embodies what it is to be Doctor. It’s not about winning, it’s about kindness, about taking a stand. There’s something extremely powerful about his commitment in this episode to doing what’s right, not about what’s easy. Combine this with Bill fully converted into a Cyberman, and you have some guaranteed heart-breaking performances. Bill has been so likeable in the role and watching her as both her normal self and as a Cyberman within the same scenes was some incredibly effective storytelling.
The Cybermen have always been a bit of a miss for me in the revived series, portrayed too similarly to the Daleks to really stand out. “World Enough and Time” finally showed me why they were considered so terrifying before and “The Doctor Falls” only reinforces that terror. The body horror of the Cybermen presented in these episodes is creepy on a purely instinctive level and their relentlessness in their mission establishes a true sense of dread throughout the finale. It truly felt like the Doctor had no way out and made his final stand against the Cyberman, alone and without witness, even more resounding.
Unfortunately, this is where Bill’s story does less than satisfy. Mackie does a tremendous job with the material, showing the strength that makes us like the character so much. It’s a real shame to see Bill leave Doctor Who so soon and I did not want to see her die at all, but the story as it’s presented is written in a way that her death was the only believable ending. There is no reversing a Cyberman conversion and Bill seemed willing to go out fighting. Instead we get a complete repeat of Clara’s own ending in Series 9, with Bill revived through super technology and going travelling through time and space with someone else, in this case Heather from “The Pilot”.
Heather is now basically a god, able to completely reconstruct Bill, potentially make Bill human again and travel nearly instantly through time and space, to spots even the TARDIS can’t (remember that the TARDIS couldn’t travel within the colony ship, yet Heather does twice.) Honestly, it’s an incredibly unsatisfying ending and extremely unearned. Bill doesn’t get any true closure with the man that spent ten years manipulating and more or less murdering her: the Master. Putting Bill alongside the Master last episode was a great move, giving the companion a personal attachment to the apparent series’ villain, but it goes to waste here. In a story all about the end, Bill’s is sadly left wanting.
Michelle Gomez and John Simm are fantastic and as compelling as ever as the two Masters, yet are surprisingly wasted. Their taunting of the Doctor in the episode’s open is a chilling moment, but then they are defeated in a flashback. It’s incredibly unsatisfying considering how “World Enough and Time” ended, setting up a huge Doctor-Master showdown. The two Masters leave zero impact on the plot after leaving the hospital and literally spend most of the episode sitting around. Why do a Multi-Master story and not have the Masters be part of the A-plot? The two ultimately killing each other is a fittingly ironic end and the Doctor never getting to know that Missy stood by him is powerfully tragic. But it’s also a little hollow, since the series arc was about the Doctor trying to redeem Missy and that story doesn’t necessarily get the closure it deserves.
The set-up for the Doctor Who Christmas special looks incredibly promising, thanks to the long-rumoured appearance of David Bradley as the First Doctor. Bradley was terrific as First Doctor actor William Hartnell in An Adventure in Space Time (2013), and bringing him back here is a very interesting move. The episode also ends on a strange note, as the Doctor’s refusal to regenerate comes out of left field a little. Did he show any indication he felt this way before? We’ll have to wait and see how the loose threads from “The Doctor Falls” are tackled in Capaldi’s final episode, Steven Moffat’s last as showrunner for Doctor Who.
- Matt Lucas’ Nardole has been one of the most entertaining characters of Series 9 and his fate here works nicely with the theme of the episode, that the Doctor isn’t fighting to win and instead just to buy time. Up until Heather happens. Why can’t Heather and Bill go save Nardole and the colonists too? Bill’s ending hurts Nardole’s a little by association.
- The Doctor defeats the Masters (in that freaking flashback) by changing the Cybermen’s programming to seek two hearts instead of one. So why are they still hunting humans later? By the episode’s logic, they should only be after the Doctor and the Masters.
- It seems the Monk trilogy was designed to set-up Bill’s ability to override the Cybermen. I actually didn’t mind the Monk trilogy and it was interesting to see this idea set-up beforehand. It makes Bill being able to fight back against the Cybermen’s programming a bit more believable.
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