Doctor Who: 10.12 The Doctor Falls
It feels very bittersweet to review this episode, knowing that we're on the cusp of loosing Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. It's been a fascinating three years of Doctor Who for him (well four considering 2016 gave us just one Christmas special) but I still feel as if I there's so much more to him we haven't seen. I was sad to loose David Tennant, more so with Matt Smith, but with Capaldi I am genuinely gutted. I think I would be quite happy to see him play the Doctor for ten years.
At least he is going off on a high in what for me feels the best series finale since The Big Bang from Matt Smith's debut series. After a ridiculously good episode last week, I had a little trepidation about this week's finale; after all, series nine gave us the magnificent Heaven Sent and then seemed to squander the return of Gallifrey by bringing Clara back in Hell Bent after she had had the perfect ending. It was a frustrating end to a great series and I was concerned that The Doctor Falls would follow a similar pattern after the magnificence of World Enough And Time. With the trailer teasing multiple versions of the Cybermen and plenty of explosions, I feared this was going to become another frustrating overblown finale.
I couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised. The Doctor Falls isn't as good as World Enough And Time but it is still great. Like much of series 10, it takes its time to tell a great story; the idea of different parts of the ship moving through time quicker the closer to the black hole it gets continues to be used very well. And it also has some terrific character stuff too from Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas, Michelle Gomez and John Simm.
So let's talk about Missy and the Master. It's incredible that it took this long to get a Two Masters story onscreen (largely to the death of previous actors sadly) but it delivers. Neither character drives the story - the Master has already wreaked havoc in creation this iteration of the Cybermen, so fans might be a little dissapointed - but the interplay between themselves and the Doctor is mesmerising to watch.
John Simm is the best he has been, no longer, the leaping, skull flashing, over the top lunatic of The End Of Time. It's a more nuanced performance, but he still retains the insanity of his version. But it is more of a quiet danger this time round and he looked fantastic in his Classic Who Delgado / Ainsely-inspired beard. Finally, this is he Master we all hoped Simm could be.
Simm and Gomez were great on screen together too. Admittedly, they didn't have a huge amount to do, but their banter was a delight, a kind of will they, won't they kiss / kill each other vibe. Of course any kind of attraction was completely wrong but Moffat relished the opportunity to examine a male Time Lord becoming a woman in a way that has never been available before. After all the dancing and torturing of the Doctor - and the great twist of the Doctor turning the Cybermen against the rogue Time Lords - we had plenty of delightful finishing off sentences or repeating the same thought process (the double "the Doctor's dead. He told me to tell you he always hated you" to Nardole was fantastic). And surely Missy's line "I'm in two minds; unfortunately one of them is unconscious" might be the best one liner of the episode?
After the fantastic 'stand with me' speech by Capaldi (no one will ever delivers speeches quite like him), we saw the cracks form and Missy finally take steps towards the light. It's been a fascinating path for Missy (and what a great idea that the Master came back to save his future self from it) ending with that stunning final scene as they betrayed each other; Missy stabbed the Master and then he shot her. In the end he vanished down the lift shaft on his journey to regenerating into a woman while she was left possibly without the hope of regeneration herself. I have no doubt that she'll find a way to find another face in future series. I also liked that Simm's Master was ruthlessly evil to the very end. No speech from the Doctor was ever going to change that.
As I noted in my spoiler-free preview, this was possibly the best episode of series 10 for both Pearl Mackie and Matt Lucas. The episode cleverly had a way to keep Mackie on screen without betraying that horrible cliff-hanger; her transformation into a Cyberman. After rescuing the Doctor from the other Cybermen she awoke as the old Bill we know in a barn two weeks later, unaware of what terrible fate had befallen her.
The audience knew of course and the reactions of the humans on the farm up on the solar powered level of the ship spoke volumes, but it was still horrible to see her realise that the trauma had masked her perception of what had really happened - that she truly was a monster. Mackie delivered a more sorrowful version of the lively companion who asked all those many questions back at the start of series 10 and it was both painful and mesmerising to watch.
Lucas too was a joy, transformed into the somber war hero as he used his vast knowledge to help the humans fight off the attacking Cybermen. The muslin-wrapped faces of the enemy in the opening scenes were evocative of the chilling scarecrows from series three's Human Nature / The Family Of Blood two-parter and the ever increasing threat as the Cybermen used the advantage of 'more time' to evolve led to the return of the Cybus and current modern Cybermen (though I would have liked an 80's era cyberman thrown in too). The attacks were swift and brutal but didn't overtake the episode. As I mentioned previously, I was worried the episode would descend into an hour of explosion but the action was surprisingly minimal, used for striking effect at key moments and only really letting loose in the final act.
Instead, the majority of the episode took the time to explore the character journeys. The Doctor desperately tried to find a way to save the humans, despite the derision of the Master, who was more fascinated in exploring his partnership with Missy. She tried to fight off the feelings of good until the last moment, leading to her betrayal. Bill struggled with her identity as a monster, particularly in the moments where children ran screaming from her. Nardole continued to mix comic timing with a sweet kinship with Samantha Spiro's matriarch Hazran who kept the community together and had a lovely flirtation with him. After a very bittersweet farewell to the Doctor and Bill, we last saw Nardole and Hazran leading humanity to safety through the upper reaches of the ship. Lucas has completely won me over this series and this final shot of him waiting for the Doctor, keeping humanity alive was a great ending, while leaving the possibility open for a return later on.
But with Nardole, Missy and the Master resolved, it was all about the fates of Bill and the Doctor and this was where Rachel Talalay's terrific direction came to the fore as they held the last stand against the encroaching Cybermen. The scenes in the woods as the various types closed in and the Doctor activated one explosion after another was terrific, ending with that harrowing moment where he was repeatedly shot, leading towards his encroaching regeneration. Bill crying over his body as the rain fell and Murray Gold delivered a stupendously good score was a powerful moment in what was an incredibly emotive episode.
The surprise return of Stephanie Hyam's pilot from The Pilot was a lovely full circle moment from Moffat, allowing her to save Bill without making it wholly contrived. Yes you could argue that it's another saving the companion from certain death moment, but this was far better and simpler than Clara. I groaned when Hell Bent found a way to bring Clara back; this time was that I smiled when Heather took Bill from the cyber suit and allowed her and the Doctor to return to the TARDIS. Again, there will be those that argue that Bill (now transformed into an alien) and Heather travelling off into the stars was a repeat of Clara and Me but this felt far more natural, given the set up at the start of series 10. With the promise to make Bill human again - allowing her to return if Chibnall wants it - it was a very sweet ending for this companion. And as much as I want more Pearl Mackie in Doctor Who, I'm happy if this is how the show ends her story.
And it also appears the rumours were true, as the Doctor struggled to fight off his regeneration and stumbled out of the TARDIS into the snow and was confronted with David Bradley's First Doctor. I adored his portrayal of William Hartnell in the 50th anniversary special An Adventure In Space And Time and it sets up the end of Capaldi's journey with a very special - and different - two Doctors story to finish of his tenure (and Moffat's) this Christmas. With all the unnecessary reveals this season, from the Mondasian cybermen to the return of John Simm's Master, this was a nice surprise at the end of Capaldi's final series.
The Doctor Falls was a wonderful end to series 10, bringing a sense of closure to Bill, Nardole and Missy while setting up a delightful Two Doctors tale for Christmas Day. It's been quite a series too; while it might not have different quite the classic standard of much of series nine, there was a breath of fresh air about Bill and a simplicity to Moffat's final full series. And as always Peter Capaldi was a joy from start to finish.
I am definitely going to miss those speeches.