Escaping His Fate
♦Our man in Los Angeles, Robert Cave, takes a look at the twelth episode of Doctor Who Series 10, The Doctor Falls, its season finale, which was on last Saturday on BBC1 in the UK…
Director: Rachel Talalay
Writer: Steven Moffat
Stars: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas
Well, that was bittersweet, wasn’t it? The curtain hasn’t quite fallen on the Peter Capaldi /Steven Moffat era yet, the pair will return one more time for the 2017 Christmas special, but it seems that moment has been prepared for by this finale – it certainly did a lot to clear the decks for the arrival of incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall.
Cybermen were vanquished, companions were dismissed, and we got to see a possible conclusion to Missy/Master’s story. I say “possible” because there is no way the Master will be written out for good any more than xe could be permanently reformed – that would deprive future writers of too good a villain. Still I can’t help yearning for the character growth that is just hinted at here. Oh what adventures the Doctor could have with the mercurial Missy/Master, John Simm and Michelle Gomez will be much missed.
Of course, with so much going on, it would be easy for the plot to feel at least slightly mechanical, which would in an odd way be appropriate for a cyberman story, but thanks to the skill of the principle cast I genuinely felt the narrative stakes. Nardole’s characterisation and skill set has been uneven throughout his time as a companion, but throughout Matt Lucas has certainly demonstrated his formidable range.
And then we have Pearl Mackie’s Bill, the shortest serving of the modern companions (even Donna got some festive specials in addition to her single series) her departure cuts all the deeper as it really feels like we were only just getting to know her. I would gladly have swapped the three-part monks trilogy for a few more one-off stories like “Thin Ice.” Mackie really sold Bill’s denial, horror, anger and acceptance over being turned into a cyberman.
The way in which she escaped this grim fate did feel a bit trite, bringing back the under-developed love interest from this series’ opening episode to grab Bill Ex Machina, but I was willing to go with it precisely because this was not the Doctor’s doing. He failed to rescue Bill and the only thing that could save her was pursuing her own path with someone she could (literally) build a life with. All companions have to leave sometime and there are worse ways to go than with a cutie of your choice.
There were a lot of call backs and references to the show’s history, many of which were probably a bit excessive, but ultimately paid off in the end when the Doctor, on the brink of regeneration, arrives in the snowy landscape of Antarctica seemingly mid-way through the First Doctor regeneration story “Tenth Planet.” I did wonder if that was where we were heading in last week’s review and I’m excited to see David Bradley finally get to play the Doctor, as opposed to playing William Hartnell playing the doctor, as he did in the 2013 docudrama “An Adventure in Space and Time.”
Outside of all that, I loved seeing Nardole’s shuttle flying up through the ground – when was the last time you saw that on a sci-fi TV series? I also kind of liked the tacit acknowledgement that the various bits of cyberman continuity are pretty much irreconcilable. The explanation that there are lots of different cyberman with various different planets of origin makes total sense and frees up future writers to pick the version of the villains they like the best.
If Steven Moffat were to be one of those writers I would not be displeased. It may seem unlikely right now that the current Doctor Who showrunner could be content to submit scripts for someone else to turn into television episodes, but he created some brilliant work under just such constraints during the Russell T. Davis era.
If I had any complaint it would be a totally unjustified moan that we didn’t get to see either the Master or the Doctor regenerate. With the Master, I get that not seeing it happen on screen enables future writer to decide whether or not Simm and Gomez’s characters really are, as implied throughout this story, successive in carnations of the same character but with the Doctor I really do just want my Christmas presents early. I don’t want to have to wait another six months to find which actor will be filling the role when Chibnall takes over.
This series has left me wanting more, and surely that can’t be a bad attribute for the world’s longest running sci-fi show.
See you at Christmas.