Previously on Doctor Who, “World Enough and Time”
Steven Moffat has officially left the TARDIS, and behind him a swath of carnage leaking tendrils of hope. With all the thematic work on racism, imperialism, redemption, and trust, the season finale did not quite pay off on the thick foundation the series laid, instead focusing on giving its five shining stars a venue to go out in a blaze of acting glory and tug at heart strings with tragic notes that are never truly final on a show like this. Introducing a surprise community of solar farm countryside-raised Mondasian children, “The Doctor Falls” provides an undeniably noble object for all involved to focus on and save, providing little time for digging deeply into pathos the season tried so desperately to build towards.
“Where there’s tears, there’s hope.”
The Doctor cannot solve everything, and Bill’s conversion, no matter how much he reassures her, is one of those things. Through Missy, Moffat makes sure we know that while Bill’s body appears fairly intact and her mind continues to fight the programming, the process from heart patient to full Cyberman, even an early one, is more like making sausage than making a Borg. Director Rachel Talalay brings us into acceptance of Bill’s state as she experiences it with beautiful shots swirling around Bill the human, into a mirror reflecting the Cyberman, and out again in her full cybernetic costume. Moments of denial start with her hand touching her hair and end with the hand proving to be a glove. The shadow her human body throws is the Cyberman silhouette. Hearkening back to “Deep Breath,” the Doctor swears he will save her no matter what it takes, but like that wayward T-Rex stumbling through industrially-marred London, Bill is already beyond his reach. Struggling with the idea that she waited 10 years for him to descend only to miss him by two hours, a moment of temper sets her laser flying, blowing the barn doors.
Barn doors. A symbol of the Doctor’s nature and abilities. Nardole accepts this accident with nervous laughter, but the audience questions, How can this be the end of Bill, when Clara got an entire season of setup and still never truly died? An escape valve from “The Pilot” proves key. After releasing Heather, Bill wipes a tear away and comments that she doesn’t think it’s hers. Here, once the Cybermen are destroyed, the Doctor lays dying, and Bill is sobbing her goodbyes, the Pilot rises from a battlefield puddle, revealing that she tracked Bill through tears all along. She disassembles the ground-up Bill cyber-molecules and reassembles them into Bill the human–after all, she says, they’re just atoms. The two return the Doctor to the TARDIS, and Heather offers her a Doctor’s Choice: travel the universe with her or return to her earthly life. A lovely kiss, and Bill leads the way into the wild black yonder.
Despite the relatively happy ending, I don’t feel that Bill’s doom was adequately set up through the season, nor deserved, especially when the Doctor learns nothing from it, as he has no idea he got his companion killed and then she maybe-kinda lived anyway. A short bonus scene reveals the Doctor obliviously playing the guitar the night Heather and Bill met, and other than his presence, he has absolutely nothing to do with her ultimate salvation, not even realizing that the tear he suspiciously examines is something more than an anomaly of Bill’s clinging humanity. Argh.
I get the idea Moffat was trying to accomplish with Bill–she never could truly be herself, for whatever reason, didn’t really fit in, and was one in a billion–but I don’t like it. This idea that because Bill was an orphan, didn’t tell her foster mother she was gay, had a job so she wasn’t truly a university student, and met a girl she liked who was killed doesn’t mean her human life is so extraordinary that it couldn’t be saved. That’s actually pretty mundane. Further, isn’t this exactly the ending Clara and Ashildr had? Running off together into the universe? The whole thing smacks of Moffat’s love for ends that aren’t ends, and companions lost in the ether of space, time, and memory, and is otherwise unnecessary.
My biggest question is, why? Is the universe trying to teach the Doctor that no matter how hard he tries to save his loved ones, he’s cursed to lose them, die for them and then completely forget them? I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly find that message hopeful, Moffat.
“I was secretly on your side all along, you silly sausage.”
Speaking of things the Doctor will never know, after providing the most incredible scenes between the three Time Lords (or two in three bodies), Missy and the Master presumably meet their mutually self-inflicted, appropriately tragic end. Although Missy plays along with the Master’s games, dancing while the Doctor watches helplessly bound to a wheelchair, mocking Bill’s conversion, mirroring his gross self-flirtation, and mimicking his evil planning stances, Michelle Gomez throws some brilliant shading glances, indicating Missy’s return to reason and her friend. Eons ago, when the two Gallifreyan schoolchildren struck out into the universe like gods of chaos and order, their affinity, twisted though it may be, never wavered, and it now comes full circle. The Doctor knowingly calls out the “stupid, round face” Master for undoubtedly crashing his TARDIS on the doomed ship and setting himself up as a king until the people revolted. Even in so-called opposites, schoolyard friends are more alike than they might admit; it’s nothing the Doctor hasn’t done himself, albeit more democratically, in the town Christmas. He deflates the Master’s ego by declaring Cybermen an inevitability of evolution with no seed of evil.
The Doctor then tricks his frenemy into taking a personal interest by using a duo-induced chaotic moment to induct them all into the human race by tweaking the Cyberman programming to target two hearts as well as one. Once they all make their way to the farm floor, the Masters set up the door for Operation Exodus and join the Doctor in facing off the first of the weaponized Cybermen, but that’s as far as the Master is willing to cooperate. Despite a passionate speech from the Doctor begging them to stand with him, the Master is out of reach, and, chemistry crackling between the oldest of friends, Missy wrenches out of the Doctor’s grasp to saunter into the woods after him.
“Stand with me, it’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“Me, too. But no. Sorry, just, no, but thanks for trying.”
As they make their way to the door and back to the TARDIS, explosions flying through the background, Missy lures the Master back into her embrace, admiring what it was like to be him, only to stab him with a knife hidden up her Victorian sleeve and leave him just enough time to make it back to his ship, assuming perhaps wrongly he regenerates into her. It’s time, she determines, to stand with the Doctor, but the Master would rather permanently die and shoots Missy in the back on a setting that prevents their regeneration. The irony, she laughs as she dies, the Doctor clueless that he was always right about his friend. I hate to see Michelle Gomez go, but there is always that time loop in between and perhaps a regeneration neither expects or remembers.
“I’m going to name the town after you. A really rubbish one.”
For Nardole, it is a somewhat sweet ending, giving us a clue as to what he’s been doing the last hundred years besides nagging the Doctor by busting out a laptop and hijacking the floor’s programming to weaponize fuel lines hidden under the turf. Despite his protest that, given three people, he’d start a black market and sell them back to the ship by month’s end, his robotic heart is ultimately noble, which surely River knew. Overseeing the fortification of the ranch, befriending the children, and attracting the flirtations of their nanny Hazran, Nardole finds new purpose in leading the plucky survivors to the solar farm level to live out their lives as Bill jokes that he will find the words to say goodbye after he leaves.
“You’re wrong you know. Quite wrong. I will never be able to find the words.”
In a lovely goodbye moment, he leaves the Doctor and Bill with a little nod and a bow, swearing to name a “really rubbish town” and maybe a pig after the Doctor for taking the sacrifice from him, but settles in quickly, ever the previously-blue chameleon. Just don’t think too hard about how the ship escapes the event horizon, if it ever does, and you’ll find me rocking in a corner somewhere about it in the near future.
“Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand, is where I fall.”
At last, the Doctor. While everyone else is making peace with their ends, the Doctor’s Crazy Hair quotient reaches epic proportions as he scrambles towards the only possible solution: blow the entire floor once the Cybermen ascend to it, with him and Bill keeping them there while the settlers escape. Ping-ponged between the Master, Missy, Bill, and Nardole, he hasn’t much to do himself except offer Alit, the only little girl with lines, a Jelly Baby, plead with his cohorts for assistance, and sit on the porch with a gun until the sunrise reveals the Cyberman incursion has begun.
With Bill manning the back of the house, the Doctor whirls and twirls through the field and forest, wielding his sonic screwdriver as he artfully explodes fuel lines in the most fantastic action scene of the season. At last he is caught in the back by a death ray, and fighting his regeneration, screams in refusal as he goes down, charred and broken.
“Time enough. Pity, no stars. I’d hoped there’d be stars.”
Bill weeps over his body, and Heather helps deliver it back to the TARDIS, which begins the process against his will. Past companions call his name as he wakes to the regeneration energy, and he scolds the TARDIS for taking him one more place, to which she responds with the Cloister Bell. He stumbles out, plunging his glowing fists into the snow and calling out to a shadow that he’s the Doctor. David Bradley, reprising his role from An Adventure in Space and Time as William Hartnell’s First Doctor, replies with a line Twelve used against the Cybermen’s insistence that doctors are no longer required:
“You may be a doctor, but I am the Doctor. The original, you might say.”
With promises that the two will return for the Christmas special, the episode closes as a fantasy fanfic designed for the series’ most passionate fan of a Doctor, Peter Capaldi. Moffat granted him a moment with his favorite Mondasian Cybermen and allowed for an impressive action sequence for a Doctor, although I found it abrupt. I also don’t truly understand, after all that regeneration talk and companion reminders that he must stand guard between the portals and humanity, why he is so doggedly determined to end his timeline. “The Doctor Falls” was a nice blend of fan and actor wishes, but logically the plot doesn’t follow through with, and even contradicts, the seasonal themes. If Cybermen are evolutionary inevitabilities, what was all that imperialism and racism talk about? Why was it so important that we trust the Doctor if he’s tired of doing his job and can’t even be honest about his limitations? If he doesn’t know what’s happening to his own companions and friends, how can he learn and grow? If this was his main farewell, why were the best moments between Missy and the Master? All these questions and more, not answered this season finale.
Until Christmas, Whovians.
Quotes, References, & Stray Thoughts
- Alit means previously moving but now settled.
- Nardole has Alit toss an apple, “humanity’s first weapon,” on a fuel line to begin the battle. A lovely bit of symbolism as Alit stands for innocence and apples stand for rebellion (see: Garden of Eden).
- The Doctor has neither died by stabbing nor drowning.
- The Patients that make their way onto floor 507 are strung up like scarecrows, evoking horror stories and movies across the ages.
- I loved the Master trying on Missy’s eyeliner, which somehow seems more evil on him.
- “I love being surrounded. That means everyone is looking at me.”
- When Nardole leaves the Doctor, there is a painting of lilies in the background. This seems like a reference, but I’m not sure to what.
- “I don’t want to go” was the Tenth Doctor’s last line, while “when the Doctor was me” is from the Eleventh’s goodbye speech.
- “Sontarans perverting the course of history!” was Tom Baker’s first line and appeared in “Listen.”
- Bill’s line, “I don’t want to live if I can’t be myself anymore,” is reminiscent of Ashildr’s conversion into a cybernetic immortal, insisting on calling herself only “Me.”
- Missy to Master: “I loved being you. Every second of it. Oh, the way you burn. Like a sun. Like a whole screaming world on fire. I remember that feeling, and I always will. And I will always miss it.”
- Bill: “You know how I’m always about women and usually people my own age, Yeah, well I’m glad you knew that.” This feels like a reverse of this Doctor telling Clara he wasn’t her boyfriend.
- “Does that feel dead to you? It’s just a different kind of life.”
- Bill spends the hour trying to come to terms with her conversion, much like the oft-lamented Oswin Oswald who was/was not a Dalek, and Jackson Lake who was not the Doctor.
- Heather joins River, Missy, and Nardole in being able to fly the TARDIS, because after all, she is The Pilot.
Doctor Who S10E12
"The Doctor Falls"
Starring: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas, John Simm, Michelle Gomez | Written by: Steven Moffat | Directed by: Rachel Talalay