Here it is, the final chapter of Series 10, one last season finale for Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi (and Michelle Gomez, and possibly but hopefully not Rachel Talalay). “The Doctor Falls” opens with an in medias res within an in medias res on Floor 507, a solar farm inside the Mondasian colony ship. A Cyberman, Bill, arrives in a pod with the Doctor in her arms… But back to where we were at the end of the last episode. The Masters are having fun gloating after they knocked the Doctor out and now they just enjoy mocking him about Bill’s horrible fate and the full on Cyberman conversion that’s about to take place.
In a rather awkwardly paced move the Doctor reveals that he reprogrammed the definition of human so the Cybermen would go after the Time Lords as well, as they are looking for humanoids with one or two hearts. The Masters panic and escape with Nardole, the Doctor and Bill. Nardole takes charge when they arrive on Floor 507, where two weeks later they are all planning on evacuating the children and stopping the Cybermen. Well, the Masters are another matter, Simm’s is mostly being an absolute arsehole and Missy is not sure whether to go along with her previous self or stand with the Doctor.
In the meanwhile, the Doctor breaks the news to Bill that she went through full conversion and that she’s a Cyberman. He’s desperate to help her and she’s in denial about the whole thing, so much so that she still sees herself as she used to be (thank glob, at least Moffat had the decency to get Pearl Mackie to play her for the most part). She really is a Cyberman though, and as she’s slowly coming to terms with that she makes it clear to the Doctor that she’d rather die than lose herself.
They find lifts and are planning on transporting the children to another floor but the Cybermen from the bottom find them thanks to it, so they don’t have much time to come up with a plan, especially because their enemies have “evolved” – an excuse to feature the two newest versions of the Cybermen, really. Using the TARDIS is (in)conveniently out of the picture so Nardole figures out a way to use fuel and trick the Cybermen into thinking they are more powerful than they actually are. When a few Cybermen are destroyed, they decide to prepare for a proper attack instead of trying to convert everyone.
The Masters decide to leave, they only care about their own survival after all. The Doctor begs both of them to help him as he’s not trying to protect the people on the floor out of anything but kindness and compassion. Simm’s Master is completely unfazed but Missy almost doesn’t leave him behind. Almost. The Doctor, having realized that he has to blow the floor up along with the Cybermen and himself sends Nardole and the Mondasians to another floor so they can be safe, at least for a while. Bill insists on staying, she’s not planning on living much longer anyway.
While on their way back to Simm’s TARDIS, the Masters almost literally stab each other – themselves – in the back. Missy stabs the Master so he can regenerate into her and she can go back to help the Doctor, but the Master does… something with his laser screwdriver that should kill Missy for good. The two can do nothing but laugh at the irony of their self-destruction. Regardless, the Doctor defeats the Cybermen even without the help of the Master but sacrifices himself in the process.
Bill survives the attack and is mourning the Doctor as Heather, the Pilot shows up. Throughout the episode the Doctor held onto hope because Bill cried and she wasn’t supposed to be able to do so, but they weren’t her tears. Heather left Bill hers to be able to find her, and through her magical pilot power she brings Bill back to her original body, at least a watery-pilot version of it. They kiss and Bill accepts Heather’s offer to see the universe with her.
They leave the Doctor in the TARDIS and after Bill says goodbye and leaves her tears, the Doctor awakes, remembers a couple of his past companions, a few words from his previous regenerations and decides that he doesn’t want to change bodies again, no matter what. The TARDIS takes him to an icy planet and he manages to suppress the regeneration process. Right after that an old man shows up and declares that he’s the Doctor. The original, you might say.
Let’s just start with the most pressing matter: Bill. I know, it’s the Doctor’s “darkest hour yet”, again, but frankly, I was much more concerned about Bill’s fate throughout the episode. Last week’s episode put her through a lot, to say the last, and considering the cultural context, a lot depended on how her journey ended. To begin with, it did end after only one season, which is unfortunate but not all that surprising, considering how the new showrunner would get a clean slate and that companions don’t always stay for two or more seasons. It’s still a shame that a character as refreshing and brilliant as Bill Potts had to say goodbye so soon, she did get a happy ending and there’s always the chance of seeing her again.
Bill was put through further dehumanization in this episode, by the Mondasians and intentionally by the Master. The mocking of her state was so cruel it was also unnecessary and as we saw her tears and upset reaction it was hard not to feel sad and angry about what has happened to her. Ultimately she became sort of immortal, got to kiss a cute girl (freaking finally, and not to mention at 7.30pm on BBC One) and set sail to explore the universe with said cute girl in a hopefully less stressful manner than before. It’s not a conventional ending, as it never is in Doctor Who, but it is a satisfying one for a character who deserved even better.
The are obvious similarities to the farewell of Clara that happened just last season, who also ran off to have an indefinite amount of adventures with her space girlfriend but honestly, this similarity is the last thing I would complain about. If I do have a complaint about the ending it’s not even the “death is cheap yet again” one, because at this point we can just say that with Moffat no one ever really dies and there’s that. No, instead the complaint I would have is that Bill really was put through so, so much in these two episodes alone that although this ending is a relief, it doesn’t negate all that happened. As Gretchen said about last week’s episode, the damage has been done in regards to Bill’s suffering.
Sure, it’s good that Heather found her and they ran away to be gay and immortal together in space, it’s nice that Steven Moffat has proved that he doesn’t bury his gays but brings them back and gives them some serious spin-off material. Thinking about everything that came before Bill met Heather again is still deeply uncomfortable, and frankly, as much as I love the bookend and that Heather really did come back, it all feels terribly deus ex machina-y. I’m happy because Bill is happy, but the build-up could have been… well, there. Not to mention all the wasted potential with Moira and the more human aspects of Bill, this conclusion to her story feels rather sudden. Then again, it’s Doctor Who and she could return at any time. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll have a Big Finish story detailing an adventure she has with Heather, Clara, and Ashildr, and until then I’m sure all the fanfiction is being written right now.
Bill wasn’t the only companion to say goodbye, Nardole also stepped away from the TARDIS to fulfill his destiny as the Mondasian’s caretaker. His farewell to the Doctor and Bill had an emotional effect that was unforeseen by me, given how little Nardole has developed as a character throughout the season. I’ll give that to this last episode as Nardole finally got to act on his own and be a real badass, get his own storyline and even a potential romantic interest. If only he’s been like this in other, earlier episodes the goodbye would have felt heavier and maybe I would have felt a bit sorry about him leaving. This way, though, it felt more like a simple guest star getting more attention than usual, but not like a proper companion goodbye. It’s a shame because “The Doctor Falls” shows that Nardole can be his own character and not just the comic relief, what with the slightly random black market comments and his general attitude towards the Mondasians. Oh well, goodbye Nardole, I can’t say I’ll miss you all that much.
Yet another goodbye came when the Master shot Missy and she died as a result, closing this are in the villain’s timeline. We all know the Master’s not really dead, I mean, come on. The Master is like Davros, the Daleks, the Cybermen, and indeed like the Doctor himself. The Master ever truly dies but “The Doctor Falls” marked the end of Missy, Michelle Gomez’s interpretation of the character. Thankfully she wasn’t overshadowed by the other Master, they had a delightfully disturbing dynamic that was especially interesting with Missy’s recent redemption, or almost redemption in mind. The sexual tension and the innuendos? Not so great. I get what they were going for, but please, remain tasteful.
The Master’s redemption arc ended up being quite underwhelming, even though she stabbed her previous self in the back to go and help the Doctor and Michelle Gomez portrayed the character wonderfully. I feel like it could still go somewhere with the next Master, it’s just a shame we didn’t get to see it for real with Missy. I also have a feeling that Simm’s Master was more of an obnoxious jerk than necessary, probably to further highlight the difference between the two Masters. Their end at each other’s hands is fitting in a Master kind of way and the best use of the character(s). Could more have been done with actors such as Gomez and Simm? Well, duh. But let’s not be greedy.
Finally there’s the Doctor, Number 12 himself. Darkest hour aside, this episode proved that despite the initial “am I a good man” and dark and edgy wannabe moments, Doctor Who and therefore Twelve’s run is about hope and compassion. Steven Moffat himself has said that this show needs to be positive at the end of the day, hence Bill’s happy ending and the Doctor’s monologue about where he stands. It’s a good message a little undermined by the fact that time and time again season finales are advertised as “the Doctor’s darkest hour yet”, but you’ve got to create the hype somehow.
There are two small criticisms I have: one is how the references went a bit too far this time. I appreciated the canonization of all the Cybermen origin stories, the jelly babies and all the more subtle nods, but Twelve’s “I’m the Doctor” speech, the companions and the repeating of last words might have been a tad bit too much. I’m not going to lie, it felt really good to see the New Who companions again (even though there are continuity issues with Clara’s flashback), but it’s strange to include almost all of them and not any of the Classic ones (except for Sarah Jane, who appeared in New Who anyway). Either do juts Twelve’s companions or include various faces from all or most eras. I get that it was most likely a reference to the Fifth Doctor’s regeneration and believe me, I’ll take any Rose Tyler and other companion references, but it still felt weird.
The other thing is Twelve’s denial about regeneration. It seems like we’re going to have a prolonged regeneration, considering how it was already teased twice during the season. I’m hoping that with David Bradley playing the First Doctor in the Christmas special we’ll have a proper goodbye that’s not trying too hard, but I do wish we won’t have a reluctant regeneration like that of David Tennant. It’s already going to be an interesting period for the audience as we’ll most likely only find out the identity of the Thirteenth Doctor as they make their debut, don’t make it harder by having the Doctor suffer. Regardless, David Bradley as the First Doctor is going to be an emotional sight and the episode has every potential to be an excellent final one for Capaldi.
Here goes Series 10 then. Overall I’d say it got the finale it deserved, even if that wasn’t the best one possible. It was a solid season that suffered a bit because of the Monk trilogy and lacked the emotional arcs that I believe every Moffat era season did. Deus ex machina or not, at least the light of the season was the wonder that was Bill Potts got a happy ending. The downside of that is, of course, the ending and that we had to say goodbye after just this one season, but as I said nothing’s really over in a universe as big as that of Doctor Who. We’ll see how the Christmas special goes but for now I’ll say that this final full season was a worthy end to both Moffat and Capaldi. Not perfect by any chance, kind of clumsy at times, kind of underwhelming in some aspects and not the best possible version of itself, but enjoyable and oddly satisfying at times. Here’s to hoping that this Christmas we’ll have a truly amazing last bow.