I had tentative hopes for the conclusion of Doctor Who series 10. World Enough and Time had teed up the possibility of an entertaining adventure, featuring not one but two Masters, and the Doctor in an epic battle with the Cybermen. Instead … we ended up with quite a lot of recycled ideas and themes, which did not result in a terribly satisfying conclusion.
It’s an enormous pity, because the first forty minutes of The Doctor Falls are superb. The tension builds wonderfully, and while both John Simm’s Master and Michelle Gomez’s Missy are criminally underused, they steal just about every scene that they appear in. And Bill, supposedly consigned to a fate worse than death, manages to retain her character in a beautifully directed story, capturing Bill’s character fighting her supposed Cyber-conversion. All wonderful elements … so what went wrong?
In short? Too many recycled tropes. We had the Doctor facing against an unstoppable force with death apparently the only answer … pretty much like The Parting of the Ways and The Time of the Doctor. We had a companion ‘saved’ by the power of … love? Lust? Being fancied a bit? Either way, the return of Bill’s love interest Heather from The Pilot was distinctly underwhelming, echoing Moffat’s unwillingness to kill off Clara at the end of Season 9, and is perhaps the series worst use of Deus Ex Machina to rescue a companion. Rather like with Extremis, but also Hell Bent, if death doesn’t mean death, it loses all of the emotional impact. It was a massive, disappointing cop out.
I also must profess to disappointment with the fate of the two Time Lords. I know some fans thought it perfect that Missy and the Master ended up killing each other; I found it beyond credulity that the Master, obsessed with keeping himself alive, would take his own life. That one didn’t scan for me. Whereas the Doctor laying down his life … I have no difficulty believing given his past history, but find a little surprising given that the Doctor usually finds a way to escape; it sometimes feels like Moffat and the team have got into a lazy stereotype of forcing the Doctor to conclude he has to lay down his life to save the day.
In all though – I did enjoy most of the episode, and I cannot fault any of the main cast. Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie have both demonstrated that they deserved a further season beyond this one – that they have to leave now, and in such a hamfisted fashion, is incredibly short sighted by the BBC. Missy has grown on me, and this story has helped to cement the idea that her character was on a journey rather than a pure reflection of previous Masters, and even Nardole proved an enjoyable addition to the TARDIS crew. I do finish this season incredibly frustrated however, because there was so much potential – a superb cast, and some really clever ideas. The final product however felt like it needed a second draft – it seemed rushed rather than polished. For that reason, even though I much prefer Bill to Clara, and Peter Capaldi has been without parallel in this season, I think I prefer Season 9 for the strength of the stories.
All of this however pales when one considers the final five minutes of the story, where Capaldi arrives alone in a snowy landscape, fighting off an impending regeneration, only to encounter … his very first incarnation! Portrayed by David Bradley, who played William Hartnell in the 50th Anniversary docu-drama An Adventure in Space and Time, the BBC confirmed that the Christmas Special, Capaldi’s final episode, would feature both the first and twelfth Doctors together. Sadly, as with World Enough and Time, the reveal was forecast by others – a further painful reminder that spoilers can get in the way of enjoyable reveals. I’m pleased to say though that even anticipating this may happen did not diminish the sheer excitement of seeing the first Doctor on our screens again. I’m looking forward to Christmas with great excitement!