The Doctor Falls – Doctor Who Finale Review
I know my review style has tended to focus on the themes and ideas of an episode rather than a blow by blow recounting. But The Doctor Falls has so many things I want to comment on it’s hard to know where to start. I’m going to try to go through it bit by bit and see how far we get.
My initial thoughts were somewhat mixed, I have to say. There were a lot of really great scenes and ideas throughout. However, the story holding it all together didn’t, well, hold it all together. Moreover, having seen where this was all heading, it’s hard not to immediately think of missed opportunities to strengthen it.
But, without further ado, let’s take a look at The Doctor Falls, Steven Moffat’s final finale!
The Two Masters
Having two Masters in one story is certainly something I have been wanting to see for a while. The Big Finish audios have done it a couple of times, but this is the first time the TV series has. What’s more, John Simm brings his usual energy and flare, with nods to the classic era Masters that just made him a joy to watch.
Here is the Master absolutely enjoying his utterly evil persona. There is little to no subtlety in Simm’s Master anymore, and he is clearly having the time of his life. That being said, I did enjoy the moments of emotion from Simm back in the Russell T Davies era. It always felt like an attempt to give the Master more character, make him more than just a pantomime villain and recapture something of the Delgardo version. Despite the return of the beard, there was little enough of that here.
This isn’t the Master we saw in The Sound of Drums or The End of Time. For the sake of the story, he represents the dark side of the Master; irredeemable and unwilling to be redeemed. He’s almost a caricature of the Master. It put me in mind of Jonathan Pryce’s portrayal in the 1999 parody (written by Moffat), The Curse of Fatal Death.
This serves as a temptation for Missy to turn back to the ‘dark side’. We are given a few moments where she seems to go from one side to the other with increasing uncertainty. This is an idea I really like and could talk a lot about Missy’s arc this series. But it was underplayed and lost a lot of its impact. Perhaps if we had had more of it through the series, rather than being hastily thrown in at the last few episodes.
The other big part of this episode was Bill dealing with her conversion into a Cyberman. This is something that had caused a lot of big reactions across the fandom with some praising the shock ending, others (myself included) worried that it was harmful. I approached this episode with trepidation at how it would be resolved, if at all.
Having Bill imagine herself outside of the Cyberman ‘suit’ was a powerful visual and allowed us to connect with her. And we got to see more of Pearl Mackie’s amazing performance. However, the story does Bill no favours. Having had so much of herself ripped from her (literally) she has to rely even more on the Doctor. It was unsettling to see her not exhibiting the agency, curiosity and adventurer’s spirit we had fallen in love with.
In the end, Heather returns, Bill’s love interest from episode one (for those who had, understandably, forgotten). She tells us that she has been watching Bill all along, and in her hour of need she turned Bill into a puddle-creature to save her. We are told that she can turn her back into a human, if she wants. But first, she heads out to see the universe with her new love.
There were a lot of echos of Clara’s departure from series nine. Especially as the Doctor is completely unaware of what happened and Bill is now living out her magical adventure with her girlfriend in much the same way Clara did.
The fact that Bill was revived and got her happily ever after was sweet and more than welcome. However, it did serve to hammer home the fact that her ‘death’ and conversion to a cyberman was, ultimately, a stunt for shock value. Plenty of people were appalled that the first black lesbian companion was treated so harshly primarily for the cliffhanger ending. It felt cheap, and it felt unnecessary.
I don’t want to give the impression that this was all bad, though. We certainly have reasons to feel good about this episode and what was achieved. The first same sex kiss between two human women on Doctor Who must be a watershed moment.
Pearl Mackie cemented herself as a brilliant companion and was nothing but a joy to watch, in her highs and lows. It was good to see that she got a happy ending, and in some ways, a character that triumphs over tremendous adversity and suffering can create more dramatic joy with their happy endings. That doesn’t erase the fact that, in the wider context of our society, there are still major issues with the way it was done.
I Don’t Want to Go
Now we come to the big climax. The Doctor is regenerating and he doesn’t want to. But why? He declares sudden anxieties about changing. Anxieties we haven’t really seen before. When did we see this Doctor being so possessive about his current persona?
I understand that most Doctors likely prefer not to die, but to completely deny the change for the Doctor to continue with a new persona is just a bit odd. Capaldi’s Doctor has been generally kind, selfless, and loving. Thus he seems not to be the type to resent the idea of regenerating. Perhaps this will be explored at Christmas, but still, this sudden decision to make the Twelfth Doctor reluctant to regenerate was bizarre.
When he meets his original self in the snow, this is setting up for the Christmas special which, I suspect, will explore why the Doctor doesn’t want to change. Even so, it would have been nice to have had this set up before hand, because right now it comes across as out of character for this Doctor.
The Tenth had demonstrated and shown his unwillingness to change and how much he had loved his tenth persona. Thus, when his final ‘I don’t want to go’ line came, it was earned somewhat. Here it’s just off.
So we are set up for a Christmas Special featuring the first Doctor. David Bradley returns from An Adventure in Space and Time to reprise the roll (sort of). That is incredibly exciting and I very much am looking forward to it. And, of course, to who the next Doctor Will be.
Next week, no new Doctor Who! Phew!