Sunday 2 July 2017

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who 10x12 - The Doctor Falls

Doctor Who 10x12 - The Doctor Falls

After 12 (mostly) fantastic weeks, but the time has finally come for Doctor Who series 10 to come to an end. Along with that comes goodbye to Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, Michelle Gomez as Missy, Steven Moffat as showrunner and quite likely Pearl Mackie and Matt Lucas as Bill Potts and Nardole too. Well, this is true for some of those anyway as we already know Capaldi and Moffat will both be returning for the Christmas special before handing the reins over to new showrunner Chris Chibnall and the currently unknown new Doctor. But regardless regeneration is in the air, and following the sheer horror of World and Time Enough there's two Masters, a newly born army of Cybermen and Bill's transformation into a Cybermen to deal with as The Doctor Falls...

The Doctor sees doubleBill comes to terms with her new appearance

Bill is now a Cyberman, and now the Doctor has been captured by two incarnations of the Master. While he's able to foil their plan quickly, there's still the issue of a newly created Cyber army slowly rising up through the floors of the colony shape. Taking refuge on a solar farm where the last few humans protect children from the Cybermen prototypes, the Doctor struggles to find a way to defeat the oncoming threat while Bill has to come to terms with her transformation.

As the Cybermen approach and the two Masters are more interested in self-preservation than co-operation, the end is quickly approaching for the Doctor. Holding back regeneration as long as he can, the Doctor makes one last gamble to save everyone with only Bill left at his side.

Rise of the CybermenThe Doctor's last stand

It's a well-known trend with Doctor Who finales that the second part of the story rarely lives up to the first, and thanks to the incredible World Enough and Time the bar was set particularly high this time around. While The Doctor Falls sadly doesn't manage to buck this trend, it certainly far stronger than Capaldi's previous two series finales Death in Heaven and Hell BentEven if the Doctor is currently refusing to comply with time and his own biology, it certainly has the makings of a great regeneration story. The Doctor makes his last stand with no sort of plan or hope, failing not only to save Bill but also to get through to the Master and get his oldest friend to stand alongside him. The irony is of course that Bill is saved and he did eventually get through to Missy, but he'll probably never know. Capaldi gets one more chance to make some big rousing speeches (which mostly fall on deaf ears, but the thought still counts) and makes a great stand as a Doctor whose just ready for it all to end. His faux-regeneration had much more of a classic tinge to it, treating it more like a death where the newer ones feel more like grand rebirths. Previous finales have always hinged on some sort of world-ending disaster, but this felt like a strictly character-led affair even if it was set to a backdrop of dozens of Cybermen being blown up across fields. It was also one where the Doctor failed to save everyone - the children are still on a spaceship desperately trying to escape a black hole, and there's still Cybermen coming after them. For a show which over time has moulded the Doctor into an infallible hero, the outcome here was surprisingly bleak.

Thankfully the episode held onto the horror of Bill becoming a Cyberman for as long as it could, and with some brilliant framing was able to continue using Pearl Mackie while also getting the point across succinctly. That first scene of her waking up in the barn and having to come to terms with her appearance is just exquisite, with moments like the mirror and the shadow on the wall capturing the shock perfectly. It's a shame that there wasn't more of the episode viewed from the other characters' point of view to see them interacting with a Cyberman (the episode in general was extremely short of Cyberman dialogue), but the little we did see worked really nicely alongside the shots of normal Bill.

Death of the DoctorGoodbye Nardole

Also getting a strong episode was Nardole, who sadly never quite got the development he needed over the course of the series. He's been a fantastic companion and friend to both the Doctor and Bill, but he came and left without any real indication of his background or even who the hell he really was. Lines like "This is me we’re talking about. Me. You know what I was like.” carry no weight whatsoever, and now we'll never even get an inkling of what he was talking about either. Still, what we did get to see of him was always a pleasure, and he'll be missed just as much as Bill was.

However despite strong characterisation for both the Doctor and Bill, it's actually the two incarnations the Master that completely steals the show (for ease in differentiating them, I'm going to refer to Simm's version as the Master and Gomez's as Missy). Having the Doctor quickly solve the Master's scheme (if you can even call it that) in the first five minutes comes as a bit of a surprise, but it gives way to an even better tale of two Masters - one where the Master has to come to terms with what he's about to become, and Missy has to learn to let go of what she left behind. The Master's wit is as razor sharp as ever, playing brilliantly off Missy's own dry sense of humour as well as the Doctor and CyberBill. Although the episode title suggests this was the Doctor's swansong The Doctor Falls is in fact the perfect end for the Master, as we say goodbye to both incarnations in possibly the most fitting way possible.

The Doctor, the Master and MissyMissy and the Master

But for all the strong delivery and characterisation The Doctor Falls has, it still suffers from the same glaring problem that has befallen every finale the Cybermen have been involved in - they're reduced to just part of the scenery. After the chilling horror of World and Time Enough it felt like Moffat had finally cracked what really makes the Cybermen work after so many failed attempts, but this episode seems to just take two steps backwards once again. The eerie proto-Cybermen "scarecrows" are never truly explained, and quickly pushed aside in favour of the Mondasian Cybermen marching along armies of both the current and Cybus versions. While the intention is clear, putting the three Cybermen variants together fails not only because it doesn't make sense (even if the Cybermen on the lower levels had hundreds of years to advance, surely they'd run out of raw materials for upgrades being stuck down there?) but also because it highlights just how awful the newer versions look compared to a design from 1966. All that wonderful body horror is lost in metal giants stomping ridiculously through forests, getting thrown around by explosions like rag dolls. The handling of Bill episode shows that Cybermen can be handled brilliantly on a singular basis, but any time there's more than one of them things seem to go horribly awry.

The other problem this episode had was Bill's departure. While it was clear from the very beginning that she was going to stay a Cyberman forever, it certainly could have been handled in a way that felt much less like a cop-out. Bringing back Heather/the Pilot from Bill's very first episode was a great idea, and the way it was tied in to the tear gimmick worked excellently. But having her show up, use godlike abilities to just fix everything in the blink of an eye and then run off with Bill felt like such an easy way out, as if her becoming a Cyberman never truly had weight in the first place because it was that easy to resolve. The idea of her leaving to travel the world with Heather wasn't a problem in itself, but the fact that it was almost a note for note rehash of Clara's exit a mere one season ago certainly didn't work in its favour.

The modern era CybermenHeather and Bill reunite

These complaints are quickly silenced by the brilliant tease for this year's Christmas special though, which will see the 12th Doctor meet up with the first Doctor (played by David Bradley, who previously portrayed William Hartnell in the An Adventure in Space and Time docu-drama) just as he's about to undergo regeneration himself. Not only is this a fantastic idea for a story, but there are just so many parallels between these two Doctors that make it work. They're both "older" interpretations of the character, their final episodes both featured Cybermen and they're both the firsts in separate regeneration cycles. It'll be interesting to see how two Doctors are able to overcome whatever threat they have to face at Christmas while they're at their weakest, but whatever the outcome this year's special is going to be exactly that.

The regeneration starts"The original, you might say."

The Doctor Falls is a story brimming with brilliant characterisation, but sadly falls short on some significant areas. The Cybermen are just set pieces to show off a bunch of explosions, Nardole fails to barely leave an impression on Who lore and Bill's far too premature departure from the TARDIS is fitting but soured by a complete lack of originality. Making up for these flaws are the brilliant performances by Capaldi, Mackie, Gomez and Simm - all of whom excel in their final (or close to final) appearances. All in all it's been a pretty fantastic year for Doctor Who, with extremely consistent quality across the whole series and only a few little blips along the way. Here's to the Christmas special, where two Doctors meet up to talk about how neither of them want to change. If every series could be this good, I wouldn't want things to change either.


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