Having been had a busy week after World Enough and Time was broadcast I was originally going to write separate reviews for it and The Doctor Falls but having watched the season finale I realised that it would be next to impossible to write a retroactive review of World Enough and Time as a lot of my concerns were addressed in the following episode. So this means you are getting a bumper review of the final two part story of series 10 and there will be spoilers all over the place so consider yourselves warned. If you would like to know my initial thoughts on World Enough and Time were then you can hear them on episode 588 of Radio Free Skaro.
The episode beings in a deceptively light-hearted fashion with Missy pretending to be the Doctor as part of proving she can be trusted. I know there will be many Missy fans who ate these scenes up with a big spoon and I really enjoyed the witty dialogue delivered at the breakneck pace of a classic screwball comedy. I have really warmed to Missy this season as Gomez has been given much more subtle things to do with the more pantomime elements of her character severely dialled down. She has been genuinely funny rather than ‘wacky’ and she has been brilliant in the scenes where she needs to be more threatening. The upbeat comedy is brought to a sudden and shocking halt when Bill is shot through the chest in the middle of the Doctor launching into one of his monologues. It is a huge hole as well just to make sure the viewer knows that there is not much chance of coming out of it.
Then what we have is a narrative split into two halves with the Doctor, Missy and Nardole on the bridge trying to piece together what is going on and Bill waking up after surgery much further down the ship where time is passing much faster thanks to the time dilation effect caused by the ship attempting to escape the gravitational pull of a black hole. It is always fun to see the Doctor Who take on a long standing hard SF idea and it is used really well in this story. Bill is in a hospital that could have come straight from a horror film with the creep masked patients using voice boxes to express their suffering. The moment when Bill realises that all the nurses are doing is turning the volume down when they complain too much will go down as one of the creepiest moments of the show’s history. The odd friendship she strikes up with Mr Razor is rather endearing which makes his ultimate betrayal all the more shocking until you realise who he really is. Then when you learn in The Doctor Falls that this betrayal comes after a friendship that has lasted ten years which makes it even nastier.
Congratulations if you spotted the twist before it was revealed but I am happy that I didn’t twig until Mr Razor began talking to Missy. It really is a fantastic performance from John Simm harkening back to the Master’s more outlandish disguises in the 80s. As others have already observed Simm seems to ba channelling Zathrus from Babylon 5 but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is a well executed twist. When you add this to the the Doctor discovering that Bill has been fully cyber converted into the kind of Cyberman last seen in The Tenth Planet it makes for one of the most shocking cliffhangers the modern show has pulled off. There is something about the original design for the Cybermen that is so much more horrific than their modern counterparts. Mainly it is the fact that you can see parts that still look human. I was rather disappointed to see the more modern versions arrive in The Doctor Falls as for all their sleek, modern design they feel tame compared to the cybernetic Frankenstein’s monsters we see being built in World Enough and Time.
My main concern at the end or the episode was that Bill was being killed off in the finale which would have been an awful decision mainly because it has happened to so many gay and lesbian characters TV Tropes have a name for it. The one part of World Enough and Time that made my toes curl a bit was the moment when the Master declares that Operation Exodus was more like the “Genesis of the Cybermen”. This was too on the nose for me but as overall objections to the episode go it is pretty minor. I was on the edge of my seat by then end and I was excited to see what happened in the next episode.
Initially The Doctor Falls seems to follow the pattern of a lot of Steven Moffat’s season finales insofar as the second part seems to have moved on drastically from the first to the point where it is set somewhere else entirely. However, it soon becomes clear that this is actually another deck of the colony ship into which our heroes (and villains) come crashing in a stolen shuttle. Then there is a flashback to before they arrive with Missy and the Master gleefully taunting a prone Doctor.
Simm’s Master here is everything that I wanted him to be when he first appeared. He’s charming with a dangerous edge and a cruel sense of humour. The prancing madman of Last of the Timelords or the translucent, gluttonous electro-grasshopper of End of Time are nowhere to be found. His relationship with Missy scintillates every time they share the screen though I could have possibly done without the erection gag though I am sure it will launch a million fanfics. From the sight of him putting on eyeliner, his cruel taunting of Bill and his callous dismissal of the Doctor pleading with him to stand at his side, Simm is a magnificent bastard. I am so pleased that he got to give the performance that rehabilitates his Master in my eyes and I hope it is not the last I see of him. Someone at Big Finish should be calling his agent ASAP.
Michelle Gomez is equally brilliant as she portrays Missy being at a crossroads. As much as she revels in her other self’s villainy you can see that her heart isn’t really in it and while the Master is unmoved by the Doctor’s words Missy clearly is but can’t stand with him in the way that he wants, at least not then. The fact that she fully intends to stand at the Doctor’s side but knows that she must deal with her younger self first is heartbreaking. She can’t tell him that she is coming back and is killed before she can return so the Doctor will never know what she wanted to do for him. The final scene where the two incarnations murder each other has all the horrible irony and black humor of a Shakespearean tragedy. The laughter they share as they realise they have killed each other is an oddly beautiful moment and in retrospect feels like what was always going to happen if they spent too long together.
With all of this great stuff happening it is even more to their credit that Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie come out of this head and shoulders above everyone else. Not because anyone else is bad but because they have been outstanding. The clever choice to show Bill as Bill rather than her Cyberman body for the majority of the action is very well judged and allows Mackie to do give an amazing performance as she first goes through denial and then anger at her condition and discovers that her anger is now literally destructive. Bill’s ultimate fate is lovely and put a smile on my face. Some people may think that it was some kind of cheat but it was a happy ending that gave her plenty of agency. She was free to become human again and go home, or to travel with the Doctor, but she choses to go with Heather. It has been too long since we have seen a companion departure be a happy, even joyous, thing so as far as I am concerned this was extremely welcome.
Peter Capaldi is just sensational. Once again he is given a script that knows that if you give Capaldi a powerful speech he will be amazing. His rant at Missy and the Master about how what he is doing isn’t about winning but about being kind is superbly written by Moffat and delivered by Capaldi with a compelling combination of anger and weariness. He is already dying slowly at this point and he is keeping things together just to save a small group of people he doesn’t know. He desperately wants all of this to be over but he can’t stop. His look of dismay and deflation as they both leave is so sad. You can almost see in that moment that he has chosen to make that final grand gesture that he has been falling over himself to try and make all season. Whatever else you may make of the stories of his tenure there can be no denying that Peter Capaldi has been a sensational Doctor and a really hard act to follow.
If there is one person not as well served by this story it is Nardole. With so many other things going on in this story something had to give. Having said that he does get some good moments and his fate as a reluctant leader of a group of refugees is a nice one and reminiscent of the departure of some previous companions. The only question I have with that is the fact that, as far as we are aware, the Cybermen on the lower deck will still be coming at some point so it didn’t feel like such a happy ending in that respect.
Then of course there is that ending. I won’t say much about it other than i threw my hands in the air and cheered when I saw it the first time. I am really looking forward to what the Christmas special is going to do now as it is certainly going to be nothing that we have ever seen before.
Overall this was a bravura season finale with some career best writing from Moffat ably brought to the screen by Rachel Talalay who has sealed her place as one of, if not the, very best directors that show has ever had. Moffat’s tenure clears has aspirations of going out with a bang and I will be there, eagerly awaiting the fireworks display I am sure he has planned.