Rachel Talalay, take a bow. Steven Moffat, take a bow. Peter Capaldi, take a bow. I could go on, but you get the picture. Sometimes everything just comes together the way you want it and the result is stunning. This was one of those occasions. The direction, the script and the acting from everyone was exceptional and this all added up to make Doctor Who’s finest finale of the modern era.
Ok, so we knew John Simm was returning and that season ten’s two part finale would contain Mondasian Cybermen. This is my only issue. Take a second and just imagine how stunning the Master’s reveal would’ve been, had we not know that John Simm was in the episode. The marketing department could’ve escaped by revealing the Mondasian Cybermen, there was no grand entrance for them. But Simm’s return would’ve shocked a lot of viewers to the core, maybe been responsible for a few glasses smashing, slipping out the hands of astonished viewers. When Chibnall takes over, one thing he must do is co-operate with his marketing team. Don’t release things to the public in advance if the script gives the person/planet/enemy a big reveal.
That’s the only problem I really have with this finale though. From minute one of World Enough and Time, to minute sixty of The Doctor Falls, the story barely paused for breath. The season-long focus on the Doctor’s relationship with the Master/Missy was fascinating, and in the end is what led to Bill’s death. This is the first of many times director, Rachel Talalay will be praised in this review. The way Bill’s death scene was shot was exceptional. Her slowly look down to see a hole in her chest was shocking. Such a physically impactful death was reminiscent of Clara’s, and in an action packed show like Doctor Who, I think this works really well. Flashing back to Bill and the Doctor discussing Missy, and seeing Bill’s hesitation and reluctance in playing the part of Missy’s companion, made her death even more breathtaking. It was the Doctor’s fault. He had pushed her too far. At this point I thought Hell Bent – part two – was coming. I thought the Doctor would do anything to reverse what he’d done and save his companion. What we got though was a look at how the twelfth Doctor’s character had developed. His plea to the Master and Missy to stand with him, and that he does what he does, not to win or conquer, but to be kind and to help showed that this was a Doctor who’d learned from his past, and particularly season nine’s finale. Continuing with Bill and her death was handled perfectly. Conversion to a Mondasian Cyberman was a stunning conclusion to the first part. In the second part, the way Bill was filmed was excellent. Switching between being able to see human Bill and the Cyberman was an extremely clever way to highlight the torment she was going through. Cybermen as villains have arguably not been handled correctly since the sixties, but here we really got an idea about the true horror of the conversion process.
World Enough and Time was a lot darker than the season had been beforehand. The first five minutes were quite light and fluffy, but Talalay’s tonal shift once we saw the bottom end of the ship to a much darker and grimier look was effective. The time difference between either end of the ship worked well, and made Bill’s fate even worse. Missy was an absolute hoot as per, Michelle Gomez would make quite a “Doctor Who”. That scene was some top fourth wall breaking from Steven Moffat to those who protest at the show’s protagonist ever being named “Doctor Who” rather than just the Doctor. At the bottom of the ship, we were treated to some magnificent scenes. The half-converted Cybermen crying “Pain” and “Die Me” was chilling. Bill’s reaction to this was perfectly human though, she stayed true to the character we’ve grown to love through the season. The Master meeting Missy was something I thought would never happen, and Gomez and Simm found chemistry right from their first scene. The look of pure horror abhorrence on the Doctor’s face when he heard the Master’s voice for the first time was exactly as it should have been. Capaldi once again performed majestically as he was faced with not one, but two Masters standing either side of his Cyber-converted companion. It was an epic cliffhanger to a simply splendid opening part.
Setting up stories has never been Steven Moffat’s achilles heel though, he’s always been very strong at writing first parts to multi-part stories – see Heaven Sent, Dark Water et al. It’s finishing them that he’s sometimes struggled with. Not here though. Continuing where it began the previous week, The Doctor Falls was a total thrill ride where all actors were delivering peak performances. One of the standout moments for me was the previously mentioned scene with the Doctor, Missy and the Master. Season ten has delivered lots of important social and philosophical messages. It’s tackled racism, social class, inequality, capitalism, totalitarianism and war. For that, I have regularly applauded it in my weekly reviews and I will do so again this week. Of course, Moffat penned the script primarily for the benefit of the story, but the Doctor’s plea to both Masters was another important message, this time about the meaning of life. It’s not about winning, it’s not about power or destruction. It’s about being kind, helping one another and not taking the easy option, but the right one. I’m glad Missy realised this in the end, but I’m equally glad the Doctor will never find out that she did. If/when the Master/Missy returns, any future battles will not be spoiled by the character “turning good”. The Master killing himself/herself was a fitting end for both incarnations, it summed them both up. Missy’s realisation that the Doctor was right seemed like a deserving way for her version of the Time Lord to bow out. After all, she’d never made any direct attempt to kill the Doctor, unlike all of her predecessors. Simm’s Master showed suitable disgust at his future self’s decision, murdering his future self was such a Master-esque thing to do.
Nardole has been one of the standout positives of the season and he was once again a joy to watch in the finale. His character is one that’s really grown on me and made me change my opinion. Starting off as a meaningless spare part, he turned into a strong and caring sidekick who bravely offered to sacrifice himself for the Doctor. It’s a shame he’s stuck on the spaceship with the Cybermen. Spin-off?
The last ten minutes were simply stunning. Bill’s exit I’m sure will dismay some, but I liked it. Heather returning was a shock, but it worked. She’s not human, so who’s to say that she can’t tell when Bill is crying? That is the joy of science fiction. The Doctor will always think she died in the explosion, so there is still an element of tragedy to her story-line’s conclusion – for those who crave that sort of thing.
Regeneration has been a theme throughout the season. Moffat has claimed that Capaldi’s death will be different to anything we’ve seen previously. What has actually caused him to regenerate? Obviously the explosion seemed to have killed him, but we’d seen regeneration energy exude from his hand earlier in the episode, so it could have been the Cyberman electrocuting him at the start of The Doctor Falls. But easily, we could find out that the Doctor has been going through the regenerative process for longer than he’s been letting on. There have been a number of moments this season which could’ve validly caused him to start the change. I’m sure we’ll find out exactly what his cause of death is at Christmas. Once he’d woken up, the Doctor’s reluctance to change was terrific. Perhaps some more fourth wall breaking, similar to David Tennant’s “I don’t want to go” line, said by the tenth Doctor for the character and the actor. The twelfth Doctor repeating that line, amongst other final lines of past incarnations was very satisfying for me, and I’m sure most other fans of the show. Meeting the first Doctor was a brilliant set-up for the Christmas special, albeit not a shock (damn you filming pictures). I think a special, focused on the character of the Doctor and the process of regeneration awaits.
For his last season finale, Moffat attempted his most ambitious script yet. He succeeded though, in sheer style. To make one story a good send off for a companion, a good Master story and good Cybermen story all at once, must have been difficult. Some writers have struggled with tackling one at a time in the past, so Moffat must be praised to the hills for accomplishing all three at once. It was an absolute joy to see the first ever mutil-Master story. John Simm and Michelle Gomez were exceptional together, they just clicked. Cheerily discussing ways to kill the Doctor right in front of him is exactly how two Masters should behave together. Capaldi, along with Pearl Mackie and Matt Lucas have rarely wavered from perfection all season, and that continued here again. Chris Chibnall has promised change when he takes over, but if he disposes of the services of director, Rachel Talalay then I fear that’ll be his biggest mistake. As well as a hugely enjoyable script, the two episodes together were a visual masterpiece. This goes down as my favourite modern-era finale. What a thrill.
Story Rating: 10/10
Coming up on TALKING TARDIS:
- Why I was wrong about Hell Bent
- Season 10 Review
- Tribute to Steven Moffat
- Christmas Special Previews