Better late than never, I guess. So, series 10 of Doctor Who has come to an end, and boy, what an ending it was. There were Cybermen, explosions, black holes, spaceships, two Masters, and the beginning of the end of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. It’s one hell of a two-part finale and the perfect icing on the cake that was this past series of the show. Written by Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay, World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls follows the Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Bill (Pearl Mackie), and Nardole (Matt Lucas) as they arrive on a 400 mile long spaceship heading towards/away from a black hole (it’s sorta confusing). They’ve answered a distress signal the ship sent out and the Doctor has decided that this would be a great time for Missy (Michelle Gomez) to prove that she really has changed. Naturally, things don’t go according to plan at all. (There will be spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen the two episodes, now is your chance to turn back. Also worth noting, this review is kind of all over the place. There’s a lot of elements to try and cover, so I’ll be jumping around quite a bit.)
Goodness gracious, the Cybermen were scary in this episode. I’ve never really been scared of them before, but somehow this episode manages to make them scary. Some of that’s due to Rachel Talalay’s superb directing, some of it’s due to Steven Moffat’s strong script, but lots of it comes down to the sound design and the costume design for the Cybermen. There’s something just really creepy about them, especially throughout World Enough and Time. It’s a shame much of that creepy factor doesn’t make it into The Doctor Falls, but it’s okay because the Cybermen are still made out to be a significant threat, one that actually unites the Doctor and Missy.
As for Missy (and the Master, since this is a multi-Master story), they’re both used superbly. Michelle Gomez really gets to show her range with Missy; some scenes require her trademark zany performance while others require a much more subdued performance, and she’s able to handle both of them remarkably well. As for John Simm, he’s given better material than he was given in his last appearance (in 2010’s The End of Time). He actually feels like the Master instead of the hyperactive comic book villain he was in his previous appearance. Neither of them is really the “villain” of the story, though John Simm’s Master is certainly pretty close since he’s behind the rise of the Cybermen on the ship in the first place. All of it leads to a startlingly surprising final scene with both Missy and the Master, and to talk about it would really be one spoiler too far. Let’s just say that, on the one hand, what you’d expect would happen with the John Simm Master by the end of this episode does indeed happen, but then something else that’s really quite shocking happens, and it makes for a compelling few minutes of television.
As for the story itself, it’s honestly one of the better finales that Doctor Who has had since it came back in 2005. It’s well paced, well acted, and extremely well directed. The first part (World Enough and Time) sets up all the pieces and atmosphere and gets are characters into the positions they need to be in for the second part. I love that the whole thing really focuses on Pearl Mackie’s Bill. Like much of this season, Bill has been the focal point, and that’s no different here. Early on in the episode, Bill is shot in the chest and some proto-Cybermen arrive to take her down to a lower level of the ship to “cure” her (by partially converting her to a Cyberman). The thing is, the lower the level of the ship you’re on, the faster time moves (because of the whole thing with the black hole). So, for Bill, years have passed since she “died”, but for the Doctor, it’s only been a few minutes/hours at the most. The episode continues to focus on Bill as she’s trapped on the lower level and develops a relationship with Mr. Razor (the Master in disguise), a man who works in the hospital on the lower level. Ultimately, he betrays her and takes her to be converted into the first “real” Cyberman. World Enough and Time ends with the Doctor and Nardole discovering the fully converted Bill and freaking out.
The Doctor Falls then focuses on Bill as she adjusts to, and refuses to fully believe/acknowledge, her transformation into a Cyberman. This is a really clever way of letting Pearl Mackie continue to have screen time without immediately pushing the “reset” button. That’s not to say that a reset button isn’t pressed, of course. Anybody who’s ever watched Doctor Who knew that there was next to no chance the show wouldn’t somehow reverse Bill’s transformation into a Cyberman, and indeed that proved to be the case. Though, this time, it didn’t really feel like we were cheated. So much of the episode was spent dealing with Bill’s reactions to it, and her ultimate acceptance of it and her desire for the Doctor to not let her live out her life as a Cyberman, that when the deus ex machina arrived (in the form of Heather, the puddle girl from The Pilot that Bill had that mega crush on), it felt like something that was narratively earned. It was the happy ending that the character deserved after all the shit she’d been put through over the previous two episodes, and really the season as a whole.
As for the Doctor, he is refusing to regenerate, which is an interesting concept. We’ve seen Doctors not want to regenerate, but never have we seen one utterly refuse to, and that’s what’s happening here. It’s something that’s teased throughout The Doctor Falls and ultimately leads us into the events of the Christmas special when the Twelfth Doctor encounters the First Doctor in that icy tundra at the end of the episode. I’m interested in where that’s going, though also am not really looking forward to having to say goodbye to Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. This episode really allowed Peter to shine in his portrayal of the character, and it’s gonna be hard to follow up his superb performance. But, still, I’m looking forward to the future.
I know this review has been all over the place, but my thoughts on the episode itself are still kind of all over the place. It’s been nearly two weeks and I can still safely say that I adore the episode. It made me laugh, cry, cheer, scared, and happy and it was everything I love about Doctor Who boiled into two wonderful episodes. The acting from everyone involved was superb, Steven Moffat’s script was exciting and wonderful, Rachel Talalay’s directing was magnificent (as always) and it was just such a good way to end a really good season of my favorite show.
5 out of 5 wands.