[NB: You better believe this review contains spoilers. Carry on at your own risk]
The tenth season of the revived DOCTOR WHO has been a paradox of sorts, constantly foreshadowing the future while regularly referencing the past. ‘The Doctor Falls’ comes full circle in a number of ways, not only calling back to the start of the season but to the very core of the character as well.
Picking up minutes after ‘World Enough and Time,’ and still on a station orbiting a black hole, Missy and the recently returned Master (John Simm) plan what to do with the captured Doctor. Before they get a chance, their army of Cybermen turn against them thanks to a deus ex Doctor moment that happened off-screen. With companion Bill now converted into a Mondasian Cyberman and struggling with her humanity, The Doctor must make a final stand with the people of the space station’s mid-levels.
‘The Doctor Falls’ is structurally a western, with a literal prairie house and folks with shotguns defending the homestead against the invading armies. There’s even shades of Ennio Morricone in the score. It’s a familiar trope for The Doctor, certainly the one of the last few years. Yet it works as a framework for a finale, as the Time Lord has always been a bit of a gunslinger. Even if he’s one that doesn’t particularly like guns, a fact he reminds us of this week.
Cramming a lot into the first half of an already extended episode, there’s initially not much space between the dramatic turns. That said, when the critical moments hit they are an emotional peak for writer Stephen Moffat, and sometimes quite literally explosive. Bill’s moments of self-realisation in her new cyber body are heart-wrenching, and Missy’s complex character arc finally pays off in a satisfying manner. Two Masters is one thing, but Missy ultimately choosing to side with The Doctor to her own peril is something we’ve all been secret rooting for.
Of course, it’s Capaldi that owns the spotlight, even with all the powerhouse talent in the episode. As his character quips, “I love being surrounded, it means everybody is looking at me.” Gunslinger he might be, but for all of the era’s heroic posturing, Moffat sums up what The Doctor is all about in a single line: “I do what I do because it’s right, because it’s decent, and above all it’s kind.” After all, this season has consistently stuck to its theme of hope.
It could be argued that Moffat has repeated himself with this season finale, once again using a Master/Cyberman plot device. He even has the companion jetting off with another woman through time and space. Even so, this too is a sign that Moffat has carefully planned out this season from the beginning, taking us right back to ‘The Pilot‘ and giving closure to one of the most complex and engaging companions since the beginning of the series.
We were promised from the start of the season that the departing Capaldi’s regeneration would be different. Referenced and teased all season, this episode becomes a microcosm of that motif, with The Doctor boldly deciding that he does not want to change. Looping back to the start of ‘World Enough and Time,’ with The Doctor starting his regeneration in the snow, we’re treated to the sudden and delightful appearance of David Bradley as The First Doctor, reprising his role from the 50th anniversary docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time. That is how you do a mic-drop cliffhanger.
Where the Christmas special will take us, which is the next time we’ll see The Doctor(s), we can only guess at for the moment. It’s quite telling that the BBC has managed to keep one announcement under wraps, and we sincerely hope that they manage to do that for some months to come. Will The Doctor of 2018 mark the massive change we’ve all been expecting? “Is the future going to be all girl?” ponders The Master. The Doctor’s response speaks for us all: “We can only hope.”
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