Doctor Who “The Fall of the Doctor” Review
It’s the beginning of the end for Peter Capaldi’s run as the Twelfth Doctor, as the Cybermen arise, the Masters are a force of chaos, and Bill is trapped as a newly converted Cyberman.
The Gist of It
It’s a rough day for the Doctor: his loyal companion in what was minutes to hours for him but ten years for her was lost and converted to a Cyberman, the Cyber armor is here and that means they’ll eventually want to take over and convert all the remaining humans, and oh, there’s now two Masters to contend with: Missy and her previous incarnation if the form of John Simm’s Master who we last saw in The End of Time during David Tennant’s run as Tenth Doctor. And in facing her past self, Missy is of course conflicted and has seemed to side with her past self self.
And we also know, from the previous episode’s cold open, that a regeneration doth approach.
The Spoiler-y Review
CyberBill and the Masters appear with a passed out Doctor on one of the upper levels, which looks like the English countryside. A few adults and what appears to be a gaggle of orphans are trying to survive the creepy, potentially proto-Cybermen(?) scarecrows as they all reside in a farmhouse and then one day a ship blasts through with our wayward heroes and villains.
Before that, the Doctor has been stunned and incapacitated by the Masters who hold him hostage on the roof with the plan to let the Cybermen run rampant. It seems fitting that Simm Master would be behind the genesis of the Cybermen, and seeing the Capaldi, Gomez, and Simm banter is worth the episode alone. Especially Gomez and Simm playing off each other in a weird flirtation with oneself. But it is clear through the episode, and telegraphed brilliantly by Gomez’s expressions, that Missy is conflicted about which side to stand on.
While the three duke it out and Missy has knocked the Doctor aside onto a console, he was able to act fast and throw them a curveball: he’s reprogrammed the Cybermen to seek out targets with two hearts, not one. Aka Time Lords. And so we jump to the now: they’re on level 509 and trying to prepare themselves to face off against the Cyber invasion. As time moves differently across the ship, years have already passed below and the Cybermen have evolved.
And in a heartbreaking reveal, Bill comes to fully realize she’s been converted and it’s painful to watch her try to make the best of it and retain her sense of self and fight the Cyber programming. To fight alongside the Doctor and the 509 residents when they also fear her. Pearl Mackie is her finest here, and I am sad to see her go as it’s reported that this is her only series. Same for Gomez, who is departing as Missy.
And Missy! This was her finest hour as well, both having a flirtatious partner-in-crime relationship with her former self while also being a bit disgusted with her former self (did we really need Simm Master to pop a boner over Missy, Moffat?!), and it also shows how far she’s come as a character and as the Master. She claims to have been secretly on the side of the Doctor and playing her past self, but even she’s conflicted in her loyalties throughout but it becomes clear she truly does want to stand by the Doctor. It’s where they’ve always been heading towards, she tells her past-self. It’s a poignant part of her journey and you could feel the seeds of it as far back as The End of Time, but Simm Master unfortunately cannot bear to see himself end up standing by the Doctor. So he hits Missy while her back is turned and tells her not to bother regenerating, he hit her full blast. And Missy’s reaction is both stunned and oddly laughing and delighted, because of course it’s how she would have reacted when she was him, and she’s hardly surprised. She had just told him, before stabbing him and poisoning him, that he was like a world burning up and how she missed that feeling when she was him. It was, as best as can fit someone like the Master, the only way Missy could truly say goodbye to that truly vile and destructive part of herself. She literally killed that part of herself, and it killed her back. The sad thing is, she was going to stand with the Doctor, and he’ll never know. She made the right choice in the end. But is this really the end of Missy? The press says so but who knows, it’s never wise to assume the Master is actually dead.
Speaking of right, Capaldi’s speech to the Masters about this all not being about winning, about everything he was doing was to be kind, was brilliant. It’s one of his finest speeches since the Zygon episodes of Series 9, if not the finest of his run on Who. It’s heartfelt and weary, the Doctor knowing it’s probably not about saving the day or winning the battle but about doing what he can to even save a few people because it’s the kind thing to do and just for once, can’t they also to the kind thing and stand by him? Capaldi absolutely nails it, and it’s especially touching because know it’s the long way to goodbye. Missy is clearly moved, Simm Master less so.
Speaking of, if there’s the things I’m going to quibble about it’s the characterization of Simm’s Master. Yes, he was slick and evil and chaotic, but he never struck me as being so damn against standing with the Doctor that he’d essentially destroy himself. The Master is, above anything else, incredibly self-preserving so for him to end his existence over standing with the Doctor I mean I get their famous rivals but it really just seemed like taking the character a bit too far. Overall, some of the tone of him was right and fitting with how he was under RTD’s run, but little things like getting turned on by his past self pushing him against a wall were just one too many boner joke from this era’s run that stopped being funny by The Crimson Horror.
The other thing is how Bill’s storyline ended: we see this incredible shot of CyberBill stumbling and dragging herself across the exploded fallout of floor 509 after the Doctor and her stay behind to essentially blow it up and give the humans and Nardole time to escape to another floor and prepare. She stands over the Doctor’s unconscious body, crying and silently yelling from within her metal exterior. And then suddenly a girl with a star in her eye appears from a puddle nearby, it’s Heather from The Pilot. She pulls Bill out of her Cyber body, having reformed Bill to be like Heather is now. She found Bill because of Bill’s crying, because back in the first episode of the series Heather had left Bill her tears and it allowed Heather to track Bill across space and time. And now Bill has a choice: she could go back to Earth and be human again, or travel the universe with Heather as Moffat’s thing now for companions is to travel space and time with their girlfriends. Bill, not believing the Doctor is dead, says goodbye and goes off with Heather, having seen a thing or two since they last met suggests she take the lead. It’s lesbian ex machina and a bit handwaving but I am glad to see Moffat avoided the Kill Your Lesbian trope and that Bill got the girl and the universe in the end. And it leaves the door open if Mackie wants to return, which I hope she does because I adored Bill. She was easily one of the best companions we’ve had in a long time who wasn’t super special or cosmic and even though she ended up a bit so, she was just a smart, clever human overall with no mystery tie to the Doctor pulling them together.
There’s a lot good with this episode,though: the Doctor saving the day without it being overblown like things could be during Eleventh Doctor era, him realizing it’s not about making soldiers or winning a war (if anything Nardole was playing the part of general), at the end of the day it’s about what it’s always been in these situations: saving people when he can. That being kind speech, Missy figuring out where she stand, and the Doctor’s reluctance to regenerate.
Let’s talk about that for a second: Twelve is just done with changing; it’s like dying all over again, becoming someone new, and he’s just tired of it and seems to want it to end so he resists the change and finds himself brought to a snowy land where he hears a similar, familiar voice having a similar fit. And when asked whose there, and Twelve replies the Doctor, he is faced with a very familiar face indeed. “You may be a doctor, but I’m THE Doctor. The original, you might say.” It echoes a line Capaldi says earlier, and one going back to Classic Who’s The Five Doctors. It’s the First Doctor, played by David Bradley who played Bill Hartnell in Adventures in Time and Space.
And that’s how we end it, with us now teed up for a multi-Doctor Christmas special as grumpy old man Twelve meets his mega grumpy old man self in First Doctor.
So it’s not Capaldi’s send off quite yet, but it is for Missy (for now) and for Bill. As send offs goes, I feel despite some quibbles with the writing both their stories came to the ends that make the most sense for them: Bill going off with Heather, who was how her travels with the Doctor began, and Missy through literal self-destruction but trying to finally do the right thing. Battling with herself and losing for now.
As new Who goes, for me the best finale will always be The Parting of Ways because I felt it was brilliantly set up throughout the season and the characterization was so on-point between Nine’s avow to be a coward any day, Jack making a stand with the Doctor and dying (then not dying), Rose fighting tooth and nail to get back to the Doctor and creating herself as Bad Wolf and fulfilling the clues scattered through the series, and just everything about it. It’s remained my benchmark for an excellent series finale. The Fall of the Doctor is the first series finale of Moffat’s era that I feel comes close to being in the stratosphere. It seemed to finally get back to the tone that made the show great: not about grandstanding, not about leading a war or being the Best in the Universe Look at Me I’m THE DOCTOR…it’s about a madman in a box who occasionally finds himself stumbling into situations and is able to help people and does so because it’s kind. Not for the glory, which is where Matt Smith’s era really went off the rails, but to be kind. I’m glad to see the Doctor got back to that, and it gives me some hope Capaldi’s send off will be better than Matt Smith’s, who truly got the shit end of the stick in that regard and deserved better.
- I will never stop loving that Missy’s sonic is her umbrella
- I really just want a Missy spinoff at this point or Bill & Heather’s Excellent Adventures
- Capaldi’s hair is truly amazing in these final episodes, there’s some scenes where it’s bordering on a Pertwee silhouette
- I know a lot of y’all loved Nardole, but I’m kind of glad to see him go
- That being said, I really liked having a TARDIS trio and I hope we see more than one companion in the mix in future series
- With no press yet on a new Doctor, I’m REALLY curious who will be the new Doctor. Maybe all the “the next doctor won’t be female” press is bullshit and we are getting a lady Doctor???
- I will always want it to be Emma Thompson but that’s just me
- But I would also enjoy them pulling something epic and casting Michelle Gomez.
- I just really liked Michelle Gomez on this show, okay?