Sunday, August 13, 2017

Doctor Who 10.12: "The Doctor Falls"

“Like smart phones, sewage, and Donald Trump, some things are just inevitable.”
-The Doctor

As one would expect, given this was written by Steven Moffat, there was a lot going on in the tenth season finale of “Doctor Who.” This was an apparent finale for companion Bill, and the penultimate episode for both Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi and head writer Moffat. Both will return (and pass over the reigns to Jodie Whittacker and Chris Chibnall respectively) in this year’s Christmas special. I will say, though, that for the most part, the episode’s 90 minutes was used well. There were lots of emotional moments for the Doctor, Bill, Missy, Nardole, and the John Simm version of the Master. Yep, that’s right, we’ve got two regenerations of the Master in one episode, and it’s a fascinating contrast. If this is the last we see of the character (which is a distinct possibility), it was a fitting sendoff. It was also a fitting sendoff for Bill, although that sendoff was a bit too similar to Clara’s sendoff, which happened only one season ago, for my taste.

This episode was very much a continuation of the previous episode. The Doctor, Missy, Nardole, and Bill are all on a ship that is being taken over by the Cybermen, and we’ve just learned that the John SImm version of the Master is behind it all. Most of the action takes place on level 507 of the ship, where a bunch of kids are being kept safe from Cybermen in a rather idyllic pastoral setting. It’s idyllic during the day, at least. At night, the adults have to keep the prototype Cybermen who are hung up like scarecrows from attacking the kids. Nardole pilots a ship carrying the rest of the gang from the Hellish, industrial hospital level up to the level with the kids. The Doctor has altered the Cybermen’s programming, so they think that Time Lords are humans too, now. Everybody has skin in the game, and I think the Master especially doesn’t like it.

Bill goes on an especially interesting journey in this episode, and while the ending feels a little perfunctory, it was ultimately satisfying. It’s pretty clear, at least, that Bill’s not coming back any time soon, and she gets to have awesome adventures with a hot (watery) chick. Bill is most definitely a Cyberman (Cyber-person?) at the beginning of this episode, but she’s not aware of it. She’s been relegated to a barn on floor 507 so that she doesn’t scare the children, and she can’t figure out why. Eventually, she looks in a mirror and realizes the truth. She has, by some sort of miracle (that will be explained at the end of the episode, retained her sense of self and identity, but physically, she’s a Cyberman. As the episode progresses, she eventually admits that she can feel the Cyberman taking over. It’s getting harder to hold on to herself.

The most interesting person in the episode, surprisingly, was Missy. It was really hard to tell where her loyalties would ultimately lie. On the one hand, the Master is literally another version of herself. On the other hand, she has a long history with the Doctor, and he has really been working with her to teach her some sense of morality. She has also demonstrated regret for what she’s done in the past. In this episode, while she does try to ingratiate herself to the Master, she also helps the Doctor when it counts, playing an instrumental role in getting the group up to level 507 in the first place. Ultimately, she decides she wants to stand with the Doctor, although she doesn’t end up getting a chance to act on that (more on that in a bit). Missy and the Master have a kind of really weird sexual tension. I think the intent behind it was to show how self-absorbed the Master (in all his/her incarnations) is. Instead, it kind of reads as an older, more experienced female incarnation of the Master needing and seeking the approval of her less experienced, downright cruel male predecessor. I’m hoping the immanent changing of the guard, especially since we’ll have a female Doctor, will help address the myriad gender issues of the Moffat era of the show. As for her previous incarnation, the Master doesn’t hear the sound of drums anymore. Without the touch of crazy, he’s just plain cruel.

Nardole finds himself mostly interacting with the locals. He especially gets along with a woman named Hazron and a girl named Alit. The Cybermen are rapidly evolving, and they really want to start assimilating floor 507, and there are very limited options for how to proceed. The TARDIS itself is near the very top of the ship, where time moves slower than at the bottom thanks to the nearby black hole. By the time the group could reach the TARDIS, the Cybermen would have thousands of years to evolve and plan how to assimilate everyone. Instead, the Doctor wants Nardole to take everyone five years above to the next agriculture level and try to make a life there. Nardole eventually agrees, and they all escape while the Doctor creates lots of explosions as he kills as many Cybermen as he can (with help from Bill, of course). It was an interesting choice of exit for Nardole, for sure.

Both Missy and the Master also make an exit. It seems rather permanent, but with “Doctor Who,” anything is possible, so I imagine that if Chris Chibnall wants to bring an incarnation of the Master back at some point, he’ll figure out a way. Missy and the Master’s plan is to get to the Master’s TARDIS. The Master was stranded on this ship when his TARDIS broke down, but Missy has just the spare part he needs. Before they take the elevator to the Master’s TARDIS, though, Missy goes to give him a hug. There’s more than meets the eye to this, though. She literally stabs him in the back. It’s not over between them, though. Missy gives a great speech about how she’s going to go stand with the doctor, but with his last breaths before he regenerates into her, the Master makes sure that will never happen. He shoots her with what looks like his sonic screwdriver, and he tells her the setting is high enough that she won’t regenerate. Rest in Peace, Missy.

Bill also gets a nice send-off, although it’s a bit deux ex machina. Just as Bill is about to give up, Heather, her watery pilot love interest from the beginning of the season, appears. Because Heather gave Bill some of her tears, she always knows where Bill is. She turns Bill into a fellow watery creature, saying it’s just another kind of living. At least Bill isn’t a Cyber(person) anymore. They decide to go on intergalactic adventures together, but before they leave to go gallivanting around, Bill (temporarily) saves the Doctor with more of her tears. The Doctor regains consciousness in the TARDIS, which is in a very wintery, frozen area. He can tell he’s starting to regenerate, and he’s not happy about it. Like the Tenth Doctor, he’s not ready to go. People really ragged on Ten for that, so I’m not sure why the creative team is going to that well again. Anyway, the wintery landscape happens to be where the First Doctor regenerated, too. And One appears himself, played by David Bradley, who also played him in the movie about the beginnings of the show created for the 50th Anniversary. Clearly he’s going to have some things to teach Twelve about accepting regeneration when they return for the Christmas Special.

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