Doctor Who #994: The Doctor Falls

"Where there's tears, there's hope."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.1 2017.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor vs. Mondasian Cybermen. Missy vs. the Master. And Bill vs. despair!

REVIEW: On first viewing, I had to admit my roommate and I were so DEVASTATED at the end of The Doctor Falls that we sat speechless for a number of minutes and had to force ourselves to talk about. While hope is a major theme, the series finale is insistently desperate and dark. So this review follows some amount of procrastination, as if my soul still doesn't want to commit words to screen. But allons-y...

Now, I'm a sucker for strong thematic underpinnings, and we get that here. Some have already called into question the Doctor's resistance to regenerating, on the heels (if a thousand years or so can be called heels) of the 11th Doctor's beautiful speech about accepting the fact that we change over time. Well first, he's not the same person, so he doesn't think about it the same way. Second, there's precedent for the Doctor staving off death, as it were, as the 5th and 10th both did. And third, holding on to who you are is the bloody THEME of the thing. Think about it. It's what keeps Bill from succumbing to Cyber programming (and before that, to the Monk's). It's played out in the Masters' thread, one executing the other to prevent himself from changing and standing with the Doctor in the end. And though it's not spelled out in so many words, we've had enough moments with the 12th Doctor both regretting the evils he's done and hoping to redeem Missy, that we should be able to see him as someone deathly afraid that he's getting worse, not better. The Master is a mirror image of the Doctor, a warning.

Indeed, the bit where I start to blub is that amazing speech about who he is and why he does what he does. And that at least has been a constant through all of his lives. But the end part, probably because Capaldi's voice breaks at just the end, completely destroyed me: "Who I am is where I stand. And where I stand is where I fall." And then, to the Masters, "Stand with me". They walk away, but the moment, and what follows, is filled to the brim with irony. Though Missy follows the Simm-Master to a TARDIS escape, as if actually caught up in a twisted narcissistic romance, she grabs the Doctor's hand and what he discovers there shocks him, I think. We find out later that she let him feel the knife she was about to stab into the younger Master's back. Because though redeemed - her ambivalence in this episode is largely the result of telepathic influence from the wicked Master, and wanes when he's knocked out - and holding on to the self she has become over the time she was locked away in the Vault, she is nevertheless treacherous. That is also part of her nature. Simm's Master, for his cruel part, claims not to have listened to a word of the speech and is unmoved, and yet I believe the speech is exactly what makes him kill his future self, rather than let her/himself betray the core Master identity by standing with the Doctor. The lure of evil remains strong for Missy, as she reveals in a moment harking back to Time Crash where Doc10 also told his past self he loved being him. But that's the programming talking, it's what she must resist to stay true to herself now.

So when the Doctor is finally alone - having sent Nardole to his ultimate fate protecting a farming community from Cybermen, likely until the end of his natural life, and Bill to the other end of floor 507 - he proves that he is who he is. We get a call-back to the idea of doing good without witness, without reward, and that's actually what happens. And when he destroys floor 507 and the vast majority of Cybermen with it, we see him refuse the regeneration, not because of some kind of narcissism as Doc10 had - he rather loathes himself, I think - but because he's lived long enough. He's willing to die as the 12th and final Doctor (actually a 13th identity, and the normal "life span" of a Time Lord). He's not curious about what's next, he's afraid of it. When he finally dies, his body is inert for the longest time, and only Bill's "hopeful" tears start the regeneration process. In that context, it makes perfect sense that Doc12 will need his original incarnation to make him realize regeneration/change is inevitable and beneficial. He needs a reminder of why this all started (and boy did my heart leap up when I saw they actually cast An Adventure in Space and Time's David Bradley!).

(Four paragraphs in, and I've only just touched on a single aspect of The Doctor Falls. We're in trouble.)

We don't say goodbye to Capaldi's Doctor yet, but we do lose an awful lot of long-running characters. I don't know that the show will want to live long without a Master, so we can probably bank on them being wrong about one of two things. Either Missy CAN regenerate despite getting the "full load", or Simm doesn't become Missy yet and there's one or more Masters in between. This is a character who's survived immolation and didn't even give an explanation for it (after the first immolation, I mean; see?). But was there anywhere for a "goodie" Master to go? This poetically correct ending may be the proper one... if future showrunners can keep their hands to themselves and not undo it. It's a fine send-off, with both Masters getting some great lines and shticks. As for Nardole, I'm not sure he ever really realized his potential as a character, always either a tool to get things moving or comic relief, in my eyes, but he gets a fairly heroic end, and a shot at a normal-ish life (possibly married to someone I can't see but as the pregnant Jeffina in Coupling).

And then there's Bill. I've been resistant to say this was the end of her tenure with the Doctor, but though there's hope (there were certainly tears), it was all but confirmed even before the start of Series 10 that she wouldn't stick around for longer, giving Chris Chibnall a clean slate in time for the regime change. As I said at the end of the previous episode, the idea of a companion, especially one I've deeply enjoyed, ending up as a Cyberman, is so stomach-churning - not just to me, and therefore we thankfully cut between Cyber-Bill and the image of her human self throughout the episode - I would have taken any deus ex machina at the end of the finale. We do get one, but it happily doesn't come out of nowhere. Heather, the "Pilot" from the first episode returns, having kept tabs on Bill through lent tears (a serendipitous discovery, or planned from the beginning?), returns to rescue her. She is turned into a puddle being herself - the Cybersuit falls dead and empty - and can finally join her love on magical spacetime jaunts. It's left ambiguous as to whether she might return, and I'm even left wondering if, having cried on the Doctor, she will keep similar tabs on him, but I do agree that companions should be tailored to the Doctor, and if the Doctor is going to change, the dynamic may no longer be workable. (Then again, the Doctor's changed saved Clara as a character.) To cut off fan criticism here too, some have complained that this is too much like Clara's fate, or a cheap cop-out; I would rather follow the lead of one commenter, a gay woman, who thought it remarkable that someone like her got a happy (and romantic) ending, something rarely afforded LGBTQ+ characters on television. Moffat himself has said he doesn't think Doctor Who is the right place for nihilistic and cynical stories where beloved characters are killed. He gets them real close though, doesn't he? At the end, Bill HAS changed, but retained the essential part of herself, a lesson the Doctor narrowly misses, but that his former self understood.

Let me close on a few random notes I couldn't mention anywhere else, because hey, this was a BIG episode. I like that because of the time differential, we essentially see the expedition to floor 507 mentioned in the previous episode - they never returned because they were shot and became creepy scarecrows. That the Mondasian Cybermen evolve to become those sleek one from Nightmare in Silver is fine, but I do so hate it when the reuse the Cybusmen from the parallel Earth. Doesn't make sense to me. (More on how this all connects to Cyber-lore under Theories.) The early pastoral look of the piece, turning to some kind of eerie perpetual twilight, then to a WWI-style wasteland, is all quite striking, exteriors matching the deterioration of the Doctor's own life. There are tons of references to Cyberman stories, even extracanonical ones that make those stories proper canon now (including one with Frobisher), but more importantly, quotes or paraphrasing of Doctors' famous last lines, including "Where's there's life, there's hope" (3rd Doctor) which, slightly altered, is a motif here. Capaldi says them differently, and they take on new meanings, which is interesting. His almost-regeneration is accompanied by a montage of new series companions saying his name, going all the way back to Rose - but no Rory?! for shame!!! - surely a call-back to the 5th Doctor's regeneration. /random notes

THEORIES: So okay, the Doctor waves away a lot of necessary fan theory to make Cyber-history work (Mondas, Telos, etc.) by saying Cybernisation, in certain cultures I guess, is inevitable, and that it comes down to parallel development. That's a bit glib, and if that were all there was to it, the ship wouldn't need to come from Mondas. So it is acceptable that because Mondasians have the same problems (pollution and health) and same core technologies, they will go on to evolve into Cybermen. In their first appearance, The Tenth Planet, the Cybermen want Earth because there own world is dying. Before they turned to cybernisation, Mondas apparently sent ships to other places, Telos perhaps, though it's not clear where this colony ship actually came from. Ship's log says Mondas, but if that's so, why isn't it already full when it sets off? Could it have been built elsewhere (with Telosian or Planet 14 resources?) then sent home to Mondas to save what was left of the population from a decaying planet? That would, at least, save the excellent audio adventure Spare Parts from ignoble wiping from the canon. It also brings back the old speculation about Pete's World, and whether that was Mondas rather than Earth. But here's a crazier idea. The episode ends with the Doctor apparently meeting his first self on an arctic (or should I say Antarctic) plain, apparently just before he first changes (going by the snatches of monologue we hear). That's The Tenth Planet. Has the TARDIS basically followed the colony ship out of the black hole to its ultimate destiny? And ARE the Cybermen from this episode the same as the ones in The Tenth Planet (only the sock-heads survive this encounter)? The wonky, hard-to-swallow idea that a whole planet would come near Earth and be destroyed in high orbit and our surviving that could thus be retconned so that the giant ship was the planet (seen from its circular front). They don't need to recognize the Doctor's name, since wonky temporal physics would make their arrival generations later than their time at the black hole. Looks like I've got until the Christmas special to watch The Tenth Planet again and get a better handle on this.

REWATCHABILITY: High - One of the great series finales. Gut-wrenching, thematically consistent, fully of fun quirks and devastating turns. And yet, still not the end...

18 comments:

LondonKdS said...

I thought it was stated that the ship was on its shakedown cruise when it was caught in the black hole and all the people on board were descendants of the original crew.

Siskoid said...

I didn't catch the shakedown cruise bit, but they really got lost unless there are black holes closer to Earth's system than we think.

Anonymous said...

There were a fair number of episodes this season I wasn't fond of, and I think Moffat was devoting his energies to how the season would end. if that is indeed what happened, it was totally worth it.

There's been a lot of discussion online about why Twelve doesn't want to regenerate, and while the he says a couple of times that he doesn't want to "change", I'm with you that it's really that he doesn't want to CONTINUE. He's contemplating an endless existence of struggle, hardship, loss, pain, and fear, and it's more than he is ready to face.

We saw the First Doctor ("the same old equipment" if you will, har har) and I predict that the Christmas special will have an "It's a Wonderful Life" quality to it, where the First Doctor serves to remind Twelve of how important he has been and how it really has been worth all the pain. Once Twelve realizes that, he'll be able to let go and regenerate. But I put it to you that we might somehow not just get the First Doctor, but other Doctors either directly or indirectly. Like maybe there will be a visit to Peladon where we see that their world has become a very nice place, where there is equality not only among genders but between the bad-wig people and the normal-looking people. Followed by a visit to that ice world where Sylvester McCoy once dangled over a railing for no good reason, and we'll discover that the Federation Ministry Of Workplace Safety has finally installed better railings, thanks to the Doctor.

Missy ... let's not miss that she had the Doctor and the Master like an angel and devil on her shoulders. We didn't see too much of her internal conflict, but this episode really wasn't about her. i say that it would be damn easy to bring her back: do you think she would really build a weapon that could be used against her? She remembered to carry a spare dematerialization circuit, she could also remember to defend herself against her own zap gun. From there it's a matter of finding a way to escape the station, but all she has to do is take the elevator down to a level with good enough tech for her to exploit.

I'm going to miss Nardole a lot, but I am good with where he ended up. Also, he's sold me on the need for a Nardole character, who isn't the viewer-identification companion but rather someone who can treat the Doctor like an equal. And it would really, really not break my heart to have Michelle Gomez return in exactly that role, as Missy. A change of costume maybe, and she'd be great as the Doctor's support staff while the Doctor finds another plucky enthusiastic young woman. I kind of like the notion of occasionally dressing in the Doctor's old outfits just to make fun of him. And let's face it, the Master has always been a dud as an antagonist. Roger Delgado was pretty good for his first couple outings until it became clear how generally incompetent he was, and all his successors have been pretty bad at evil. Making Missy into the Doctor's confidante is a better use for the character.

I haven't said much about Capaldi himself, but holy hell, the guy can act. He elevates whatever material he's given: mediocre material becomes good, and excellent material becomes phenomenal. That speech to the Master and Missy was the highlight of the episode, and it's true that any of Twelve's predecessors might have delivered that speech well enough ... but I don't think any of them could have done it justice the way Capaldi did.

About Bill's fate, I will merely observe that this show is pushing the stereotype that lesbians move in together before they even know each other.

snell said...

Umm... whatever happened to that poor blue guy they left on the bridge?

Siskoid said...

He's still there. He's still on Day 2 of the crisis.

snell said...

Yes, but if they brought the Doctor's body to the TARDIS, presumably they had to take it to the bridge, right? So did they just leave the guy there? Drop him off somewhere? Kick his ass for shooting Bill?

Siskoid said...

Looks like they teleported to the TARDIS. Guy was still unconscious, presumably.

Brendoon said...

Aye, it were BRULLIANT, eh?

Great comments.
Yes, the entire population evolved from the original crew, so the entire population of Mondas is free to go Cyber on their own.

Siskoid, your thought about the non return of the scouting party to 507 hadn't even ocurred to me before you suggested it!
While watching I'd assumed the party became the settlers... having got there and probably worked out the futility of returning due to the time difference... future raiding parties would keep appearing, slower, older ones perhaps even arriving AFTER later, higher evolved ones. Having said that, it deed seem odd that at least two types of cybers took off from ground floor at the endgame... why were the older ones not updated?
Anonymous made an interesting comment about pushing the stereotype. Bill had an interesting blend of crassness which put me off, and emotional honesty which drew me back in.
In truth I find "adult themes" mixed with family viewing distressing. In a kids world sex doesn't even exist, kissing is "gross" and there are plenty of interesting ideas to explore without having to muddy the waters with all the awkward stuff they'll have to deal with when they "get old". Innocence is SO cool!!!

I'm hoping there's still time to rescue Nardole! After all there's still probably Cybers on that ship and a nasty big black hole. I suspect he'll be back at some stage.

Brendoon said...

BTW, as an aside:
Over on BIG FINISH, Toby Hadoke's interview is with the actor of Ice-warrior "Friday" from the Queen of Mars episode. I'm only 7 mins in so far, but seems to be a rippingly good interview. lots of Ice-warrior focus rather than "what I've been doing on-stage in the fifty years SINCE I was on WHO."

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous made an interesting comment about pushing the stereotype."

Mostly I was making a funny. It's all too common for characters in fiction to succumb to love at first sight; it even happened to Leela and that Gallifreyan guard way back in Tom Baker's run. But it's also a stereotype of lesbians so I thought I'd go there.

The Canadian film "Better than Chocolate" is all about lesbians moving in together immediately and you might enjoy it. It's a pretty good film.

Anonymous said...

"I'm hoping there's still time to rescue Nardole! After all there's still probably Cybers on that ship and a nasty big black hole"

That's a TERRIBLE way to refer to Hazran's nether regions.

(I am being hilarious again.)

Brendoon said...

Heh heh! Indeed.
With extreme gravity.

Brendoon said...

At least at the closest end.

Siskoid said...

Leaving aside the question of whether Doctor Who is for children anymore, I will say that kids come to gender identity and sexual orientation much more quickly these days. Having positive portrayals in the media is important even if they're not, the world isn't as hetero-cis-normative as it used to be. They need to see that this is a natural part of it.

Brendoon said...

True that's the party line, but our culture is sex and moneycentric, so it interprets reality in such a way. That's why superheroes are now adult, the kids aren't the ones with the money.
all I know is that til my mid teens I didn't even like girls, the fact all my friends were boys had nothing to do with sexual orientation. I didn't even know such a thing existed. With the mind of a child it WAS a different world and it was nice. Read Calvin and Hobbes, you've got the kind of world I knew. I think innocence is a magical thing and I don't know a single person who wouldn't like at least a bit of it.

For example, Nardole is an innocent character... he's what kids think a grownup is: the frowny face of taking stuff seriously, "being responsible" and all that. There's nothing sexual between him and the Doctor, it's not even a question. That's how a kid sees a grownup.

Aside from Philosophy, a different kind of opinion:
It's interesting that Nardole may be a kind of "Cyberperson" himself, but without pain, with emotions and retaining his full personality. It seems the Doctor is much better at cybernetics than the scientists of Mondas.
Imagine if HE had a bit more input to their design....

Siskoid said...

Yes, I wish they'd done something with that.

Brendoon said...

It's funny how the brain processes things behind your back and pops thoughts out while you're heading off to sleep... Some things added up about the recent Mondasian appearance I hadn't thought of. They were actually spelled out but there was too much to take in:
The ground floor folks had all been processed, there WERE no more Cyberpersons coming from down there. They ALL left for greener pastures: it was operation "Exodus" after all. The Master felt okay about getting his TARDIS "now that it's all empty down there."
Since the Doctor blew 'em all up Nardole will get to enjoy many generations of young Mondasian children growing up. What fun.
There was one other interesting light bulb moment relating to an earlier post... but it evaporated with the dawn, I can't find it.

Brendoon said...

The point being that my earlier comment about Nardole still being in danger is not true.

 

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