World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls

On the 2nd January 2016, I sent the following e-mail:

I had a dream last night that Doctor Who came and filmed in [my street]. We were watching from our garden, and Capaldi came over and asked us not to post spoilers online. It was him, Michelle Gomez and John Simm, filming an episode called The Two Masters, which I now really want to see.

So really, this finale was my idea. They should have kept my title, although I also adore the Master’s suggestion of Genesis of the Cybermen.

Either way, bloody hell, what a story. So many amazing things all at once. It was rather reminiscent of the way RTD used to do things, with the first episode slowing bringing everything together and building up to an irresistible cliffhanger, followed by an emotional edge-of-your-seat epic. It’s in fact one of the best examples of the format – the climax at the end of the first episode had me grinning like a maniac and crying actual tears of joy. Not just on first broadcast; that happened today, even though I knew exactly what was coming. It was out of sheer happiness – this is everything I want from Doctor Who.

But there’s so much packed into this finale that I need to break it down in order to process it all, otherwise I’ll be here all night if I try to go through it all in order. Just put it down to relative time dilation as I jump around all over both episodes…

MONDASIAN CYBERMEN – Yes, yes, yes! Finally, for the first time since the 1960s, someone has remembered what made the Cybermen good in the first place, making this by far their best appearance to be made in colour. It’s perhaps the best of their various origin stories too, as it’s told from the human perspective, and doesn’t scrimp on the deeply disturbing body horror. I love the fact you see all those classic design elements coming together bit by bit as the technology is developed. It’s a bit of a shame the regular boring Cybermen turned up to hog the limelight in the second ep, but how marvellous for the originals to be given the chance to terrify a new generation of kids fifty years later.

JOHN SIMM – On first viewing, I didn’t clock who Mr Razor was. In fact, I recall thinking that I must look up whoever this actor is afterwards, as he’s a bit bloody hammy. I thought it might have been Paul Kaye under there. This time, I could hear tell-tale signs in the voice, but that’s probably only because I was looking out for some such giveaway.

I can’t believe it took this long for a multi-Master story to happen, because it’s such an irresistible concept. In some ways, Simm’s role here is similar to John Hurt’s in Day of the Doctor, representing the character’s past to emphasise how the current version has evolved. Plus he’s got a goatee, which was a great touch. He was certainly more subdued and subtle than he was opposite Tennant, but even more evil, with the slight softening that occurred during The End of Time undone in order to make Missy look less evil by comparison. Spending ten years pretending to look after Bill and then having her Cyber-converted just to spite the Doctor is classic Master behaviour.

MISSY – I love the premise of her standing in for the Doctor on an adventure. Cast and Moffat alike are clearly having a lovely time playing around with the idea, deconstructing the format of the show by having her refer to Bill and Nardole as “Exposition and Comic Relief”. And the thing about his real name being “Doctor Who” is pure perfection, both as a way of a soon-to-depart Moffat completely trolling the fans, and as a way of reconciling the various times when he has been referred to as “Doctor Who” within the series – neither the Doctor or Doctor Who are his real name, but he’s used them both as his chosen pseudonym at various points.

Following her meeting with her former self, Missy spends most of the final episode flitting between good and evil, trying to pick a side. It’s always hard to second guess any Master, but I think it’s a case of her genuinely changing her mind with alarming frequency, rather than any kind of devious masterplan – she’s completely torn between standing with the Doctor, which she knows is the right thing to do, and following her fundamental instinct of self-preservation.

In the end she comes good, although she’s tragically prevented from doing the right thing because her past self won’t allow it. It’s pretty deep, and it is of course the perfect conclusion to a multi-Master story – they both end up destroying themselves. Of course they do. This brings Michelle Gomez’s recurring role to an end, and her Master will be remembered as the best since Delgado’s. I’ve no doubt that a new incarnation of the character will inexplicably return from the dead at some point, but it’s a great way to leave things for now.

NARDOLE – He gets his big goodbye slightly before the end of the episode, but that was a good decision – he deserved his moment, and for it to not get mixed up with all the other momentous stuff that happens. He gets the classic “staying behind to help out” companion departure, and he’ll be missed. His was a role that contributed to a great TARDIS dynamic, and it gives me hope that the gang approach will reap good results for Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor.

BILL – Meanwhile, Bill gets the “killed but carries on living”, just like every other Moffatt companion. It really is a very similar story to Amy’s and particularly Clara’s – each instance of it happening has been good, but a bit of variety wouldn’t go amiss. Nevertheless, it was a powerful final performance by Pearl Mackie, before and after conversion. She may have only been around for a short time, but she made a huge impression, and will be remembered as a very modern twist on a classic type of companion.

Much like Clara, she’s now off having her own adventures through time and space posthumously, thanks to the soggy lass from The Pilot turning up again. Heather’s powers are seemingly endless now, and it’s implied that the pair of them could beam themselves around the galaxy forever, or just turn themselves back into humans whenever they want. The universe is Bill’s oyster, and despite everything she has to go through first, that makes this perhaps the happiest ending for any companion.

THE DOCTOR – Ah yeah, that guy. Capaldi is obviously completely brilliant throughout, as you expect at this stage, but I must admit that his stop-start regeneration is a bit weird. He seems to have been dragging it out for weeks now, and there’s still a whole Christmas special to go. But it’s all worth it for that wonderful moment of David Bradley emerging through the snow.

This series in general, and the final in particular, feels like Moffat taking the opportunity to play with the show’s mythology as much as possible while he still can, and I very much approve. It hasn’t always worked, and overall the pattern of each Doctor’s third series being his worst is still in place, but you can barely fault this finale. Absolutely superb.

RATING: 10

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 7.63

  • Seasons/Series watched: 36 of 36
  • Stories watched: 275 of 276
  • Individual episodes watched: 839 of 840

Oh my days. I have very mixed feelings right now. There is precisely one week to go. I’ll spend the next six days watching the third version of Shada this project covers, then after that I’ll watch an episode so recent it’s still on my Sky+ box, and then I’m up to date. This time next week, the project will be over. This is nuts.

The Pilot

Only a show with Doctor Who‘s cavalier approach to chronology could have an episode called The Pilot at the start of its 36th series, but that’s exactly what this is, following the same basic template as An Unearthly Child and Rose. It does strike me as strange to mark such a clear line in the sand for what was already known to be the last series for this Doctor and showrunner, but it does a great job of setting up a whole new approach for the show, even though it’s one that’s doomed to be extremely short-lived.

That’s thanks to Bill, who makes as strong a start as any companion, easily up to the task of carrying a story told from her perspective – it’s like we’re meeting the Doctor for the first time through her, despite her being the new one. The “Doctor what?” joke in the opening scene is a subtle way of establishing early on that while Bill asks a lot of questions, they’re not necessarily the ones you’d expect from a companion. Her inquisitive nature is infectious, inviting us to look at the show with fresh eyes and re-evaluate things that we take for granted. That thing about the TARDIS abbreviation only working in English is going to bug me now.

Pearl Mackie is an absolute star from the start; what an amazing find by the casting team. As Bill says, she does indeed have a face that’s always making expressions, and she’s fascinating to watch. Meanwhile, Matt Lucas is still being effortlessly Matt Lucas, and Capaldi is giving us something different too – I loved all his different versions of the Doctor, no matter how dark and moody they got, but Capaldi with a twinkle in his eye is a joy to behold.

And I love the setup of the Doctor as a reclusive professor, with his pictures of his wife and granddaughter on his desk, along with a mug full of sonic screwdrivers. The situation is a cross between Chronotis from Shada and Pertwee being stuck working for UNIT, which gives his eventual decision to go gallivanting off with Bill a rebellious element, making his adventures seem mischievous and even slightly dangerous once more. The mysterious vault gives the series a spine to build around; it retrospect it was always going to be Missy in there, but my only other theory at the time was that it might be John Simm’s Master, given that we already knew he’d be back before his appearance in the trailer at the end.

Anything else? Oh yeah, the plot. Well, it was relatively lightweight on the surface, but it was merely a framework on which to hang scenes that establish how great this collection of characters are, and how well they work together. It was also there for the Doctor to show off to Bill, and to new viewers alike, just what he can do. The Movellans turning up is hilarious and bizarre, but it’s the ideal choice really – a little reward for the hardcore fans, but anyone who doesn’t know them isn’t missing anything, they’re just the generic race that the Daleks are fighting.

This series will go on to lose its way a little bit towards the middle, but for now this stands out an exciting start to Moffat and Capaldi’s final hurrah, and the first step towards Bill becoming a short-term but nonetheless much-loved companion.

RATING: 9