It’s safe to say, I’m conflicted.
There is so much right with “The Doctor Falls”; so much that is so on-the-nose, spectacularly, brilliantly right that it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. Bleak and heart-breaking but beautiful. Then the last 10 mins happens and you think… ugh. Really? Really?
So, Bill is now a cyberman and really, there’s no way back from that, however much the Doctor protests. There’s so little of her left, after all, a point accidentally made by speaking about discarding and grinding the excised bits from the conversion process. The Doctor promises a way back, but we know that there isn’t one, really.
CyberBill, meanwhile, is locked in a barn. Not really certain what is happening. Being the clever and strong-willed person that she is, and being under the delusion of still being human, she can’t work out why everyone is scared of her. She doesn’t understand why she is locked up, doesn’t understand the looks of pity from the Doctor. She certainly doesn’t understand the reflexion in the mirror brought to her by a young girl, curious as to what CyberBill is. She is more than aware of the Cybermen attacking the homestead. The surrounding farmlands are littered with captured Cybermen, crucified as a punishment and a warning to other invaders.
Even after seeing herself in the mirror, brought to her by the inquisitive girl, Bill can’t accept what she is and eventually understands when she sees her shadow cast on a wall. A lovely but gut-wrenching moment.
What could have been quite a tedious episode is made more affecting – and watchable – by Pearl Mackie being a scared and vulnerable Bill. The device whereby we see Real Bill during the scenes focusing on her – or from her point of view – and CyberBill from anyone else, makes for a much better story and gives a much bigger emotional punch. Bill’s is hanging on to her humanity, long after it has been surgically removed.
Pearl Mackie has been an absolute revelation in this series, and while not the only reason for tuning in every week, she has kept me interested, even in the dodgiest of episodes. She is going to be sorely missed.
Oh right, there are two Masters, too. Well, Missy and the Master, but I can’t help but think after John Simms amazing performance last week, that this meeting of the mind was a little underwhelming. Their final encounter was probably worth the price of admission, although I very much doubt we’ve seen the last of the character. But apart from a bit of Bill baiting and not quite a change of heart from Missy, I can’t help but feel the episode would have been better without them.
So, scene set, homestead prepared for battle, the cybermen arrive. This time though, as a result of the difference in the speed of time, the cybermen have evolved into the full, unstoppable force. The scenes of the Doctor and Bill battling their way through hordes of far superior Cybermen isn’t the rabble-rousing finale you thought it might be, though. There’s a sadness and inevitability about it that brings a lump to the throat – I found myself thinking of “Blackadder goes Forth: Goodbyee”, oddly enough. Seeing the Doctor lying on an ashen grey battlefield, surrounded by smoke, burned trees and dead cybermen is surprisingly moving.
So, we’ve said our goodbyes to the Master(s), Nardole has escaped to another floor with the children and some of the homesteaders, presumably to go through all this horror again when the cybermen find their way to the new homestead, the Doctor lies dying on a battle and CyberBill hunches over the Doctor, crying.
That would have made for a bleak and powerful ending. Doctor regenerates. Boom. Season 11.
Moffatt never quite knows when to stop and in an attempt to give everyone a happy ending and give Bill a happy send off, he does one of the worst and most unnecessary acts of Deus Ex Machina in recent history.
The living puddle from episode one, in the form of Heather, Bills potential squeeze, turns up, heals Bill and whisks her off to have more adventures in time and space. Wait… isn’t that EXACTLY what happened with Clara at the end of last season? So we have an appalling Deus Ex Machina AND a repeated ending? At least it wasn’t in a graveyard… although the Doctor was surrounded by bodies…gah!
So, so frustrating. The first 45 mins were utterly brilliant. World class drama. A very different feel to ‘normal’ Doctor Who and with a glorious sense of doom and inevitability.
But that ending.
Oh god that ending.
With an extended running time of about 12 minutes and the final 12 minutes being utter gash, perhaps they shouldn’t have bothered. Just, death on a battlefield, Bill returning the Doctor to the Tardis and wandering off to expire then a regeneration would have been, for me, entirely adequate. Perhaps more than adequate but there was an almost RTD sense of outstaying its welcome, as in the David Tennant finale.
I’m not saying Bill didn’t deserve a happy ending, but life isn’t always like that. Sometimes the best of us have appalling ends and this end stretched credulity to the point of obliteration.
The one ray of light in that godforsaken ending was that the Doctor travels back to what looks like Antarctica, from The Tenth Planet. Staving off a regeneration, he spots a figure in the snow…
What I suspect is that this is the first Doctor – actually, we know that bit for certain – during that odd moment in “The Tenth Planet” where he disappears for a few moments. The story is almost over and he says he’s going back to the Tardis while his companions do whatever they do. When they get back to the Tardis, he’s lying on the floor about to regenerate for the first time…
So, what happens between the time he leaves and the time he is found?
That may be the Christmas special.
Like the Master and Missy in the same episode, why have one regeneration when you can have two, right?
So: first 45/50 minutes – Thrill Factor: 9/10
Bill’s Departure – Head/Desk Factor: 10/10
First Doctor Fanboy Squee Factor: 8/10