August 19: "The Doctor Falls"

Bill carries the Doctor. ("The Doctor Falls") ©BBC
In the previous episode, the disguised Master mentioned that a group of people had gone up to one of the solar farms on floor 507, but that they were never heard from again (because of that whole relativity thing).  Well, this time we head to those people, to save them from the Cybermen below who want to convert them into fellow Cybermen.

There's definitely a sense of desperation running under this entire episode.  The Cybermen are treated as an implacable force, one that can only be delayed, not defeated -- which, it turns out, is the sort of thing the Cybermen have needed in order to actually be a serious threat.  Lots of other Cyberman stories have claimed this is the case but have never really shown it.  This is probably the closest we've got to actually seeing that threat fully realized.  The Cybermen are, in some ways, essentially a force of nature: "They always get started," the Doctor tells the Masters.  "They happen everywhere there's people.  Mondas, Telos, Earth, Planet 14, Marinus.281  Like sewage and smartphones and Donald Trump, some things are just inevitable."  There's also a suggestion that this might be the Master's fault in some ways, as he arrived on the ship, ruled over the people living on the bottom, and then they overthrew him -- but perhaps he influenced their development into Cybermen along the way.

But yeah, most of this story involves floor 507, and the preparations for the inevitable invasion of the Cybermen, who've already had a huge number of years to advance (leading to the "Nightmare in Silver" et seq version, which suggests that maybe those Cybermen were in fact also Mondasian, rather than something else).  The huge change here, of course, is Bill, who really has been turned into a Cyberman, full stop.  The only reason she's still hanging on at all is because her experiences with the Monks during "The Lie of the Land" mean she's used to holding on to her identity.  This means that Pearl Mackie still gets to play scenes, as when we get moments from her perspective she's still herself, not a Cyberman -- and, touchingly, the Doctor seems to view her the same way, as Bill.  And Mackie absolutely goes for it; the scenes in the barn, where she looks at herself in the mirror and then gets angry, inadvertently activating her headlamp weapon and demolishing the barn door, are really very impressive.

Also, I should take a moment to praise Matt Lucas.  Nardole has frequently been the comic relief this series, which has been quite lovely, but here he finally gets to step up and be the hero.  The computer skills they've kept referencing get used in a big way, and he absolutely saves the day, even if he doesn't want to.  He's sent off to guide the people to a different floor, to become their protector.  It's a really touching farewell between him and the Doctor and Bill, and he's left to defend them against the Cybermen.  It's really quite sad to see him go -- he'd come a long way from a jokey, bit character in "The Husbands of River Song".

The Masters and the Doctor prepare to fend off the Cybermen. ("The
Doctor Falls") ©BBC
And we also get some moments with both Masters (and John Simm's Master is still being written as completely insane and malevolent, which is rather wonderful), as the old Master has no interest in saving anyone other than himself, while Missy seems to have genuinely changed after her time with the Doctor, even if only a little.  It's a lot of fun, honestly, watching Simm and Michelle Gomez inhabit scenes together.  We've never had a multi-Master story on TV before, and it's great to finally see one.  Watching the old Master wonder how he became a woman, and with Missy a bit hazy on how exactly it happened, are lovely (and a bit of foreshadowing, if you've remembered that Time Lords meeting themselves don't retain the memory of events).  We even get some dismissive misogyny from the old Master ("Is the future going to be all girl?" the Master asks snidely.  "We can only hope," the Doctor replies -- again, making it look like they're preparing us for the next Doctor, even though Jodie Whittaker wasn't announced as such until after this episode went out), which is again perfectly in keeping with his character.  But this also means that the Doctor can rail against them both, after they decide that he can't win against the Cybermen and so therefore they're leaving:
DOCTOR: I'm going to be dead in a few hours, so before I go, let's have this out, you and me, once and for all.  Winning?  Is that what you think it's about?  I'm not trying to win.  I'm not doing this because I want to beat someone, or because I hate someone, or because, because I want to blame someone.  It's not because it's fun and God knows it's not because it's easy.  It's not even because it works, because it hardly ever does.  I do what I do because it's right!  Because it's decent!  And above all, it's kind.  It's just that.  Just kind.  If I run away today, good people will die.  If I stand and fight, some of them might live.  Maybe not many, maybe not for long.  Hey, you know, maybe there's no point in any of this at all, but it's the best I can do, so I'm going to do it.  And I will stand here doing it till it kills me.  You're going to die too, some day.  How will that be?  Have you thought about it?  What would you die for?  Who I am is where I stand.  Where I stand, is where I fall.  Stand with me.  These people are terrified.  Maybe we can help, a little.  Why not, just at the end, just be kind?
And while the old Master remains resolutely unconvinced ("See this face?  Take a good, long look at it.  This is the face that didn't listen to a word you just said"), Missy seems much more uncertain, which shows her character development -- to the point where, although she initially goes along with her other self, she decides she is going to make a stand with the Doctor, even though it means killing her older self in order to do it.  Not that the Master will stand for this ("No.  Never.  Missy!  I will never stand with the Doctor!"), so he kills his future self, claiming that she won't even be able to regenerate (although I guess we'll see in the future if that was true).  This is the end of Missy's arc, one of partial redemption but which was ultimately undone by her own hand (sort of), and it's surprisingly satisfying.  "You see, Missy, this is where we've always been going," the dying Master tells her.  "This is our perfect ending.  We shoot ourselves in the back."

But that speech also reflects the twelfth Doctor's journey.  He started out quite aloof and uncaring of humanity, preferring to take a larger view of things, but as time went on he moved to this, to the point where he's willing to sacrifice himself just to buy others time to escape.  The little speech from "Extremis" ("Good is good in the final hour, in the deepest pit without hope, without witness, without reward.  Virtue is only virtue in extremis") kept running through my head through this, and so when it actually came up again at the end of the episode it wasn't a surprise.  This is the Doctor making a stand and falling as a result because that is who he is.  Ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of others.

The first Doctor talks to the twelfth. ("The Doctor Falls") ©BBC
The ending, of course, means that he blows up all the Cybermen and himself.  And this leads to a bit of deus ex machina, with Bill rescued by Heather, the girl from "The Pilot", but I find I don't mind.  They've been hinting at it a bit with the tears stuff, and Bill is such a great character that I want a happy ending for her, even if it stretches credulity just a bit.  Bill gets the girl and gets to explore the universe with her (so, er, a bit like the ending to Clara's story last series then), off to have her own adventures.  (Although she will be back one last time for the Christmas special.)  And so the Doctor is left alone in the TARDIS (having been transported there by Heather), preparing to regenerate -- although he, like the tenth Doctor, doesn't want to go. "I don't want to change again.  Never again!" he shouts.  "I can't keep on being somebody else."  And so the TARDIS brings him to the end of his very first regeneration (and gloriously, David Bradley makes the transition from playing William Hartnell in the docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time to being an official, canon version of the first Doctor, alongside Hartnell and Five Doctors actor Richard Hurndall) -- and we'll have to wait until Christmas to see what happens next...

This has thus been a great story, with some fantastic characters and a great, clever storyline.  It's a "big" episode, obviously, what with being the series 10 finale and all, but they pull it off with great aplomb.  This is full of memorable moments and great (and sometimes shocking) surprises.  In fact, this might be the finest series finale of Moffat's entire tenure. Definitely a winner.

And yes, there's still the final episode of both the twelfth Doctor and the Steven Moffat eras to go, but this is essentially the end of series 10.  I commented under series 9 how much more accessible and confident that run had been than series 8, but 10 feels as much of an advance over 9 as 9 did over 8.  Part of it is that 10 feels even more easy for the casual audience to watch and enjoy than 9 did, with little in the way of overarching or convoluted storylines.  But this welcoming feeling is also in no small part due to the chemistry between Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, and Matt Lucas.  Capaldi has mellowed into the role and become incredibly comfortable in it, to the point where he just is the Doctor, while Mackie has brought such an energy and affection and naturalness to the role of Bill that she makes just about every scene she's in worth watching.  And Lucas has hit the perfect balance of comedy and seriousness, making him just as excellent.  This TARDIS team is one of the all-time greats, aided by a series of stories that have been generally high-quality -- and even when they're a bit weaker, these three elevate the material.  Series 10 is a definite success, due in no small part to them.

So thanks once again for reading my thoughts on the latest series of Doctor Who.  Hopefully we'll see you again on August 20, 2018, for "Twice Upon a Time", and the final end of the twelfth Doctor and the Moffat years...

281 Planet 14 is a reference to an unseen adventure mentioned in the Troughton story The Invasion, while Marinus is a reference to Grant Morrison's 1987 DWM comic story "The World Shapers", which suggested that the Voord eventually turned into the Cybermen.