The Good: Decent performances, Ties the season together well, Good effects, Good character moments
The Bad: Repetitive plot and character elements from other Steven Moffat works
The Basics: "The Doctor Falls" puts Bill in mortal peril and The Doctor, Missy, Nardole and The Master in a situation that might spell all their doom.
Steven Moffat's run as showrunner of Doctor Who has been an erratic one. While a lot of fangirls came to love him, I was not a fan of Matt Smith's tenure as The Doctor. I was actually super-excited by Peter Capaldi being cast as The Doctor, but his three season run as The Doctor, which was separated by (essentially) a year off while the production team tried to figure out its next direction, was marred by pretty terrible writing. So, there was something of a "fuck you" quality to Steven Moffat's final season as showrunner as the writing suddenly got good and the production team finally figured out how to write and develop Peter Capaldi's version of The Doctor. Moffat's penultimate episode writing and executive producing Doctor Who with Peter Capaldi as The Doctor is "The Doctor Falls."
"The Doctor Falls" follows immediately upon "World Enough And Time" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss without some references to where the prior episode went. After all, "World Enough And Time" put The Doctor, Nardole, and Bill on a massive alien ship near a black hole and when Bill became separated from the others in a section of the ship moving at a radically-different rate of time, she falls prey to one of The Doctor's worst enemies.
"The Doctor Falls" opens with a tremendous burden upon it. "World Enough And Time" returned The Master, the John Simm version of The Master, to the Doctor Who narrative and because he came in so late in the prior episode, there was no burden in that episode to explain how The Master appeared. Missy has perfectly good reason not to recall being on the space ship in the form of The Master, as she has had more than a thousand years of being isolated wherein she has been able to dwell on many other things. But The Master in "World Enough And Time" defined himself as being the "former prime minister." How The Master ended up in deep space after being killed in "Last Of The Time Lords" (reviewed here!), but before being resurrected for "The End Of Time" (reviewed here!) bears an explanation and as "The Doctor Falls" opens, Doctor Who is stuck trying to make a satisfactory explanation for how that could occur. "The Doctor Falls" manages to remind viewers that The Master was not previously killed; he just went off with the Time Masters and his end was left vague before he popped back up as Missy. "The Doctor Falls" creates a new, weird, problem when it puts into play yet another TARDIS. The Master, after returning to Gallifrey, got his own TARDIS. So, despite there being a TARDIS graveyard in a prior episode, the implication that The Doctor's TARDIS was the last one, by the end of "The Doctor Falls" there are three in play in our universe - The Doctor's, Ashildr's, and The Master's. More satisfying than the explanation of how The Master got away from Gallifrey, "The Doctor Falls" closes the loop on The Master/Missy and the Cybermen. When Missy was first introduced, she was using Cyberman technology in her bid to take over Earth using the dead; how she got that technology makes perfect sense given where "The Doctor Falls" leaves The Master.
Picking up on level 507 of the ship, the humans on the colony ship are living in a holographic simulation of farmland on the solar farm level. They are using proto-Cybermen who have made it up to that level as scarecrows to keep the children from wandering. Back on the bottom level, The Doctor is confronted by The Master and Missy, having just learned that Bill has been transformed into a Cyberman. When The Master and Missy attack The Doctor, he has just enough time to reprogram the Cyberman computer to recognize Time Lords as eligible for Conversion. As the Cybermen converge upon the heroes, Nardole manages to get all of them away with Bill's help.
Reaching Level 507, Bill wakes up in a barn where she is alarmed by how the colonist children are terrified of her. She looks in the mirror and is confused by why she appears to be a Cyberman. Together, Bill, The Doctor, Nardole, Missy and The Master prepare Level 507 for a Cyberman siege as they skyrocket up to the level. But, as the Cybermen invade, The Master and Missy betray The Doctor and they have an escape plan on The Master's damaged TARDIS on the lower levels of the ship. In stopping the Cybermen, Nardole reprograms the holographic fields as weapons and evacuates the humans to a higher level. That leaves The Doctor and Bill to thwart the invading Cybermen, but The Doctor is wounded and his life hangs in the balance with no way out.
"The Doctor Falls" is quite good, especially as it winnows The Doctor's allies down. Ironically, as the episode began, I found myself rooting for Nardole and being surprisingly impressed over how vital the character managed to become. Matt Lucas rose to the occasion of being a full-fledged Companion and it was nice to see him become something more than a punchline.
The irksome aspect of "The Doctor Falls" is that Peter Capaldi's version of The Doctor suddenly becomes indispensable and incredible . . . right around his apparent end. The other disappointing aspect of "The Doctor Falls" is Steven Moffat's repetition for his own ideas. The moment Bill appears on Level 507 looking like Bill, it is hard for the seasoned Doctor Who viewer not to see exactly what is going on. Steven Moffat used the exact same reversal with (proto) Clara when she was introduced in the "Asylum Of The Daleks." It is tremendously disappointing and obvious to see Bill given the exact same arc with her new Cyberman body and The Master and Missy doing their usual betrayals of The Doctor.
In a similar way, Moffat wusses out on resolving Bill's character arc. Moffat seems terrified about giving a character a bad end . . . so he again recycles his own material. Fans who saw how Clara was ultimately written out in "Hell Bent" (reviewed here!) will instantly feel a sinking feeling the moment Bill sees her love interest from "The Pilot" (reviewed here!). Moffat's penchant for reusing material is disappointing in "The Doctor Falls."
That said, Pearl Mackie does incredibly well as Bill. Mackie might be working off a script that is familiar to Doctor Who fans, but she performs the material in a way that suddenly makes those who refused to invest in her character (Mackie was spoiled early on in the season as being a one-season Companion) completely care about her. Bill believed in The Doctor and she got screwed; her character was barely around long enough to learn about Regeneration - The Doctor never satisfactorily explained to her The Master. Bill's sense of hope is heartbreaking and Mackie lands the moment of epiphany.
Peter Capaldi's version of The Doctor is everything fans have wanted from him in "The Doctor Falls." Viewers are likely to wonder where the hell Moffat's talent was for giving Capaldi's character a unique voice up until this point.
All that said, "The Doctor Falls" is a powerful set-up for Peter Capaldi's final bow as The Doctor . . . and it is enough for fans to hope that Capaldi's leaving with the arrival of a new Executive Producer is a fake-out, much like the BBC did when announcing Jenna Coleman's departure an entire season in advance of her actual leaving.
For other Doctor Who season finales, please check out my reviews of:
"The Parting Of The Ways"
"The End Of Time, Part 2"
"The Big Bang"
For other Doctor Who episode and season reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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