Doctor Who S10E12 “The Doctor Falls” REVIEW
Finished airing on BBC One
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Rachel Talalay
Essential Plot Points:
- The Masters capture the Doctor and try to work out the best way to kill him (taking into account regenerations).
- But the Doctor manages to reprogram the Cyber-network so that the Cybermen regard humanoids with two hearts as valid subjects for conversion. Suddenly the Masters need get off the hospital level pronto.
- Nardole, meanwhile, has found a shuttle craft. He picks up the Doctor, CyberBill and the Masters from the hospital roof and they fly up through the ship’s levels until the effects of repeatedly crashing through various roofs finally renders the craft useless.
- They find themselves on Floor 507 where a rural society has been dealing with half-hearted skirmishes from very early Cybermen for years.
- Knowing that the Cybermen’s Exodus is imminent, the Doctor and Nardole prepare the locals for the coming battle. Nardole comes up with a plan that involves hacking into the ship’s systems to create explosions to “fake” the idea that the locals have a vast arsenal.
- Bill struggles with her new reality as a Cyberman, but stands by the Doctor. He says that her struggle to maintain her memories under the rule of the Monks (in “The Lie Of The Land”) has equipped her brain to fight the Cyber-conditioning.
- The Masters size each other up, and the Doctor is distraught when – despite one of his most impassioned speeches ever – Missy sides with her former self rather than stay to fight the Cybermen alongside the Doctor.
- But when the Masters try to get back down to the hospital level to retrieve the Master’s Tardis, Missy stabs the Master – triggering his regeneration into her – saying she’s changed and will help the Doctor.
- The Master is determined that will never happen, and kills his future self – in such a way that she cannot regenerate. He returns to his Tardis to undergo his own regeneration.
- The Cybermen arrive but initial skirmishes – which seem to indicate that the locals are better armed than they’d suspected – force them withdraw and formulate a new strategy.
- In the breathing space Nardole leads the locals to safety on a floor further up.
- The Doctor and CyberBill stay in Floor 507 to battle the Cybermen.
- Ultimately, the Doctor uses Nardole’s hacking system to blow up the entire floor, destroying all the Cybermen.
- Bill also dies, but Heather – the water-based super-alien she fell for in “The Pilot” – appears out of of a puddle, having sensed her tears.
- Heather turns Bill into a being like herself. They return the Doctor to this Tardis then they go off on adventures around the galaxy. And probably to snog loads. Wonder if they’ll bump into Clara and Ashildr?
- Though fatally wounded in the Cyber-battle, the Doctor refuses to regenerate.
- The Tardis takes him somewhere snowy where, still, railing against the coming change, he encounters… himself, in his first incarnation.
Here’s a question to ponder: if “The Doctor Falls” had finished with the Twelfth Doctor regenerating, would it have been the best regeneration story ever?
Instead, it turns out to be an overture to a regeneration story. Which on the one hand is a good thing, especially considering the roll Steven Moffat is on quality-wise at the moment. Plus, it looks like we’re in for a very different kind of regeneration story. Judging by the snowy setting, the First Doctor we meet at the end of the episode is in the midst of his own regeneration story – “The Tenth Planet” – which was set in Antartica and (presumably not a coincidence) featured the first appearance of the Cybermen. So this year’s Christmas special is set to feature two Doctors on the brink of handing over the torch.
(There’s added meta poignancy in having David Bradley play the First Doctor; he portrayed William Hartnell in the brilliant 50th anniversary docudrama An Adventure In Space And Time, which detailed how Hartnell – like the Twelfth Doctor – was reluctant to give up being the Doctor.)
On the other hand, this means that once again, the regeneration will be a Christmas special, and there seems to be some unwritten rule that Doctor Who Christmas specials have to be light, fluffy and Christmassy. Matt Smith’s final story, “The Time Of The Doctor”, especially suffered from having the festive themes artificially thrust onto it. We can but hope that this time the Antarctic snow will be deemed Christmassy enough. Let’s at least hope we’re spared a scene with the First Doctor lifting a glass of wine to camera wishing all us at home a Merry Christmas (there is a precedent).
It would be a shame if after such an intense, emotional and rousing episode as “The Doctor Falls” – which earned the right to end with a regeneration – the actual regeneration episode turns out to be all tinsel and turkey.
Then again, Moffat is on a roll. We’re quietly confident he got something special for his – and Capaldi’s – swan song.
As for “The Doctor Falls” – well, it’s quite magnificent, isn’t it? Okay, after the brilliant set-up in “World Enough And Time” it isn’t quite as good, but considering most second parts rarely withstand the weight of expectation, that “The Doctor Falls” very nearly does is quite a revelation. As we said in the preview, it may boast some great FX and action set-pieces, but it’s considerably less epic in scope than previous GALAXY-THREATENING/REALITY-THREATENING/ALL-OF-TIME-THREATENING series finales. This time the tale feels more personal, intense and character-led. And all the better for it. The stakes are the lives of the inhabitants on just one space ship. Yet this final stand somehow feels more dramatic and and more momentous.
The acting from all the regulars is just astounding and with John Simm in the mix as well, we are being totally spoiled. Rachel Talalay’s direction is exquisite; rarely has the show felt more cinematic and, boy, does she know the power of a close up. The Master(s) storyline is a pleasant curveball. You expect with John Simm back that his Master is going to be orchestrating all the bad-assery. Instead, the Doctor basically defeats his plan within the first five minutes and he’s left pursuing his own personal storyline instead; coming to terms with his future self and not being happy with what he sees (while, perversely and gloriously, being turned on by her at the same time). The shot of him uncomfortably experimenting with eyeliner in preparation for his oncoming sex change slyling hints at how ill-at-ease he is with the idea, despite his bluster. The Master, as in “Sound Of Drums” and “Doomsday”, is still clearly the most unreconstructed of males.
Bill’s fate is a little bit of a case of having-your-cake-and-eating-it. She both doesn’t have an easy fix and dies a Cyberman, only to then be given the easiest of fixes – thanks to a superpowered ex. But somehow, it still feels satisfying and earned. Plus, we loved the way she reminded the Doctor that she was never into him, that way. We can’t help feeling that Bill, as a character, never quite achieved the potential she showed in “The Pilot” but she has certainly been graced with a superb and memorable two-part exit.
It’s not perfect. The opening section feels a little rushed. Heather rising from a puddle still looks a little silly (especially at such an emotional moment). The Cyber-scarecrows are never adequately explained. Missy seems a little dim not to expect the Master to try something like shooting her in the back. But who needs perfection when flawed genius like this is so good?
So why bother pondering if this is the best regeneration story ever. Maybe the real question is, is it the best series finale ever?
- The Doctor refusing to regenerate.
- All the fan-pleasing Easter eggs (see Random below).
- Loads of great action sequences and exploding Cybermen.
- The chilling concept that Cybermen regard converting children as more efficient.
- The FX were magnificent.
- The dramatic irony of Missy finally electing to join the Doctor, then getting shot in the back so he’ll never know he succeeded in getting through to her.
- Bill’s bittersweet fate.
- Bill seeing herself as a Cyberman in a mirror for the first time – marvellously shot and acted. The Cyber shadow on the wall was also a very affecting image.
- David Bradley turning up as the first Doctor.
- The Doctor’s heartfelt speech to the Masters (which finally, belatedly, gets through).
- Both John Simm and Michelle Gomez – they were a brilliant double act. One of our favourite Masters moments (aside from the pervy bits when Simm’s Master started leering over his female self) was:
“The Doctor’s dead. He told me he always hated you. Let’s go.”
“The Doctor’s dead. He told me he always hated you.”
“Yeah, heard you the first time.”
- We also loved Missy’s elegant pirouette during the “Knock yourself out” “Your wish is my command” exchange.
- Jelly babies!
- “I’m going to name a town after you, a really rubbish one.”
- “I probably should tell you… I’m not human.”
“I’ll try anything once.”
- “This is our perfect ending. We shoot ourselves in the back.”
- The Nardole/Hazran maybe-romance was rather sweet.
- Rachel Talalay’s majestic direction.
- The way the initially rather naff idea that CyberBill can cry ultimately has a proper explanation.
- “This is me we’re talking about. Me. You know what I was like.” Well, no, Nardole, sorry we don’t. While Matt Lucas generally has a great episode and some lovely scenes, the lack of any exploration of his back story this season means the vast majority of viewers won’t recall he’s the kind of guy who’d, “sell their own spaceship back to them once a week.”
- The idea that the Doctor could reprogram the Cybermen to expand their definition of humanity in a couple of seconds while falling on a keyboard during a fight is… stretching things a bit.
- We’d like to have seen a bit more of Bill talking as CyberBill. Okay, that would have lead to very clunky dialogue scenes but it would have been nice to understand how the other characters were perceiving her.
- The whole Cyber-scarecrow shtick felt a little bit too much like a great image that never quite made sense.
- Bill going off to have space adventures with Heather is a little bit too similar to Clara going off to have space adventures with Ashildr.
- Also, we’d like to have seen glimpses of a few more of those floors, just to visualise a concept that was largely only explained through dialogue.
And The Random:
- The montage at the end before the Doctor refuses to regenerate is based on a similar montage that accompanied Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor regenerating into Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor (see below). Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) has the honour of being the only actor to be featured in both. But, why no Mickey or Rory?
- While trying to resist regenerating the Doctor says:
• “Sontarans, perverting the course of human history!” He previously babbled this in “Listen” (2014) when he was in a delirious state.
• “I don’t want to go.” This was what the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) famously uttered just before regenerating in “The End Of Time, Part 2” (2010)
• “(I’ll always remember) when the Doctor was me.” The Eleventh Doctor said this moments before regenerating in “The Time Of The Doctor” (2013)
- Both the Twelfth Doctor and the First Doctor say the line, “I am the Doctor, the original you might say,” a phrase first used by the First Doctor (played by Richard Hurndall at the time) in “The Five Doctors” (1983).
- The Master(s) ask if the Doctor has ever died by drowning. Well, yes… sort of. In the alternate reality of “Turn Left” (2008) the Tenth Doctor drowned in the flood during his encounter with the Empress of the Racnoss in “The Runaway Bride” (2006) because he never met Donna.
- In the same scene Missy says, “I know you’ve fallen,” referring to “Logopolis” (1981) when the Fourth Doctor fell from a radio telescope and regenerated into the Fifth Doctor.
- Many fans have pointed out that the Twelfth Doctor’s costume looks very Third Doctor-y in his “regeneration” scene (especially the red lining of his coat looking like the Third Doctor’s red cloak), but we also reckon he’s looking very Eighth Doctor-y in the shot below.
- In his battle with the Cybermen, the Doctor mentions Telos, Voga, Canary Wharf and the moon; respectively, these were the locations of his previous encounters with the Cybermen in “The Tomb Of The Cybermen” (Second Doctor, 1967), “Revenge Of The Cybermen” (Fourth Doctor, 1975), “Doomsday” (Tenth Doctor, 2006) and “The Moonbase” (Second Doctor, 1967). He also mentions Planet 14, which we’ve never seen on screen, but in “Invasion” (Second Doctor, 1968) the Cyber-Planner reports that both the Second Doctor and Scots companion Jamie had been on Planet 14.
- Earlier in the episode the Doctor also mentions that Cybermen evolved on Marinus. “The Keys Of Marinus” (1964) was a First Doctor story that didn’t feature Cybermen. However it did feature and alien race called the Voord who, according to the Doctor Who magazine comic strip “The World Shapers” (by Grant Morrison), did indeed evolve into the earliest Cybermen. So, thank you Steven Moffat for providing an explanation that ties up all the varying explanations for the origin of the Cybermen we’ve been given over the years.
- The Master’s dematerialisation circuit is very similar to the Doctor’s dematerialisation circuit from the Third Doctor’s era, though considerable less bulky.
- The Saxon-Master pushes the Doctor round in a wheelchair, just as he did in “The Last Of The Time-Lords” (2007).
- Samantha Spiro, who plays Hazlan, portrayed Barbara Windsor in the recent controversial TVG movie Babs, and also appeared as Melessa Tarley – Samwell’s mum – in season six of Game Of Thrones.
- Speculation: Missy cannot recall if she is definitely the next incarnation of the Master after the Saxon-Master. Maybe she’s not and so we’ll be seeing the Master in another guise (or ever a series of other guises) sometime in the future. Either that, or the Saxon-Master somehow manipulates his regeneration so he doesn’t become Missy.