And so the clock strikes thirteen. Or does it? The Doctor Who finale offers a remarkable send-off to the season ten status quo while suggesting, one again, that the Doctor doesn’t want to go. Was it one of the more memorable finales? Let’s take a look.
Spoilers follow …
As the conclusion to a two-part story, it is remarkably strong. Rachel Talalay proves to be one of the best all-time directors of the show. Her abilities with action and emotion lead to not only stronger shots, but stronger performances. Even John Simm, who’s Master was beset with the Sound of Drums, finally had a chance to bring a new depth to the part. His disappointment in his future self was something to relish. It also allowed the audience to see the complexity in the frenemy status of the two Time Lords. And even the frenemy status a Time Lord can have with oneself.
Meanwhile, Bill’s plot was devastating. Waking up to discover one is a Cyberman is a true tale of body horror. And maybe a shot across the bow at incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall, whose own attempt at Cyber-horror led to an infamously awful episode of Torchwood. But setting snark aside, Pearl Mackie showed once again an amazing talent. Twelve episodes ultimately felt too short a time with both the actress and the character. Then again, where there’s tears, there’s hope.
Of course, not everything can be magic for a Doctor Who fan, and there are some things I have to quibble with. Chief among them — and I’m only talking about the episode as two-part story and not as a season finale — is the odd brush off of the Masters. Though both actors were excellent, their apparent demises seemed stunted somehow. Of course, that could be an artifact of watching the episode with commercial interruptions. And though their final exchange was just downright astonishing, we’re left with an inappropriate question mark.
Similarly, Bill’s final end felt a little bit of a cop-out. After dealing with the horror of being utterly transformed, she earned the right to either sacrifice herself to save the others or even self-delete. But maybe that hesitance in the plot will bode well for Bill’s future on the show.
Those points aside, “The Doctor Falls” was one of the most solid Doctor Who finales of the modern era and likely the strongest under the leadership of showrunner Steven Moffat. It was also nice to see the finale build its own stakes and not carry the weight of a traditional season long arc. While Bad Wolf and the Crack in Time were great devices, it was nice to see a season of the modern era walk away from that. Instead, The Doctor, Bill and Nardole find themselves in a situation they cannot cope with. And though Missy’s apparent conversion to The Doctor’s side filtered throughout the year, it was more character based and less abstract than of the previous runners. To me, that’s what I want from a Doctor Who finale, not a phrase or image chasing the Doctor through time and space.
But finales do not exist in vacuums, and this one offered the greatest tease since John Hurt emerged from the shadows as the War Doctor. I, for one, would like to welcome David Bradley to the show as the First Doctor. Bradley previously play actor William Hartnell in the mostly superb An Adventure in Space and Time. In that film, he recreated a couple of key First Doctor scenes, suggesting he could play the part if ever called upon. To see him here was a delight. And just to make the moment as meta as possible, his line “the original, you might say,” was never uttered by Hartnell, but first recited by actor Richard Hurndall — as the First Doctor — in the 20th Anniversary story “The Five Doctors.” To have a second actor recreating the original performance and call it “the original” is just about as playful as Moffat has ever allowed himself to be the with show and its history.
Well, it’s playful for the moment. We’ll see how it actually plays out in the 2018 Christmas Special.
Although, thinking about the finale as a bridge to the upcoming special and Peter Capaldi’s true swansong, I have to admit I’m disappointed to see the “Doctor doesn’t want to regenerate” narrative playing out again. Like David Tennant’s final run of specials in 2009, the petulance involved is just a little bit beyond something I want to see in the Doctor; especially considering in both cases, the actors involved were ready to move on. Perhaps if that had been a running motif in the season, it might have more weight. For the Twelfth Doctor to suddenly decide he doesn’t want to go feels dishonest for the character and the reality of the show.
Then again, maybe these are points Moffat will address in the Christmas special.
Other quick points:
- Nardole finding a new purpose and maybe even love seems like the best possible ending for him, even if it all felt a little rushed.
- The fact Moffat gave us Bill and Heather in the first episode of the year should’ve been a bigger clue to the end. Both are named after the Hartnells.
- The original Cybermen voice is shockingly great and more indicative of their true horror. It should replace the flat drone of the modern Cybermen in future appearances.
Flaws and all, “The Doctor Falls” stands as well-made finale and one of the best cliffhangers of the series. It’s a true emotional roller coaster and it’s a great example of what the show can do — good and bad — when its running on all cylinders. Christmas cannot come fast enough as the prospect of Capaldi and Bradley bickering already resonates in my mind.