Doctor Who: Trying Adventure Rounds Down Intermittent Season
Well, another season done with.
Before we get into the discussion of the season as a whole, I suppose we should talk about this week’s episode, The Doctor Falls. The Doctor ends up chased out of a city overrun with cybermen with Nardole, CyBillman, and the two Masters in tow, and winds up fighting to keep a small farming village safe from the oncoming cyber-army. It was, in many ways, an episode of goodbyes – a goodbye not just to characters, but to Moffat’s tenure over the show as a whole (yes, his kiss-off will be the Christmas special in December, but this is the last season of the show he’ll run).
I thought the character send-offs tonight were probably the high points of the episode. Obviously, and most importantly, this episode was a goodbye to the misc. Masters who populated the story. This was a fabulous episode for both Michelle Gomez and John Simm (who, yes, I would still very much like to get in between), even if it didn’t quite seem to know how to use them – watching them flirt and curse and murder at each other was a delicious delight and their deaths – at each other’s hands – were utterly perfect. Also perfect? The tiny moment before Missy left the Doctor, seemingly abandoning him and the people he was protecting to their fate, while secretly pressing the knife she was going to use to off Simm’s Master into his hand to let him know that she was on his side, really – an elegant and understated touch that drew an excellent end to the underused Missy plot this season.
This week saw also the end of Bill (I’m very sad to see Pearl Mackie apparently go, but fingers crossed she turns up in plenty that I can track down in the future, as I truly think she’s been great in the role and can’t wait to see her do more). I thought this was one of Mackie’s best episode in the character, as she played a Cyberman unable to acknowledge her robotic exterior and tortured by the fear she instilled in the people around her. I know her exit is going to cause some consternation, as Heather – the Pilot from the first episode – returns across the galaxy (attracted by her tears, obviously) and sweeps her off on a space lesbian adventure. Yes, it’s an outrageous deus ex machina, and smacks of Steven Moffat stuffing up a plot hole with chewing gun and bellybutton lint, but hell, after the convoluted, hideously plot-holed Clara send-off last year, I’ll take an assistant’s story that actually seems to hold some water (pun completely intended). Frankly, I’m just glad we didn’t have a dead lesbian on our hands – no, Bill, once freed from her cyber-reins, is “living a different way” (ahem, I think we just call it lesbianism now), and I, for one, I’m glad that it took less than three episodes.
I’d like to take a moment here to just assure you of the fact that I didn’t actually think this episode was that good. I can see why you might have been lulled there with those last two paragraphs, because those were two elements I think the episode got right, but it wouldn’t be a Moffat finale with tons of utterly inexplicable moments. The direction, by the usually reliable Rachel Talalay, was intrusive and bizarre; the music by Murray Gold was downright embarrassing at points, as though the emotional point of each scene he scored had been translated back and forth a few times before he got it. Parts of the script felt sweepingly broad and ungainly while others hyper-focused on things that don’t really seem important in retrospect. The Doctor Falls leaned in really hard on the action, too, with a series of explosions that seemed to go off every time someone scratched their arse and just read as comical to me.
There were snides remarks about the future being female, an oddly-placed boner gag, and this really odd close-up of Peter Capaldi yelling “NO!” which I’m still trying to figure out the reasoning behind. It was a scrambling mess in a lot of ways, but what better way to bid goodbye to Moffat’s tenure on the show than in a rambling, self-indulgent hour with a handful of great moments? I think it goes without saying that I dislike Moffat’s run on Doctor Who far more than I like it, and this episode, like many others this season, was a perfect mircrocosm of that. And, for once, at least, the story was small; after going absurdly, enormously huge last year, boiling the episode down to something small-stakes and more satisfying was the right choice.
Obviously, the most important goodbye – or the beginning of one – was Peter Capaldi’s farewell to the leading role. We’re not going to see him regenerate until the Christmas special, as I suspected, but this is his last full episode of the show and wrapped up a lot of loose ends for his character (or, at least, attempted to). It also featured one of his absoloute best performances in the role, with Moffat (who penned this episode) figuring out when to lean in on the emotion (with his goodbyes to Nardole and Bill) and when to ease back (his fantastic, impassioned plea to the Masters to stay with him and fight the cybermen). As I mentioned above, this is a small story and I liked that about it, as it gave the Doctor plenty of time to emote without having to shear out big chunks of plot to make room for it. While I’ve had mixed feelings about Capaldi’s run, I’ve never stopped loving him, and I thought this episode was worthy of his enormous talent. Godspeed, and send me that grey jacket when you get a chance because I know I could rock it.
So what about this season? Where does it rate? I think season ten will probably be one of the ones I come back to to rewatch in the near future. Well, not all of it – nothing could get me to sit through the Extremis three-parter again, Lord save me – but stuff like Knock Knock, The Pilot, or The Eaters of Light might get another look when I just want forty minutes of mindless Doctor Who to enjoy, which is more than I can say for the last couple of seasons, which I’ve barely looked at again since they aired. I think season ten had the luck to go out on higher (or rather, less low) note than the previous two, so I’m leaving it feeling less animosity and more a relative fondness despite it’s numerous flaws. This season has some really terrific stinkers – Oxygen, the Extremis arc, Smile, Thin Ice – but there were at least a small selection of episodes I enjoyed without reservation, which is…something. That’s all it is. Something. Something to keep me coming back next year. Bring on Chibnall, and let’s see what a new era of Doctor Who has to offer.
That’s the end of my coverage of Doctor Who this season; I’ll be back with the Christmas special when it’s out. Thank you so much to all the people who read my reviews and followed along with my coverage on social media – your support (and occasional aggressive disagreement) means a lot to me, and I hope you’ll stick around at the Guignol long after you’ve finished these recaps. You can start from the start and relieve the whole season through my recaps here, and, as ever, if you like my writing and want to see more of it, you can support me on Patreon. Thanks for reading, and I’ll have you yet, Moffat.