[This review contains SPOILERS!]
There is no way to discuss The Doctor Falls without some degree of spoilage. Finding an image from the episode to serve as a teaser for this review was a chore and a half. Even the title itself is a dead giveaway – pun very much intended.
The last episode opened with The Doctor on the verge of regeneration and concluded with The Doctor in dire straits. Trapped on a colonization space-ship fighting the gravitational pull of a black hole, a fatally wounded Bill Potts was spirited away to a hospital on the lower levels of the ship. As minutes passed for The Doctor and his other companions, Bill spent the better part of a decade (due to the acceleration of time the closer you are to a black hole) in the charge of a janitor named Mr. Razor.
By the time The Doctor caught up with Bill it was too late. She had been “converted” by the people running the hospital. It was then The Doctor discovered that the colonists had come from a world called Mondas – the home of the first strain of Cybermen! Worse yet, “Mr. Razor” was his oldest enemy – The Master – in disguise and The Master was deeply worried about his future and Missy’s efforts at reformation…
The grand irony is that for all The Doctor Falls concerns itself with resolutions of Series Ten’s many subplots, it still feels like it’s more focused on setting-up another story. The shocking scene that opened this two-parter is left unresolved, being saved for this year’s Christmas special. The final fate of Nardole is left open-ended, with us only getting the barest hint of his background before meeting The Doctor revealed. Even the central conflict of the episode is delayed rather than being resolved.
We do get endings of a sort regarding Missy’s efforts to become good and Bill’s transformation but these feel half-hearted. I don’t think anyone believes we’ll never see The Master again in some form, even if this is the final episode for Michelle Gomez as Missy. Fitting as the fate is, I can’t see this being the end.
Bill’s story is somewhat more satisfying, even if it does come about through a literal Deus Ex Machina and seems like something of a recycling of Clara’s final fate in Series Nine. Sue me. I like the romance of it and there are worse themes to keep coming back to than women who get close to The Doctor being transformed into god-like beings.
Moffat may be back to his old tricks in the writing department but the rest of the production team and the ensemble performances more than make up for any sense of repetitiveness in the script. Rachel Talalay is easily the strongest director to work on the show in the New Who era and the management of all the elements of this episode is simply fantastic. The interplay between John Sims and Michelle Gomez is amazing. Pearl Mackie’s performance as Cyber-Bill is phenomenal, facilitated by the conceit that she doesn’t see herself as a Cyberman and we rarely see her as she physically is.
It is Peter Capaldi – Ol’ Eyebrows himself – who steals the show, however. I’ve likened Capaldi’s performance as The Doctor to that of Tom Baker and how both actors have shown a wide variety of range to the point that it almost seemed as if they were playing different people who just happened to be called The Doctor. I’m not sure if Moffat had The Fourth Doctor in mind while writing this series at all but there are a lot of callbacks in this episode to the final Tom Baker story Logopolis. There’s a grand dramatic irony there, given that story ended with The Doctor sacrificing himself to save all of reality while fighting The Master. Here, The Doctor sacrifices himself for much smaller stakes in a fight that ends in a far more ambiguous way… yet it is the same fight. It always has been, as The Doctor notes in a dramatic speech that may be Capaladi’s single greatest moment as The Doctor yet.
I’m sure Whovians around the world will be arguing about the overall effectiveness of The Doctor Falls for quite some time. The only thing I think everyone agrees upon is how much we wish this year’s Christmas special were arriving sooner… particularly in the wake of that final scene.