Series 36, Episode 12
The Doctor Falls.
As we reach the end of this series of Doctor Who, I can't say that my views on this series have been especially favourable. While these last two episodes have been good (with even this finale managing to be a fairly solid episode, if one that leans a little too heavily on regeneration fakeouts and the like), the ten episodes before them were all somewhat lacking -- some less so (like the Monk trilogy, Empress of Mars, and The Eaters of Light) and some more so (like Oxygen, Thin Ice, and Smile), but with none of them managing to be either terrible or especially brilliant.
This week's episode picks up from the end of last week's, with the John Simm Master having returned, Bill having been turned into a Cyberman, and the loyalties of Missy very much up in the air. Arriving several levels up in an idyllic countryside-esque solar farm, the Doctor, Bill, Nardole, Missy, and the Master set themselves to the task of defending the level from the encroaching Cyberman, and trying to find a way to escape. With the Doctor injured and on the verge of regeneration, and Bill transformed -- seemingly irreversibly -- into a Cyberman, the Doctor and Bill decide to stay behind and take out as many Cybermen as they can, while Nardole escapes in one direction, and Missy and the Master escape in another.
Okay, let's start on the big, important thing: Missy's redemption arc. Much like Missy through a lot of this episode, I'm in two minds about that storyline as it runs through this episode -- broadly speaking, Moffat isn't very good at writing Davies' Master, so there's an aura of artificiality to everything Simm's Master does, like he's been boiled down to a one-dimensional cut-out of himself (and he wasn't exactly brimming over with depth beforehand) that's actually quite distracting. A lot of what the Simm Master does feels wrong for his character, to the point where he comes across as almost more of a prop for Missy.
That said, Missy is written and acted fairly well here -- with the emphasis on 'acted,' because while Moffat's writing of Missy as being conflicted and eventually deciding to stand with the Doctor (including stabbing the Simm Master, allowing him to regenerate into her) is fairly good, what sells it is Michelle Gomez's performance.
Which makes what happens next -- Simm Master shooting Missy, giving her 'the full dose' so that she can't regenerate -- leave even more of a sour taste in my mouth, because more than anything it feels like Moffat trying to make it difficult for anybody else to use the Master, taking a character that isn't his and doing his absolute best to make sure he's got the last word on them. Having Missy shot and having it cut away as she starts to regenerate would have capped off her story better, making for a nice parallel with her prompting the Simm Master to regenerate, and putting a question mark over whether her next regeneration will feel the same as she does.
The rest of the episode is actually surprisingly solid. Putting the Doctor in an unwinnable situation, and letting us get to know the people he's trying to save, and then following through on that, having the Cybermen staved off and the people temporarily protected, but with the knowledge that sooner or later, they will be in danger again, isn't something the show does very often, and it works to great effect here. By a similar token, Bill's cyberisation is partly so harrowing because we know that the Doctor can't actually do anything about it, and by the end of the episode, Bill knows that too.
I've seen people saying that Bill being saved by her romantic interest from the first episode returning as an Omnipotent Space Goddess is a cop-out, and -- yeah, yeah, it is. I don't mind it, though, if I'm being honest. I wasn't expecting it, but when it happened, I didn't feel like I'd been cheated out of anything. Instead, I felt like it was a nice way of capping off both the story of this episode and the promise (of running into the Pilot again) of the first episode.
I'm not nearly so forgiving with the Doctor's regeneration fake-outs. I've always hated New Who's tendency to tease and then pull back from actually having regeneration, in some misguided attempt to build up tension, so the fact that this series has now done that three times, two of them in a single episode, really does rather rankle me. Especially since it all comes to naught anyway: We don't get a regeneration, it's clearly being saved for the Christmas episode.
All in all, this episode was a surprisingly good end to a mediocre series. Coming up in the Christmas special, we apparently have the First Doctor, played by David Bradley -- an obvious choice, since Bradley has previously played William Hartnell in An Adventure in Space and Time, a docudrama about the creation of Doctor Who.