Sunday, 2 July 2017

Doctor Who: The Doctor Falls (2)

Doctor: 'Bill. I will fix this. I will get you back again, I swear.'

Despite not being Moffat's finest season, this was a powerful finale. The Master and Missy, although perhaps slightly underused, traded tremendously entertaining, sometimes moving, dialogue; Bill's story came to a surprisingly uplifting conclusion; even Nardole's journey, despite my earlier reservations, felt completely worthwhile. And I loved that final scene. If it means we get a two Doctors Christmas episode, then I'm as happy as a Doctor with two hearts.

This episode got so much right. It portrayed both Missy and the Master as real people, instead of the caricatures they'd become, and what a difference it made. I've struggled to like both characters throughout NuWho's run, not because I dislike them as fictional creations, or because I don't like the actors who play them, but because they were both given such over-the-top personalities. Tonight, as with last week, Moffat reigned both characters in, and they were so much better for it. If the Master had been like this from the beginning, I dare say I'd have liked him more. Ditto Missy. If this truly was her final appearance, then I'm sad to see her go.

Missy and the Master killing each other, whilst giggling like children, felt like the perfect ending. It made absolute sense that Missy would kill the Master in order to become a good person, and that the Master would kill her right back for turning into the kind of person he abhorred. Missy thanking the Doctor for his care and attempted rehabilitation was a lovely moment, made all the more sad by the fact that he never got to see her turnaround. Not that Missy could have done much except explode by the Doctor's side, but it would have been fun to see them both rampaging through floor 507, slaughtering tin men with gay abandon. 

It was a bold move to not only kill Missy, but to nip her regeneration cycle in the bud to boot. Yet despite seemingly killing off the Master for good, there appears to be wiggle room for the character to continue. Missy's inability to remember regenerating obviously leaves a potential space to slot in further incarnations (a la the War Doctor), and we didn't actually see Simm's Master die, so there's scope for him to return should Chibnall desire it. So although Missy dying was pretty final, it's by no means the end of the character. I suspect that as long as Doctor Who continues as a franchise, the Master will always be there. 

Bill's predicament was truly awful. That she was still Bill on the inside, yet on the outside one of the monsters that were terrorising floor 507, meant that few were willing to see beneath her cyber exterior. Bill walking away after being shot, defeated, yet completely accepting of why virtually everyone feared her, was heartbreaking. If ever anything symbolised that feeling of rejection due to external or internal differences, Cyber Bill was probably it. That she chose to die with the Doctor, rather than slowly slipping into oblivion, felt like a character defining moment for a character that was otherwise poorly defined.

I wasn't sure they'd succeed in pulling off an emotional denouement, but they did. With Bill's mother a mere plot convenience, a step-mom that hardly featured, and friends that became conspicuously absent once their narrative obligations had been met, it was hard to envision where the pathos would come from. Yet somehow Pearl Mackie managed to give Bill's final scenes the sort of emotional clout that we've come to expect from a leaving companion. The only thing I didn't understand was Bill asking the Doctor whether he remembered her liking women and people her own age. Was she simply thanking him for liking her for purely platonic reasons, or was there some deeper significance that I missed completely?

The return of Heather, although nicely seeded into the narrative back in episode one, did feel a little out of the blue. Heather's transformation was so ambiguous back then, that Moffat was able to imbue her with whatever powers he needed to bring Bill back. Yet despite its nebulousness, I was happy that it provided Bill a happy ending. Yes it was a bit of a cop-out, yes it felt like yet another example of Bill's sexuality being her only defining characteristic, and yes it felt a little too similar to Clara and Ashildr dashing off to adventures anew whilst the Doctor lay prostrate on the floor, but there's no denying it got me in the feels. Would I have preferred it if Bill had died? Probably, but this is a family show, and you don't kill off companions for good. Not unless they're Adric, anyway.

Which leaves Nardole, the character I initially hated, but grew to love for reasons I'm not entirely sure I can articulate. Not only was he competent tonight, I was actually rather pleased that he got a semi-happy ending. Obviously the Cybermen will find him eventually, and probably massacre him and all he loves (or most likely their descendants), but it was a welcome respite nevertheless. I think a lot of the problems I've had with Nardole this season have been to do with them over-selling his contribution to the show prior to the season airing. I thought he'd play a far bigger role as companion than he did, but in the end he slotted in rather nicely, provided some timely comic relief, and in hindsight probably had a more interesting character arc than Bill.

However, looking back at his inclusion this season, and Missy's presence in the vault for that matter, I can't help but feel that Moffat knew how he wanted the season to end, realised that there was no real story arc to it, and tried to remedy it by threading Nardole and the vault storyline throughout the earlier stories. This would certainly explain why those scenes felt so redundant—but it pains me that Moffat's final season arc was so weak. Well thought out, often convoluted, season arcs are usually his forte. Still, after something of a return to form these past two weeks, at least it's got me excited for the Christmas special. Here's hoping Capaldi's Doctor goes out with the bang he deserves. And that he doesn't regenerate into somebody shit.

Other Thoughts:

—Did the Doctor seriously extinguish a regeneration with snow?

—Presumably Bill's tears falling onto the Doctor's face means that she'll now be able to find him wherever he is?

—It was a lovely touch to bring back David Bradley as the First Doctor again.

—Rachel Talalay is getting to be rather good at finales. Here's hoping Chibnall retains her in the future.

Quotes:

Master: 'Ten years, you spent up there chatting. You missed her by two hours.'

Master: 'The Doctor's dead. He told me he'd always hated you. Let's go.'
Nardole: 'No!'
Missy: 'The Doctor's dead. He told me he'd always hated you.' 
Nardole: 'Yeah, I heard you the first time.'

Master: 'Right, while you've been here chatting up RoboMop, me and... me... have been busy.'

Master: 'I'm going to be a woman fairly soon. Any tips? Or... I don't know... old bras?'

Bill: 'We're not going to get out of this one, are we?'

Master: 'Do as she says? Is the future going to be all girl?'
Doctor: 'We can only hope.'

Master: 'By the way, is it wrong that I....?'
Missy: 'Yes. Very.'

Nardole: 'I'm going to name a town after you. A really rubbish one.'

Doctor: 'Pity... no stars. I hoped there'd be stars.'

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