In the twelfth and final episode of the tenth series of Doctor Who, if there are tears, there is hope. Intrigued? Then itâ€™s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of body horror and death
Holy shit, yâ€™all. This is truly one of the most emotional episodes of this show, and I spent like half of â€œThe Doctor Fallsâ€ with tears in my eyes. It was so intense? There were so many good monologues? What have yâ€™all done to me?
The Doctor Stands
So much of this episode relies on the notion of the Doctorâ€™s morality: What does it mean to do the right thing? At what cost will this be done? Who becomes collateral damage, and who chooses to be apart of the final stand? Who have these people become while traveling with the Doctor? I should note upfront that while there is hope in the second half of this episode, I found the tone of â€œThe Doctor Fallsâ€ to be decidedly grim and upsetting for the first half. Which I get! The stakes are so high here, first of all, but Moffatâ€™s script also does not lean away from the horror of Billâ€™s transformation. (More on that in a bit.) So weâ€™ve got a situation that seems hopeless. Thatâ€™s by design! Itâ€™s a way for this story to address the concept of hope in the darkest of timelines.Â
So why do anything? If the Cybermen have force on their side, evolution on their side, and the effects of time dilation on their side, and if this struggle is just an endless cat-and-mouse game, why not give up? Why not escape with your own life if the inevitable end is that the humans will die by the hands of the Cyberman? As dark as this episode gets, the prevailing theme is that you can always hold out hope for another possibility, no matter how terrible things get. Maybe the humans will never escape, and maybe the Cybermen will eventually get them; but the Doctor and his companions worked to give them more life. Why?
Because itâ€™s kind.Â
But what does kindness mean in this context? Itâ€™s fascinating to me that the Doctor begs the Masters to choose kindness in an episode where Bill has to struggle with the kindness offered to her by the humans while sheâ€™s been converted to a Cyberman. Alit (who is a child!!!) is the first of the humans to offer Bill kindness, and later, so does Hazran. But what of the others? How can they offer kindness when Bill looks like their greatest enemy? Intentional or not, thereâ€™s a metaphorical reading of this whole scene, especially since Bill is both Black and a lesbian, and so often, people from those groups and at the intersection of those identities are treated monstrously by others who judge them on sight. And yet, Bill still tries to offer kindness. She still tries to do her very best to help these people and save their lives, even if theyâ€™re terrified of her. Itâ€™s the right thing to do, yes, but I think thereâ€™s another context here as well: Bill is clinging to every last shred of humanity in her, and I feel like her actions are beautifully human in this regard. Without witness or reward, Bill, who slowly accepts over the course of this episode that sheâ€™ll never get to be human again, still chooses to help others. Thatâ€™s who she has always been: a nice, joyous human being. And she has to hold on to that because if she doesnâ€™t? Well, we know what sheâ€™ll become.Â
But the major focus for this theme comes in the depiction of The Masters. I truly cannot overstate the surreal joy I felt at seeing Michelle Gomez AND John Simm get to play their versions of this iconic character WHILE STANDING NEXT TO EACH OTHER. Simm disappears so fully into this villain, and itâ€™s an incredible spectacle, but I really, really have to compliment Gomez once again. Her ability to convey complex emotions without a word spoken is immense. Watching her struggle with the Doctorâ€™s impassioned plea for her to choose kindness was a damn privilege, yâ€™all! That whole sequence was beautifully written, and all three actors killed it. It was so RAW, yâ€™all, and it had to be. We had to believe that the Doctor was truly convinced that he probably wasnâ€™t going to be able to save himself, Bill, or any of the humans. There might be a slim chance, but even then, the Doctor knows that he canâ€™t act because he will win. This is never about winning and it never has been.Â
Oh, itâ€™s such a great distillation of what Doctor Who is about.Â
The Doctor Falls
Hi, still going to fight you all for the end of the previous episode and the ENTIRE LAST HALF HOUR of this episode. Oh my god, Iâ€™m still so emotional about this! Missy made her choice, yâ€™all, and it turns out that she AGREED WITH THE DOCTOR. She is responsible for the previous Masterâ€™s incarnation into herself! Oh, that whole scene was too much, and I love that it was played so quietly, so that we wouldnâ€™t know what Missy had done as she sent her previous regeneration to his death. Yâ€™all, the Doctor did it. He fundamentally changed the Master, so much so that she KILLED HERSELF to make a statement about what she believed in.
And then she fell. Killed byâ€¦ well, technically herself. And look, this show has always found ways to bring back characters who are â€œdead,â€ but this did have a final ring to it. Missy is dead, and the Master looks to be dead, too. And she died laughing.
Then thereâ€™s Bill, whose mind fought the Cyberman programming so muchâ€”and I loved the explanation of this by referencing the Monksâ€”that she was able to see herself in her human body. From a visual storytelling perspective, this was so effective and chilling, and also IT BROKE MY HEART. Pearl Mackie is just incredible here. This performance isâ€¦ well, itâ€™s just so crushingly human, yâ€™all. Bill stands beside the Doctor to help buy the humans more time, all while knowing that it buys no time for herself. This is who she is now.
Or is it?
I feel some type of way about the fact that two of the Black companions on this show got made into Cybermen. (Danny Pink in series eight.) Here, though, I found myself less bothered by Billâ€™s fate because her conclusion leaves a door wide open. Sheâ€™s not dead, and she is certainly not gone, though that doesnâ€™t necessarily negate the criticism I brought up before about how much her character suffers in this series. But when Bill falls, the context is very different. Missy fell as she died, but Bill â€œfellâ€ as her Cyberman body plummeted to the ground, her consciousness removed by Heather from â€œThe Pilot.â€ This twist is more sentimental than bittersweet, in part because itâ€™s now canonical that Heather could turn Bill back into a human at any time that she wants. But knowing that the Doctor is about to dieâ€”and not knowing that he can regenerateâ€”she bids goodbye to the Doctor and becomes a different kind of traveler. Even though Bill doesnâ€™t know Heather all that well, I found this conclusion to be strikingly romantic, and I donâ€™t just mean that because Heather and Bill kissed. Thereâ€™s something grandiose and beautiful in Bill choosing to experience life in a new form of existence, in choosing to lead Heather around the universe instead of the other way around, in how this show gave a story like this to queer characters when weâ€™ve seen it so many times with straight characters.Â
And theyâ€™re not dead! Either one of them! I donâ€™t know that Bill will show up again, and if this is the last episode sheâ€™ll ever be in, I would beâ€¦ somewhat satisfied with her arc. As it stands, thereâ€™s so much I love about her character, but I would have liked to explore her life in depth. What is she like outside of these adventures? These last few episodes have focused more on Billâ€™s reaction to the things that have been done to her or have happened to her, and I think thereâ€™s room for more outside of that.Â
And then we have the Doctor, falling as he blows up the entire level full of Cybermen, and he does it knowing heâ€™ll be forced into a regeneration, one he is not thrilled to experience. I was reminded of Tenâ€™s refusal to change, but granted, this is not nearly that prolonged and intense. This isnâ€™t â€œThe Waters of Mars,â€ you know? But the Doctor saves the humans, and Nardole becomes their protector, unsure if his friends will ever show up again. Even his arc comes to a place of uncertainty in this sense. Will we ever see any of these characters again? Even if we do, theyâ€™ve all been changed so dramatically. Nardole is not the person we met in â€œThe Pilotâ€ and he is DEFINITELY not who we met in â€œThe Husbands of River Song.â€Â
But who will the Doctor become? That question already has an interesting clue of an answer, since the TARDIS took the Doctor to his FIRST incarnation. Why there? Why that Doctor? Why are we going back to the beginning before we plunge into the future? Oh, I canâ€™t wait for this Christmas Special!!!
The video for â€œThe Doctor Fallsâ€ can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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