The Doctor looks for hope against overwhelming odds in an emotional, shocking finale that will leave you breathless.
If “World Enough and Time” is an episode built on dread, then “The Doctor Falls” explores hope in the face of despair. In the best finale since Steven Moffat’s first series as showrunner, Doctor Who wraps up the Cybermen and Masters story in stunning, heartbreaking fashion. It also completes a character arc that Peter Capaldi’s Doctor started in his very first episode in 2014.
While much of the episode looks at hope, that word should not be exchanged for victory. Instead, we see the limits of hope as a solution, but still see its worth and beauty as an emotion. For The Doctor, he hopes to find a way to defeat or outsmart the Cybermen. His plan gets off to a good start. After getting beaten and captured by the two versions of The Master, he reveals that the Cybermen will come for the Time Lords as well. So they work together with Nardole to escape on a stolen aircraft, smashing through the ship until they reach a solar farm on a much higher level. On that section of the ship, a few dozen children and adults live. But due to the time dilation, the Cybermen have hundreds of years to plan their attack on the remaining humans. By the time they arrive, they’ve upgraded from the Mondasian appearance to their slick modern Who form.
The Doctor knows that anything he does will only delay the inevitable. Even if he defeats the Cybermen, they’ll keep getting stronger as years pass for them by the hour. His best strategy is to take on as many of his enemies as he can, while the humans escape to a few levels up, in the hope of holding on for a few more years. To Missy and The Master, this is suicide and they opt to leave. The Doctor implores them to stand with him, as it’s all he ever wanted. He says that he knows Missy has changed for the better. While they both choose to leave, Missy changes her mind, hoping to be something more. She reminisces about her days as her previous incarnation, burning like a “screaming world on fire.” But she knows that is not her anymore. She stabs The Master in the back, leaving him to take a lift back down to his TARDIS, where he’ll die and regenerate into her. But The Master refuses to stand with The Doctor. He shoots Missy in the back, essentially killing himself. They both die laughing, without The Doctor knowing that Missy was coming back for him.
When the Cybermen attack, Nardole escapes with the children to another level, hoping The Doctor will be victorious. He wins, but only through a scorched-earth policy. He sets off the fuel lines, obliterating everything on that level of the ship. He gives his life for the small hope that the children of the solar farm will survive and hide from the remaining Cybermen for a few more years. Why does he do this? As Capaldi beautifully states, not because it’s easy or fun or that it even works most of the time. He does what he does “because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind!” This is a long way from the pragmatic, almost cold take on The Doctor that first showed up three years ago. This incarnation started his life needing a human to remind him of compassion. He wondered if he was a good man. Now, at the end of his life, he stands on his own against the odds, because it’s the right thing to do. He ends as the good man he wished to become.
While hope isn’t always enough, some days it comes through. No one needed hope more in this episode than Bill. Converted and trapped as a Cybermen, with programming pushing against her mind, she held on and fought until the end, coming across The Doctor’s body. But she wasn’t alone. Heather, The Pilot from back in the series premiere, appears and turns Bill into a creature like her. They kiss and warp to The Doctor’s TARDIS, his body in tow. She offers Bill the chance to see the universe with her and Bill takes it. The scene comes a bit out of nowhere, but after all the death and loss of these last two episodes, Bill needed a win. And she gives The Doctor enough energy to return to life.
Yet he’s not happy. His body is regenerating from his injuries. He’s ready to rest and is tired of changing into a new person over and over again. He fights the regeneration process, despondent and ready to die on the frozen surface of a planet. He needs some hope. A voice calls out and asks who’s there. He responds that it’s The Doctor. And in an extraordinary, instantly iconic moment, The First Doctor walks out of the blizzard, stating that he’s The Doctor, “the original, you might say!” Capaldi has one episode left for Doctor Who. If his version of The Doctor is looking for hope, where better than to go back to the beginning?
– While this was a heavy episode, the interactions between John Simm and Michelle Gomez as The Master were hilarious and snappy. I’d take a whole miniseries of them bouncing around the universe. It’s a shame that Missy dies. But the baddies on Doctor Who stay dead as long as comic book villains. I’m sure we’ll see another incarnation of The Doctor’s nemesis before too long.
– The First Doctor is played by David Bradley. In a BBC docudrama on the making of Doctor Who, he appeared as William Hartnell, the actor who originally brought The First Doctor to life. Bradley is the only one who could have taken on the job of returning The First Doctor to the screen.
– When The Doctor is fighting the Cybermen, he drops references to several classic and revival episodes where he defeated them, including Mondas, Telos, the Moon and Canary Wharf.
– As he wakes up after his near-death, The Doctor sees and hears all his companions since the show returned in 2005. It mirrors the Fourth and Fifth Doctor’s regeneration scenes.
– During that same scene, The Doctor quotes some lines from previous regeneration stories, including “Robot” (“Sontarans perverting the course of human history”), “The End of Time” (“I don’t want to go,”) and “The Time of The Doctor” (“When The Doctor was me…”).
– That’s a wrap on Series 10! Thanks for joining me on this adventure through time and space. See you at Christmas!