Sunday, 2 July 2017

Doctor Who: The Doctor Falls

"Is it wrong that I..."

"Yes, very!"

Wow. That was an emotional rollercoaster and no mistake, and probably the best Doctor Who season finale since the institution started back in 2005. It's also an episode chick full of fan lore, Moffatisms and, well, stuff. There's a lot to talk about.

We begin with a typically Moffat pre-titles with fields, skies, farmhouses and horse-driven carts all inside the same spaceship (a Moffat trope right from The Time of Angels), and the terrifying spectacle of partly cybernised people being used as scarecrows. The Doctor, Nardole the Master and Missy share a few witticisms before they, and Cyberman Bill, end up together in the farmhouse where the two Masters exchange some glorious dialogue in some truly joyous scenes while Bill (shown as she sees herself) comes to terms with the awful body horror of what she has become. These two sequences showcase two separate types of superlative writing prowess from the Moff.

There's a superb reason why they can't all return to the TARDIS- time dilation; if they travel the full 4,000 miles then the Cybermen will have had millennia to prepare, so there's nothing for it but to sit and wait for the inevitable assault, and for the Doctor to be heroic for the sake of it- "without hope, without witness, without reward." The Doctor gets another one of those magnificent soliloquies that Peter Capaldi first showed himself to be so good at with The Zygon Inversion, and it's interesting to see that the Master doesn't care but Missy is, at least, equivocal.

So the Doctor and Bill, who knows her humanity is slowly being eroded and doesn't want to live without being her (there's a thought, and a horribly modern one- Cybermen as a metaphor for dementia), agree to the suicide mission of staying behind to blow up with the Cybermen while Nardole gets everyone away to survive for a while until the next attack.

The Masters get a delightfully mad ending as Missy fatally stabs the Master with a hug and he shoots her after she reveals she's off to join the Doctor. The Master is off to his TARDIS to regenerate; she is apparently too dead to regenerate, as some ways of being killed, apparently, just arbitrarily do that. This is fooling no one, of course; the Master's been deader than this. (S)he'll be back.

So we come to the Doctor- also fatally wounded, although we saw a flicker of regeneration energy even earlier- and Bill in their last stand against the Cybermen, some of whom, disappointingly, have "evolved" to be more modern like and use the existing costumes. But we get a moment of pure fanwank as the Doctor names "Telos, Voga, Planet 14". There's also an earlier bit of retcon that makes me uncomfortable while we're on the subject of fanwank; the Doctor seems to say that the Cybermen arose independently on "Mondas, Telos, Earth, Planet 14" and, yes, Marinus, in a bizarre and gloriously fanwanky reference to the DWM comic strip The World Shapers, penned by Grant Morrison, no less. Not sure I like this suggestion that not all Cybermen are fundamentally Mondasian, and the idea seems to contradict dialogue in Tomb of the Cybermen anyway.

Still, Cyberman Bill dies and... Bill still exists, because of some clever and retrospectively well-seeded long term plot cleverness from way back in The Pilot meaning Bill gets to be herself again and travel the universe in a puddle with the girl she loves. It's clever, it's superbly written, it made Mrs Llamastrangler and me cry and it's essentially brilliant. But, well, it feels like a cop out. After Clara this is twice in a row that Moffat has stepped back from properly killing off a companion at the last minute and it feels like a lack of bravery. Perhaps I'm being unfair; it's still rather brilliant, and would probably feel different if it wasn't for Clara, not to mention that a companion dying would have overshadowed a busy episode. Nonetheless, there's a slight feeling of cop out.

And so we come to what all the signs are telling us is a regeneration; the Doctor recites his predecessors' last lines, he's lying in the TARDIS as he was at the end of The Tenth Planet, the Cloister Bell is sounding. And yet the Doctor is resisting regeneration through sheer willpower and has, I suspect, been doing so for quite some time. And then Moffat throws a curveball as (in the Doctor's head?) the bloody first Doctor appears, played by David Bradley. This is, to put it mildly, hugely exciting, and may indicate that the Christmas Special may be a leisurely examination of the concept of regeneration, i.e. mortality, casting the Doctor as a kind of Scrooge figure? Whatever, I can't wait.

And yes, I know I have a couple of little criticisms, but they in no way detract from the sheer brilliance and genius of one of Moffat's finest pieces of writing. Yes, like all prolific writers he has his tropes, but that's a strength, not a weakness. Steven Moffat is right up there with Whittaker, Holmes and Davies as one of the finest writers ever to grace this programme.

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