A lot has happened in the Whoniverse since I wrote my last Doctor Who review. Thanks to the busyness of July, I haven’t gotten a chance to post my thoughts on the Series 10 finale until now. I’m seeing it with slightly different eyes now that I know more about the very different era of Who on the horizon. You can read my thoughts on Jodie Whittaker’s casting in full here, but in short, I’m cautiously optimistic about her as the Doctor and Chris Chibnall as the showrunner.
For now, though, let’s talk about Peter Capaldi and his two-part, penultimate outing as the Doctor. I’m structuring this a little differently from my earlier reviews, given that I’m discussing both finale episodes in one fell swoop and also sharing my thoughts on the series as a whole. Here are my opinions on the various elements of World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls.
- The Doctor. This story acted as something of a conclusion to Steven Moffat’s big character arc for the Twelfth Doctor. Capaldi’s era has, from the very beginning, been about who the Doctor is and what makes him tick. (Was that a time-related pun? If so, I apologize.) The theme of heroism “without witness, without reward” from Extremis is explored again, with much higher stakes this time. Capaldi gives a stunning performance here, breaking the viewer’s heart and then smashing it again for good measure. Many Doctor Who finales have been touted as “the Doctor’s darkest hour”…pretty much every single one, come to think of it…but this is the first one to actually live up to that description. The end of the story leaves the Doctor in an interesting, if familiar, situation–desperate to avoid moving on to his next regeneration. Pairing him up with the First Doctor is a brilliant twist, in my opinion. Given the stellar job Moffat did with his last multi-Doctor story, I have high hopes that Twelve’s goodbye at Christmas will be satisfying.
- The Master. Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: anyone going into this episode expecting a big showdown between the Doctor and two incarnations of the Master is going to be disappointed. This is not “The Two Masters.” “The Two Masters” does exist, and it’s exactly what it says on the tin, and it’s awesome. But this is not that story. However, the multi-Master moments in World/Falls are amazing. Creepy at times, but amazing. I feel sorry for John Simm that his appearance in the finale was spoiled, as it gave a lot of people false expectations and obscured the true role he plays in this story. He’s not “the Big Bad;” he’s more of a very effective set piece. I wouldn’t say he was misused. He just wasn’t used in a predictable way. Also, if Missy’s last moments do prove to be the final death of the Master (which is unlikely), then it’s a brilliant ending for the character. I honestly can’t think of a more fitting way for her to go out.
- Bill. Ah, Bill, we barely knew thee. But you were a worthy companion all the same. And Pearl Mackie acts her little heart out in World/Falls. I see a bright future for her beyond Doctor Who (though we’ll be seeing her one last time at Christmas). The scenes of Bill coping with her conversion into a Cyberman and with the Doctor’s apparent death were gut-wrenching. Her exit from the TARDIS, however, was both predictable (I saw it coming as far back as “The Pilot”) and weirdly similar to Clara’s departure. Moffat has remarked that he didn’t feel killing off Bill would be right, and I can sympathize with his decision. But honestly, I’d like it if, in future, companions could actually die and stay dead. On the other hand, NOT having the companion die or get zapped into another universe or get their memory erased every single time might not be a bad idea either. Martha’s exit worked just fine, and she just left the TARDIS and moved on with her life.
- The Cybermen. Honestly, we haven’t had a really good Cyberman story in the TV series since “Rise of the Cybermen.” Since then, they’ve been upstaged by other monsters or demoted to comic-relief status. World/Falls finally breaks that trend, delving into the true horror of the Cybermen and giving them a terrific origin story. Even when the two Masters come into the picture, the Cybermen remain the driving force behind the episodes’ conflict and menace. Steven Moffat didn’t get everything right in this episode, but he succeeded here.
- Nardole. Going into this season, I was pretty sure I’d never like Nardole. I was wrong. He was a great character with an important role to play, and he contributed a great deal to the finale in particular. Fortunately, unlike Bill, he gets a very natural and satisfying departure from the TARDIS. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of him in future, though I realize that wiping the slate clean of Moffat’s supporting characters may be a wise move for the show’s next era.
So here’s what I think of Series 10 as a whole. Reading people’s reactions to the Thirteenth Doctor news, I’ve become aware of something important–a lot of fans stopped watching the show during the Moffat era. I don’t blame them. Some recent rewatching of Tennant episodes has made me realize that the Doctor Who in its current form is missing a certain, indefinable spark of fun and genius. I don’t blame this on Peter Capaldi. He was an amazing Doctor when he had good scripts backing him up. And Moffat, in his best moments, was an amazing showrunner. But he stumbled when it came to long-term character and story arcs. He let his storylines get too convoluted and sometimes caused his characters to come across as unlikable.
Series 10 does not completely make up for these mistakes. It would take a lot more than twelve or thirteen episodes to do that. But it does provide a fitting almost-conclusion to the Capaldi/Moffat era. Under the circumstances, given the damage that deeply flawed seasons like 7 and 8 did, I’m not sure Series 10 could have been a whole lot better than it was. It’s solid; more so even than Series 9. It has a finale that’s not a complete let-down, which is refreshing, but it’s not perfect. It does the best it can with what it has–a Doctor who has not been uniformly well-received and a companion who doesn’t have quite enough time to come into her own. It’s fun to watch, but it doesn’t come close to recapturing the Tennant magic.
Looking to the future, does the Thirteenth-Doctor era have a chance of getting the show’s groove back? In my opinion, Jodie Whittaker’s gender doesn’t rule that out, though I still have misgivings about the casting in some respects. But the more I watch of Broadchurch, the more optimistic I am about both Whittaker and Chibnall. I don’t want to say too much yet in case I’m proven wrong, but I think there’s some reason to believe that the show will finally regain some of its old spark–though obviously, things will be very different moving forward. A lot depends on who the companion will be and how certain elements of the gender-swap are handled. But I’m certainly willing to give this new iteration of the show a chance, and I’m hopeful that some of the more frustrating aspects of Steven Moffat’s tenure will finally be resolved.
In the meantime, we’ve got one last Moffat/Capaldi story to go. Here’s hoping it will be a satisfying coda to a flawed but ultimately enjoyable era.