Written with no prior knowledge of what’s going to be in the episode – I watch the ‘Next Time’ trailer and make sure I see, hear and read nothing else – and written immediately after my first viewing. This is my unfettered, emotional response to this week’s DOCTOR WHO fare.
Most definitely a roller-coaster of an episode – one that was undoubtedly exhilarating, but a story with its share of downs to go along with the ups.
First off, poor Bill. I’m still in the Poor Bill camp.
Actually, it was a so simple, and yet amazing idea to have Pearl Mackie play the character for most of it, showing the actual person behind the cyberman throughout was a work of humanising genius as good as anything in SPARE PARTS. It was affecting, tear inducing and sometimes beautiful – particularly when she was rebelling against it in that sing-song Mondasian cyberman voice, which heard in that context hammered home how much they were made for tragedy.
But it did seem that Bill managed to escape cyber-conversion only to fall into the clutches of a Deus ex Machina.
Obviously Moffat had to find some way to save the companion, and he did seed that tear line in the first episode – but it did still seem a bit unearned, didn’t it? The two of the them had never been a couple, never even been on a date, but now they’re going to spend the rest of their existences together? Bill was so cut up about Heather’s passing that she’s barely – if at all – mentioned her since. (So little has she been a thought of through the series since the first episode, I actually just had to look her up to see whether she was called Heather or Hannah). As such, rather than heartening, it does just feel like a big old plot contrivance to give Bill a happy ending after Moffat wrote himself into a corner. And in a way, that makes me a little sad – as Bill was such a sparky and fun character, that it seems wrong to think of her now as a space puddle. Even if she is a space puddle who might be falling in love.
Similarly the cybermen were a lot more disappointing this week. Gone were the brilliant body horror aspects of last week, instead they returned to clunking robots. Yes, like other fan-boys I appreciated that Moffat tried to make the cyber history make sense – with Telos, Mondas, Earth all having their own kinds, so thus explain the inconsistencies across the years. But really, they weren’t very interesting, were they? They just stomped around and occasionally got blown up. Even the Mondasian cybermen stomped, and as Mrs Jameson pointed out – surely they don’t have enough metal in them to stomp.
Maybe, the show needs to give up on the cybermen for a while, or if it is going to do them just go full body-horror and not worry too much about the ‘army of marching cybermen attack’ bit. It’s been done and it’s getting boring now.
And then there was The Master and Missy.
What was the bloody point of The Master and Missy in this?
I loved Michelle Gomez.
I thought John Simm was fantastic in both episodes.
Yet, if you’re going to have two versions of The Master in the same episode, then surely that should be your absolute focus of the episode. Not something shoved off to the side.
And certainly not something shoved off to the side that has no bearing at all on the conclusion of the episode. They hung out, they flirted, they killed each other – the end.
What was the point of it?
Now, there was that lingering shot of Missy clutching The Doctor’s hand, and if she’s passed him something that has a bearing on the next episode, and if this isn’t the last we’ve seen of her/him, then I am prepared to print all of the above out and eat it.
But if it is the last we’ve seen of them, I am going to be so disappointed and wonder how Moffat could ever have fumbled the ball so spectacularly.
(My bet is that it is leading to something, or at least that’s my fervent hope).
So, a lot of the above was complaints, and yet there was so much I loved about this episode too. P-Cap was genuinely amazing. I’ve thought he was fantastic right through his tenure, but tonight he really raised his game. So noble, so frightened, so desperate for a way to make everything right when he knows his life-force is ebbing away and everything is stacked against him.
M-Lu too, without much of a hint beforehand, seemed to go on an epic character arc in this story. From man with a limited mission to serve The Doctor, to the hero and saviour and protector of a whole society.
The direction was superb, the dialogue was great and – despite all my moans above – it did lead to a conclusion so breath-taking in its tragic grandeur. The Doctor dying on a battlefield, not regenerating, instead sacrificing himself completely to save the children.
Obviously he was going to be revived somehow, but still in those moments he lay on the scorched earth surrounded by cybermen, DOCTOR WHO gave us some of the most beautiful, heart-rending (both myself and Mrs Jameson were choked up, Baby Jameson laughed – she’s such a trooper) scenes in its history.
And that’s why this episode was frustrating, because at its worst it really annoyed me, and yet I’m keenly aware there is absolute, undeniable brilliance here too.
So, the First and Thirteenth incarnations together at Christmas. I did text my sister to ask what my eldest nieces – ten and twelve years old respectively, and massive Nu-Who fans – made of it, and they were apparently baffled by the old man at the end. It may be a bit of a problem that most of the audience will be as totally unfamiliar with Hartnell era DOCTOR WHO, as they are with – say – CITIZEN JAMES. The BBC is clearly going to have to educate the audience somehow. As an old school fan however, I desperately hope they can make it work and am already buzzing with excitement. Roll on Christmas!
Here are all my reviews for the series, sometimes contrary, but always honest to the moment after I first watched the episode:
World Enough and Time
The Eaters of Light
Empress of Mars
The Lie of the Land
The Pyramid at the End of the World
My debut novel, THE WANNABES – which has been out of print for a little while – is now available for free! A supernatural thriller of beautiful actresses and deadly ambition in London town, it’s well worth your time. You can get your copy here!