What. An. Episode. Even for an hour-long finale there was a lot riding on ‘The Doctor Falls’: following up from last week’s excellent cliffhanger, a wrap-up to Series 10, a set-up to Capaldi and Moffat’s final Christmas special and the departure of virtually every main character. And for the most part, the episode soars.
The episode begins with the Master and Missy taunting a tied-up Doctor, and of course the dialogue is as wonderful as you might expect with three quick-witted Time Lords goading each other, with multiple Master jokes flowing fast – ‘Knock yourself out’ is a personal favourite. The humour and exchanges between the two Master incarnations continue to be fantastic throughout the rest of the episode, so it’s a real shame that the two don’t really make any impact on the plot past this early scene. Nevertheless, the two do give each other a rather fitting send-off, stabbing each other (or should that be themselves?) in the back after a change of heart from Missy. Seeing Missy’s arc conclude as she decides to stand with the Doctor was rather touching and well-earned after building up this series, even if it sadly had little impact in the grand scheme of things.
The Master’s greatest impact of course was the terrible fate he inflicted on Bill. After some initial fears they had undone Bill’s cyber-conversion already, the use of a human Bill, lacking her memory and slowly realising why everyone is so scared of her, was rather heart-breaking and wonderfully played by Pearl Mackie. The continued switching between Cyberman and human Bill throughout the episode was very effective, allowing Mackie full use of human expression and emotion in key scenes, which made it all the more jarring when her Cyberman form was shown and we are reminded of the full extent of her transformation. Bill’s slow acceptance of her fate – and eventual decision to stay and surely die at the climax – was one of the key highlights in an episode full of praiseworthy moments.
Capaldi shined in emotional scene after emotional scene, in an episode that was especially climactic and sentimental even for a series finale.
Which is why her restoration by Heather left me with mixed feelings. While it was of course pleasant to see a beloved character spared such a terrible fate, her last minute rescue from death to travel the universe was remarkably similar to Clara’s exit, and negated some of her great progress this episode. Nevertheless, it was a genuine surprise to see Heather make a return from this series’ premiere, and as overpowered as she seems to be it made for a much more optimistic exit for well-liked character. Even Nardole’s exit managed to be surprisingly poignant, managing to stand out in a packed episode as he condemned the Doctor’s decision to sacrifice himself and truly found a fitting exit in a caring role for a whole community.
But of course, despite the many characters and goodbyes this episode truly belonged to the Doctor. Capaldi shined in emotional scene after emotional scene, in an episode that was especially climactic and sentimental even for a series finale. His speech on doing the right thing is one of if not the finest moment of Capaldi’s run so far, and together with his final stand against the Cybermen is a key example of why Capaldi will be sadly missed following this Christmas.
Of course, we must talk about the big reveal. Capaldi’s refusal to regenerate suggests Moffat wants to try something different this time round, and with the re-introduction of the First Doctor (David Bradley) after over thirty years, it certainly looks like we are in for a treat. If the quality keeps up this Christmas, we could be in the midst of one of the finest regeneration stories ever.