[Editor’s Note: The following review of “Doctor Who” Season 10, Episodes 11 & 12, “World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls,” contains spoilers.]
“Doctor Who’s” finale concludes the two-parter that had begun as an exercise for Missy (Michelle Gomez) to prove she could do good, but results in Bill (Pearl Mackie) becoming a Modasian Cyberman as a wave of Cybermen begin to take over a giant human colony ship. Knowing that this is probably the beginning of the end of Twelve (Peter Capaldi) added poignancy to every last stand he took. Even Missy couldn’t help be affected by him, as the evil influence of her earlier iteration, the Master (John Simm) was leading her astray the whole time. Her arc from megalomaniac psychopath to someone who’s grown a conscience is compelling if not for her unsatisfying end. More on that later.
The epic episode serves as a showcase for the Doctor’s prodigious humanity and Bill’s heartbreaking reversals of fortune. As it comes to a climax — with a surprise visit by the first Doctor William Hartnell (David Bradley) — there are very few conclusions left to be drawn. Steven Moffat is going to conclude his reign as showrunner through to the very end in the Christmas episode, by gum, and he’s brought in “Doctor Who” history to give it context. To what point remains to be seen, but there is one exchange that we’re not sure whether to take as a hint of things to come or as epic trolling of fans who have been clamoring for a female Doctor to succeed Capaldi.
The Master, in reference to Bill as a Cyberman and Missy: “Is the future going to be all girl?“
The Doctor: “We can only hope.”
Here Be Monsters
The Mondasian Cybermen have always seemed far creepier than the revamped ones we first saw with Ten (David Tennant), with these newly cybernetic people’s emotions removed to maintain sanity. Bill’s horror mirrors ours when she realizes that the newly converted Cybermen are screaming, “Pain. Pain. Pain,” or pleading, “Let me die.” Also, the white faces with round eyes just seemed far blanker than the shiny version.
The Cybermen — either version — keep returning as one of the ultimate Whovian monsters because the removal of emotions is akin to the removal of humanity. Treating humans as nothing more than meat is also stomach turning, especially when the Doctor points out that Cybermen like to target kids as conversion candidates because their brains are fresher and their bodies are smaller: “less to throw away.” A cybernetic takeover also seems frighteningly plausible in an age of technological upgrades and new biomechanical advances. In a way, “Doctor Who” has always been a version of “Black Mirror” before there was “Black Mirror,” and the Cybermen have been a huge part of keeping the series a classic.
The Companion Who Smiled
Looking back at how Bill has touched our hearts and quickly became one of our favorite Companions straight out of the gate, being a Cyberman is possibly the roughest punishment that could’ve been conceived for her. Not only is she possibly one of the sweetest of the Companions we’ve seen in a while, but she’s practically vibrating with energy and positive emotions at all times. To have the outer shell appear robotic and flat, while she’s literally sobbing on the inside, is heartbreaking. Again, we bow down to Mackie for yet another affecting performance that came from every pore, all the way from her toes to her hair follicles.
The Doctor has praised Bill’s exceptional humanity several times this season (even stating that she makes up for all of us other lackluster homo sapiens), and at least the end of the season still honors her standout qualities. “You are so strong, so amazing. Your mind has rebelled against the programming,” he tells her in awe. Could any of us have withstood such an overwhelming, traumatic experience and still retained our sense of identity when others could not? There’s no telling. Not all of us are as well-adjusted as Bill.
And we’ve been rooting for her to increase her happiness all along, which made her connection with her dead mother so much more triumphant and the conclusion with her crush Heather (Stephanie Hyam) feel like we were robbed of something more. (It’s also yet another genre show offing of a lesbian character).
Ah, but we of little Moffat-y faith should’ve seen this twist coming, especially when we saw he had written the first episode and these final two. Yep, Heather the watery space pilot has returned and removed Bill from her Cyberman-shell hell, using her ability to rearrange her atoms any way she likes. All that talk of Bill being able to cry tears as a Cyberman should’ve been our first clue since Heather left her special T2 space tears on Bill’s face. The power of love has saved the day again on “Doctor Who,” but it was so well done we can’t be mad about it. Her offer to take Bill on intergalactic journeys still stands, but she also offers to return Bill to her mortal human life of serving chips. Somehow, we feel we know what Bill is going to pick because we can’t lose a Doctor and a Companion at the same time… can we?
The Spin Doctor
Since these episodes and the Christmas special are Twelve’s swan song, he’s gotten his share of grandiose heroic moments. It started with his rousing monologue about why he chose to fight for puny humans, not to win but “because it’s right because it’s decent and above all, it’s kind. Just that. Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. What will you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall.” His resulting action hero scene — in which he takes out Cybermen left and right with his sonic screwdriver — is also a fitting last stand.
His vehement resistance to regenerating is surprising though. It’s also been communicated that even though the outward appearance and personality may be different, the inner Doctor is always the same. This is how he and River Song could still have their farewell even though he’s changed twice since he first met her. Perhaps this is why the William Hartnell version of the Doctor is back, to show how he’s still the same. Or not. After all, how can one person be the same after living so long? One grows and evolves. Perhaps the Doctor has too.
Continued on the next page: More on David Bradley’s return and that messy Missy resolution