The second instalment of a two-part episode usually disappoints to some degree. That’s not to say that the episode in question is bad, but when the stakes are upped to such a high degree, it’s often an anticlimax when it comes to the big finish. In recent years, Doctor Who has sadly failed to capitalise on a strong penultimate episode, with two-part finales like The Big Bang (2010) and Death in Heaven (2014) failing to live up to the hype built up by their preceding first halves.
So after such a tremendous episode last week, you’d forgive us a slight hint of trepidation as we reach the Series 10 finale, the ominously titled The Doctor Falls. With the stakes higher then we’ve ever seen (after all, what’s more intense then an impending regeneration?!), we’ve waited all week with baited breath for what will hopefully turn out to be a terrific conclusion to an equally terrific series…
Simply put, it doesn’t disappoint.
Writer and outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat delivers what may be his best work on the series – strong timey-wimey science fiction with moments of creepy horror (the ‘scarecrow’ Cybermen) and big emotional twists that bring tears to the eyes of anyone watching. The Doctor Falls puts character before conflict, ensuring that the emotional fallout from last week’s events is dealt with and developed appropriately.
The concept of having two versions of the Master together onscreen may take a backseat to the Cyberman threat, but never feels like it’s being forced in. If anything, its a natural progression for both the character and the story, and actors Michelle Gomez and John Simm practically simmer together onscreen. The ongoing arc of Missy’s redemption reaches a satisfying, heartbreaking conclusion, one which encompasses everything we know and love about the Master, thus making the literal-twist of the knife all the more earth-shattering.
As well as this, we also have the fate of Bill, last seen converted into an early Cyberman prototype. Rachel Talalay‘s skill as a director comes to the fore many times throughout the episode, but it’s her constant camera trickery, flitting between human-Bill and Cyberman-Bill, that delivers the big emotional punch of the episode. Moffat‘s script refuses to go for a simple get-out-jail-free option, instead relishing the emotional opportunities such a fate offers, delivering a plethora of powerful and emotional set pieces that truly test the cast and the audience.
It’s testimony to the brilliant Pearl Mackie that Bill has remained such a loveable, funny and engrossing character throughout this run of episodes, and her adorable chemistry with Peter Capaldi certainly helps bring out her best. Her unfortunate conversion is nightmarish and Mackie relishes the chance to put Bill through the ringer. Her final scenes with both the apparently-dead Doctor and Stephanie Hyam as Heather are beautifully underplayed and yet full of so much wonder and warmth, one can’t help but hope that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Ms. Potts.
But of course, with such a foreboding title, this episode truly belongs to Peter Capaldi. It’s a tour de force performance, full of bravado, optimism, humour and defeated anguish, a masterclass in underselling and underplaying. Capaldi delivers the goods and gives what may well be one of his best performances in the role, especially in his confrontation with the Masters and that epic final scene as he faces down the overwhelming Cyberman hoarde.
Wounded both literally and figuratively, the Twelfth Doctor is faced with a final end, one that he certainly seems to welcome. As he refuses to embrace his impending regeneration, we get to witness possibly Capaldi’s best moment as the Doctor, his heartbreaking weariness personified through fury and indignation. Capaldi is perfection in the role and here it’s apparent to all why. We don’t want him to go.
The Doctor Falls works largely due to its simplicity – ultimately its a story of the Doctor protecting a few children on a farm inside a spaceship from the Cybermen. But lying within this simple set-up is plenty of opportunity for more intimate character moments and devastating dramatic crescendos, plus a few sad but sweet goodbyes peppered in for good measure.
Of course, there’s still one more big goodbye to come – and judging by David Bradley‘s fabulous cameo at the end of the episode, it’s going to be one hell of a farewell! The Doctor Falls puts the pieces in place for a huge final epic. If it’s half as good as this episode, then its safe to say the Twelfth Doctor era (and the Moffat era) will wrap up in suitable style.