Well, it’s time to review the twelfth (and final) episode in the new series of “Doctor Who”. All in all, this series has certainly been one of the best series of “Doctor Who” that I’ve seen in quite a while.
So, that said, let’s take a look at “The Doctor Falls”. Needless to say, this review will contain MAJOR SPOILERS.
“The Doctor Falls” is an hour-long episode that concludes the story arc that began in the previous episode. However, unlike the spectacular science fiction and eerie horror of the previous episode, this episode is more of a science fantasy/ serious drama-based episode that focuses mostly on The Doctor’s attempts at defending an idyllic farming community on one of the upper decks of the spaceship from an attack by the cybermen below.
Up until the final few minutes, the episode is a slightly slow-paced, tense and sombre episode that is filled with emotional drama and dramatic conversations (in between brief, but gloomily understated, action sequences). In other words, it’s a far cry from the thrillingly epic “next week” trailer at the end of the previous episode. Never trust a trailer, I guess.
Even so, the level of drama and characterisation here is absolutely stunning. Not only are there lots of interesting conversations between Missy and The Master (and, yes, Missy is a future regeneration of The Master), but their complicated love/hate relationship with The Doctor is explored in more depth too.
However, depressingly, despite all of the characterisation that Missy has had over the past couple of years (or even just during the course of this episode), she dies during this episode.
Initially, I thought that the scene was left ambigious (and that Missy would just return, like she did during this series) – although, looking on Wikipedia, Michelle Gomez apparently isn’t returning to perform in any subsequent episodes of the show. So, yes, “Doctor Who” has just lost one of it’s best characters (if not THE best character).
Even so, Missy’s final scene in the episode is both brilliantly ironic and incredibly depressing at the same time, with Missy and the Master mortally wounding each other for different reasons, and then finding the whole situation hilarious.
Still, despite the “war with the cybermen” background of the episode, this is much more of a character-based episode than a thriller episode.
This episode has a level of seriousness, depth and maturity to it that really took me by surprise. It is an episode about identity, about death, about hope, about the meaning of life etc.. Seriously, there is so much stuff here.
But, the most fascinating theme of the episode is the theme of identity. Whether it is Bill’s horror at the fact that she looks like a cyberman on the outside (with the show alternating between how she sees herself and how others see her), or the myriad similarities and differences between The Master and Missy (eg: two sides of the same person), or the fact that the grim events of the episode force The Doctor to be really clear about who he is and what he stands for (and how this affects his later refusal to regenerate, because he doesn’t want to change who he is), the episode’s treatment of the subject of identity is detailed, nuanced and profound.
However, the set design and lighting in this episode didn’t really impress me as much as they did in the previous episode. However, this is mostly because large parts of the episode are set on a rather ordinary-looking farm.
Yes, I understand that the set designers probably chose to use a more understated and dull background in order to place the emphasis on the characters, but it still makes me miss the more dystopian and futuristic settings of the previous episode. Even so, there are still a few cool-looking locations that are glimpsed briefly throughout the episode. Likewise, the lighting during some scenes is suitably gloomy, eerie and/or dramatic, so it isn’t all bad.
However, some of the episode’s serious drama is undercut somewhat by a “WTF?” deus ex machina ending.
Basically, Bill is suddenly rescued (and turned into a ghost of some kind) by the pilot from the first episode of the series, who just suddenly materialises from a nearby puddle whilst Bill is tearfully mourning beside The Doctor’s motionless body. Yes, the episode tries to explain this sudden last-minute plot twist by showing clips from the first episode, but it still feels like a deus ex machina ending.
Yes, this random plot twist gives this otherwise depressing episode something of a happy ending – and this is a refreshing change from the rest of the episode. But, it also seems like this ending has been bolted on to the episode, rather than being an organic part of the story. The emotional tone of the ending is so different to the rest of the episode, that it almost feels like the ending is a scene from another episode that has been edited into this episode by mistake. Even so, it’s good to see that Bill’s story arc gets a happy ending though.
As for The Doctor, he surprisingly doesn’t regenerate at the end – mostly because he just doesn’t want to. Still, the episode ends mysteriously with him possibly meeting one of his past (?) incarnations on a frozen planet. No doubt that, in the traditional fashion, this is also the set up for this year’s Christmas episode too.
So, yes, the ending is in part mysteriously intriguing and in part contrived. Still, this is probably one of the most “serious” episodes of Doctor Who that I’ve ever seen. Although it didn’t quite turn out to be the thrillingly epic episode that last week’s trailer seemed to imply that it was, I can hardly call this a bad episode either. It’s a serious piece of sombre, mature, emotional drama and a reasonably decent ending to an absolutely spectacular series of “Doctor Who”.
If I had to give this episode a rating out of five, it would get a four.