This review is for the episodes World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls, which together form a single Doctor Who story. It could also be thought of as a three parter, with Twice Upon a Time, but that hasn’t happened yet and in any case it feels like a sufficiently complete story at this point for the purposes of writing about it.
In my Tenth Planet review I looked at how the original Mondasian Cybermen were so effective, despite coming in for a lot of criticism over the years. The decision to bring them back probably raised a few eyebrows, so it is great to see the design recreated with such care and attention and working so well in a Doctor Who story over 50 years after the original. I think we owe this to the documentary about William Hartnell, An Adventure in Space and Time, which also recreated the Mondasian Cybermen and must have made a lot of people realise how amazingly creepy they were, despite also showing us something of the discomfort of the actors inside the costumes!
Although these two episodes clearly form a single story, they are quite different in tone and also level of success. World Enough and Time is my favourite episode of the series by far, and for a series that has maintained such a high standard that is saying something. This one really had me sitting up in my chair taking notice! I love the whole genesis of the Cybermen thing, and at last after 50 years we have an episode that really brings to the forefront the most frightening thing about the Cybermen – how they are created by converting humans. There have been attempts at that before in Tomb, Attack and Rise, but this is on a different level, as the conversion process is what the episode is all about.
The cloth masks and key pads with the victims typing out “pain” and “kill me” are really creepy stuff, tapping in to basic human fears. The Mondasian Cybermen are brilliant, and for a fan like myself who would identify the 60s Cybermen stories as my very favourite thing about Doctor Who, full stop, it is bliss to watch an episode like this. It was a little disappointing that the human hands have not been retained in the design because that was one thing that really brought home the horror of there being humanoids inside the Cybermen in The Tenth Planet, but I can understand the creative decision and also the logic behind it. It wouldn’t make much sense to cover or replace every bit of skin apart from the hands.
To move away from talking about the Cybermen, which I am aware I have done a LOT of in this review and also when I wrote about The Tenth Planet, let’s look at other aspects of the first episode.
There is a fabulous dynamic at the start with Missy playing the Doctor role, and insulting Nardole and Bill (“exposition and comic relief” – magnificent!). Personally I love the “Doctor Who” thing, although I know it is a bit of a thorny subject for fans. “That’s his real name” – audacious, and brilliant! I could write a whole blog post just about the debate surrounding this whole thing, but suffice to say it works perfectly with the confusion surrounding stories like The War Machines. It was a name the Doctor chose for himself and then dropped the “Who”. Perfect. What a tidy way to put that discussion to bed. Although it won’t of course.
There is more about gender fluidity and Time Lords in this episode. I wonder where that could be leading… At times it feels forced. The Doctor not being sure about the gender of the Hartnell First Doctor is monumentally silly, and really is nonsensical scripting for the sake of pushing an agenda. In light of what is going to happen next year, perhaps that agenda needed to be pushed to prepare us for what lies ahead, but at least do it with some kind of internal logic.
I guessed the Master’s disguised immediately, and I mean immediately, although I do have a bit of a thing for recognising actor’s voices, even with Simm putting on different voice to usual. I know not everyone worked it out straight away, so that’s a level up from some of the 80s Master disguises! Classic Master stuff though, and his goatee beard was a fun little nod to the Delgado and Ainley Masters, along with the love of a disguise (for similarly logic-bending reasons to 1980s stories).
Looking at World Enough and Time in isolation, I enjoyed it more than any other Capaldi episode. In fact, I think I would have to go right back to the Tennant era to find an episode I liked more. The Doctor Falls is a little below that standard, but we can’t have everything. It is just a bit sprawling. Being constrained to 45 minutes rather than an hour might have tightened things up a bit.
Once again, Steven Moffatt just can’t bring himself to write out a companion and leave it at that. Whether it is the right approach to reverse companion deaths and go for a happier ending is debatable, but on balance I think it is a better idea than a downbeat ending to a companion’s journey with the Doctor. We have to remember that kids watch this as well, and in any case Doctor Who should ultimately be an uplifting viewing experience. When I originally watched The Pilot the thought crossed my mind that the return of Heather would be the perfect way to write out Bill at the end of the series, so it was not much of a surprise when it happened, although in the intervening 12 weeks I had forgotten about it. The reveal relies on us forgetting and works on that level. If you binge watch the series you will probably lose something of the impact of that reveal.
Quite rightly The Doctor Falls places Bill front and centre. It is good how often we saw her in her own mind as a human, rather than the Cyberman version of her. It gives her a better send-off (at least that was how it seemed and was played) and allows us to see her emotions through Pearl Mackie’s fabulous performance. She has been a great companion, as has Matt Lucas’s Nardole. I still consider him to have been woefully under-utilised in general across the series, so it would be great to see him return one day.
As for the conclusion to the Missy and Master storyline, I was fully expecting to see her kill him, and perhaps see him regenerate into her, but the Master also killing Missy was a big surprise. The “full blast” stopping the regeneration takes a lot of believing, but let’s face it, the Master’s coming back again one day. How ironic that the moment Missy decided to stand with the Doctor she was at last killed, and how sad for the Doctor not to see that.
I liked the inclusion of the different upgrades of Cybermen, but it was a great shame that the budget would presumably not stretch to updated costumes for the other 60s versions and maybe an 80s vintage Cyberman or two. The ret-con of The Keys of Marinus into a Cyberman story was great fun, and I really need to rewatch that with the knowledge that the Ice Soldiers are a kind of Cybermen to see if that fits. In general it was a very neat explanation of the different kinds of Cybermen. The “Planet 14” reference was also fun.
The companions flashback was a nice little homage to classic series regenerations. It was a shame to see Mickey and Rory excluded, and also see that division between classic and new reinforced with the flashbacks only going back as far as Rose. But it is not entirely arbitrary as we can look upon it as post-Time War. The practicalities of changed aspect ratios and picture quality would have made anything before that a bit difficult, and in any case the sequence had to be kept reasonably brief. Other than that I won’t say too much about the end of the episode, because at this stage I have no knowledge of what comes next so I can’t really talk about it in context, other than to say that I loved the ending and it left me looking forward to Christmas more than I have for many years! RP
I’ll leave you with an amazing reworking of the end of World Enough and Time, in black and white and using the original 60s music and sound effects. Scroll below the video for another review “from across the pond”…
The view from across the pond:
World Enough and Time is very close to a masterpiece. There’s a lot to say about it but I’ll piggyback off Roger for a lot of it and aim for some sense of brevity.
The opening is intended for comic relief with the whole “Doctor Who” thing and it is done reasonably well but unlike my counterpart, I hate the fact that it was part of the episode. They get away with it solely because Michelle Gomez is so perfect as Missy, that it comes off as her just ribbing Bill and Nardole. On the other hand, “comic relief and exposition” as genders was wittier.
Within minutes, the conflict arises and in under 10 minutes, Bill Potts has a huge hole where her heart used to be. She collapses as the patients walk in the room. Great, unnerving opening! However it is not flawless. Why?
1. The patients are tethered to IV drips with keyboards attached. Somehow, one button can say entire words, but the letters pressed don’t even make sense for the words they say. For instance, K-T is “Stand Away”.
2. The blue chap who shoots Bill is scared when he sees the elevators coming, but if they only come for humans at which point all they do is “take them away”, why did he feel the need to shoot anyone? He would have been ignored and nothing was stopping them coming anyway! All he did was commit murder to protect… nothing at all.
3. Once the Doctor realizes that there’s an issue with relative time, why stop for exposition? Surely the Time Lord knew what was at stake with every passing second and didn’t need to explain that to Missy. And Nardole probably would have followed along even if he didn’t understand!?
But these are all so brief in the grand scheme, it didn’t affect the pacing of the episode and the pacing is… outstanding. There’s also something religious here to, as we hear about project Exodus, the Genesis of the Cybermen and the resurrection of Bill Potts. Does it mean anything? And if we’re talking about meaning, did we need all the dialog about the Doctor not remembering his gender? Unlike the Roman legion in the previous episode, this felt forced!
Most of the episode is from Bill’s point of view having been revived as a semi-Cyberman. (Oddly, Torchwood fans, this would not include a Cyber-Sexbot outfit… but I digress!) The horror she encounters when she does find the patients saying “kill me” is deeply disturbing, made worse when the nurse takes care of the patient simply by lowering the volume on its speaker.
Throughout, Bill has a friend to guide her and comfort her… until his unmasking reveals him to be the Master. All his kindness is merely a delay to be able to rub in the Doctor’s face that after Bill waited for him for 10 years, he missed saving her by 2 hours. It’s the Master at his most vile. Which leads to an utterly amazing cliffhanger: the Doctor encounters his first Mondasian Cyberman since his first incarnation (and it may literally be the first of their kind) only to learn it’s Bill. The Master walks in with his future self, Missy, and they gloat together, as Bill reaches out sorrowfully… “I Waited… for You…” And to think, we had to wait a week to see where it all would lead.
By part 2, the Doctor is tied up and being tortured by Missy and the Master. He pieces together that the Master was once ruler of these people and overthrown because of his tyranny. This might lead to another disturbing question: did he set the Cybermen on their path from the start? The rest of this episode is basically done on a left-over Little House on the Prairie set, which coming off part one, felt like a letdown. However, Pearl Mackie truly outdoes herself during this one as she can’t see herself as a Cyberman and has to come to terms with the fact that she is one. (Also, in relation to what Roger had to say about the hands, Rachel Talalay, the director of the episode, said it was not an artistic decision but a question of skin tone. In order to hide Pearl’s actual skin color and keep the suspense, they gave the Cybermen gloves!) There are some good lines throughout; it’s an excellent episode to wrap up a superb story. And then, the end shines brighter than most suns!
The Doctor Falls has a great final battle for Capaldi; he is truly the hero of the piece. And it offers us an incredible speech filled with such sincerity, it goes right to the heart of what Doctor Who is all about: kindness. And that’s why when I heard Steven Moffat speak of the ending they gave Bill, I could not complain. Doctor Who is, at its hearts, a show about kindness and hope. To kill Bill would have been contrary to what the show is all about. Instead, she gets hope, love and a chance to come back!
Missy and the Master have a glorious ending where we assume The Master will eventually turn into Missy, but as she said at the start of part 2, she was hazy on when she became herself. Perhaps there’s a Master between Simm and Gomez? It would certainly make sense and allow there to be a known ending for The Master. Because of the explosion we see the Doctor cause, in conjunction with the shot she received, there’s really no way Missy/The Master should be able to return!
Sometimes there are breaks in the logic Doctor Who provides us, but there should never be a break in hope! And it is hope that we go out on. As Bill cries over the Doctor, a lone tear falls on his head. She recalls his line to her, “where there’s tears, there’s hope” and she leaves with Heather hoping against hope that he will be back one day. The score at this point is perfect. We see a beautiful homage to the past with all the new series companions calling out to the Doctor, and Missy causing him to spring back to his feet. He has his flashbacks to previous regenerations and then fights against it, walks out into the snow… and meets the first Doctor. (The original, you might say!)
It is so incredibly well done, well-acted, perfectly scored… everything about this story gave Capaldi the best final episode of any Doctor! Possibly one of the best in the entire 53 years of the show. Considering his second season was so weak, I’m ecstatic that he was able to get something so stunning!
And now we wait for the regeneration that has everyone talking; the regeneration into Jodie Whittaker. As the Doctor said, “like sewage, smart phones and Donald Trump, some things are inevitable.” So was a female Doctor. Maybe he was telling us something…
Christmas can’t come quickly enough!
Read next in the Junkyard… Twice Upon a Time