The Doctor Falls Review

(184 comments)

There’s probably a few people who wanted something more like Blink (or, more plausibly, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang) out of Moffat’s last finale, but it’s hard to imagine what more you could actually ask from it. It’s an episode that has at least one big moment catering to virtually every sensible aesthetic of Doctor Who and one or two of the dumb ones too - the rare thing that manages to solidly delight both GallifreyBase fandom and queer Tumblr fandom. (Although the Moffat Hate crowd is managing to treat Harold’s misogyny as the voice of the author because of course they are.) Entirely separate from any questions of ranking or comparison, it’s self-evidently successful as a finale, anchoring Series 10 as firmly in the “good” column.

Now for comparisons. The obvious point of comparison is The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, the equivalent “finale before the era-ending regeneration” story from the Davies era. It’s not that it’s quiet per se - it’s a multi-Master story, after all. But it’s quiet in comparison. Its defining decision, in many ways, is having the Doctor’s big speech be delivered to Missy and Harold, a quiet speech about kindness and decency in which the Doctor explains why this is the hill he’s going to die on. It’s not aiming to outdo Hell Bent or The Day of the Doctor. Like Extremis, it is visibly a work of late style. It’s aiming small and careful, relishing in its details.

Which isn’t quite everything. The Doctor’s reluctance to regenerate is unearned - there’s a line of dialogue with Bill that’s clearly there to set it up, but it’s a pro forma bit of foreshadowing as opposed to something that feels genuine. Heather probably should have come up somewhere, even if only in dialogue, since April 15th. And, perhaps most fundamentally, there’s not actually a reason for Missy and Harold to be here other than so they can listen to the Doctor’s speech - they’re not actually part of the same story as Bill’s salvation. But these are all small problems. It’s not like Missy and Harold clash with the Bill plot, after all. This is an episode that moves between two things, deft at both of them and, for that matter, at the transitions between them. The parts don’t quite add up, but that’s kind of how the whole being greater than the sum of its parts works.

More to the point, though, the whole is more than the sum of some absolutely astonishing parts. This is a story where the details are exquisitely crafted. The switches between the human and the Cyberman versions of Bill were done perfectly, maintaining the agonizing horror of it while not getting in the way of Mackie’s farewell performance. There’s a lot of coasting on the body horror of World Enough and Time, but the point of a forty-five minute windup is surely that you can coast on it after, wringing vast amounts of emotion out of a few seconds of carefully deployed Tenth Planet voice. The fate of Missy and Harold is brilliantly conceived and executed, although putting “I will never stand with the Doctor” in the trailer was probably a mistake.

There’s a case to be made that this is grading on the curve. It’s not as good as Hell Bent, although it’s considerably more invested in being palatable. It doesn’t reverse the general trend of Series 10 being Capaldi’s weakest season (though far from Moffat’s). It’s satisfying and none of its flaws are too damning, and after a rocky season that was already thoroughly out of contention for the title of “the best” a solid finale that tops the season rankings feels like a win regardless of how it stacks up in the larger sense.  But that’s unfair. There’s a fundamental sense in which this can’t be compared to Hell Bent or Death in Heaven. Simply put, it really is the finale, explicitly framed as this Doctor’s last stand and quietly, against his furious insistence, framed as Moffat’s. The decision to go small carries its own weight specific to that context, and it’s not a flaw to trade on it instead of trying to play the same game as all your other finales.  

What stands out, then, is the decision to end on a story about principles. For Capaldi’s Doctor, this is the speech about kindness - a matured and even wiser version of his “I’m an idiot” speech in Death in Heaven. He goes out by answering the question that so troubled him in Into the Dalek and declaring that he will be. For Moffat, this is the salvation of Bill - his steadfast refusal to give his female characters anything other than honorable, joyful endings that leave them on equal standing with the Doctor. And, more broadly, it’s notable that if we assume (no doubt correctly) that Missy in some fashion escapes being dead, unable to regenerate, and presumably having her body incinerated in a gigantic explosion this is a return to Moffat’s “everybody lives” approach - a story with no visible casualties in which the Doctor saves everybody.

I’ve observed before that the central tension of a lot of Moffat’s work is asking what kind of story this is going to be. World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls does not answer this question in the sense of a manifesto for the show going forward, or a demonstration of what it should be. Nor does it seek to be the final, definitive version of a particular answer to that question. Instead it looks back at what the show has been doing over the course of the Moffat era and seeks to take the core of that and give it a straightforward and effective platform on which to shine. The platform has Mondasian Cybermen and John Simm putting on eyeliner. The core is kindness and space lesbians. And the era is the single greatest one in the history of Doctor Who.

  • “Is the future all female” “We can only hope.” Moffat’s being rather pointed with Chibnall about casting, isn’t he? Still, it seems worth reiterating that, for all that Moffat has made it explicit that the Doctor could regenerate into a woman and hinted strongly on his views in this regard, his tenure as showrunner is going to come to an end without him taking the step of actually casting one.
  • One really interesting thematic resonance - the parallels between Bill’s cybernetic body and her black one, particularly around the discussion of having to learn to live with everybody being afraid of you and around her getting shot by a panicking white person with a gun.
  • I do have to circle back to complaining about the sudden appearance of Heather, however. It’s a great ending, but it makes comparison to Clara’s departure inevitable in a way that makes the lack of setup beyond a callback to the engine oil line (and the Cyberman/Dalek symmetry I remarked upon last episode and then waved away) and the general “Heather as barely explained being of apparently limitless power” concept feel more slapdash than it has to. Especially given that it’s the exact same resolution that was rejected in The Pilot with no real sense of what’s different other than “Bill’s a Cyberman now so it’s a less bad deal in comparison.” I like what it’s reaching for, and I’m generally willing to pretend it actually gets there, but I wish Bill had gotten an ending where all the pieces came together.
  • Assuming, of course, that she’s not in the Christmas special. (Though if we’re going to have a return for Christmas, I’d rather Clara drops by for a cameo, in much the same way that it was important Rose and Amy show up for a scene.)
  • The important takeaway, however, is that Steven Moffat is 100% on point in his realization that the correct aesthetic for Doctor Who is “space lesbians.”
  • As I’ve said on the podcasts, I’m all for David Bradley playing the First Doctor at Christmas, albeit with the caveat I’ve made before that the First Doctor is not a character that has ever been portrayed by William Hartnell. I’m happy to read Bradley as playing a piece of series lore as distinct from the guy who appeared in The Sensorites.
  • Although at this point Moffat has written for a staggering nine Doctors on television (1, 4, 5, 8, War, 9, 10, 11, and 12). I’m not sure if he’s got the record if one counts extended universe stuff (though he picks up McCoy), but that’s definitely a televised record, with second place being a tie between Dicks and Holmes, each at five. And no, let’s just all agree not count Curse of Fatal Death for this record.
  • A surprising twist in Moffat’s allegiances in the Last War in Albion as he responds to Alan Moore’s interview in Vworp Vworp #3 (still available and amazing) in which he weighs in in favor of Moffat over Davies by going and canonizing Grant Morrison’s “The World-Shapers.” Of course, he also completely screws up that story by then also including Planet 14 on the list of Cybermen planets when “The World Shapers” establishes that Marinus is Planet 14. But most of the fun of legitimizing EU material is causing twice as many problems as you solve, so hey.
  • Of course, if we’re scoring in terms of Last War in Albion the resemblance between the Masters’ final fates and The Killing Joke should probably be remarked upon. Not sure who that reading would end up favoring though.
  • I assume the number will go back up as the $12 in declined pledges sort themselves out, and I’m not cancelling the podcast either way cause the guest is awesome, but the Patreon is at $309, $11 short of me having to do Game of Thrones reviews. I should stress, I’m fine with that because omfg this season did terrible things for my progress on anything else whatsoever, but you know. Money and all that.
  • All right. Double-length podcast this week, which means you’ll get to hear the bridge of whatever mysterious transmission from the future has been serving as our theme song. Spoilers: it has the word “antler” in it. See you then. Well, and tomorrow for part one of A Consistently Inaccurately Named Trilogy, the second part of my Trilogy Trilogy. And Wednesday for Josh. And Friday for Jack. And regularly after that. BUT YOU GET THE POINT.

Ranking

  1. World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls
  2. Extremis
  3. Oxygen
  4. Thin Ice
  5. The Eaters of Light
  6. The Pyramid at the End of the World
  7. The Pilot
  8. Empress of Mars
  9. Smile
  10. Knock Knock
  11. The Lie of the Land

Comments

Howard David Ingham 2 weeks, 6 days ago

A friend called the Christmas Special title as Twelfth Night. Just getting it in there.

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Yossarianduck 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Better than my suggestion "It's a Onederful Life".

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halcoromosone 2 weeks, 6 days ago

"Die Hard"

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Max Curtis 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Kill Bill, Vol. 2

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Tim B. 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Tenth Planet 2: Electric Boogaloo

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Hugo 2 weeks, 6 days ago

The Husbands of the First Doctor

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Przemek 2 weeks, 5 days ago

First Christmas

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mr_mond 2 weeks, 6 days ago

It might not be as good as Hell Bent, but it engaged me emotionally in a way that no Moffat episode did (much as I appreciate them on a more intellectual level) since... Asylum of the Daleks probably. And for that it will always have a very special place in my heart.

I also loved the Cybermen as forces of heteronormativity: they want everyone to be the same as them, theyprefer to convert children because “their brain are fresher” (which could be read as: they don’t have as firm a grasp on their identity), and they convert a queer woman, making her feel a dissonance between how she feels inside and how she has to present and act, which causes her to feel suicidal and is only cured when her former crush appears and gives her a kiss. Of course, that’s not all that the Cybermen symbolise, even in this story alone, but I feel like it’s definitely there. A brilliant inversion of the long history of portraying queerness as monstrous.

So yes, for me it was a triumph. Not as loud as the ending of series nine, but very affecting in its own way.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I'm glad you enjoyed it! And I love your reading of the Cybermen as forces of heteronormativity. The cyberconversion also reminded me of conversion therapy - the horrible process of deforming a person in order to make them "better" and "like everybody else".

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Max Curtis 2 weeks, 6 days ago

"the First Doctor is not a character that has ever been portrayed by William Hartnell"

Obviously you've thought of this, but what about The Three Doctors?

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Yossarianduck 2 weeks, 6 days ago

From Phil's Tumblr:
"I don’t think his [Hartnell's] health or mental state were such that one can ascribe that much agency to his work on The Three Doctors."

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Max Curtis 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Yeah, that's what I'd argue too. It's not really a "portrayal" in a meaningful way.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I loved it for the most part. I would still call it an amazing finale. Master's double suicide was delightfully evil. And Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie are just brilliant actors. Bravo.

However, the ending soured my enjoyment of the episode a little. Like you said, the Doctor's refusal to regenerate feels unearned. It fits his suicidal tendencies this season, but it also feels hollow. And despite the Twelfth Doctor's motivations for not regenerating clearly being different from Tenth Doctor's, not nearly enough was done to make this refusal meaningfully different from Tennant's (and quoting his lines twice surely didn't help in that regard).

What also felt unearned was Bill's ending. I mean, I'm very happy for her, but Heather felt like a deus ex machina even though the solution was clearly set up. She was too powerful and she came out of the blue in a story that wasn't about her in any way. Coupled with the fact that she doesn't have much of a character and that the connection between her and Bill is weak at best it just didn't resonate with me. To be honest, the girl Bill dated in "Extremis" and "Pyramid" felt more important in Bill's life than Heather.

It occured to me some time after the episode ended that both problems could've been solved at once had the Doctor offered to upload Bill to the Library. It would remind us that his suicidal tendencies and his refusal to regenerate stem from the loss of River . It would also give Bill a chance to refuse such end and seek another way. Why Moffat neglected to remind us about both River and Heather before the finale is beyond me.

I also didn't really get the scene where Bill's tear (a drop of sentient oil?) somehow brings the Doctor back to life. Did it motivate him to keep on living? Or did it mechanically trigger the regeneration again? Could someone explain it to me?

Still, a great finale and an amazing experience. I can't wait for the Christmas Special. Bringing the suicidal Doctor back to his beginning was a brilliant move on the part of the TARDIS and I'm sure we'll get something unique and magical.

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mr_mond 2 weeks, 6 days ago

“I also didn't really get the scene where Bill's tear (a drop of sentient oil?) somehow brings the Doctor back to life. Did it motivate him to keep on living? Or did it mechanically trigger the regeneration again? Could someone explain it to me?”

I thought that just as Heather left Bill her tears, Bill left hers to the Doctor. It works on two levels, I think: on the level of plot mechanics, yes, the tear probably contains the space oil, so it can revive the Doctor, and symbolically it works because “Where there’s tears, there’s hope”. The Doctor still doesn’t want to regenerate, but it gives him strength to get up and get out of bed, so to speak – it’s a first, tiny step towards recovery that he doesn’t even realise he’s taking.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Okay, that makes sense. Thank you!

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Gnaeus 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I saw it as connecting to Heaven Sent, where we're told Time Lords can take days to die. Or at least, Time Lords are like characters in opera, or melodrama, with elasticated dying scenes.

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 6 days ago

It also seems a little unfortunate to have another "I don't want to go" regeneration coinciding with a showrunner's departure. Especially in as much as, whereas the metatextual expression in Ten's was Davies saying "I want to keep running Doctor Who rather than pass it on to someone else", this works out as taking a step beyond that and implying "I'd rather Doctor Who got cancelled than pass it on to someone else".

Which given who that someone else is, we might all have some sneaking sympathy with in a deep dark corner of ourselves, but still...

Mind you, there is an interesting comparison being made between the Doctor and the (Simm) Master, both essentially saying "I'd rather die than change". Which amounts to a statement of disapproval of the Doctor's attitude, and hence a self-denunciation of Moffat's own implied echo of it, so I suppose it all works out all right really.

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 6 days ago

And of course, we still have the resolution of all that to come, so I'm quibbling over nothing really.

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Andrew Gordon 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Yeah, the Christmas special is surely going to be about Capaldi (and Moffat) accepting and embracing change. I like the idea that it's also going to be about the First Doctor accepting that, so the Doctor gets to reaffirm his faith in himself from both ends of his timeline.

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CJM 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I've written about that elsewhere, but I'm convinced that's what's being set-up.

In short, the references are so thick in the final section, and the echoes of Jon Pertwee's final lines are too overt for this not to be the show recognising what era it's in, and where it has to go.

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David Ainsworth 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I disagree that Bill's ending was unearned. It only appears so if you situate its beginning when Heather shows up. Bill stands in marked contrast to Clara's "remade in the Doctor's image." Bill undoubtedly learns and grows with the Doctor's help, but her ability to maintain her identity even while crammed within a Cyberman is all down to her, her identity, her past, her presumptive struggles (can we guess why her foster mom doesn't know she's a lesbian?), and her choices, especially in the Monk trilogy. A Bill who had always done what the Doctor said--not touching puddle Heather, refusing the Monk's offer--wouldn't have been able to hold herself together at the end and wouldn't have been saved.

If anything, the Doctor learns from Bill, although part of the lesson is wrong for him (better to die than not be who I am).

As for Heather, two points. Firstly, when Bill didn't go with her in The Pilot, it wasn't clear she was actually there. We got hints, especially in their parting, but the Doctor's claims that she'd effectively been assimilated seemed right until they parted. Here, it's clearly Heather (still? again?) and she's clearly the woman Bill fell for. Wanting to kiss Bill to show her she's alive demonstrates that life for both of them. The worst you can accuse this relationship of is being too starry-eyed.

Secondly, the question of the magical "oil" that enables Heather's transformation and it being too ridiculous. I note in passing that other shows happily give us "bad" oil (the "black oil" in the X-Files) that leads to destruction, mutation and general genocide-justification, so I'm delighted to accept this particular fiction. But I made my peace entirely with what happened when I discovered the answer to a simple question: what kind of space-time ship would leak oil like this?

The answer, of course, is a Bill/Heather ship.

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mr_mond 2 weeks, 6 days ago

That is beautiful. Seriously, what a fantastic reading. Thank you.

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Tristan 2 weeks, 6 days ago

"The worst you can accuse this relationship of is being too starry-eyed."

This is worse than the pun you closed on.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Hah. That last line was brilliant. As was the whole reading.

I agree that the rest of Bill's ending, especially her ability to hold on to who she is, was wonderful. I just still can't find the emotional truth in her relationship with Heather. Mostly because there's barely any relationship there. Sentient, all-powerful oil I could forgive - this is "Doctor Who". Just... I dunno, it could've been set up better.

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David Bateman 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I just got this link - Bill and Heather Hartnell!

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Harlequin 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Beautifully spotted! I wonder if people far more alert than me noticed this and realised right from 'The Pilot' that Bill and Heather were destined to end up together.

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Ombund 2 weeks, 5 days ago

This is a very nice reading. It really helps me with the end of The Pyramid at the End of the World as well. When making the choice to accept the Monk's offer, Bill was simply continuing to assert her identity at all costs: as with all her 'bad' decisions, she was ultimately just trying to be kind. Which links well with Capaldi's beautiful speech to the Masters of course, so perhaps that's something else he's learnt (or re-learnt) from Bill.

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dave 2 weeks, 6 days ago

"the Doctor's refusal to regenerate feels unearned [...] What also felt unearned was Bill's ending"

I'd agree but I think the germ was there to fix this without evoking River and so weaving yet another thing in from outside the episodes.

If the Doctor in some way was aware of what happened between Simm and Gomez, that would somehow tie in with Bill's Cyber-induced suicide wish and the idea that change could make you something something unacceptable to what you were.

This would also put Bill ahead of the curve in accepting a transformation that the Doctor had told her to resist in the first episode of the series - a decision the Doctor doesn't yet know about but will also make come Christmas (admittedly, that would need a bit more seeding in both The Pilot and here than it got).

I can't help but feel this might be why the two Masters were in these episodes but the idea never quite crystallised.

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Derik 2 weeks, 6 days ago

The Big Finish Doctor Who Unbound audios established a couple years ago that one of the things most likely to lead to a gender-swap regeneration was a Time Lord committing suicide.
And lo-and-behold the Master certainly did end up killing himself....

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Peg 2 weeks, 6 days ago

" And despite the Twelfth Doctor's motivations for not regenerating clearly being different from Tenth Doctor's, not nearly enough was done to make this refusal meaningfully different from Tennant's (and quoting his lines twice surely didn't help in that regard)."

See, now, I feel that the end was utterly earned, and is the logical and necessary response to what Moffat has been trying to say and show about the Doctor since he came on board, even back in the Davies era, when he was often the humanizing counterpoint to Davies' fondness for satire and "flawed Doctor" dark tropes.

The shortest version through is that from the very beginning Moffat's big anguish for the Doctor is not "double-genocided the Daleks and the Time Lords and came away with history's own case of PTSD." For Moffat the drama, dark and light, is the Doctor's profound capacity to love, played against the problem of being surrounded by mayflies: cradle-robbing his ephemeral Companions, over and over, as Missy puts it. Bill says she and Nardole are the Doctor's friends. Missy's counter puts loving and keeping company with short-lives up there with bestiality and dating jail bait: civilized people just don't. It's a fair question, too--the Doctor is wiser, older, more experienced, more powerful, and because of that he's too often alone and isolated by necessity, losing what he loves over and over, and restricting his own involvement so as not to fall into the "abusive parent/teacher/older-relative" role.

Moffat has followed that question of loneliness a step at a time through his entire tenure. He's helped move the character from Rose Tyler--which did indeed feel a bit like a mentally damaged elder obsessing over a juvenile Lolita--through Martha, who he treated with love even if he knew it was not the love she wanted; Donna, who was his peer even before Doctor-Donna ripped things apart; and then the Amy-River exploration, in which Amy was, on some level, forever Amelia in her nightgown and wellies, making fish sticks and custard for the Raggedy Man, and River was forever the woman older than the Doctor in body and in spoilers, who was his adult, near-Time Lady wife, even without her regenerations.

Moffat has worked to show the Doctor looking for a peer--in growth and potential, but also in life. The entire reason Clara is important to the Doctor from the first is because she might, possibly, be as immortal as he is. Only, when she finally does become so in the way he'd like, she leaves.

And then he accepts River, fully, and sends her to her death.

This entire season, from Christmas on, has been about a widower in mourning, struggling to find something he can hang on to that's more than a photo or a memento on his Oxford desk. River and Susan smile out at him, but he's alone. Missy tempts him from inside the box--but he's still alone. And he's still trying to come to terms with having been given an entire new regeneration cycle. Eleven was ready to die. Twelve did not come back willingly, or confidently, or with any sense of security of heart or mind. He was ready to die in the town called Christmas, and Clara took that away from him. He was willing to simply avoid River, to never have to know for complete certain she'd died--but life forced him to Darillium anyway, and he found he couldn't keep hurting River to save himself the pain of loving and losing yet again.

Moffat has quite sensibly given Capaldi's regeneration to a man struggling with the implications of having been tired, and weary, and ready to die, only to be refurbished and set out on the road again, with no more promise than ever of having a society, a lasting family, or a "home" that's not the Tardis.

Capaldi has always been Moffat's version of the Doctor struggling with what his nature does to him and to the people around him. Is he a good man? Is he kind? Who can he count on? Who can he bear to lose? The perfect questions for a character who's restarting a cycle that was supposed to END...and that now may go on infinitely.

The last episode simply puts all this in play. Trying to convert Missy, he accidentally destroys Bill, and possibly even Nardole, a final exhaustion for a man whose entire incarnation has been built around loss, and having to get up yet again, with no promise it will ever end naturally, and try to find that inner core that is "The Doctor." Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up or give in. Without hope, without witness, without reward. Kind--because its right. Always, at the end, kind.

So Moffat has replaced Davies' "killed two races" angst with "how do you keep being the Doctor when you are so very alone, and lose everyone you love, and never seem to have a long-term peer" angst. It's a better angst, IMO. Healthier, more poignant, a greater challenge, and one that keeps a necessary and healthy boundary between the Doctor and most of his Companions. It's a rare River or Missy who can even begin to offer him "someone like him--someone who might get him."

If the finale goes out with a refusal that's been overtly in the works since Matt Smith first chased the Impossible Girl, or accepted with relief the chance to put down his life and find his end, that, to me, seems about as "earned" as it's possible to get. It's a huge, ongoing struggle the Doctor has been undergoing throughout Moffat's writing of the role. Part of what I loved about this last-but-one episode is that it combined both Moffat's radiant sense of the Doctor as a true modest, KIND hero, and his sense of the Doctor as mortal but long-lived, and fragile and slowly falling apart because even using humans as companions, you can only go so long without peers.

The cool thing is a) Moffat has used his show-runner time to add a whole mess of long-lifers to the Doctor's recurring character roster. (Me, Clara, River, Bill, Heather, the Missy variant of the Master. (and, yes, I think they can ALL come back if needed)). And b) for all "The Doctor Falls" is free-standing, the Christmas special is almost by definition going to provide sufficient closure with the "widowed" Doctor to give Chibnall room to go any way he wants to. A Christmas Special uniting the First Doctor and the Twelfth, both bitterly struggling with regeneration and their refusal to go on? Hell-yeah. We have always needed just enough more about why the Doctor fled Gallifrey in a broken, stolen tardis with only his granddaughter for company. We need to know why the first old man accepted the call to continue--and we need to know how the 12th Doctor, tired and mourning and lonely and balking like an angry Scottish donkey, will use his predecessor's choice to resolve his own choice.

I really do not see how anything with such spreading, tangled, deep roots in the role and in Moffat's writing can be anything BUT earned.

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Ian 2 weeks, 6 days ago

This is amazing, thank you for it!

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Peg 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Thank you. Glad it worked and made sense to you! :)

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JFrancis 2 weeks, 5 days ago

That is an absolutely fantastic reading of the era in toto. On the theme of the Doctor's companions leaving when they become his peers, it's interesting - albeit inevitable - that that transformation always makes them incompatible with life aboard the TARDIS. Donna, elevated to the Doctor's intellectual equal, will burn out in the long-run. Amy and Rory can only take control of their fairy tale by letting themselves be thrown out of it. River is immortal as long as the Doctor does not take their relationship entirely seriously - treating her with proper respect inevitably means allowing her to have an ending. Clara, of course, actually displaces the Doctor from his own narrative: not maliciously, it's simply that there can't really be two of them at the same time. And Bill is transformed into a being who can fly through time and space under her own power. The student graduates.

Funny how there are echoes all the way back into the classic series in much of this - from Susan, textually exiled so she can become her own person, through Jo leaving for love, up past Romana and Ace graduating to become Doctors of their own. I'd say that was coincidence or convergence of circumstances but this is Steven Moffat, a writer for whom the phrase 'armed with canon' has never been quite so apt.

So yes - looking back at all the rage against endings and out-living your friends that has defined the emotional core of Moffat's Doctors, I cannot but agree that this penultimate story is a natural expression of everything that has come before. Maybe not as clear an expression as it could have been, but you know, there wasn't really space to have the conversation. That space, I imagine and hope, will be found in the Christmas finale where if nothing else, we can expect the Doctor to have a heart to heart to heart to heart with himself.

(As a possibly related side-note, I'm firmly convinced that some of the Doctor's melancholy in this particular episode is rooted in a double meaning of 'where there's tears, there's hope.' I have no idea if this is the intention, but I read that as him knowing full well that Heather is going to come for Bill, that *he* can't fix her and the person who can is either going to inevitably whisk her away from him - or give her the means to leave at a run. Given Bill's evident discomfort with the role of full-time companion, I doubt this particular Doctor was under any illusions that she would stay afterwards.)

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Peg 2 weeks, 5 days ago

The structure of the show demands the Companions turn over regularly, as the Doctor does. That leaves some pretty basic reasons for leaving, if you want to keep the tone of the show. They're going to die. They're going to find the life they're seeking. They're going to leave in a huff or be evicted in a huff. And they're going to outgrow the teacher.

With Moffat the *preferred* outcome is to outgrow the teacher. It's positive, and portrays a positive Doctor--and given that the primary companions are so often female, it helps break up the sense of Companions being flavor of the week, dump-able chicks.

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JFrancis 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Absolutely! Clearly I blither on about the flipping obvious when I try to parse an observation over breakfast - sorry about that.

What I think I was grasping for is that where in the Davies era, the companion's departure was something for which the whole show as a whole tended to weep over (often literally), in the Moffat era, we've seem the pain of it placed in the Doctor's character, not the show as a structure. A companion's departure is a triumph, a graduation, not a defeat. It's been interesting to see it playing out that way after the emotional gut-punching going on under RTD. As you say, it's positive and healthy.

And the emotion it lays on the Doctor is . . . I resist the urge to say realistic but perhaps more satisfying than the despair of the reluctant genocide.

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Peg 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I really prefer the anguish of the Doctor trying to reconnect with life and hope and his core identity to the Doctor in free-fall, caught between real self-loathing as a genocide and a more complicated sense of failure for needing Rose in particular to the point of near parasitism. She was his anchor, reminding him of what it was to just live in the moment...but she was also jail bait twice over--too young for the man he looked like, and far too immature for the man he really was. I know a lot of people found that entire dynamic romantic or at least fascinating. It creeped me out a bit. I am so much happier to have the Doctor simply be old, and lonely, and trying to either find a way to die with valor or reconnect with living.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 5 days ago

That's a brilliant reading. Thank you. I can see now how this ending was earned.

And yet in regards to the finale itself it still feels unearned to me - simply because it requires such an in-depth analysis of the entirety of Moffat's tenure as the showrunner. Your explanation fits perfectly, but it should've been made more explicit in the finale. This is my main problem with the whole season 10. Themes and plots that don't get enough build-up in the season itself, relying instead on the viewer remembering information scattered throughout several years of the show.

Maybe I'm just inattentive but 12 months of waiting between "Husbands of River Song" and "Return of Doctor Mysterio" was enough for me to almost forget that the Doctor is supposed to be sad because he lost River. And then, after a few more months of waiting, we got a season steeped in the Doctor's grief and loneliness after a character we last saw 16 months earlier. The reasons he feels like that shoud've been reiterated. One photo on his desk was hardly enough.

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Peg 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I think I would like to suggest a difference between the terms "unearned," and "sparsely supported."

Unearned is a major sin in a writer, like badly finessed gods of the machine. If you have not, within the context of your series, provided enough information to justify a major development AND you're not making the event a "reveal," which can be justified later, you've broken a primary element of the viewer/writer contract. You've cheated.

But some things are "sparsely supported." The elements are there, but the writer did not put as much sizzle in to carry some subset of viewers emotionally. IMO it's fair to classify Moffat as *often* opting for a sparse support over a heavy support. There are reasons for that choice--I can take apart his work and think, "Ah, yes--he chose to include this scene that adds this logical layer, over this potential scene that would have reinforced the emotional build up and made the final payoff bigger and more overt--but Moffat likes playing to his close-readers, and dislikes over-selling an arc." But that does not change the fact that while he works quite well for obsessive close-readers (like me), he works less well for people who like the flags and bells and whistles that guide a viewer through an emotional character arc to be a bit louder and more obvious. (snerk) It's like a cook who dislikes an over-salted dish so much he under-salts by the standards of almost anyone who is not on a salt-free diet.

So--this is what I would have liked to have seen over the length of series 10 that would have moved the show from "modestly supported" to "kick-in-the-head."

1. I would have liked to have Bill mourn the loss of Heather, even as she tried to move on--and either the Doctor be brave enough to reference his own loss of River, or Nardole give that mourning away. Maybe a line in "Knock Knock," for example...a comment on Bill trying to date her roommate, and missing Heather still.

2. I would have liked at least one other passing mention of Heather, romantic/mourning, but also thinking about her capacity--what she was, what she could do. A reminder of the power she held.

3. I would have liked Missy to have needled the Doctor just a bit more on the real issue between them: not necessarily romance, but mutual social hunger bordering on starvation. Letting Missy redirect her own jealousy at the companions was simply less effective than an actual two or three line exchange in which each Time Lord manages to be bitchy about how much they need each other, and how difficult that is.

4. I would have liked Missy to talk about time...the burden of time alone.

5. I would have liked the Doctor, just once, to tell someone--anyone--that he knows what it's like to be ready to die--and that he missed the chance. And that he regrets it.

But that's it. Those five, done well, would have provided a more overtly stated through-line over the series, without demanding the finale be more explicit. They're not a matter of "earning" the end resolutions, they're a matter of taking what's already there and earned and providing just a bit more sizzle, a bit more clarity. Dialing it up just a bit, aiming the audience before they are even aware of being aimed.

But here's the problem: it's a bitch and a half to decide on the fly over a whole season if you are providing enough sizzle, as well as enough steak...and if you have to choose, you choose steak. In a perfect world you'd then have six months to review the scripts, edit the filmed work, and if necessary shoot and insert new sequences to bolster the final product. But TV does not work that way. So Moffat did what Moffat does, and provided all the necessary steak, and just a bit too little sizzle for any viewer is is not, like me, watching from week to week for just how those arcs are being set up, moved, lined up like dominoes. I'm a nutter: I love the shapes Moffat makes, and I watch for those shapes. I like his writing language, and as a result I am actually just as glad he doesn't add more sizzle. But I do see how people wish they had more...and how it is easy to take the sense of emotional blankness and think it's because the steak isn't there, when it's that extra bit of sizzle that's lacking.

Huh. You know, the salt metaphor really does work for me. "I love you like meat loves salt." For many people, Moffat provides a brilliant prime sirloin, an inch thick, cooked to perfection, with a perfect sear--and not enough salt.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I agree with what you said. You explained it perfectly. "Sparsely supported" and not enough salt. That's exactly it. Thank you.

I'd like to clarify that I don't actually need flashing signs and trumpets to see a theme or a character development. But some middle ground between this approach and the "for obsessive close-readers only" one... yeah, that'd work for me. The five points you propose would've been perfect.

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Harlequin 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I also agree with all of that. Thank you.

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Phil Sandifer 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Hm. I'm not sure I see the need for the distinction, but I also think you're off slightly on what "unearned" is usually meant as. Unearned doesn't mean "not set up." That's usually phrases like "out of left field," "deus ex machina," of something like that. That means that the Aristotlean unities just aren't there - the end isn't made likely by the beginning and/or doesn't make the details of the beginning necessary. There's no gun over the mantle in act one. This, notably, can be a dramatic choice in the right circumstances - "the moon's an egg" is entirely not set up by the first half of Kill the Moon, and the story owns that fact, using the disorientation and "WTF"ness of the moment as part of its drama.

"Unearned" is trickier - it's used in situations where the shape of the drama is clear and the web of likelihood and necessity is there, but the balance is off. The ending isn't made likely enough, or it doesn't make the beginning necessary enough. The Lie of the Land is a great example - Bill's mother being the force that defeats the monks is clearly set up - you can point to the bits in the first two acts that are there to foreshadow it. But it doesn't work. The setup isn't sufficient to support the resolution as executed, and the ending doesn't quite pay off the scenes with Bill's imagined conversations.

There's scads of ways to sell "Capaldi's Doctor doesn't want to regenerate." Honestly, "Capaldi's Doctor is a stubborn ass about X" is not something that needs a ton of work to justify at this point. But going from "I hoped there'd be stars" to suddenly waking up and shouting about how he doesn't want to keep changing and punching the ground screaming "NOOOOOO!" at his regeneration doesn't balance. It's too intense and furious a rejection to come off of what we've seen. Likewise Heather's return - it's easy to see how it fits together. But there's still a jarring moment of "wait, what?" when she shows up as the viewer's mind scans fruitlessly over ten episodes before finally reaching the bits where Heather was last a going concern that could have been lessened with a line or two of dialogue somewhere in the Lie of the Land-Eaters of Light run.

That's "unearned" - it's not "this story is put together wrong," but "the ledger doesn't quite balance."

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Peg 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I do understand what you're saying--but it leaves me with a problem. To *me* "unearned" has to mean that the elements needed to achieve the effect are missing or out of balance in an absolute sense. It's too accusatory a word for me to feel very good about it being used in situations where the problem may be two very different expectations on the part of different audience members.

All the logical elements were present to "justify" the finale and its resolution. For those of us who do close-read, and follow the arcs, the emotional balance was also good: I was entirely ready for the various bits others are uncomfortable with, and delighted to feel the ep rolling over in accordance with my own reading of the show, the characters, and Moffat. The drawing on canon, to me, seems right: I CAN postulate ways of improving the balance to try to reinforce the emotional build. But not to the degree of using a term like "unearned." It's more a matter of refinement in a direction I do not need, but can see others would appreciate. But that's not so much Moffat's flaw, as it is the difficulty of satisfying to differing aesthetics at any given time. I think the Davies/Moffat comparison, with too much salt and too little is not bad. Both Davies and Moffat wrote "good" Doctor Who. But I disliked Davies' aesthetic severely--and found Moffat a blessed relief, while others here found Davies "just right," and Moffat a problem.

Is that something wrong with either writer/show-runner, or is it just that there are many different viewers with very different expectations watching the show?

Does that make sense? Do you see why I am a bit uneasy with the judgement of "unearned" in this framing?

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Peg 2 weeks, 5 days ago

An add-on to try to clarify what I see when I say that the resolution is both justified by what's gone before, and also, for me, in balance.

You comment on the shift between "I hoped there would be stars," and then the blatant rage and rejection at being caught up in regeneration again. You see it as an imbalanced shift with not enough lead or support.

I saw it as something I've thought would be reprised ever since the Doctor was dropped into a new round of regenerations, and woke up surly and confused and uncertain if he was a good man, and retreating into his anger and his wary isolation. I've been expecting it since the obvious but unstated death of River after "The Husbands of River Song." I've been expecting it since the most recent Christmas ep, when the Doctor retreats in pain at the reminder of River, leaving Nardole to reassure "us" that the Doctor was going to be sad, but that he'd be all right. I've been waiting for it since it became obvious that Nardole was not simply a companion: he was a suicide watch sent by River to guard the Doctor from himself. I've been waiting since the Doctor as good as signed up for the suicide position in "Eaters of Light," and people grumbled at how out of character that seemed, and I thought, given the story line, that it seemed to me like the Doctor was indeed suicidal--ready to die.

If all that were not enough drawn from older canon, I'd been waiting all the finale episode as the Doctor himself made it more and more clear that this was his *last* stand--and that he really intended it to be his LAST. He puts his affairs in order. He begs his oldest friend to join him, at the last, at the end of everything. He appoints an heir, sending Nardole off as the newer, stronger him. He allows Bill to join him in his final stand-off, the only thing he can do to make up for having accidentally led her to her destruction: allow her to share the peace of his death. There was the entire battle, with the Doctor so clearly pushing away regeneration, inviting the killing blow, embracing his death...and succeeding. That's why he "hoped there would be stars." He's not expecting a regeneration. He's aiming for death, chasing it as hard as he's ever chased life, and he wanted his last view to be of the stars.

If you are me--if you experienced the episode in that framing, and took those actions to be a long-expected suicide conflict, then the rage on waking is not "unbalanced." It's exact and right, and fully in keeping with what Moffat showed us.

I know other people do not track character arcs in the same way I do--that they see different things and focus on other elements. And I can see how, if you didn't focus on the things I was seeing, it could seem unbalanced. But I can't as a viewer see it that way--I can only say that it was in balance, but that many viewers could have used a few more road signs along the way. That's a bit of a struggle. Part of me fights with the temptation to say, "It's not Moffat who got it wrong, it's a mess of you who misread his navigation notes." (grimace) For me, it's a bit like your wry comment about Moffat haters turning Harold's misogyny into Moffat's nature. I do get frustrated watching Moffat build this stuff and people are so focused on what they expect to see that they miss what he's actually put there. But I also know that's not fair: every viewer does bring their own frame with them, and every writer has to try to hit a balance between how they see their arcs, and how all those alien, odd-minded viewers will see them. Moffat doesn't manage to compensate enough for at least some fraction of his viewers, and I do not even know if he can. It may just be that Moffat writes Moffat voice, and some people hear better in other frequencies.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 4 days ago

You know what's the main problem with Moffat's approach as you describe it? That it veers dangerously close to not telling the story at all. It's what many people criticized in Season 7: that so much connective tissue was cut from each episode that all that was left were the bare bones of the story. The cliff notes. For people who enjoy the connective tissue in its own right this was not a plus.

Were there enough clues to read the Doctor's character arc as you describe it? Sure there were. But that's not the point. I would love to see him grapple with loneliness more on-screen for the sheer emotional thrill of it. Yes, I can extrapolate that from what was shown. But why would I? Extrapolating and imagining the emotional content is much less fun than simply watching it. (But we're just back to the difference in expectations, aren't we?).

On a side note, this issue is connected to the other problem I have with some of Moffat's stories, namely his love of narrative substitution. When you build up certain expectations in the viewer's mind, people will be disappointed when you don't deliver the goods. Sometimes, when you're really good at your job and you switch to a better story than the one you were pretending to tell, this can work wonderfully. But what constitutes a better story is highly subjective, so sometimes the new story just ends up being disappointing.

That was my expierience with "Time of the Doctor". Either solve your multi-season story arc or tell us the story of the Doctor who came to stay. But don't tease us with answers to the story arc if you don't actually think they're important.

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Peg 2 weeks, 4 days ago

My own response is that there is a spectrum of preference regarding the old adage, "Show, don't tell." Some people like their drama very much like they like good exposition: tell the audience what you are going to do; do it cleanly and directly in clear, well-organized blocks; tell the audience what you have done. That can get very heavy handed and controlling, but it makes for a hell of a ride. Others like their stories to be less explicit, more organic, and a lot more demanding of the viewer: showing and even highlighting ambiguities, using unreliable narration techniques, leaving gaps the viewer has to fill. That can fail by proving confusing, and may not satisfy some viewers--but for those who love the interactive demand, who like to be shown, not told, it is the best stuff out there.

A lot of what bothers you about Moffat is what attracts me.

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quicksilver 2 weeks, 4 days ago

One way I separate out unearned and "not set up" is to mainly use the former for emotional pay-offs or personality/character believability. And set-up for plot issues (although both deal with set-ups in a way). So Bill's story does not have the necessary *plot* set-up but it is not unearned as the emotional pathway is established fine. But the regeneration is unearned because the emotional set-up has not been done. I think KTM is an excellent example to distinguish the two. The whole story, there was no difficulty in joining the emotional dots to reach the end and so the last confrontation was wonderfully "earned". But of course, there was no hint about the possibility of moons being dragon eggs. There are no emotional dots to connect for the Doctor to be unhappy with regeneration anywhere in the episode (or entire series). The viewer has to extrapolate by transposing Bill's words or draw upon experiences which are not the Doctor's and through completely different irreconcilable gymnastic patterns. 1. "yes, it is reasonable to regenerate because he is *sad* that everything failed (which was not shown to be so and the Doctor has the Tardis to deal with loose ends of Nardole, Bill etc)" or 2. he does not want to regenerate because he is *happy* with this face and his accomplishments (which is jarring when it comes after the previous events in the story without his having taken the pains to resolve the above loose ends).

When the emotional dots are missing to arrive at the grand proclamation, it feels unearned. And, yes, if you are writing a story which is about emotions and relationships, it is a more serious fault than in stories where the plot is supposed to reign (where bad "set-ups" are a more serious issue). But it is not a disaster that one has to feel queasy about when there are many threads in the story which were done emotionally well (like the Missy-Master) and when there is the Christmas special to do a ex-post explanation. This was not a story where the regeneration was front and center. It was an epilogue which wasn't done well. Shrug!

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quicksilver 2 weeks, 4 days ago

One thing I wanted to add. Moffat and Capaldi clarified the regeneration scene, which is described as being traumatic to the Doctor (any Doctor, not just 12). And he wants to explore that aspect in the Christmas special. So it seems to be a preview for the Christmas episode not an epilogue for 12's arc. So whether his decision to not regenerate comes from despair/depression (he has lost so many people so he wants to die) or narcissism (he wants to keep this particular face) does not appear to be the main arc.

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 4 days ago

So Bill's story does not have the necessary *plot* set-up but it is not unearned as the emotional pathway is established fine.

If you mean the Heather thing, isn't it just the opposite? The plot machinery was all conspicuously, even heavy-handedly set up in The Pilot, such that by the end of that episode we were all going "So, looks like that's how Bill's going to be written out at the end of the season then". The only plotting question left hanging when Heather reappears was "How/why did she come now?", and that was promptly explained by referring back to what was set up in that first episode.

What was lacking was the emotional groundwork. Because Heather scarcely figured as a character, because there had been no real sense of any relationship between them beyond eyes-across-a-crowded-room, because after The Pilot there was never any indication that Bill missed Heather, or wondered whether she had made a mistake in not going with her, or even remembered her existence, as far as I can recall. As a result, it was hard to respond to her return as anything other than a piece of plot machinery. I didn't get "Hurrah, they're back together!", just "So, that actually is how Moffat's writing Bill out after all".

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Peg 2 weeks, 4 days ago

I come closer to agreeing with this. This is why I would have liked to see Bill mourn Heather more during the season.

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Planet of the Deaf 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Agreed

To me Heather was someone that Bill met in a bar, and had a couple of conversations with, rather than a definite life long soul mate and lover. Especially as she seemed to have moved on from her in the rest of S10 anyway.

By contrast Amy's loss of Rory in S5 was brilliantly referenced, so that even though she didn't know who she was missing, it was clear she was broken hearted about someone.

And subsequently, the Amy/Rory relationship was built up so much that her choice to be zapped by the Angel to be back with him felt 1000% the correct thing for her character to do.

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JFrancis 2 weeks, 3 days ago

I don't disagree with this criticism as such but I did read the final scene with Bill and Heather as something that has the potential to become a deep and long-lasting relationship, but isn't yet.

There seemed to be a lot of hedging around commitment beyond the initial, obvious attraction. Which I liked a lot. It made it more a free choice rather than a de-facto 'HAPPY EVER AFTER' ending. Bill and Heather were still flirting, still working out what their dynamic was going to be and still keeping the option open to go home and become human again (for Bill, since Heather is clearly now completely at home with being a cosmic traveller).

It seemed . . . not soulmates so much as . . . Heather left Bill a way to (unconsciously) contact her, and cared enough to come and find Bill when she needed her. And Bill is clearly very happy to see Heather has put herself together again and to be saved from being a Cyberman. Everything else is . . . possibility.

So the fact that it doesn't have the same weight (if that's the right term) as Amy and Rory's ending is fine. Bill's decision to leave with Heather isn't her ending, simply the end of her intersection with the Doctor's story.

Yes, Heather should have been given more mentions (that alternate universe good version of Lie of the Land focused entirely on Bill would have done that). But I don't think that relationship was ever intended to be constructed with such finality as Amy and Rory or River and the Doctor or Clara's arc.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 3 days ago

"Bill and Heather were still flirting, still working out what their dynamic was going to be and still keeping the option open to go home and become human again".

That's a good reading... but does it really fit? Heather kissed Bill, saved her life and gave her "superpowers". I'd say that's some pretty heavy flirting for a second date...

Had Bill left the TARDIS on her own and then met Heather again, I'd agree with you about possibility and new beginnings. But Bill's ending as filmed had an epic feel to it, with Heather arriving as the saviour when everything seemed lost. To have such epic events rely on such a minor (and not well-defined) character felt jarring.

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Peg 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Oh, and a sub-point.

One of the very best scenes in the entire series, for me, was a kick in the head for those of us who are close-readers, and quite possibly slipped the serious attention of many viewers who are not.

First sequence of Extremis. Lovely long set-up for the execution of a Time Lord, giving a red-herring misdirect suggesting the Doctor's the TL who's getting the chop. Missy comes out, making her grand entrance, and *WHAP,* asks about what the Doctor has been up to, then guesses he's been playing house on Darillium. Capaldi doesn't even comment--it's all in his face. Missy then screeches to a halt, and asks what happened--and again, it's all in Capaldi's eyes. And Missy offers her condolences, and she means it.

To close readers, that's a total head-kicker of a reminder that the Doctor's mourning River, that lands right in the middle of the season, and right at the point Missy becomes the Doctor's project-in-a-vault. When you're a close reader, that's like kettle drums banging and trumpet fanfares. But it's there, and it's gone, and it's all so restrained. The Doctor never even names River, nor does Missy, nor do either of them talk about the pain of being Time Lords among mayflies. If you're not a close reader, nothing is overt. Nothing is in-your-face. The sizzle is all in what is not said, what is not overtly referenced--in what two good actors say in their silences, and the subtle shifts in their delivery.

Please note--that's not a comment on which style is better. It's more an attempt to suggest that what works like a dream for one kind of viewer is a dud for another--and no style can please everyone. Moffat's a joy when you like to have to pay attention.

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Scurra 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Which is, of course, the heart of the dispute between those of us who think that Moffat is writing for close-readers, and those of us who think he was just winging it.

And, for me, there's the weird third argument, which is that Moffat is superb at puzzleboxes that he has to close within the confines of an individual story, but not so hot at ones that act as an "arc". And whilst I can understand why this position is advanced (the whole 'fall of the Eleventh' business, for example, requires more than just close-reading to stand up!), it also seems to require Moffat to wilfully sit down and say "nah, I don't care". And that feels so at odds with the televised evidence.

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Peg 2 weeks, 5 days ago

As a close-reader I'll insist to the bitter end that Moffat is writing for close-readers--indeed, he's interesting at least in part because he comes across as someone who is less and less comfortable with the lead-you-by-the-nose expectations of a lot of modern readers and viewers. It's a real challenge for an artist to deal with: whether it's better to be loud and clear and overt, and put in dramatic "highlight" and underlining, and find dramatic flags and invest in heavy emotional build--or to play one's cards closer to the chest, and flash hints of things, leave a bread crumb trail, let the actors work with silence.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Maybe Moffat's mistake (or maybe his artistic choice that alienates some viewers) is applying the one-episode puzzle box structure to a whole season. Or even to character writing in general. When you don't rewatch episodes, a couple of months is more than enough time to forget the more subtle clues and character moments. And when your season's endpoint relies on those subtle points to truly shine, you end up looking like you didn't put in enough effort.

I remember the first sequence of Extremis well - it was really moving. But it was just a single short (and subtle) scene in one of the shows I watched during that month. Not enough for me to feel the impact it had on the Doctor several weeks later.

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Peg 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Oh, lordy-lordy-lordy, I am SO the wrong person to share your sentiments! (chuckle) You find my preferred style too puzzle-box. I find the more common style irritating--like being stuck in a conversation with someone who's badly hearing-impaired or a new language user, who keeps needing repetition, and more repetition, and explanations. And it often also feels controlling. I don't know if you've encountered complaints about Stephen Spielberg's work being too manipulative and controlling--the sense that every emotional and intellectual response is pre-choreographed, and the viewers are led to it and through it--but I end up feeling somewhere between bored and claustrophobic in more ordinary style.

I really think it depends on what you like from your TV. I'm dreading Chibnall's coming reign. I disliked much of Torchwood, and even more disliked Broadchurch, and I'm scared to death he's going to leave me with a Doctor Who I find utterly unwatchable and unlikable.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 5 days ago

"I really think it depends on what you like from your TV".

Yeah, pretty much. What's funny is that in literature I definitely prefer your approach. But then again, I'm a literature major. Perhaps I just don't speak the visual language fluently enough to enjoy this style on TV.

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Peg 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Heh. I write AND I spent a lot of time acting, directing, assistant directing, and stage managing in amateur theater. I watch shows with both analytical filters running--literary and theatrical.

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Lambda 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I think there's an art to being clear about what's happening, (by which I don't just mean facts about an objective universe like "where those guys come from" or "what that guy is feeling right now", but also stuff like "this is a universe mostly concerned with how normality is always inches away from suddenly dissolving like a reflection on a still puddle which a stone drops into" or "from this line onwards everyone is being more honest" or "this light represents divine beauty") without telling the viewer what they should think or feel about it all.

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Harlequin 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I suppose, in contrast, I could describe Davies as providing heavily salted lamb chops. That would probably be unfair to him though, as I very much enjoyed most of what he did. The two head writers do seem to fall at extremes of saltiness, though.

I'm not dreading Chibnall (I mostly liked 'Torchwood' and have never seen 'Broadchurch') but I'm wondering where he'll fall along that spectrum, or if he'll somehow move in a different direction altogether.

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Peg 2 weeks, 5 days ago

(chuckle) I was never all that fond of Davies...and probably would not have been able to get hooked on NuWho had Moffat not been writing during Davies' tenure.

I do wish we had a better idea where Chibnall will fall on the "salt" scale. I have loved having someone who gets close reading, and as a result produces stories that don't fall apart when the narrative resolution got really high definition.

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Lambda 2 weeks, 5 days ago

You also need to remember what Darillium is, and be sufficiently sympathetic to the idea that being an immortal with a TARDIS is 'tragic' rather than 'cool' or 'envious' or 'a plot device' for the intended interpretation to come to mind. You might also need to be neurotypical to get the acting enough, I'm not sure.

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Peg 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Yes? And?

Here's the thing: the writers have to write for their show's own genre expectations and audience norms. No sane writer for Doctor Who would assume the regular viewers had no idea what "Darillium" signified (and its role in the Doctor's recent life). No sane writer would expect a Doctor Who audience to be unsympathetic to a tragic Doctor with profound reservations about his immortality and his regenerations. That's baked into the show and the character and the core audience. It doesn't have to be "earned." It was earned months and years ago, and is invested capital that can be drawn on. That is how high-canon serial drama works: you count on the audience to track canon and arcs, adding layers and depth to what would otherwise be thin, single-layer stories, because that is what the art form is about. Canon-rich serial fiction is about the cumulative effect of long-arc narration and collective canon detail. Afficionados pay attention to canon and character development the same way opera fans pay attention to arias.

As for being able to read subtle performances--if you can't, that's tragic, or at least it's challenging as hell. But it's not an obligation of the actors to perform as though they are doing "Wuthering Heights in Semaphore," because some small portion of the audience only understands semaphore. Great performances are often subtle performances...and that is as it should be.

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Lambda 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Doctor Who airs on BBC1 early Saturday evening, and is watched by over 10% of the country (I think it still is). If even someone who comes onto Doctor Who fan sites and discusses the reviews on them may not remember the name of a planet or city or whatever it was from a previous year because said name didn't seem important, I think you can assume that a large majority of its audience won't remember that name, and so people who do remember aren't in fact the core audience, but the devoted audience. (Some of its audience will indeed be children who weren't even old enough to be allowed to see it last year.)

I don't think you can really describe Doctor Who as serial fiction either, except for within the 2-parters etc. You could go through this season and remove stories like Empress of Mars or Eaters of Light, and the stories around them would hardly be affected at all. Try removing episodes from a proper serial and having it still make sense.

Having said that, I do regard the "series with story arc" model as an unconvincing halfway house generally. It seems to me that a highly desirable attribute for fiction is a clear answer to the question "if I want to watch this, what are the good place-to-start place-to-stop combinations?" For a pure series like original Star Trek, the answer is "for any episode, the start of the episode to the end". For traditional Doctor Who, as a series of serials, it's things like "from the start of 'Ark in Space 1' to the end of 'Ark in Space 4'". For a true serial like From the New World, it's "from the start of episode 1 to the end of episode 25" only.

If a programme is doing lots of important storytelling over a large number of episodes, but each episode is a little story in its own right, then I don't really see the point. If you're catering for people who might watch one week but not the next, then they're not going to get the arcs properly, so why are they being made so important? If you want people to watch it from the beginning to the end, then why not serialise it fully? Without a clear answer to how people are supposed to start and stop, it doesn't make sense.

But Doctor Who does have a clear answer to how people are supposed to start and stop. Not only does it have a massive audience on the country's most important channel with hugely varying levels of devotion and a constant stream of children growing into it, the one thing that's been baked into the show right from the very beginning rather than only being introduced in the Tennant era (and which everyone knows about it) is that it's made up of lots of little chunks, between which the Doctor and companion(s) get into the TARDIS and go to a totally different place in time as well as in space. The show is fundamentally designed for the "from the start of 'Ark in Space 1' to the end of 'Ark in Space 4'" or "from the start of Eaters of Light to the end of Eaters of Light" answer more than any other show in television. So that should be its answer, and anything in a story which assumes you've been watching the previous story should really fall into the category of "bonus for devotees" rather than "necessary to know in order to follow the story".

And a hundred odd episodes are missing, so you can't really watch from the beginning anyway.

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Peg 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I'm sorry, but to me this feels too much like "I do not like the hybrid form of freestanding stories framed in a larger arc, so I will use the freestanding stories to pretend the underlying aspects of the arcs and the canonical themes to justify ignoring the arcs and larger stories." You can do that as you--but it doesn't change the fact that the hybrid seems to work pretty well for this franchise. It's kept the anthology advantages--it can jump anywhere and do anything. But it has also kept long--sometimes multi-season--arcs of dramatic development and thematic exploration that helps unify the seasons and provide directions for the show to explore, and to put the history and canonical depth of the show to good use.

And nothing takes away from the fact that those longer arcs and unifying dramatic lines are there, as is the deep canon. It exists, people care about it, and it does enrich the franchise.

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Lambda 2 weeks, 4 days ago

If I was to justify ignoring that particular story thread, it would be because the tragedy of immortality is something which doesn't obviously relate to anything in the real world, my life, or any life I fantasise about, so it's boring, and I would never start watching a television programme about it. (Fortunately, Doctor Who isn't about that even now, most of the time.) This is in contrast to, for instance, the story of the Eccleston series, which was about relatable things like being inspired to look past ordinary life, see what's really happening in the world and make a difference, or PTSD, which I was an avid devotee of.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 4 days ago

But doesn't it relate? I'm always surprised when someone brings up that argument. I don't think I've ever encountered a theme so disconnected from human reality that I couldn't find any connection whatsoever. The tragedy of immortality is an expanded and exaggerated version of a very common human experience: outliving your loved ones.

I mainly object to this argument because I've seen people using it as an explanation for why they only watch/read realistic fiction or non-fiction. "How am I supposed to relate to this thing that does not exist in reality?". Well, maybe start understanding metaphors and symbols? To be clear, I'm not suggesting that this is your viewpoint (it's clearly not). I just wanted to voice my disagreement about that whole line of thought.

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Harlequin 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Indeed. I seem to recall Moffat stating around the beginning of his tenure that he'd avoid long story arcs precisely because new children would be coming to the series every year.

Darillium was previously mentioned two years ago and much of its significance even then might have been lost on people who didn't recall its name from episodes some years prior to that.

Our own Adam Riggio wrote quite a bit about the use of arcs and their equivalents this century at http://adamwriteseverything.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/a-new-intelligence-doctor-who-smile.html.

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BeatnikLady 2 weeks, 4 days ago

That's an interesting analysis of different ways a series can work. I agree that freestanding stories have definite virtue - I know many people who enjoy watching Doctor Who in a non-devoted way and that's why it still has a substantial audience. If those viewers were forgotten, we would run into some of the problems Nathan-Turner confronted during his tenure.

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 4 days ago

And indeed I think the most common and persistent complaint about Moffat-Who in less fannish circles* has been that it goes in for too much in the way of long, complex plot and character arcs.

The kind of approach that Peg describes, where meticulous study of the text is not a means of adding extra layers of meaning but the only way of making the story work satisfactorily at all, sounds like a recipe for cult TV and nothing but. Which is all very well in its way, but it's not something Doctor Who has ever been, and if it became that I don't think it would survive for long, certainly not in anything like its current form.

I'm having a bit of a flashback to the Tardis Eruditorum discussions around season 6, between people (principally Jane) arguing that it doesn't matter if the character arc doesn't seem to make sense in terms of dialogue and behaviour on screen, because you can fill in the blanks by deciphering the patterns of recurring visual symbolism, and dunderheads like me arguing, well, that it does.



* In so far as those can be surveyed on any scale - of course, even on a non-fan website, any group of people posting comments online about a TV series are going to be a disproportionately fannish set, and I don't have a load of offline general-audience "focus groups" handy.

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Peg 2 weeks, 4 days ago

I do not see it as the only element making a drama work. There could be no conflict between styles of reader if it were. I am saying that with any series that does regularly rely on long arcs, season unifying themes and plots, and which is always pulling in 50+ years of canon, you can't effectively judge an episode based on how it would work as a stand-alone story shown to and intended for a complete innocent noob. It isn't.

Until the show chooses to rely only on one-shot stories not long-arcs, an episode needs to be judged within its canon and arc... and that will tend to sort close-readers from folks who like a bolder, more self-contained episode. It kind of divides trilogy lovers from short-story fans.

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 3 days ago

I don't think this is simply about the distinction between shorter and longer forms (though certainly for the kind of viewers I mentioned in my first paragraph, anything long-form tends towards being unwelcome). The sort of close-reading requirement you were talking about seemed to go well beyond the commitment required to handle long-form work.

Take something like The Wire. That's emphatically long-form drama, in which the shortest coherent story unit is the season, with numerous multi-season arcs, demanding sustained attentiveness from the audience, and with an explicit, unapologetic aesthetic commitment to that demand. And for plenty of people that was too much. But I don't think it ever required close reading, as I would understand the term, or as I understood you to be using it. You just had to watch every episode, pay reasonable attention and remember. Getting a fully satisfactory experience wasn't difficult (at least in my experience, though I got it through box-sets rather than as a weekly broadcast, which obviously makes a difference).

Whereas I would associate close reading with a highly analytical, critical engagement, probably calling for repeat viewings to soak subtle cues from the text, and for a high level of skill in doing so, exceptionally high if this is to be accomplished in a single viewing. That's not a requirement inherent in, or indeed peculiar to, long-form work as such.

I mean, I think it's fair to say that this is a more than usually engaged and sophisticated fan community, but the tendency to be unsatisfied with the preparatory underpinnings of elements of this story was widespread, and the general reaction to your reading was "that's brilliant, I hadn't put all that together before". So I think a story where that level of focus is required just to make the story work satisfactorily would be somewhat deficient from the point of view of the overwhelming majority of viewers. And I think "sorting" close-readers from less intent sorts of viewer is just fine if it means supplying a richer, more refined satisfaction for the former. If what it means is that the latter are left unsatisfied, it becomes a problem, certainly in anything aiming for a mass audience.

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Peg 2 weeks, 2 days ago

Let's see...

I will readily cop to being the intense,multi-viewing, pick-the-details-over viewer. Part of my joy in Moffat is that there's something there for me. Honest to God, with most video-media there isn't. The layers do not exist. The show-don't-tell is almost non-existent. The media format allows layering only with very skilled writers who are superb at wringing multiple uses out of every scene and word--and works better in various kinds of serial than with one-shots.

That said, IMO this season of Doctor Who was not that hard to "read." Indeed, part of why I sometimes go a bit nutty is watching people miss stuff that, to me, feels like your description of what it took an interested viewer to follow "The Wire." Pay attention and remember. (Wry grimace) To me the "earning" of the last scene of the finale was accomplished if you paid attention and remembered.

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Alex 2 weeks, 6 days ago

That panicking white person with a gun was actually blue.

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Ombund 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I think he's referring to the moment when Hazran (the lady in the farmhouse) shoots her in The Doctor Falls.

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Alex Smith 2 weeks, 6 days ago

He's referring to the woman in the barn from The Doctor Falls, I think.

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Yossarianduck 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I think he's referring to Hazran in the current ep, who shoots her as she exits the barn.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 6 days ago

That's kinda vague, but I think he's referring to the woman (Hazran?) who took some shots at Bill near the barn in the second part of the finale.

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Yeah, pretty much. I enjoyed it immensely for something I could find so much to gripe about.

Still, positivity has never really been my style, so let's get quibbling. "Unearned" does seem like a general-purpose category of complaint for this episode, and still more for the season threads it rounds off. As has been said a lot, this season been generally lacking in characterisation for the one-off folk, but character arcs for the regulars have also been a bit threadbare, from Missy's "redemption arc" (a piece of structural architecture installed by fiat as "this is what we're doing with this character now", rather than something that was ever really accounted for) to the way Bill receded after the superb establishing work of the first few episodes, to the "yeah...still though...why?" of Nardole. The Doctor's recurrent death-wish never quite seemed substantiated either. Making a finale that doesn't solve any of that but still excels with its character work was a neat trick.

The Bill-Heather ending managed to be both extremely predictable over the entire course of the season and under-prepared-for when it finally surfaced. And its half-baked perfunctoritude (it's a word now) did reinforce the air of creative exhaustion that was always going to accompany doing the break-up-the-band-and-form-Wings resolution two seasons in a row.

Another unearned thing lay in the Doctor's moral-of-the-story speech on the Cybermen, which was also the thing I'm most surprised not to see mentioned in the review. I thought the stuff about Cybermen being one of those things that are systematically prone to happening wherever you have people was very nifty, making a virtue of their messy multiplicity of origins. But tying them in with the alt-Right or whatever ("always read the comments, because one day there'll be an army") stuck out like a sore thumb in this story. You can do that off the back of a Cyberman story that links them with mobile communications and a society pervaded with electronic mediation like Rise of the Cybermen; you can do it off the back of one that links them with singularitarian "upload" fantasies like Dark Water. Doing it off the back of one that takes them back to old-school medical body-horror like World Enough and Time is just incongruous.

More gripes to follow. Did I mention that I really liked it? I did.

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mr_mond 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Yeah, the seeming inevitability of the rise of the Cybermen being linked to the alt-right was very troubling in this context, especially seeing as in World Enough and Time they had some urban working class trappings as well.

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Andrew Gordon 2 weeks, 6 days ago

They're something that is *done to* the working class.

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mr_mond 2 weeks, 6 days ago

That’s true. Good point.

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David Ainsworth 2 weeks, 6 days ago

What's more, they reflect a "benevolent" desire to homogenize humanity, though, conveniently enough, the form this homogenization takes is never a hybrid or a move away from the homogenizers. It's always a claim that everything would be fine if "they" would only "speak English" or "choose life" or otherwise conform to the precise positions and belief of the ones making the claim. That's not to say that there's no valid debate to be had, say, about cultural assimilation versus preservation, just that for a group like the alt-right (or the Cybermen), the debate isn't something they're willing to have.

I do think there's some grounds for concern that despite how the episode handles CyberBill, all the other Cybermen are disposable stormtroopers, not characters, to the point that Phil can suggest that "everybody lives" despite a whole Cyberarmy dying (not to mention the crucified Scarecrow proto-Cybermen at the start). How is it that we can still empathize when the Cyberbagmen are typing "pain" but not when they're coming for the children? That question does partly answer itself, I suppose, but the "they're coming for the children" argument cuts both ways.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 6 days ago

One more thought: how long can a Time Lord delay his regeneration, really? Ten resisted it for what looked like at least a few days. Eleven had enough time to get back to the TARDIS, call future Clara, change his clothes, prepare and eat fish fingers with custard and then talk to present Clara. Twelve apparently spent weeks trying not not regenerate. But wasn't regeneration supposed to be a way of healing yourself after you've been mortally wounded? If you resist it for so long, shouldn't you just die, like the Master did in "Last of the Time Lords"?

I know it's a very anorak-y thing to point out, but it's starting to annoy me a little.

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Yeah, me too. [Zips up, raises hood]

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Harlequin 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I could see it as his using the regeneration energy to heal himself only just enough to carry on but refusing to release himself to it entirely. A sort Time Lord version of Tantric edging :D

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Przemek 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I... I don't think I'll ever be able to get that image out of my head :D

(But that would make sense, yeah).

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Andrew Gordon 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I think his refusal to regenerate was kind of earned, though, back in Deep Breath. That "you are a broom" speech he gave to the leader of the robots which also blatantly applied to himself. "There's not a trace of the original you left." Capaldi's Doctor would spend a fair amount of time having a bit of an identity crisis- "am I a good man?" "I can't be the Doctor all the time."- which only makes sense for someone who's been so many people, and I feel he doesn't want to become someone else and make it even worse. I wonder if Moffat always suspected he'd be leaving the show around the same time as Capaldi and planned to get David Bradley back to play the first Doctor for their farewell episode.

It's funny, rewatching and thinking about this episode I find more flaws (the Master is a bit wasted outside of maybe three scenes, and the whole bit on the farm kind of drags, the side characters are barely sketches, it didn't have to be ten damn years) but I like it more. When. Simm is on he's on (I love the line "it was a MUTUAL kicking me out") and the Doctor guessing (obviously correctly) what he had been doing on the lower decks neatly explains why the Master disguised himself with Bill for years without feeling like it was explaining it. Tying together the various incarnations of the Cybermen by not tying them together (just parallel evolution, people plus technology minus humanity) was very good. The Doctor previously distrusted hugs and now receives a lethal one from a cyberman. The Master's ending was perfect (and the Bill and Ted-esque resolution of getting that Tardis part implies to me that Missy might have remembered when she shot herself and taken precautions) and the Doctor's heroic last stand against the Cybermen and Bill's ending (i particularly loved "I'LL show YOU around"). I don't know if it's going to be one of my favourite Moffat episodes, but it's a worthy final adventure for Capaldi. I can't wait for Christmas.

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Daibhid C 2 weeks, 5 days ago

the Doctor guessing (obviously correctly) what he had been doing on the lower decks neatly explains why the Master disguised himself with Bill for years without feeling like it was explaining it.

Yeah, I found it kind of amusing that after all the discussion in these parts last week along the lines of "It doesn't make sense for him to be disguising himself from the Mondasians" "He's not, he's disguising himself from Bill" "But that doesn't really make sense either because..." we casually get "Yes, he's disguising himself from the Mondasians, and here's why. Moving on..."

Tying together the various incarnations of the Cybermen by not tying them together (just parallel evolution, people plus technology minus humanity) was very good.

And I'm totally taking it as confirmation of my "They're Mondasians and Cybermen, but not the Mondasian Cybermen" theory. "The Doctor Falls" can happily share my headcanon with Spare Parts.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 4 days ago

"Yes, he's disguising himself from the Mondasians, and here's why. Moving on..."

His comment about disguises being necessary because he's a former Prime Minister still doesn't make much sense, though. Sure, he could've been the Mondasian Prime Minister on the ship too, but that's clearly not what that line was referring to.

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Daibhid C 2 weeks, 2 days ago

Well, by that point he has been disguising himself from Bill in case she recognises Harold Saxon. You're right, the pieces don't quite fit together, but you can sort of see how they're meant to.

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Harmen 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Is it just me then who really loved Bill's end? Because as fuck you's to 'bury your gays' go, Moffat gave a pretty big FUCK YOU to that trope.

The moment where the call back to the Pilot happenend is the moment this went from a 'pretty good' to 'better then Hell Bent'. Especially as Bill's end is, frankly, better then Clara's ending(despite superficial similarity). The latter always feeling like it undid the drama in 'Face the Raven'.

A bit distressing then, to see so many people hate on a moment that can only be classed as a win for Bill. Suffering as much as she did and then undergoing rebirth at the. Is it perfect? Well no, but The Big Bang also starts to fall apart when taking a closer look. Also, Heather's undefined powers and why Bill shouldn't become a spacewater-lesbian I choose to see as problems of The Pilot as an episode.

Big, emotional and just a great ending for a great companion. Fantastic performance from Pearl Mackie to boot.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I'm glad that Bill got a happy ending but I think it wasn't properly set up and that's why (for me) it felt hollow. And undid some of the drama of the cyberconversion. Whereas Clara's end felt very satisfying to me. To each their own, I guess.

(There's another way not to bury your gays: don't kill them in the first place).

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mr_mond 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I loved it. And while I did not think stealing the TARDIS and running away lessened the drama of Clara's death, the same ending but with same-sex on-screen kiss does automatically become better.

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Harlequin 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I liked it but my pleasure was lessened by my feeling it to be only a slight variation on Clara's ending. I also think it would have worked better if Heather's godlike abilities had been more obviously hinted at in 'The Pilot' and if she had been mentioned more throughout the run, perhaps in contrast to her relationship with Penny in 'Extremis'/''The Pyramid At The End Of The World'.

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Also, it's very churlish to bring this up in response to something as superbly executed as Bill's plight here, and I'm not sure it's even something necessarily to complain about in any individual instance, but I am a bit uncomfortable about the cumulative effect of the way the new series time and time again has characters successfully resisting the mental component of cyber-conversion. Bill, the Brigadier, Craig, Miss Hartigan, wossname from Torchwood...have I missed any? I mean, inspirational triumph of the human spirit and all that, but in the face of something generally presented as unstoppably coercive, the aggregation of examples does start to add up to something like victim-blaming. It implies that all those other people who got converted just didn't resist hard enough, weren't strong enough, didn't love enough, weren't special enough, whatever. Unlike others, they didn't have what it takes. They failed to win the battle against cyber-cancer. Falling victim to it becomes an implicit judgement, in a way I find troubling.

All of which ties into my broader sense of discomfort with some of the side-effects of lionising the companions (which is tied in with the view taken of the Doctor, but that's a whole other, more complex topic). I feel there comes to be a nastily aristocratic undertone to sustained gushing about how marvellous and important the central characters are and obsessive agitation over their fates, in the midst of the usual heavy wastage of one-off characters, the true "disposables". The issue was there under Davies, but I feel it has become more of a persistent problem under Moffat, because Davies tended to show more consistent regard for the "little people" and their stories, albeit that he did produce gross aberrations like the Doctor weeping over the Master's corpse in the ashes of his global genocide.

It's a problem that Doctor Who is systematically prone to, by the nature of its whole set-up. But writers have a choice between ignoring it, fighting against it, and actively wallowing in it. Davies tacked into the wind with things like his questioning of Ten and Rose's frivolity; Moffat did so too with season 8's protestations on behalf of the common soldier, and its critique of Clara's unpleasantly cold-blooded and haughty notion of what "being the Doctor" amounted to (though I suppose a lot of the latter was actually written by Mathieson, though probably with some overarching strategic direction behind it). But lately I feel there has been too much wallowing. It's what I found repellent about season 9 .

And, if I may be well-out-of-order and kind of a jerk, maybe it says something about the way recent Doctor Who has trained us to watch it, that even a critic as perceptive as Phil can say that "this is a return to Moffat’s “everybody lives” approach - a story with no visible casualties in which the Doctor saves everybody" about a story in which an entire population gets turned into Cybermen and then blown up.

(Or maybe just that that was only actually meant to be about this one episode, and that people who are already Cybermen don't count. Even so, I have trouble getting that vibe from an episode that starts with those scarecrows.)

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sofia 2 weeks, 6 days ago

if by "its critique of Clara's unpleasantly cold-blooded and haughty notion of what "being the Doctor" amounted to" you mean their conversation at the end of flatline before going back into the tardis, a) i'm pretty sure matheison has confirmed moffat wrote most of that & b) it's just as much a critique of the doctor & his bad habits as it is of clara

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 6 days ago

That's a big part of it, yes. And you make a fair point, though there is also the suggestion in the end of Mummy that her perception of him is unduly cynical - she's both reflecting a genuine problem with the Doctor and going over the top with it.

But in any case, the general point is the same, whatever the distribution of censure between the two characters. Season 8 seems to be consciously and intelligently acknowledging and warning against unhealthy tendencies in the way Doctor Who tells stories, warnings which season 9 then brushes off, gleefully immersing itself in those tendencies without a backward glance. Or so it seemed to me.

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Also, thinking about it, in this instance it would have been easy to account for Bill remaining herself with a "they screwed up the conversion" handwave rather than another "you were too strong" one, given that there's no thematic significance to the reasons why here (as there was in Closing Time at least), and that the conversion process is still in the development stage rather than having been perfected, so failures would be unsurprising.

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Roderick T. Long 2 weeks, 6 days ago

It wasn't clear to me whether the space-tears helped Bill resist conversion also, but we can certainly suppose so.

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Harlequin 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I suppose those tears might also have helped her to resist the Monks' signal, which was mentioned here in relation to her fighting the Cyberprogramming.

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CJM 2 weeks, 6 days ago

The episode gave the excuse that Bill's mind was broadened by living under the Monks, which in turn feels like a commentary on how seeing the universe has broadened her mind, making the Doctor an inspiring figure outside of conventional manner.

However, you're right to identify it as an issue. I dislike SHERLOCK because I find it far more prevalent there. I'm not sure how far to defend Moffat on that one, especially since most other DOCTOR WHO writers are better at it than him, regardless of political opinions (See Davies, Gareth Roberts, Dollard, Harness, Mathieson and even Mark Gattis)

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David Ainsworth 2 weeks, 6 days ago

The things that often make Moffat an inspired writer when it comes to well-developed/mythologized series also contribute toward all these complaints. With Sherlock Holmes being even more established than the Doctor, all those problems relating to Moffat's worship of certain stories got compounded.

Dracula might get interesting in that most of the ongoing mythology has lionized the aristocratic bloodsucker and his offspring.

Then again, there's always mitigating elements (well, maybe not always in Sherlock). Instead of a big finale episode that tries to one up "the planet will be destroyed/the multiverse will be destroyed/time will be destroyed," we get very small stakes and a stirring speech explaining why they matter.

On balance, I think Moffat tries. Often unsuccessfully, but he tries. "Kindness" in extremis does run the risk of being a value applied TO the "little people" and not BY them, but it's worth defending regardless.

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Lambda 2 weeks, 6 days ago

It's probably the most common reason for me emotionally disconnecting. To me, this was a story about millions of people getting turned into cybermen, in which the question of whether the one person who got turned into a cyber(wo?)man we actually know will end up OK is unimportant, because I'm quite good at avoiding "I know these people but not those people" bias in my feelings.

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John Binns 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Danny Pink!

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Oh wait, yes, you're right. I deliberately left him off the list because I thought the emotional inhibitor thing was never switched on, but now that I check, it actually was. My mistake. So that's another one then.

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Riggio 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Beyond just the brilliance of the two-parter itself (which Phil's captured excellently in this review), I quite loved what he did with the Master. Because of course the Master will survive this – you don't just erase forever a piece of Doctor Who so central to its gallery. But he's actually brought a moment of ethical transformation to the character.

The Master has actually changed her stripes – Moffat's writing and Michelle Gomez's performance have pushed the character beyond the cackling Snidely Whiplash villain that he'd always been pretty much up until the Capaldi era and Gomez's more complex take on it. When Chibnall or some other writer eventually takes up the character, they'll be able to do so much more with the Master than has ever been done before.

More details, as I piggyback as usual, on my own blog. Sorry for your upcoming competition, Phil. ;-)
http://adamwriteseverything.blogspot.ca/2017/07/the-highest-nobility-is-our-virtue.html

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Janine 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I should probably also apologise for going off-topic on Phil's thread, but as it won't verify my Wordpress account on your website I just wanted to say, Adam, it's been an absolute joy reading your reviews as well as Phil's. I can scarcely imagine a version of the Capaldi era which isn't accompanied by one of your philosophical analyses each week, honestly.

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Roderick T. Long 2 weeks, 6 days ago

"When Chibnall or some other writer eventually takes up the character, they'll be able to do so much more with the Master"

They'll be *able* to, but *will* they?

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David Ainsworth 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Worst case, we're back to the cackling loon. More likely, the Doctor comes across hints of someone called "The Doctor" going around saving planets but in ways that are somewhat disturbing and "unDoctorish" and winds up confronting a Master whose madness has shifted from a homicidal obsession into that of a fanboy who loves a show without actually understanding it.

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Can someone help me out with when Moffat wrote for the Fifth Doctor?

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Janine 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Time Crash, I do believe.

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Ah, never saw that. Thanks!

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Stephen 2 weeks, 6 days ago

"Time Crash".

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Andrew Gordon 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Time Crash, a short for Children In Need in 2007

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halcoromosone 2 weeks, 6 days ago

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_Crash

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Ozyman.Jones 2 weeks, 6 days ago

At a guess, Time Crash, along with Tennant.

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Ozyman.Jones 2 weeks, 6 days ago

So.... glad I helped out there, otherwise you might be in a quandary as to the correct answer.

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I had to read between the lines a bit to piece together the solution, but I think I am at least on the right track now.

Cheers all!

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Oh, and Moffat may be gunning for "Bury your gays", but the Master's reaction to being pinned up against a wall suggests that he's unsurprisingly in favour of "All male Time Lords are subs".

Well, maybe we have to say more of a switch in Harold's case, what with the whole "Say my name!" thing. But then that wasn't Moffat.

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Roderick T. Long 2 weeks, 6 days ago

"what with the whole 'Say my name!' thing"

Heisenberg!

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 4 days ago

?

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Eve 2 weeks, 3 days ago

You're goddamn right.

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Mark Pompeo 2 weeks, 6 days ago

In a way, Twelve's reluctance to regenerate was set up back in "Heaven Sent" when he's dying, crawling back to the teleporter, and Capaldi gives that beautifully pained reading of the line, "How long can I keep doing this, Clara? Burning the old me...to make a new one."

This particular incarnation has already gone through so much change and already sacrificed so much that it makes sense he wouldn't want to regenerate. No Doctor has endured as much hell as 12, nor has any Doctor undergone such a clear character progression from the cold, harsh 12th Doctor of "Deep Breath" and season 8, who seemed almost contemptuous of humanity and helped out in spite of that contempt, to the infinitely kind and compassionate 12th Doctor of seasons 9 and 10. The 12th Doctor might be the "most Doctor" of all the Doctors, and in his mind, he probably feels like he's earned the right to stay as he is. He probably - and justifiably so - views himself as the most pure distillation of what the Doctor is supposed to be, so why should he have to change? How could the new person that replaces him be The Doctor any better?

Am I stretching a bit with this line of reasoning? Probably. But it's the only reading, I think, that allows this refusal to regenerate to fit with the character rather than coming out of nowhere.

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Janine 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I like that reading a lot, because it suggests to me that the Doctor is almost scared of losing his values with his regeneration. This is arguably the most progressive Doctor ever (a few dodgy character beats excepted), and probably the biggest feminist too, so understandably the idea of turning into a misogynist, or a Time Lord who abuses his privilege, is abhorrent to him. You can even see those concerns channelled through the Missy/Harold subplot, where their conflicting values lead, ultimately, to self-destruction.
One could of course raise the objection that values are more intrinsic than personality; that they should remain fixed across all incarnations. But I think what’s missing from that reading is the nature of the series as a work of fiction: the values don’t really belong to the character, but to each author’s interpretation. Maybe what we’re seeing here isn’t, as Phil suggests, a subtext of not wanting the show to go on, but just a manifestation of the concerns that, out of Moffat’s hands, it won’t be as progressive, it won’t be as bold, and it won’t necessarily fight for the right causes.
I’m sure he’s not really saying that, but I still think it’s an interesting way of looking at the episode. The Doctor doesn’t want to change because, under a new writer, he might not embody the same ideologies as he did in this incarnation.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 6 days ago

It fits, but it doesn't convince me. Your reading makes it feel like Twelve's motivations are more or less the same as Ten's. But Ten was perfectly happy to go on living - he just didn't want to let go of this particular self. Twelve wanted to die fighting the Cybermen. He wants to stop fighting, to fall where he stands and stay down. Which also fits the character (and this season), but in my opinion wasn't set up very well.

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David Ainsworth 2 weeks, 6 days ago

We needed more of a sense of that weariness throughout the season. How many more times does he have to fight? There's always more evil to be defeated and always more people to save, for today. Nobody wins for long. I do like the hint in his big speech that maybe he leaves so that he doesn't have to see the people he saved die, because he knows they all eventually will. All things end. Why can't he lay down his life in the name of kindness, in the name of the Doctor, and be done?

Oxygen establishes that even beating capitalism just sees it replaced by another mistake. This episode establishes that the Cybermen crop up wherever humanity does. For that matter, the Cybermen represent the desire to survive over all else; why shouldn't the Doctor be troubled by his own continuing survival having confronted what becomes of those who want to survive at all costs?

In The Eaters of Light, when one falls in the gateway, another stands. The Doctor may understandably feel like it's not fair that other always has to be him again.

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crossie 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Setting aside whether it provides motivation for his regeneration reticence, this interpretation reminds me of the Sixth Doctor again. I think I've said elsewhere 12 is basically 6 done right (or, perhaps more competently).

The parallels between Clara and Peri are striking. Clara and Peri both started out as a companion for a very short time with a different, record-settingly young Doctor, only to have him regenerate and become an older, crankier Doctor, with a sometimes adversarial Doctor/companion relationship. Then, they both leave the show after being killed due to the direct intervention of the Time Lords messing with the Doctor, only to be sort of, kind of resurrected after all to have further adventures with space Vikings.

Obviously, the "harsh Doctor who mellows out" was always the "plan" with Sixth Doctor; now, it's not clear what starts his regeneration (since he's fighting it pretty much all episode), but, arguably, he begins when MIssy pushes him into the keyboard.

In other words, 12 hit his head on a console.

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Mark Pompeo 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I thought the regeneration started when that Cyberman grabbed him and gave him that big electric shock hug.

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John 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Although at this point Moffat has written for a staggering nine Doctors on television (1, 4, 5, 8, War, 9, 10, 11, and 12). I’m not sure if he’s got the record if one counts extended universe stuff (though he picks up McCoy), but that’s definitely a televised record, with second place being a tie between Dicks and Holmes, each at five. And no, let’s just all agree not count Curse of Fatal Death for this record.

I believe that if one counts non-televised stuff, the Virgin era writers who got on TV tend to do well. I think the record actually goes to Gareth Roberts, who's written for every Doctor except the War Doctor. Examples for each Doctor:

1st - The Plotters
2nd - the short story "The Vortex of Fear"
3rd - the short story "The Hungry Bomb"
4th - The Romance of Crime
5th - comic story "The Lunar Strangers"
6th - The One Doctor
7th - The Highest Science
8th - comic story "Doctor Who and the Nightmare Games"
9th - Only Human
10th - The Shakespeare Code
11th - The Lodger
12th - The Caretaker

Gatiss is close with 9:

2nd - The Roundheads
3rd - Last of the Gaderene
5th - Phantasmagoria
7th - Nightshade
8th - Invaders from Mars
9th - The Unquiet Dead
10th - The Idiot's Lantern
11th - Victory of the Daleks
12th - Robot of Sherwood

Cornell's doing pretty well, too:

3rd - The short story "Country of the Blind"
5th - Goth Opera
6th - BF "The 100 Days of the Doctor"
7th - Timewyrm: Revelation
8th - The Shadows of Avalon
War - Titan Comics "Four Doctors"
9th - Father's Day
10th - Human Nature/The Family of Blood
11th - DWM comic "The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who"
12th - Titan Comics "Four Doctors

Plus the Shalka Doctor would give him eleven.

Also: Dicks has 9:
1st - The Five Doctors
2nd - The War Games
3rd - The Five Doctors
4th - Robot
5th - The Five Doctors
6th - The Eight Doctors
7th - Timewyrm: Exodus
8th - The Eight Doctors
10th - Made of Steel


Platt I believe has all of the first eight, plus the Bayldon Unbound Doctor (Auld Mortality).

1st - Frostfire
2nd - The Three Compannionns
3rd - The Doll of Death
4th - Night of the Stormcrow
5th - Spare Parts
6th - Paper Cuts
7th - Ghost Light
8th - The Skull of Sobek

I have not bothered to count writers who've never written for TV.

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David Anderson 2 weeks, 6 days ago

If we distinguish the original Hartnell Doctor from the Fist Doctor then Dicks wrote the original Hartnell Doctor in how ever many Target novelisations.

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CJM 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Weren't those published The Tenth Planet and The War Games? They might be somewhere between Hartnell's Doctor and the later First Doctor.

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Steve 2 weeks, 4 days ago

I did some math on this exact problem a few months ago: http://lessaccurategrandmother.blogspot.com/2017/01/who-has-written-for-most-doctors-who.html

Like all math problems, it depends on your parameters. Mine were that the actor had to be involved (so no novels/comics), and the actor had to have played the Doctor on the television show (so no Unbounds, &c.). I already gave One to Moffatt because of John Guilor's line in "Day of the Doctor." Moffatt wins by a country mile with nine; Matt Fitton comes in next with seven, all on audio; and then Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss, Terrance Dicks, Alan Barnes, and Nick Briggs, all with six.

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David Anderson 2 weeks, 6 days ago

The difference between the Bill / Heather pairing now at the end of The Doctor Falls and at the end of The Pilot is most obviously that Heather has become it appears a sentient being who is capable of conversation and presumably decisions, and more subtly Bill now explicitly views herself as someone who brings her own history of travelling round space and time to the partnership.

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Ombund 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I suddenly remembered the scarecrows at the beginning. What a brilliant, unsettling, incredible image, just used for a couple of minutes at the start before the episode moves onto something else. That's why the show is going to miss Moffat so much. Many if not most Doctor Who writers have never come up with an image as good as that, and of the ones that have a lot of them would spend an entire episode focusing on it, running the concept into the ground whilst forgetting to make the rest of the episode actually about something.

God, he's brilliant.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 5 days ago

This.

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eve 2 weeks, 3 days ago

That was the best "Wait what the" moment I've had in visual entertainment in a long time.

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crossie 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I think that Nardole got the best companion departure of the entire new series. I love that they basically 'Nyssa'd' him.

Mickey, Rory and, since the rest of the Paternoster Gang was there, Strax got the shaft in the companion rundown, though. Nardole and Jack where the only male companions "remembered".

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Tristan 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I have an insane and likely untenable theory that Nardole is the post-Missy incarnation of the Master.

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Steve 2 weeks, 4 days ago

There was some kind of cut from Missy to Nardole, plus Nardole's comments about his past life of wrongdoing, that had me 95% convinced that this was going to be the case. It seems like the kind of thing Moffat WOULD do.

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Tristan 2 weeks, 2 days ago

It was when the woman who was taking a shine to Nardole whose name I can't bother to look up right now asked where he was from and he says something to the effect of "don't know exactly" that something snapped into place for me. My brain immediately connected that to Missy being "fuzzy" on her regeneration, which we find out is of course because Harold had spent the last several days leading to his death hanging out with his next regeneration. Missy had been in contact with Nardole on-and-off for however long she was in the vault. Combine that with what must have been a particularly traumatic regeneration (history tells us we are very safe ignoring whatever Harold said about her not regenerating. I mean, he should know that he always comes back.), and near-complete amnesia seems plausible to me. Furthermore:
>The references to past criminality. You wouldn't expect the Master to come completely around to being a saint.
>The obvious objection is that the Doctor 'rebuilt' Nardole some time after Husbands of River Song, and should have noticed something. But when we last see him in that, he's a head without a body. No chest cavity means no heart(s) means the traditional 'tell' of Gallifreyan biology wasn't present.
>The mix of loyalty nearing deference to the Doctor while also asserting a "license to kick (his) ass" should the need arise.
>The ferocity with which he insists the Doctor hold to his oath in the early episodes. Whether he knows why he does, he knows Missy's time in the vault is important
>The propensity for playing 'bad cop' when it comes to Missy's treatment in the vault
>What could possibly be more symbolic of a truly changed Master than an incarnation that's not only beardless, but lacking nearly any hair at all?


P.S. I am not a crackpot

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Steve 2 weeks, 1 day ago

Yes, all this, almost exactly! The farm lady conversation was a huge part of it for me too. When the episode finished I told my wife I had expected it, and she was basically, "lol wut?" Did we out-Moffat Moffat?

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Anton B 2 weeks, 6 days ago

It had to hapen sometime! Finally Phil Sandifer writes a review I fundamentally disagree with.

In a month where Twin Peaks flew us through the heart of an atomic explosion, and away into a strange monochrome dimension as a meditation on atomic age paranoia, the nature of pure evil, the redeeming power of pure goodness and the promise of more strange and uncanny episodes to come, this Doctor Who season finale had a lot to compete with.

David Lynch gave us what must arguably be one of the most innovative and game-changing hours of science fantasy television ever broadcast. That is, of course, excluding November 23rd, 1963, when William Hartnell loomed out of the monochrome London fog to menace his granddaughter’s two teachers and whisk them away from a junk yard in his police call box.

I really was rooting for this one but it just ended up annoying me. I found the much-lauded Michelle Gomez and John Simm pairing entertaining for a good five minutes until it descended into rather creepy farce. Despite sterling effort from all concerned every witty bon-mot and one-liner fell flat. Hepburn and Tracy this was not.

Then there was the monster of the week which lost the courage of its convictions and dumped the more interesting cloth-faced Mondassian Cybermen for the more familiar clanking armoured robot version. Now with added Iron Man jet propulsion.

The scene where the winsome child blew up a platoon of cybermen with an exploding apple was characteristic of this season's approach. Unnecessary, hinting at some deeper symbolism, failing, trying to be clever, being not very and ending with a weak pay-off.

And of course there was the death and regeneration theme which has been so laboured, faked and worn down as to render the horror of death as ineffectual as a playground game.

Poor Pearl Mackie who, as Bill, gave an extraordinarily layered and thoughtful performance throughout the season has been treated appallingly throughout her narrative arc. Being killed and resurrected and killed again here she gives her best performance, managing to make her traumatised, open and tearful face actually resemble the featureless cloth mask of the Cyberman she has been ‘minced up and turned into’ but this cheap emotional game playing doesn’t deserve her talent and she was sidelined for more Master/Mistress flirting and ultimately insulted with a denouement that merely copies Clara’s from last season. Resurrected by magic and flying off to explore the universe with her wet girlfriend.

Which left brave Capaldi to stagger around doing his best to Hamlet up his ‘To regenerate or not to regenerate?” death scene but the Doctor's ability to hold off on the orange glowing tinkerbell effect and even, it seems, turn it on and off like a light, has become a mere tease, a way of trolling the fan-boys

So the appearance of David Bradley, reprising his drama documentary role as William Hartnell as 'the First Doctor', looming out of the fog as though his mere presence will act as a totem to regenerate the show was the final nail in the coffin for me and is indicative I think of the problem of Doctor Who in 2017.

Doctor Who is at its worst when it becomes a show about itself.

“Here” it says to us. “You like Doctor Who, have some of this. This is what Doctor Who is and look what we’ve done with it!”
It’s like being given a present that you hate by a well-meaning relative who’s seen something in a shop that they’re wrong-headedly convinced you’ll love.

Alright perhaps I have to concede that Doctor Who isn’t ‘MY’ show any more but that’s a difficult one.

I will of course watch the Xmas episode. I expect I'll love it and she'd a tear or two. But really only a genuinely exciting and unexpected casting of Doctor 13 will make me want to stay for the Chibnall era.

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Janine 2 weeks, 6 days ago

If by 'genuinely exciting and unexpected' you mean anything other than a young white guy, prepare to be disappointed. Apparently they're casting "in the traditional way".

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Hoping against hope that that means "in the same way as they cast Eccleston and Tennant". Because really, what justification is there for putting Chibnall in charge other than that he's got Olivia Colman's phone number?

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Janine 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Now that would be lovely. But I think "the traditional way" these days just tends to mean "we've cast another white guy, and we're going to make it sound like we ever thought about doing anything else".

As Andry Pryor says, honestly, the best way to cast these days is to cast for talent but to be more specific about where you're fishing for that talent.

In fact, while I'm on this point... isn't "the traditional way" just the lamest excuse ever for the anti-female Doctor crowd? It's like it just assumes that the white guy WILL be the best person for the role. That's a whole new kind of misogyny right there.

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Janine 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Andy, that should say.

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UrsulaL 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Or perhaps they just mean that they're auditioning the part, as opposed to when Capaldi was hired, and they pretty much just asked him, without bothering to open auditions, which is a very non-traditional way of casting a role.

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Anton B 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Yep that's what I meant. I remain optimistic but not holding up much hope.

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Harlequin 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I feel that a female Doctor could be problematic for reasons I think I've stated before. 'Traditional' does not necessarily mean young, however, and I can also see Chibnall casting a non-white actor.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 5 days ago

You sound like you're extremely disillusioned with "Doctor Who" in general. Where we found excitement and drama, you can only see flatness, fakery, hollowness, copies, games and tricks. This is not a critique of you - your point of view is a perfectly valid one. But I don't think this episode could've done anything to make you feel the magic.

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Pôl Jackson 2 weeks, 6 days ago

In much the same way that Bill hadn't come to terms with her cyberconversion and so continued to see herself as Bill, I believe that 12 *did* regenerate in the TARDIS, and it just hasn't sunk in yet.

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calico 2 weeks, 6 days ago

That's a pretty great idea, that would have a hell of a reveal. The Doctor coming to the realization that he is, in some way, quite different. And a flashback to the Tardis or (for easier recognition) the antarctic, where he regenerated some time ago.

The difficulties of course are (a) needing to nail down the characterization of a new Doctor incredibly early on. This is something that can be difficult enough to accomplish in a series, let alone in advance of a debut. (b) Capaldi would get his farewell, but the 12th would have his expected farewell yanked out from under him. Not that The Doctor Falls was a terrible end for him, but we're all expecting more.

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Anton B 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I like this idea and there are precedents. Troughton immediately post regeneration looking in a mirror and seeing Hartnell's face. Davison's unravelling scarf as he realises he's regenerated and needs the zero room to 'set' it.

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Jesse Smith 2 weeks, 4 days ago

I like this idea a lot, too, and it would also work to smooth out the appearance of David Bradley, which is a little bit awkward given that they've used footage of William Hartnell within the show already. Perhaps it will turn out that the First Doctor is just a daydream or hallucination to help the Doctor reconcile himself with his regeneration. "It's funny... it's been so long I can hardly remember how I really looked back then."

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Przemek 2 weeks, 4 days ago

I don't think that would be as satisfying as the First Doctor actually being there. I tend to agree with whoever said (wasn't it Davies?) that if there exists a way to replace a dream/vision scene with an actual event within a story, you should always do it. Which is to say, if you need e.g. a theme of parental neglect in your story, try to express it with plot or character interactions instead of writing A Dream About Symbolic Parental Neglect.

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Christopher Brown 2 weeks, 6 days ago

What fascinated me most about this episode was Moffat's choices in regard to each of the major supporting cast's departures.

With Series 9 and Hell Bent, Moffat had a lot of time to properly explore Clara's two-and-a-half-season path in the series and devise a suitable "final draft" for her departure, fully encapsulating the themes he'd explored with her character. Her exit, while open-ended is definitive and well-earned, successfully tying off that period of the show (and serving as a more than suitable exit for Moffat if need be).

With Series 10, Moffat has only had a single season to develop threads for twice as many regular characters. Here, he systematically leaves Bill's, Nardole's, and Missy's fates such that they could be picked up again. Each of their departures feel half-finished, in a way, leaving the doorway open for Chibnall to have the new Doctor swing by to invite them back onboard or follow a new path. It's almost as if Moffat is daring Chibnall not to leave behind the threads of the season behind so soon after he invented them, when there was still more to explore.

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Camestros Felapton 2 weeks, 6 days ago

In my head, there is a decent version of 'Lie of the Land' which doesn't suck. In that version, Heather and Bill have a conversation.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Yeah. I'd like that.

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Harlequin 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Yes, that would also have been a suitable point for Heather to at least be mentioned, in the wake of Penny.

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BeatnikLady 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I feel rather sad that that's another series over - I daresay Christmas will roll around quickly enough and I am looking forward to David Bradley's second run as the First Doctor, but still...
It is a great shame that the Twelfth Doctor and Bill should only have had one series together - to my mind they're the strongest pairing for a long time. Nardole worked along with them, too. He and Bill haven't always been used as they should have been, but I'd far rather have that feeling about them than the sense that they simply don't work as characters. When Bill wept over the Doctor's body it was easy to care and feel her desolation - this is something that RTD managed beautifully in the series 2 finale Doomsday. It's good to feel that emotional tug again here.
One or two things could have been different - there was a hint of the possibility of redemption for Harold before and yet that was absent here. Why should it just have been Missy who showed the potential for change? We also know perfectly well that the Master would never cut off the possibility of regeneration for a future self, so the two of them 'killing' each other doesn't have much impact. He/she will be back. On that note, I find it a little odd that Moffat once dismissed the idea of a female Doctor given that we've now established the principle that Time Lords can change sex. Anyway, the cat is out of the bag and we may only have to wait for a new era of the show.
I'm not very clear on the Doctor's reason for stopping his regeneration. Thinking in a human way, I can imagine the sense of sadness the literal 'loss of self' that regeneration would bring. After all, in what way is the Doctor really the same person from one incarnation to the next aside from a few core traits? But that's a human way of thinking and I assume it's one that Time Lords tend not to share. All I can do is accept that the reason for the delayed change is a practical one - Peter Capaldi has the Christmas story to end his run.
And that ends the run of another producer. Chibnall may not work, but he's experienced enough and he can certainly call on good acting and writing talent for the show. It's well worth seeing how he does. Seven years on the series is a fair-length tenure (2010 is starting to feel distant - not something I mind in the least.) Time to see something new.

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Harlequin 2 weeks, 5 days ago

It could have been difficult to redeem Harold when we "next" see him as the evil Missy of 'Deep Breath'. As for his attitude toward future incarnations, he has chosen to die rather than regenerate before.

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BeatnikLady 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Oh, I didn't have a full-on change of heart (hearts) in mind - simply a hint of the potential he has shown before, however quickly stifled it was. And the character's overall preference is for survival, so survival is what will happen.

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UrsulaL 2 weeks, 4 days ago

There were hints that Ten wanted Harold's redemption, which isn't the same as Harold having the potential for redemption, or either of them being in a place to do the work involved.

Missy reached out first in the Missy/Twelve dynamic. She wanted her friend back. There is evidence in Harold/Ten that Ten wanted his friend back, but Harold wasn't interested.

But it can't be that simple. You can't just decide that you want your friend back, and overlook everything horrible that they've done.

The motivation of both of them wanting their friend back led to Missy and Twelve at least trying to work through her "redemption." I'm not sure that it worked - Missy's willingness to stand with the Doctor seemed to have as much to do with preferring to be with her friend than with her older, angrier self, rather than any real understanding of virtue.

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Sleepyscholar 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Hate to be pedantic (what I am saying: I don't hate it, just don't much care for it), but rather than 'preferring to be with her friend than with her older, angrier self' I think you mean 'YOUNGER angrier self'.

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Jesse 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I’m all for David Bradley playing the First Doctor at Christmas, albeit with the caveat I’ve made before that the First Doctor is not a character that has ever been portrayed by William Hartnell

I hope that he's actually playing Hartnell again, and that An Adventure in Space and Time is now canon.

Of course, he also completely screws up that story by then also including Planet 14 on the list of Cybermen planets when “The World Shapers” establishes that Marinus is Planet 14.

The World Shapers establishes that the Sixth Doctor thinks Marinus is Planet 14. All you have to do is assume that he completely misunderstood what was going on in the story and everything fits. (Alternate theory: A wizard did it.)

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Gnaeus 2 weeks, 6 days ago

A few jumbled thoughts on all of this, from someone who comments very occasionally here:
- I watched World Enough… too late on to comment here, but there was something very familiar about Razor (and not just for obvious reasons), and it’s taken me a couple of days to excavate what, exactly. And it’s that the performance – and the look of the character – is drawn from Fagin. As, actually, is the character’s arc – from an apparently friendly if odd figure into an undeniable, and abhorrent, villain. What we’re supposed to draw from this, I’m not sure, but I feel very certain of the parallel now that I think of it.
- World Enough… was probably the creepiest thing the programme has done in years, in terms of straight horror beats, and is highly effective. Not sure if I prefer it to Heaven Sent (which I prefer to Hell Bent), but still. There’s something gloriously excruciating about it, since we know what’s going to happen for much of it, but don’t know when.
- The Mondas cyber-voices have always been incredibly creepy. As have the cloth faces, actually. The later cybermen may be more physically intimidating, but they lose that body-horror.
- “Look at the screens”. It was only the end of The Doctor Falls that made me remember a line from An Unearthly Child (or possibly the pilot, I forget which), and which Dr Sandifer picked up on in his post on the episode, I think. The Doctor says: “But you've discovered television, haven't you? … Then by showing an enormous building on your television screen, you can do what seemed impossible, couldn't you?” It may not be a deliberate callback, but in an episode which draws so explicitly on the First Doctor, it’d be wonderful if it was. My reading is that Missy is suggesting the difference between Time Lords and other races is that the Time Lords know in some sense that they’re in a work of fiction. Plus, it resolves that bit in The Feast of Steven. Which is unnecessary, but… meh. The Doctor is already metatextual without this.
- The Doctor Falls has its most impressive moments in Capaldi’s quiet speeches not least because Capaldi can really, really act. I mean, I thought Matt Smith was good, but Capaldi in his moment is phenomenal.
- (Running backward for a minute, can we pause for a moment and think about the look of terror on Capaldi’s face at the end of World Enough? Because he pulls it off brilliantly.)
- With all of this said, Pearl Mackie has had to carry a large chunk of this series, and has done it brilliantly.
- For me, Capaldi’s repetition of “without hope, without witness, without reward” was the high point of the episode, in terms of dramatic payoff. The big explosions, less so.
- With that said, has Doctor Who finally reached a point where it doesn’t expect us to care deeply for characters introduced in half a line five minutes previously, because the swelling orchestra says we should? I hope so.
- Moffat and Davies both seem to view the Doctor as, essentially, divine, but I think this episode makes quite explicit that they’re different sorts of divinity. At least one Tennant episode (I forget which) involved him literally being borne aloft to the rescue by two mechanical cherubs, and there is of course Last of the Time Lords, where faith empowers him to rescue us all. I’m tempted to call this a kind of deus ex machina divinity. Moffat appears - here, anyway - to be arguing for something more self-sacrificial and, in a relatively narrow sense, messianic. How that fits with his tendency toward “everybody lives” resolutions, I don’t know. I did say this was jumbled thoughts.
- Generally, Moffat’s stories are incomparably more tightly plotted than RTD’s. RTD, it can be argued, relies more on visual panache and emotional resonance (personally, I’m generally unmoved by his appeals to emotion, and find them a bit overheated) than on a strict coherence. Whereas Moffat tends to have his resolutions lined up in advance, at least to the extent that they could in theory be seen coming, even if most of us tend to miss them. Though Moffat has been increasingly reliant on scenes like the flashback at the start of The Doctor Falls, which slightly cheat this.
- Oddly, although I hugely prefer the Moffat era, I find his stories a hell of a lot more forgettable than Davies’s. The Moffat era tends, for me, to blur into one clever, tightly-plotted and superficially witty blob.
- A few people talked about Andrew Marvell in relation to last week’s episode. As I recall, the Beast Below contained at least one oblique reference to the Waste Land (something to do with a glass of water – fear in a glass of water, or similar?). I seem to remember spotting a couple of other references at the time in the series. So whatever else you think of him, he does know his poetry, at least.
- Yeah, the Doctor’s refusal to regenerate needed more explanation. Is it partly connected to his failure with Missy and Harold? Then again, every plot Russell T Davies wrote after series 1 ran more or less wholly on “unearned”, so….
- There were a lot of Moffat’s strengths at work here without the show being reduced to showy cleverness, which he’s occasionally indulged in in the past. The prime example of this is, I think (I may be misremembering) the beginning of “The Time of Angels”. This wasn’t such a problem in series 5, when this sort of Agatha Christie, spot-the-misdirection stuff was new.
- Mark Pompeo, above, brings up the question of this Doctor’s emotional transformation. Is this the sort of transformation the Sixth Doctor was supposed to undergo? Supposed, mind you. Let’s not kid ourselves that the stable of writers available in 1984-5 would have made it work, even if it had been tried. But just try and imagine for a moment: “The Zygon Inversion, by Pip and Jane Baker”.
- The Keys of Marinus isn’t nearly as interminably boring as The Daleks. Though it is definitely sillier, and feels like it should have several options at the end of each scene. “To go to the city of Millennium, go to episode 3, part 1. To turn left, press play.”
- After that series finale, I want to go and watch The Tenth Planet again.

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Przemek 2 weeks, 2 days ago

"The Mondas cyber-voices have always been incredibly creepy".

True, but they run into the same problem as the Daleks: it's almost impossible to give them longer dialogue because they start sounding annoying and/or silly. That's one more reason why this episode mostly showed us Bill and not her Cyber-version.

"Running backward for a minute, can we pause for a moment and think about the look of terror on Capaldi’s face at the end of World Enough? Because he pulls it off brilliantly."

He's amazing in that scene. I especially love how he says "Bill" after she reveals who she is. So fragile, so hurt, so stunned. Almost pleading. And his eyes suddenly look so very old. God, I'll miss his acting. (Pearl's too).

"Then again, every plot Russell T Davies wrote after series 1 ran more or less wholly on “unearned”, so…."

His plots, maybe. His character arcs, not so much. I never really got the feeling that changes in his Doctor's (or his companion's) behaviour came out of nowhere. When Ten refused to regenerate, there was no confusion among the viewers. We understood what motivated him and even rooted for him. With Twelve, the refusal was surprising.

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quicksilver 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Very good review and analysis and comments by many. I just wanted to add something that struck me about Bill and the Doctor that I am still processing. When Bill and the Doctor meet at the barn in floor 507, after Bill has gone through the traumatic experience of seeing herself as a Cyberman and everyone ostracizing her. She gets angry and then the Doctor says (paraphrasing), that she does not have the luxury to get angry (because the Cyber-weapons get turned on). Later on, when the Master goads her, she refuses to respond or get angry. It seemed odd that in S8 finale, both Cyber-Danny and Cyber-Brigadier were given the "luxury" to resist and fight back (even killing Missy), but Bill is not allowed to develop that resistance. It works in creating a sense of pathos for her and being open to anyway in which she can be rescued (even if it is by a character with whom Bill only had a peripheral, short relationship). There was a similar theme in LOTL (maybe I am peering too much between the lines), when when Bill uses anger and resistance, it is swept away by the Doctor. But she is allowed to use love (for her mother in LOTL and for the Doctor in TDF), through which she can resist, but it is the only way she is allowed to resist. It does reflect Moffat's idea of what resistance should look like and how battles have to be won. But there is something about writing it for Bill as opposed to say, the Brigadier or even the Doctor himself.

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Harlequin 2 weeks, 5 days ago

We saw Bill using her anger to burn the hole through the door. It was also implied that she used it to fight squads of Cybermen in the final battle, although I don't think we got to see even a glimpse of her actually doing so.

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UrsulaL 2 weeks, 4 days ago

I thought the Doctor's refusal to regenerate worked, because it wasn't about him not wanting to change, but about him just being done, and feeling ready to die. Not in a suicidal sense, but in the way that someone who is very old, and at the end of a long illness, is sometimes just ready to go.

As far as he knew, he failed at his attempts to connect with and reform Missy, which has been his main motivator this season. His attempts to do so got Bill turned into a Cyberman. He failed at his promise to try to save her. And then he remembers all of the other companions whom he has lost.

And he faces the prospect of more of the same. Another new face and personality. Another struggle to get to know who he now is. Meeting more friends and companions, only to loose them.

And he's facing regeneration alone, without the support of a companion. The Doctor seems to do a bit better when facing regeneration with someone by his side, rather than alone. Nine could handle the prospect of regeneration because he chose it, and had Rose with him. Ten went off on his own, and was quite miserable about not wanting to change. Eleven had Clara with him, and once he knew Clara was okay with the change, he was okay as well. Now Twelve is alone, and not just by himself, but by himself because he's lost everything and everyone.

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Iain Coleman 2 weeks, 4 days ago

If the Christmas special isn't called "The Death of Doctor Who", I shall smash my television with a hammer.

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Planet of the Deaf 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Great review, though I thought this parallel was stretching things a bit

One really interesting thematic resonance - the parallels between Bill’s cybernetic body and her black one, particularly around the discussion of having to learn to live with everybody being afraid of you and around her getting shot by a panicking white person with a gun.

A cyberman is genuinely scary for the villagers, as it's their enemy, programmed to either convert or kill them. In modern Britain, even if there are still a small number of racists around, they're not afraid of people who look different.

A better parallel would perhaps be in war time Britain, where someone of say German origin, with a German accent would be seen as the enemy, and be feared by the locals, despite actually being on the same side.

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Aylwin 2 weeks, 3 days ago

We-ell ... I think Bill being female makes it a rather oblique point, calling for a critical leap to join the dots. Had she been male, though, I suspect the symbolism would have jumped out pretty apparently. I think a lot more people than just "a small number of racists" feel a degree of discomfort, of instinctive, low-level physical fear, when encountering young black men that they don't get with young men of any other ethnicity (and I think this is very predominantly a black thing, and a young male thing, rather than an undifferentiated "people who look different" thing). They may not be entirely conscious of that, or they may be very conscious of it and guilty about it, because a lot of them will be earnestly well-intentioned, anti-racist progressive folk. But that feeling doesn't go away just by wanting it to.

And then there's the matter of the police...

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Planet of the Deaf 2 weeks, 3 days ago

The same fear would also apply when people see many young white men, if anything it's mainly a fear of "aggressive/strong looking" young men.

Think of the reactions of many people to football supporters for example, who are predominantly white

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Phil Sandifer 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Big problem with football supporters being gunned down by the police for just walking around town, is there?
No?
Oh. Well then.

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Planet of the Deaf 2 weeks, 2 days ago

No, but that's not what I'm suggesting.

NOTHING in the real world is remotely near the level of fear generated by cybermen, which is why I was suggesting that the simile in your review was a bit strong.

In no way in "real human life" would the presence of a black (or mixed race) woman like Bill cause fear amongst the "white" population, the whole notion is laughable. And I'm not white myself.

The British police don't go around gunning down people based on their skin colour.


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John G. Wood 2 weeks, 1 day ago

"The British police don't go around gunning down people based on their skin colour."

You're still between twice and three times as likely to be shot by them if you are Black or Minority Ethnic rather than White.

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UrsulaL 2 weeks, 3 days ago

I just realized, this is the [i]second[/i] time that the Doctor, a white man, has told Bill, a young black woman, that she must not get angry about an injustice done to her. And both injustices were specifically attacks on her body.

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Eve 2 weeks, 3 days ago

I appreciated the oblique reference to "How not to be seen" around the 28-minute mark.

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Ken 2 weeks ago

The Doctor has spent a lot of time encouraging antagonistic groups of beings to sit down and talk, to co-operate for the greater good. And as soon as he achieves this, he buggers off, in most cases never to return. He is very much in favour of unity amongst hitherto warring factions, as long as he takes no part in it. He is happy to see other groups give up some of their sovereignty for the sake of peace, but one suspects he would rather die than give up any of his own. The only time he was, though circumstance, forced to become part of a supranational body (in this case, the UN) he baulked at its authority and did everything he could to subvert it, ignore it, ridicule it and finally break free of it. He values freedom above all else, including stability and prosperity, and even his own life. If he makes mistakes, and he does indeed make many, he alone is responsible for them. He annoys people no end, especially those who presume to be in authority. He flies around the world in a ramshackle contraption and expects everyone to do his bidding, which they do, or if they don't, they're toast. He is accountable to no one, and makes all his own rules to live by, in whichever way he chooses. In his own opinion, he can do no wrong, and everyone, or rather everyone who matters, agrees. He is the plucky underdog who is at the same time virtually god-like in his powers, and no one sees this as a contradiction. His best days were over many, many years ago, but with flashy, modern effects he can still pretend otherwise, if only to himself. He is multi-faced and unpredictable, your greatest, most loyal friend and your most perfidious, untrustworthy ally. And he doesn't give a shit. His influence on the world has been immense, incalculable, and whole civilisations exist only because of him. Everywhere he goes, everyone speaks his language, and all those who matter share his values, which he seeded long ago. He is the ultimate explorer, yet at times, all he wants is to be in a little box of own, his first and only true love, surrounding and protecting him in deepest blue, like the sea. He is the epitome of Brexit.

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