This Old Body of Mine (World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls)
|Moffat sent Capaldi off with an acting challenge to rival Heaven Sent, namely selling the line “A Mondasian Cyberman!”|
It’s June 24th, 2017. Artists for Grenfell, a charity supergroup including Stormzy, Robbie Williams, Brian May, and Pete Townshend, are at number one with “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which lasts for a week before “Despacito” makes its inevitable return. Little Mix, Rita Ora, and DJ Khaled also chart. In news, a terrorist attack occurs in Finsbury Park as a man drives a van into a crowd near a mosque while shouting “Kill all Muslims,” while ISIL destroys the Great Mosque of Al-Nuri in Mosul. And Theresa May finally reaches an agreement with the DUP to support her government for the low, low price of one billion pounds.
While on television, the end, or at least, the beginning of it, as Moffat ultimately found himself persuaded to do one more Christmas special, as Chibnall wasn’t going to be ready for one yet. Indeed, this final duology serves to interestingly highlight the nature of a regeneration story by taking the two crucial elements of one and splitting them into different stories. Twice Upon a Timegets the marquee moment in which Peter Capaldi is bathed in glowing light and becomes Jodie Whittaker, which is indeed a crucial scene. But World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls is the one that gets the larger structural substance: an adventure that gets out of hand in which the Doctor wins at a terrible price.
It is this part, I would suggest, that is the more important half of the experience. Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and John Hurt all had regeneration scenes, but they lacked stories of their phyrric victories leading up to those scenes, either going down for minimal reason at the start of their successor’s debut or departing in a scene tacked onto the end of their only story in order to avoid loose ends. And in each case there is something missing—far more of a something than the vaguely cut off and incomplete resolution of The War Games.
No, there’s something crucial to the story of a Doctor’s fall—something ultimately far more important than getting a monologue about when the Doctor was him or a swirling montage of past companions. The story in which the Doctor loses allows an era to make at least some comment on its vision’s limitations. The fact that the Doctor doesn’t simply always triumph makes the extra-diegetic concerns of actor replacement into diegetic ones, giving each era the opportunity to tell a story that is in part about the need to change and move on. Done correctly, as with The War Games or The Caves of Androzani, the regeneration story becomes a piercing study of an era’s shortcomings. Done wrong, as with Planet of the Spiders or The Time of the Doctor, it’s still an utterly fascinating exercise in drawing a line under what has come before. (That’s not me knocking The Time of the Doctor in general, to be clear, nor even me knocking Planet of the Spiders; they’re just not coherent responses to their eras in the way that The War Games or The Caves of Androzani are.)
So what are we to make of World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls? What does it tell us about the limits of the Capaldi era? To some extent, the answer is made explicit in the text. The Doctor delivers a monologue about why he’s going to die fighting Cybermen. It’s even a pretty good monologue—frankly a better version of the “be kind” sentiment than the one he delivers in Twice Upon a Time. But this reconceptualizes Capaldi’s regeneration as something decidedly other than a defeat, and certainly removes all critique from the occasion. This isn’t quite unsatisfying, but there’s at least some reason to seek an alternate explanation.
The obvious place to look is the outset of World Enough and Time, in which the Doctor, over Bill’s protests, decides to give Missy a chance to run an adventure and, almost as soon as everybody steps out of the TARDIS doors, Bill has been gravely wounded. Then, because he dithers about explaining black hole physics to the audience, years pass for Bill and there’s time to convert her into a Cyberman. Had these things not happened, the entire adventure would presumably have gone very differently. And yet upon inspection none of these quite parse as errors. It’s not the presence of Missy that makes Jorj shoot Bill, and the Doctor describes his method of picking the colony ship as a standard thing he does, so in all likelihood he’d have ended up there anyway. And Harold appears to time Bill’s cyber-conversion for the Doctor’s arrival; had the Doctor moved faster, he’d simply have had Bill converted after five years instead of ten. There’s no error that causes the Doctor’s regeneration; it’s just that the creation of the Mondasian Cybermen in a colony ship trapped near a black hole where Harold is lying in wait to spring a trap on him is a pretty bad situation to end up in.
And yet for all that the details fail to support a critique of the Doctor, something about the story still seems to demand reading in that direction. This is permeated with a sense of limits being reached. Part of this is carefully displaced onto Missy, who is given a final story that overtly highlights the contrast between her and Harold that both explicitly demonstrates the ways in which she is a form of progress and reaches a point from which she cannot progress without simply stopping to be the same character as Emile et al. This cheats rampantly, as Harold is in practice being run as a completely different character from the one John Simm played in the Davies era, with all of the overtly queer camp mania stripped away and the character instead turned into a sort of gestalt average of the classic series versions, with traits such as a propensity for ridiculous disguises that never really applied to the modern vresion of the character randomly grafted on. While Harold did admittedly spend a while being the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, there’s a vast gulf between a power grab designed to engineer a trap for the Doctor and actually putting on a bunch of prosthetics for several years and speaking in a goofy eastern European accent. Harold here is just a placeholder for the fact that the character used to be ontologically eeeeeeeeeevil and might thus object to Missy’s attempts at redemption.
None of this migrates over to the Doctor per se—indeed in one of the episode’s bleaker notes, Capaldi’s Doctor dies without ever knowing that at the end Missy tried to return to him. But between that and the death of Bill, there’s a strong sense of unraveling here—a sense of an era coming to an end simply by eliminating all of its material components. In the end, there doesn’t need to be a substantive critique of the character when you’ve systematically obliterated the entire context in which he existed.
And it is in this context that we can best turn to the other ending that World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls represents, namely that of the Moffat era. Moffat’s previous, aborted farewell was pointedly designed not to feel like the end of an era; save for the departure of Clara, the tone was focused on moving forwards, and any incoming showrunner would have taken over with Capaldi and, presumably, Gomez still squarely in place. Even here, where his departure is visibly the end of an era, Moffat was adamant about not wanting this to be about him. And while he can to some extent control that for the casual viewer (although plenty of the press coverage talked about the impending arrival of Chibnall and the idea that casual viewers are unaware of showrunners in the auteur-driven peak TV era is increasingly strained), for anyone who’s invested enough in the show to use the phrase “Moffat era” in the first place there’s no way for these episods not to read as about his own work and the transition of creative vision that is merely implicit in an actor change.
One way that this could go is something like Planet of the Spiders—an awkward if charming bonfire of the era’s tropes and obsessions. Moffat, however, opts for something more like The Talons of Weng-Chiang, not in the sense of being an appallingly racist story whose defenders need to fucking stop talking, but rather in the sense of doing a story that does all the things people love out of an era in a loud and decisive way. Moffat goes through many of his standards—games with time, ostentatious and premise-altering reveals, loads of creepiness, and does a stomping rendition of each.
There’s a thin line between the two approaches —indeed, World Enough and Time spends a fair amount of its time getting away with it and hoping you don’t notice just how much of a remake of Dark Water it is. And, for that matter, The Doctor Falls would really rather you not notice the fact that Moffat has opted to write out two companions in a row with “she dies and comes back as a space lesbian,” although to be fair it’s not a problem if you do notice that it’s pretty OK because space lesbians are fucking wonderful. But instead Moffat makes it to the right side of classic, turning in a finale that at the time felt like it had made the difference between a season along the lines of Season Seven that was long on merits but short on classics and one that belonged in the company of the other Capaldi seasons, and now with some hindsight feels like one of the many emphatic triumphs arranged across his eight year tenure.
The result is an episode that shows what the era does well while also drawing it to a clear ending. The note ended on is essentially one of reiteration: “here is what the Moffat era did.” But there’s a funereal aspect to it—a clear sense of the past tense. The implicit message is “so now go do something else.” Unlike, say, The War Games there is not really a clear sense what that something else should be. But then again, the Letts era, for all that it was in practice cast down to Earth, did not really take up the challenge laid down for it. Instead what we have is something much more akin to The End of Time and, indeed, Planet of the Spiders. But those works were full of preening self-indulgence—overt celebrations of the eras they ended. Had the Moffat era ended with Hell Bent and The Husbands of River Song we would have found ourselves saying much the same thing. But this time, stretched out over an extra year he didn’t really want, he feels exhausted instead of triumphant.
This is fitting, in a sense of fitting with the long term history of the series. There is a long and glorious tradition of a frustrated and tired Doctor Who, whether it be the melancholic tones of things like The Seeds of Death or the entirety of Season Eighteen or the irritated and cynical “oh fuck this” tendencies of Robert Holmes. Doctor Who cannot possibly spend all of its time in this exhausted and worn down space, but it’s a register the series excels in. Here, it avoids the worst possible outcome for Moffat—a finale that basks in its own cleverness along the lines of The Final Problem. Instead we get somthing that acknowledges the necessity of the ending—a story that says, essentially, “this was marvelous, but it’s reached its limit.” Which it was, and it had.
It’s especially apt that Moffat, in a parting gift to Capaldi, opted to undertake what had long been viewed as one of the single daftest tasks in Doctor Who, attempting to make the Mondasian Cybermen work. These qlippothic horrors, who had previously rotted the Hartnell era out from under itself, devouring it in a haze of nightmare and bad acid. They do not serve the same role here (and it’s telling that when it comes time for Moffat to have an actual massive Cybermen assault he returns to the Death in Heaven design), but Moffat leans hard into the strange and uncanny horror of their inhuman speech and medicalized body horror. The sequence in which Bill discovers that the nurse’s response to the recently converted Cyberman chanting “pain, pain, pain” over and over again was simply to turn off the volume on its speaker is one of the most jaw-droppingly upsetting things in the history of the series, a moment that doesn’t have to be as crass as calling out the literally murderous callousness of Tory austerity by name in order to go for its jugular. But even without leaning into the qlippothic horror and instead repeating the Dark Watertrick of using the Cybermen as window dressing while you set up a bigger reveal with Missy, their presence still tacitly invokes that sense of decay—the fact that things become monstrous if allowed to spool out towards ultimate conclusions. And with that comes the mad and brilliant out that Doctor Who always gave itself: simply become something else.
But what? The answer is not present here, as we already said. This is a story about reaching the limits of your vision; you can’t exactly follow that with a suggestion on where to go next. Indeed, this actual story ends by flirting with narrative collapse as the Doctor, exhausted in his own right, declines to regenerate. But that’s a topic for a few weeks from now, and is obviously a feint. Change is coming; the future really is all girl. What ideas, then, could follow from this?
The branding of the Chibnall era, with its overt focus on diversity and social consciousness, is certainly an angle and a promising one, although we’ve seen its pitfalls in Oxygen. Still, we’ve also seen its potential in Thin Ice, and the idea could work if actually coupled with something than another middle-aged white guy who had opinions about Pip and Jane Baker as showrunner. Diversity works. And we’ve already staked out an idea rooted in refocusing on ideas and concepts. A related idea is simply to go small, an idea that could mean “more characters like Bill,” but could also simply mean a move away from the mythos-heavy grandeur of a Cybermen origin story featuring two versions of Missy and a regeneration. And sure, that’s a season finale and they get some leeway, but if you want to play that card we can just as easily point to bringing back the First Doctor. Or a Curse of Peladon prequel. Or even, just to make it clear that this isn’t a criticism of the epic register, the entirety of Clara Oswald.
Some of these, of course, happen, which mostly shows that execution matters as much as concept. But it’s also notable that many of the show’s most brilliant conceits have come when it goes in a direction that is in no way implied by what went before. Glam rock military soap opera. Gothic horror as imagined by Robert Holmes. Kitchen sink realism with Daleks. Or, for that matter, ostentatiously clever musings on healthy masculinity as time travel farce. The future is at its best when it isn’t simply the implied consequence and inevitable endpoint of the present That is, after all, how you get Cybermen.
But in any case, this is where the line ends. All the glories and triumphs of the Moffat era, genuine and emphatic as they were, at last run out and wind down. Anything could follow from this. Something actually does. All of that, however, is another story. This ones over, or near enough.
July 8, 2019 @ 5:06 pm
Bill was already most of the way toward being a space lesbian – that is, she was already a lesbian and already traveling through space – before she died, so that wasn’t a seismic change. In some circumstances I might have objected to her binding herself to a woman with whom she’d never gone beyond mutual stalking, but so much about this story was bleak I was willing to take any deus I could get ex machina.
Anyway, great essay and I look forward to Twice Upon a Time in a couple of weeks.
July 8, 2019 @ 5:08 pm
I don’t know if I should ask this here, so please feel free to delete it if it’s inappropriate, but I just noticed that The names of one of the authors on the site has been changed to Robin Bland, and I wondered why that was the case.
I only asked because I’ve enjoyed that individuals writing in the past, and was wondering if this change would be permanent.
July 8, 2019 @ 7:52 pm
I really disliked this episode, and it’s because of bills fate, being turned into a cyberman is the worst thing that has ever happened to a companion on televised Doctor Who at least, perhaps big finish have done worse to their companions I don’t know, but this very specific kind of body horror just reminds me of how black bodies have been used throughout history and even previously in Doctor Who, consider the partially converted Toberman in tomb of the Cyberman.
The fact that it’s a black companion who has her autonomy violated in such an excruciatingly painful way, and it’s been made explicit throughout the series that victims of cyber conversion can feel everything that’s happening to them, while the doctor is swanning around at the top of the ship cannot I think be ignored.
It makes me feel that perhaps travelling with the doctor as a POC would not be fun, you just get to meet nasty racist, have your internal organs pulled out and then if you’re lucky, some magical healing will fix everything so you can’t remember any of it.
Plus, there is that whole thing with Heather, reminds me of a headline from the Onion, study shows that the only two gay people you know would be perfect together.
July 8, 2019 @ 8:54 pm
Danny Pink, also black, gets turned into a Cyberman.
July 8, 2019 @ 8:57 pm
The Cyberwoman in Torchwood was also black, wasn’t she? Presumably that was written without knowing who’d be cast, so that’s unfortunate but not Chibnall’s fault.
Danny Pink and Bill, however, Moffat has no excuse for.
July 9, 2019 @ 8:40 pm
And the black woman in the Torchwood episode “Sleeper”, who also becomes a robot of sorts.
July 9, 2019 @ 8:44 pm
The Ianto + Lisa!Cyberwoman pairing is almost a clear echo of another pairing between the two staff members at London’s Torchwood One, in that DW finale. It was a guy who basically looked like Ianto and Freema Agyeman, who is later retconned as Martha’s cousin. So I think RTD was already thinking of an interracial Torchwood relationship going from London to Cardiff at that point.
July 9, 2019 @ 8:52 pm
Yes, but there’s also Vyonne Hartman and the Brigadier (!!)
July 9, 2019 @ 8:46 pm
I think it’s interesting to think how common it has been for companions to have interracial relationships: Rose, Donna, Clara.
It becomes worrisome when the white protagonists have black boyfriends if the whole point of those boyfriends is to be discarded.
July 10, 2019 @ 12:54 pm
Danny wasn’t discarded, he died. And Donna married her black fiancée, no?
July 10, 2019 @ 5:55 pm
She married two black fiancées, one of whom wasn’t devoured by alien spider people almost immediately afterwards!
July 12, 2019 @ 8:44 am
Sorry, I meant discarded by the plot/show/writer, not discarded by their partners.
July 12, 2019 @ 8:27 am
Of course there’s also Graham/Grace (with Grace dying) and – less relevant to the wider point under discussion – Martha/Tom (with Tom being discarded in favour of Mickey).
So out of six interracial relationships involving companions, two partners got dumped, two died permanently, one married happily after the companion had her mind wiped of her adventures (the one we only saw in one short scene), and one died and was resurrected so that she could resurrect the companion in turn and go off exploring the universe together…
Of the seven companions involved in those relationships, four then ended up in an intraracial relationship. Only Graham (so far) hasn’t hooked up with anyone else since.
July 8, 2019 @ 9:20 pm
I definitely agree that some of the horrifying imagery connected with Bill’s torment and torture is really really uncomfortable (though of course it’s meant to be), and that this factors into the series’ shoddy record of black people’s bodily autonomy… although some of what they do is quite savvy – her realisation that apparently ordinary people are afraid of her because of what she looks like, and her flaring up when the Doctor tells her “don’t be angry”, are pointed beats about race relations it’s kinda hard to imagine them doing if Bill were white, y’know? The story also going out of its way to lionise her (as indeed it did Danny’s) sense of selfhood as so strong and powerful that it resists conditioning is also a note in its favour (“You are so strong. You’re amazing. Your mind has rebelled against the programming. It’s built a wall around itself. A castle made of you, and you are standing on the battlements, saying no. No, not me… All that time, living under the Monks, you learned to hang on to yourself”).
But I’m confused by the reference to the “magical healing will fix everything so you don’t remember any of it” and to Bill not having a good time of things in the TARDIS – firstly, Bill doesn’t have her mind wiped and so she can remember what she went through, so that doesn’t hold. Secondly, the implication that Bill has a rotten stay on board the TARDIS… she actually has an amazing time of it in that she gets to come back from the brink of a process which normally kills people (Yvonne Hartley) or leaves them to kill themselves to defeat the Cybermen (Danny Pink, Mercy Hartigan): she’s back in her own body after all that, AND even those people of whom that is also true (Craig Owens) don’t get a human point two body who gets to travel time and space as much as they like, plus she’s got a new girlfriend. It’s about as triumphant an ending as one could imagine, denied to almost everybody else who goes through that process. I agree that the Doctor comes out of this looking bad for not getting his ass down to the bottom floor quicker, mind.
Bill and Heather clearly aren’t the only two queer people the Twelfth Doctor knows, though – there’s Osgood, Vastra, Jenny, Clara, River… if anything the issue is more that there are no queer men (IIRC?) in the Capaldi years compared to 2005-13.
July 9, 2019 @ 3:16 am
Fair to say that Bill suffers more than anyone else this story, though, and that the ending feels inadequate to address it. I loved this story for many reasons, but it was a particularly bleak and grim one.
As for the lack of queer male rep in the Capaldi years, i believe you’re right, unless we count Class.
July 9, 2019 @ 10:43 am
Well exactly, chances are that if you’re a black person you will have had situations where Little old ladies will cross the street in order to avoid walking on the same side of the pavement as you, or the average customer in the shop will refuse to put change into your hand when they would for any other person.
And yet, conflating this with what happens to Bill is I think very dangerous, fear of black people is irrational since they are no different to anyone else, but the people on the ship have a genuine reason to be afraid of Bill the Cyberman.
Besides, I just don’t think that The show runner could have gotten away with torturing Rose Donna Clara or Amy in such a way without having the reputation of the doctors severely tarnished.
My other comment, about the relationship between Bill and Heather was more that series 10 was supposed to be a fresh start for the show and a clearing away of what had come before, and in story I think it’s made clear early on that the doctor has forgotten Clara though I’m not sure how much else he’s forgotten from that time.
July 10, 2019 @ 8:12 am
Is Clara’s conversion into a Dalek relevant to mention here? I don’t remember this being perceived as a stain on Eleven’s reputation, but perhaps the context was too far removed?
July 10, 2019 @ 12:43 pm
Perhaps more appropriate is what Ten inflicted on Donna, which was definitely seen by many as a stain on his reputation. After all it wasn’t exactly Clara that was converted into a Dalek, and it happened without the Doctor’s knowledge or involvement.
(I assume you’re talking about Asylum of the Daleks here?)
July 10, 2019 @ 5:44 pm
Very good point about Donna.
I was talking about Asylum, yes, which happened as a result of the events of The Name of the Doctor. After all, Bill’s conversion also happened without Twelve’s knowledge or involvement (they were only on separate floors, but years apart), and in neither case was this the ultimate, lasting fate of the character, unlike what happened with Donna.
July 12, 2019 @ 8:47 am
Yes, but Twelve took Bill to that spaceship, which was broadcasting a distress signal.
Eleven cannot be held responsible for Clara jumping into his time-stream, becoming Echo Claras, and one of them ending up as a Dalek.
July 12, 2019 @ 11:33 am
Yeah, you’re right, there’s not really a comparison.
July 9, 2019 @ 3:31 am
Here the show shoots itself in the foot by giving this treatment to a black companion when there have been so few. It’s like how no black companion has stuck around for longer than a season (although that’s presumably about to change).
July 9, 2019 @ 8:50 pm
Yes, even though I deeply disliked Chibnall’s writing for his companions, I just feel that everyone has a duty to keep Ryan around for longer.
July 10, 2019 @ 12:57 pm
July 10, 2019 @ 2:05 pm
Ryan’s character arc has probably run its course, now that he has called Graham ‘grandad’. I expect him to feature less significantly in series 2 of ‘The Adventures of Bradley Walsh in Space’.
July 10, 2019 @ 5:46 pm
I’m hoping this means it’s Yaz’s turn for some kind of character arc, myself.
Though i’m not holding my breath for something other than “boring, stock TV drama”.
July 12, 2019 @ 8:50 am
I don’t think Chibnall cares enough to give these characters any personalities.
We have been told repeatedly on and offscreen that Yaz earns for more or for something different.
But she is the first one with the instinct to reframe everything she sees in space or the future as some kind of similar version of what she has on Earth. She shows no curiosity or thirst for knowlege/adventure. She basically seems to want to get Space Validation of her middle-class lifestyle with her perfect “oh so annoying” family.
July 12, 2019 @ 11:31 am
“Your family is on the run from genocidal aliens? Wow, that makes me feel better about my annoying family!”
“Oh, everyone you know suspects you of witchcraft and is planning to kill you? That’s EXACTLY like the time a girl at school spread a NASTY RUMOUR ABOUT ME FUCK YOU BETH”
July 12, 2019 @ 12:25 pm
That is a very good point. I’ve never noticed it before.
And as for wanting something different, in “Rosa” she says she’s a policewoman and that one day she wants to be in charge… so again, she actually wants more of the same.
July 9, 2019 @ 10:33 am
“Plus, there is that whole thing with Heather, reminds me of a headline from the Onion, study shows that the only two gay people you know would be perfect together.”
To be fair to Moffat, Extremis/The Pyramid at the End of the World also gave us Penny.
I agree that what happens to Bill, in WEaT in particular, is absolutely horrific – it’s comparable to Amy’s pregnancy arc in series 6 and, well, there are debates to be had about whether depicting this level of trauma is justified on Doctor Who. And as a queer person, I do feel fed up sometimes with narratives depicting the misery that members of oppressed groups have to face, especially when they are not written by members of those groups.
What saved Bill’s plot for me – and I do appreciate that everyone’s mileage may vary, I’m not out to convince anyone that they’re wrong to feel about this one way or another – is that it seems strongly tied to what she might have experienced as a black person (as TomeDeaf writes) and as a lesbian, with conversion into a Cyberman mirroring conversion therapy, which has a similar aim of trapping people in a state of alienation from who they really are. And in this light the ending for me is a triumphant affirmation of queerness. Not necessarily queer love (as Bill and Heather really don’t know each other long enough for us to be able to talk about love), but the possibility of it. And Bill’s story was all about the possibilities she did not previously have.
July 9, 2019 @ 10:41 am
You put that last bit better than I could, thanks!
Also – had forgotten about Penny. Great call. The scenes between the two of them are lovely, especially Bill tenderly persuading her that there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
July 10, 2019 @ 1:13 pm
“conversion into a Cyberman mirroring conversion therapy”
This is a BRILLIANT reading. Thank you.
I think your reading of the return of Heather works too (and I like it). It’s just a shame that ending was poorly set up, making it less a charming character moment and more a generic “power of love” ending. Especially since in the end Bill goes exploring the universe with Heather, which to me reads more like “moving in together” than “just getting to know each other”. Bill’s dialogue tries to mitigate that somewhat, but I’m not sure it works.
(And frankly, I did mind the similarities between Bill’s fate and Clara’s fate. Not because it’s a bad ending – space lesbians ARE awesome – but because it was blatantly the same ending twice, just much weaker the second time around. It felt like Bill, already not used to her full potential by most writers, once again got the short end of the stick).
July 11, 2019 @ 8:06 am
“Especially since in the end Bill goes exploring the universe with Heather, which to me reads more like “moving in together””
As the joke goes:
“What does a lesbian bring to a second date?”
“A pickup truck to help move the furniture”
More seriously, to me it reads like going backpacking around Europe together – especially when compared with Bill’s ending in the Twice upon a Time novelisation.
“it was blatantly the same ending twice, just much weaker the second time around”
That’s fair. To me, after hitting on basically the perfect ending for a companion, the only thing you can do is refine. And Moffat does that by actually giving us an onscreen kiss.
To me personally Bill’s ending was much more affecting emotionally, probably because Bill is a much more openly emotional character than Clara. I occasionally get misty-eyed when watching Hell Bent. But I just weep when Heather appears. That’s enough for me to elevate Bill’s ending and make it stand on its own.
July 12, 2019 @ 8:55 am
Bill was an absolute gem.
My first impression of the companions were:
I loved Rose from the start.
Martha was enjoyable.
Donna was annoying but funny.
Amy was shit.
Clara was shit.
Bill was amazing.
And my opinions on the companions when they left:
Martha is badass!
Nooooo, my Amy!!!
CLARA WHO IS BEST WHO
Bill is and has always been amazing
So if you consider that I can learn to love companions that was initially hated, can you imagine how epic Bill could have been if she stayed around?!
July 9, 2019 @ 2:01 am
Huh. I guess I always read this as it not really being Moffat pulling out all his tricks one last time, so much as it is essentially a remake of Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways. It’s like, we journeyed so far from RTD Who over the previous 8 years, only to return to it at the end. The 12th Doctor has always been going through an identity crisis, so for him to definitively state who he is, then die at the end of Parting of the Ways feels like a very bittersweet ending for Doctor Who.
If only it had ended.
July 9, 2019 @ 2:01 am
I found this 2-parter deeply disturbing but not for any of the reasons discussed so far. One of the recurring things in Missy stories is that she considers herself the Doctor’s only true friend and that the relationship between the Doctor and his companions is insignificant next to the relationship between the two of them. In Dark Waters, she is utterly incredulous that the Doctor might kill her to appease Clara (and we’ll never truly know if he would have or not). In The Magician’s Apprentice/Witch’s Familiar, she bluntly tells Clara that the Doctor sees her as a pet and nothing more, and he will never value Clara as much as her despite the bloody history between them.
So what happens in World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls? It starts with Bill expressing deep and obvious reluctance to participate in the Doctor’s cockamamie scheme to rehabilitate Missy. She is /clearly/ unhappy with doing what the Doctor wants her to do. And how does Mr. “I had a duty of care” react to her discomfort? By dismissing her concerns, emotionally manipulating her into doing as he asked, and essentially mocking the idea of being responsible for her safety, with the end result that she suffered a fate literally worse than death.
For me, it even changed the subtext of “don’t be angry” in the second half. Yes, the Doctor could be pleading with Bill to not give in to her rage because he didn’t want her to lose her humanity and become a monster by giving in to the urge to kill Saxon, the man who’d lied to her for a decade before bringing about her cyberization. Or perhaps it was a more mercenary concern — he didn’t want her to kill Saxon because it would cause a time paradox which would further destabilize an incredibly dangerous situation. Or … maybe just he didn’t want to see his friend die at Bill’s hands no matter what he’d done to deserve it.
Which is all somewhat disturbingly familiar if you look back over the Master’s history and note how blase most of the Classic Doctors were towards their “Best Enemy” no matter how many people he brutally killed.
Also, what does it say about Twelve that he had as many companion deaths as all of his predecessors combined? One lost Katarina and Sara Kingdom (if you count them as companions). Five lost Adric. Eleven lost Rory but it didn’t take. Twelve saw the death of Clara (and nearly broke the universe to get her back), the cyberization of Bill, and the abandonment of Nardole to live out his days on a doomed space ship defending peasants from an endless assault of Cybermen. Yeah, I’d still probably chuck my entire life on Earth to travel with the Doctor, but if I had to choose one, Twelve would be at the bottom of the list.
July 9, 2019 @ 5:59 am
Personally, I’ve seen that theme reflected in nearly all western media, the idea that some villains, despite their evil, have the capacity for redemption and that this takes precedence over those they’ve wronged whereas others, usually the less important or charismatic one’s, should be killed immediately.
Just consider Star Wars, it’s considered a great and noble triumph that Luke can’t bring himself to kill Vader because killing is wrong, but meanwhile Han and Leah are busy slaughtering thousands of storm troopers who are on the whole less guilty than vader is.
July 9, 2019 @ 7:33 am
I don’t think it’s that theme in this case. The Master/Missy can’t ever be truly and effectively stopped for non-diegetic reasons, just like the Joker. Which sucks for storytellers because it leaves them with two options: either make the character eventually turn good (which, like you say, means ignoring the suffering of their victims) or let them stay evil and keep escaping from whatever prison they’re put in (which makes the hero look really bad). There’s not really a third way if you want to keep using the character. And because the reason the Doctor always spares the Master/Missy is non-diegetic, I feel like it’s best to just ignore it. Because otherwise we can never view the Doctor as a hero anymore, which breaks the show.
July 12, 2019 @ 10:57 am
The character can’t turn good (permanently) for exactly the same narrative reason they can’t die (permaently).
July 9, 2019 @ 10:46 am
That seems an extraordinarily uncharitable reading of “don’t be angry”, not least because it doesn’t mention the most obvious reading in the scene which is that she might hurt the innocent farmhand characters. Missy and Harold aren’t even there at that point.
Also – you mention this great number of companion deaths under Twelve, but ignore the fact that 2 of those characters also become actual immortals. Not necessarily because of his actions, granted, but I think that little detail ought to shift how we see their demises! Adric and Sara Kingdom this ain’t – it’s much more like Rory, except they then get to live forever and ascend to their own narrative planes by becoming Doctors who have outgrown the actual Doctor. They’re the best endings any companion could have.
July 12, 2019 @ 1:29 pm
” abandonment of Nardole to live out his days on a doomed space ship defending peasants from an endless assault of Cybermen ”
I see what you’re aiming for and that’s certainly a possible reading, but I like to think that is Nardole’s hero moment, albeit a largely off-screen one. He’s a ridiculous figure, but here he takes on a serious role as a defender of the peasants. The final scenes imply that he Cybermen are defeated from the Doctor’s POV, so I like to think Nardole had enough time to guide the peasants to a happier ending. By defending the kids, he’s being kind, and it lines up pretty well with what the Doctor does.
The sadness is shared here, with Nardole not knowing the final fate of the others, nor they his. Given that his essence makes a cameo in ToaT, and bears no bitterness, that works for me.
My headcanon, anyway…
July 9, 2019 @ 3:01 am
Neither here nor there, but is the title a reference to the Homicide: Life on the Street episode “Subway” (aka “The Accident”)?
July 9, 2019 @ 3:18 am
I would imagine it’s a reference to The Tenth Planet.
July 9, 2019 @ 8:32 am
“In the end, there doesn’t need to be a substantive critique of the character when you’ve systematically obliterated the entire context in which he existed.”
For me that’s unsatisfying because what it basically means is that the era ends not because it needs to, but because actors and producers wanted to leave. Which is of course true, but feels like a missed opportunity. If you already know you’re leaving, why not use that last story to critique your own version of the character? To truly let the Doctor fall? In the end the Twelfth Doctor is neither deconstructed nor redeemed, he just sort of stops. That’s a rather weak note to end on.
“Indeed, this actual story ends by flirting with narrative collapse as the Doctor, exhausted in his own right, declines to regenerate.”
Which made little sense in-universe. I know regeneration stories get some leeway when it comes to leaning on the fourth wall (e.g. Matt Smith gets to basically say “I will always remember when I played the Doctor” on-screen), but with Twelve it annoyed me. If you want to have non-diegetic concerns like your own creative exhaustion seep into the show itself, at least make it work. (Like in “Heaven Sent”). The Doctor’s refusal to regenerate was set up even less than the return of Heather. As much as I enjoyed that finale, these two poorly established plot points kinda soured it for me.
July 9, 2019 @ 11:01 am
“If you already know you’re leaving, why not use that last story to critique your own version of the character? To truly let the Doctor fall? In the end the Twelfth Doctor is neither deconstructed nor redeemed, he just sort of stops. That’s a rather weak note to end on.”
I feel like you answer the first of these questions yourself in your excellent post below: the story does have a critique of the Twelfth Doctor baked into it, for all the reasons you elaborate. Does the presence of that critique mean that he “truly” falls, or does it make the whole story a total deconstruction of what he is and what he stands for? I’d say no to both cases. Critiques do not necessarily constitute outright ‘cancellation’, to use a slightly overused pop culture term. He’s not completely taken apart for the purpose of putting back together again in this story, which we might find in a standard deconstruction – but he is whittled down to his bare essentials, which is for all his fuckups, for all his cockiness and his arrogance and his TL privilege and his apparently knowing better, he still knows to do the kind thing in the darkest hour when it brings no outward benefit to himself. As we hear throughout Series 10 in different ways, virtue is only virtue in extremis (which the Doctor of course first hears from River via Nardole reading the diary out loud, meaning she casts a long shadow over this story as well as the season). So in that sense he is neither deconstructed nor redeemed so much as cut down to the bare bones of what his philosophy is and needs to be going forward. That cutting down is both critique and punishment in itself, but it is also a reassertion of the positive values that form the essence of being the Doctor. He is neither demolished by the story’s morality or championed: just shown that, as he put it in S9, he can be the Doctor on a good day if he tries really hard.
July 9, 2019 @ 11:18 am
I really, really like that reading. It’s a shame the story didn’t put more emphasis on that. The title tells us that the Doctor falls, and he does, but the “why” is never made very clear. I know “Twice Upon a Time” elaborates more on what it means to be the Doctor, but I feel like the finale itself could’ve used more in that department as well.
July 9, 2019 @ 8:56 pm
“He’s not completely taken apart for the purpose of putting back together again in this story, which we might find in a standard deconstruction”
Nope, that’s not what deconstruction means.
July 10, 2019 @ 7:37 am
The word has taken on a life of its own on the internet and in fandom circles, thanks to people misunderstanding what was meant when critics called Watchmen a deconstruction.
July 10, 2019 @ 11:10 pm
It was badly worded on my part (the big about putting things back together again isn’t necessarily part of a standard deconstruction, though it can be), though I don’t really see what’s stretching the usage of the term here as, say, Derrida uses it. I would’ve assumed the Eruditorum audience would grasp I wasn’t talking about literal demolition or dismemberment, but reconstruction in the sense of closely interrogating the basic assumptions about the meaning of a core element of the text (i.e. the protagonist, the Doctor) in order to reassess them. Which is tantamount to asking what this kind of hero is, which I think the story is doing.
July 10, 2019 @ 11:13 pm
July 12, 2019 @ 8:57 am
“reconstruction in the sense of closely interrogating the basic assumptions about the meaning of a core element of the text”
That’s now what deconstruction means either.
July 12, 2019 @ 10:00 am
Lol, take it up with Derrida, who himself said he wasn’t able to define the term and that most of his essays on it were just attempts to do so…
July 12, 2019 @ 11:27 am
It’s a while since i’ve had to read about or talk about this stuff, but i think what you’re describing there is basically a close reading of the text, as practised in earlier forms of litcrit that the structuralists were reacting against? And Derrida was doing a sort of close reading, but when i hear ‘deconstruction’ i especially think of teasing out the internal contradictions in the text, so that it turns out to be saying something other than what it initially appears to be saying, and is usually revealed to be outright incoherent.
July 9, 2019 @ 10:12 am
“It’s not the presence of Missy that makes Jorj shoot Bill (…). And Harold appears to time Bill’s cyber-conversion for the Doctor’s arrival; had the Doctor moved faster, he’d simply have had Bill converted after five years instead of ten.”
This is all true, and yet I feel like there is a critique there after all. Because what ultimately gets Bill shot is the Doctor taking his sweet time to boast about how Jorj will always be asking himself who his magnificent savior was… instead of incapacitating him with, I dunno, Venusian aikido skills he pulls out of nowhere five minutes later. (I know it’s a nod to the Third Doctor, I just mean that if Twelve suddenly can use it too, why not use it earlier?). And Bill gets cyberconverted partially because the Doctor explicitly tells her to passively wait for him. She trusted the Master mostly because the Doctor left her no choice but to spend years in a hostile environment, so it’s only natural that she settled down and started looking for allies. Without that psychic message from the Doctor, she might’ve been more proactive in saving herself.
I think this story is (partially) about Twelve’s mortal sin being his overconfidence and his tendency to take away people’s agency because he thinks he knows better. In S8 he frequently lied to dying people because it made his job of saving others easier. He also authoritatively decided that Clara and humanity are ready to take off their training wheels in “Kill the Moon”. In S9 he ignored Clara’s wishes and saved her against her will. And in S10 he got Bill turned into a Cyberman because he thought he could control the outcome of an unstable situation. This was just like his stubborn refusal to admit he’s blind: in both cases people their lives because Twelve couldn’t stand not being in control.
In this light the “evil” Doctor that Bill has to symbolically kill in LotL is the logical endpoint of Twelve. A man so sure he knows better what’s good for humans that he finally just dons his fascist uniform and decides to help the Monks control them – for our own good, of course. In making him the President of the Earth and giving him an army in S8 finale, Missy turned out to know him better than he knew himself.
July 9, 2019 @ 12:06 pm
“Moffat goes through many of his standards—games with time, ostentatious and premise-altering reveals, loads of creepiness, and does a stomping rendition of each.”
YES, YES, YES! WEAT is one of the very best episodes of New Who. Even the title is fucking amazing.
Barbara A. Sherman
July 10, 2019 @ 7:15 pm
I am both very excited and a little apprehensive to read your essays on S10. I’m new to this site, having been linked to it from some S11 reviews, and have since devoured almost all of the Eruditroum. I find your essays incredible informative and useful in bringing new perspectives to my attention.
I had a fractious relationship with Doctor Who for a few years – having become a fan when I sat down to watch “Rose” at 12 years old, I then became an active fandom member during S3, spending every evening on OutpostGallifrey, and my love for the show peaked with S5/early parts of S6. After that though, I started to feel a bit disillusioned. My dissatisfaction (at the time) with the later parts of S6, S7 and most of S8, made me fall out of love with the show a little bit, and though I thought S9 was a very good bit of television, it didn’t pull me back in. I didn’t even watch “Doctor Mysterio” when it aired.
This is an overly long way of saying that I love S10. I love Bill, I love her professor-student relationship with 12, I love Missy and her arc, I love Nardole, I love the in-your-face anti-authority, anti-capitalist edge to the season – I even kind of love the bloody Monk trilogy. It reignited my love for the show and brought me back into the fandom, got me to rewatch the Capaldi years and appreciate their brilliance, got me to watch more classic Who than ever before. To me, this is not just Moffat’s late style, but Moffat’s second peak. I get why S9 is recognised as Capaldi’s best season, but for me it’s S10.
July 12, 2019 @ 8:59 am
July 12, 2019 @ 11:54 am
S8 gets off to a slow start, but from the beginning the writing is clever, there are layers of meaning in those early stories that reward careful thought, probing deep into the mythology of Doctor Who itself. Once it gets going it’s content to coast a bit in places (e.g. Time Heist) but then it culminates in this stomping great triumphant finale which is Moffat Who at its most confident and bold.
S9 has a high quality threshold throughout, but only really achieves the highs of S8 during the Davros scenes and the closing three-parter.
S10 is shakier and rockier than either of the others, but is promising in its attempt to explore the different kinds of things that Doctor Who can be, rather than articulating a single coherent vision of the programme. So we have stories like Oxygen, Extremis and The Doctor Falls rubbing shoulders with Empress of Mars, The Eaters of Light and Thin Ice. It’s a mixed bag almost by design, but in many respects richer for it.