Capaldi, Simm and Gomez are of course divine together. Peter Capaldi is magnificent as ever. This is truly his episode. His Doctor may fall but he stands tall among stiff competition. John Simm’s Master is an implacable bastard to the end but not the loon of seven years ago. Michelle Gomez is simply superb at the duplicity and the soul-searching and laughing at her own tragedy. Their dancing, flirting and backstabbing is to die for.
There was fevered speculation over Sam Spiro’s casting. All sorts of daft notions. In the event, Hazran has no dark secret, other than she’s a love interest for Nardole. She’s a mother figure for the children under threat on Floor 507, toting a rifle at her homestead, putting me in mind of Lillian Gish in the 1950s movie classic The Night of the Hunter.
I’m pleased that Bill earns a reprieve. Let’s not whinge that yet another regular character is seen to die or suffer a fate worse than death and then becomes undead. It would be horrible to leave her trussed up in those Cyber bandages. It has to be said Bill’s departure is remarkably similar to Clara’s at the end of series nine. Clara’s death was “paused”, her heartbeat frozen, and then she zoomed off into time and space in the company of another eternal woman (Ashildr/Me), leaving the Doctor none the wiser. Almost identical.
I never foresaw Heather’s return and I tingle at the rapprochement of her romance with Bill. “I’m the Pilot. I can fly anything. Even you,” says Heather. “You’re like me now. It’s just a different kind of living.” You’d have to have a cold heart not to be persuaded and moved. “I left you my tears, remember,” is such a strange but beautiful notion. Bill deserves this ending. And Pearl Mackie plays it to perfection.
Talking of talented women… Rachel Talalay isn’t simply a director, she’s an artist working in the medium of television. From the furnace of Floor 1056 to the Cotswold-y homestead to the snowy South Pole, she weaves varying tones and textures and tableaux, Quiet Moments and Big Moments, into one coherent, impressive tapestry.
In her hands, any potential awkwardness of the “Bill doesn’t see herself as a Cyberman” scenes is ironed over. There’s the storyboard precision of Missy turning to camera as she’s shot and irradiated by the Master. The overhead angle of Missy breathing her last, looking like Ophelia, in that twilit blue-green woodland is one of many weirdly beautiful images. And there are lots of little touches. The way that Nardole in his final shot walks towards and beyond the camera and into his future, which cuts to a high-up drone shot of CyberBill staggering through a battle-scarred wasteland.
Steven Moffat said this finale would not be a nostalgia fest. I don’t know whose leg he was pulling. It may not be a fest but it’s definitely a running buffet, with lots of savoury morsels to set off your nostalgic taste-buds. Capaldi’s Doctor is so like Jon Pertwee’s here, in looks and deeds, interacting with the Master, detonating explosions with his sonic screwdriver, heroically vanquishing the Cybermen while listing their past defeats.
One notable touch is that the original Cybermen never used their headlamps as a weapon, although they seemed to in an illustration on the back of the 1970s novel of The Tenth Planet (right). Were The Doctor Falls a book, there’d be copious footnotes – especially those pointing out allusions to the past.
The Doctor remarks that the Cybermen “happen everywhere there’s people – Mondas, Telos, Earth, Planet 14, Marinus.” The first two were their home planets in the 1960s episodes. A parallel Earth gave rise to Cybermen during Russell T Davies’s tenure. Planet 14 is a fabulously obscure reference to a few lines of dialogue in The Invasion (1968). And Marinus? Well, that’s a nod to the 1964 serial The Keys of Marinus. (Perhaps Steven is suggesting that the rubbery Voord and semi-robotic Ice Soldiers encountered by William Hartnell’s companions were a form of Cybermen…)
As the Doctor fights to stem his regeneration, there’s a St Vitus dance of nods to earlier regen episodes. His babble about Sontarans perverting the course of human history was Tom Baker’s first line in 1974. He revisits David Tennant’s excruciating bleat, “I don’t want to go,” and Matt Smith’s “[I will always remember] when the Doctor was me.” Bill’s line as she sobs over the Doctor, “While there’s tears, there’s hope,” echoes the Pertwee Doctor’s last words as Sarah sobbed over him: “A tear, Sarah Jane? No, don’t cry. While there’s life there’s…” The overhead shot of Bill and the Doctor, sprawled on the Tardis floor, cloaked splayed, echoes William Hartnell’s final moments in The Tenth Planet (below).