Doctor Who: World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls ★★★★★
A macabre, riveting finale delivers chills with the return of the original Cybermen from 1966 and a Master/Missy showdown with John Simm and Michelle Gomez
Series 10 – Episodes 11 & 12
A massive ark-like spaceship is marooned on the edge of a black hole. Arriving on the top level, the Doctor is testing whether Missy truly is reformed. Bill is fatally lasered and ends up trapped in hospital on the lower levels, where time moves much more slowly than at the top. She is cyber-converted before her friends can reach her. This ship is from Mondas and the Master, in disguise, is working on the genesis of a new breed of Cybermen. Soon, the race is on to save the kindly people on the upper levels, and the Doctor pleads with Missy and the Master to join forces with him. After a last stand against the Cybermen and parted from Nardole and Bill (who’s restored to life by Heather), the Doctor is able to put his regeneration on hold. The Tardis takes him to Antarctica, where he encounters his first incarnation…
First UK broadcasts
Saturday 24 June 2017
Saturday 1 July 2017
The Doctor – Peter Capaldi
Bill Potts – Pearl Mackie
Nardole – Matt Lucas
Missy – Michelle Gomez
Razor/The Master – John Simm
Jorj – Oliver Lansley
Surgeon – Paul Brightwell
Nurse – Alison Lintott
Voice of the Cybermen – Nicholas Briggs
Hazran – Samantha Spiro
Alit – Briana Shann
Gazron – Rosie Boore
Rexhill – Simon Coombs
Heather – Stephanie Hyam
The Doctor – David Bradley
Writer – Steven Moffat
Director – Rachel Talalay
Producer – Peter Bennett
Music – Murray Gold
Designer – Michael Pickwoad
Executive producers – Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin
RT review by Patrick Mulkern
World Enough and Time blog (first published Saturday 24 June 2017)
★★★★★ Did I like this episode? That’s what I was asked by exec producer Brian Minchin on a visit to BBC Cardiff. Haha, no, I did not like it. I couldn’t like an episode that apparently kills off two beloved characters. I feel like howling “No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!” just as Peter Capaldi does at the beginning as he stumbles out of the Tardis in the snow. But in this case, not “liking” an episode is a peculiarly positive thing. It’s good to be challenged by a predictable old friend once in a while.
World Enough and Time is riveting (mostly), macabre (deliciously) and it quite coldly metes out death – or a fate worse than death for someone we’ve grown to love.
Let’s deal first with that shock Scene One. The Death of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. The pre-titles Big Moment which was so top secret it was withheld from the earliest previews. In fact, it had to be, because it hadn’t actually been filmed! Most of this two-part finale was shot months ago, but the Doctor Who team returned to the studio less than two weeks before transmission to film this crucial scene. As Brian Minchin told me: “We’re going very close to the wire on this!”
We’ve long known this regeneration was coming. Steven Moffat has gone on record saying it would happen differently this time, but few anticipated seeing it at the start of episode 11. Six months prior to the Christmas special! I’ve relished Peter Capaldi’s take on the Time Lord so I’m far from pleased that he’s going. I do not like this. That is Shock One.
Shock Two. In April, Steven Moffat warned Radio Times readers in his Series Ten Episode Guide that the Doctor “witnesses the death of someone he is pledged to protect”. Step forward the candidates: companions Nardole and Bill and their fellow traveller, Missy. Very early in World Enough and Time we see Bill shot. A trigger-happy blue alien blows a hole clean through her middle. I stress “clean” not quite in complaint. I don’t need Quentin Tarantino levels of gore in this Kill Bill. I don’t wish to see blood and organs spewing forth; but even if Bill’s innards have been cauterised by the blast, the wound does seem a tad unrealistic. Tame, necessarily, for the family audience.
Poor Bill! Still a newcomer. Such a popular character. Such a horrible, protracted, lingering demise. Stuck in a hospital from hell. Kept alive by a cybernetic chest unit she can’t bear to look at. Only those creepy patients, a Mengele-like surgeon, a tubby Nurse Ratched and the feral Mr Razor for company. “How much longer, Doctor? How many more years?” And then she’s forced into full Cyber-conversion.
It’s a sickening reveal when the Cyber“man” emerges at the end and bleats in that singsong voice last heard in 1966: “Accessing Bill Potts. Locating Bill Potts. I am Bill Potts. I waited. I waited for you.” It packs even more punch than Jackie Tyler’s Cyber-conversion 11 years ago, or when Oswin Oswald realised she’d mutated into a Dalek in Asylum of the Daleks. It puts the body horror back into the Cybermen. Which is just as it should be. Is there any coming back for Bill…? Again, you’ll have to wait till next week to find out.
The sinister surgeon, the soulless hospital, and the tormented souls crying out “Pain… Pain… Pain…” – a howl that can be dialled down... I sense this milieu may be more disturbing for grown-ups than for little ones. What horror, what disfigurement lurks beneath the knotted bandages of these proto-Cybermen? It really is clever how Steven Moffat embraces the perceived weaknesses of the original 1966 cloth-and-plastic design – scorned and abandoned after their only screen outing in The Tenth Planet – and makes them sting.
The head “handles” are explained by the surgeon thus: “This won’t stop you feeling pain but it will stop you caring about it.” Even the “tear ducts” that featured in some Cyber masks are made sense of in that beautiful final shot, zooming into and out of CyberBill’s eye. We feel her anguish. We may shed a tear too.
“Had we but world enough and time” is the first line of Andrew Marvell’s 17th-century poem To His Coy Mistress. Ah, Missy! “She’s my oldest friend in the universe.” The Doctor’s grand folly is that he’s put his faith in his old sparring partner. “She was my first friend. So fast, so funny. She was my man crush.” Foolhardily, he’s given Missy free rein in the desperate hope of rehabilitating her. Even by the end we cannot be sure if it’s succeeded.
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Michelle Gomez is a riot waltzing around the spaceship, announcing herself as “Doctor Whhooo!” and cheesing off a legion of fans who abhor the idea of the lead character being referred to by the programme title. It doesn’t bother me. At the end of days Steven Moffat is saying the unsayable. Bully for him. Through Missy, he states that Doctor Who was indeed once the Doctor’s chosen name and he sends the series up with a much-needed moment of levity, dubbing her “plucky assistants” Bill as “Exposition” and Nardole as “Comic Relief”. I wish she hadn’t used the word “disposables”.
The return of John Simm’s Master is, of course, exciting. A coup. During David Tennant’s time, his Master had immense charm despite careering off the scale into lunacy. Simm loses himself in the part of Razor, yet I remain bemused and unconvinced by the Master’s penchant for disguises. OK, it’s a handy way to surprise the uninformed viewer, who might possibly recall him from seven years ago. OK, he’s decided to keep hidden from Bill who would recognise her former prime minister. But Mr Razor’s heavy costume, latex mask, wonky teeth and dodgy accent are presumably in use for months, years even. It’s inherently ridiculous, a reminder of the silly disguises worn in 1980s Who by Anthony Ainley’s Master and Kate O’Mara as the Rani. The whole shtick is easily shed like a Scooby-Doo villain in one theatrical flourish, but it’s directed and performed with such bravura that it doesn’t actually detract from the final moments.
The close of World Enough and Time is sublime. Steven Moffat’s script deftly cuts between two scenes of revelation, expertly shot by director Rachel Talalay. I love Peter Capaldi’s appalled reactions. Registering that, for the first time in half a century, he’s dealing with the cloth-faced Cybermen from Mondas. That this particular one is – or was – Bill. That he has very badly let her down. And that a deranged former incarnation of the Master has just walked into the room behind him.
Multiple Doctor stories are old hat. I’ve longed for a multiple Master adventure. Here it is. With two superb actors. And great writing from Steven Moffat. Events take a biblical turn as Operation Exodus is eschewed for the Genesis of the Cybermen. John Simm’s Master revels in his Davros Moment as the creator of a monster.
And yet Old Testament aside, this is actually a mash-up of Mary Shelley, of James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein. You’ve got Simm as Henry Frankenstein… Nardole lurking on the sidelines as the manservant… Combine Missy and bandaged CyberBill and there’s Elsa Lanchester’s Bride… And Capaldi couldn’t look more like Dr Pretorius if he tried. D’you know what? I am liking World Enough and Time.
The Doctor Falls blog (first published Saturday 1 July 2017)
★★★★★ Yes, I know, another five stars… but you can tell a Doctor Who episode is a winner when you watch a very rough-cut version and it still hooks you. The first preview let out of the blocks had many fx missing and needed final edits and polish, as the production team strove to hit a tight deadline just a few days before transmission. Phew!
The end is in sight for Messrs Moffat and Minchin, outgoing executive producers, and their remarkable cast (Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas, Michelle Gomez and John Simm) all signing off here, or soon... But what is perhaps most surprising about this concluding episode of Series Ten is how inconclusive it is.
The Mondas colony ship remains stuck on the threshold of a black hole. Its inhabitants are still under threat from incipient Cybermen. No one cause is specified for the Doctor’s regeneration, although he can evidently now hold the process at bay. And what is subtly needling is that the main characters remain unaware of each other’s fate. Nobody knows whether any of their friends or enemies have survived.
Nardole lives but is stranded on the spaceship. Will he or his party ever escape? The Doctor has no idea that Bill was restored/transformed by Heather nor that they returned him to the Tardis. Bill leaves without knowing that the Doctor will survive or even that he can regenerate. What, for me, is most poignant is that the Doctor does not know he succeeded in turning Missy from the dark side, that his best friend was returning to support him and may have died in the attempt.
The Doctor Falls is an uneven but utterly engrossing “final” episode. Our hero thwarts, or at least tampers with, the Master’s fiendish plan remarkably early so that the First Act is wrapped up before the 15min mark. The Time Lords find themselves on the run from the Cybermen, and the action shifts from dystopian Floor 1056 to bucolic Floor 507. Suddenly the Doctor has a children’s refuge to protect. This change in pace and environment may be unexpected but it gives the characters pause to think and have difficult conversations. It gives the cast chance to shine.
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 do so in an illustration on the back (below) of the 1970s novel of The Tenth Planet. 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.
And finally that ending. Nostalgia Central! Doctor 12 meeting Doctor One in the snowy wastes of Antarctica. “Où sont les neiges d’antan? / Where are the snows of yesteryear?” If you have un peu de French poetry or studied Rossetti or Tennessee Williams, you’ll know this scene uses one of literature’s key nostalgic motifs.
We’re right back to the setting of The Tenth Planet 51 years ago. And a familiar figure, an old man in cloak, astrakhan hat and white scarf emerges from the blizzard. “You may be a Doctor but I am the Doctor,” he says, clutching his lapels. “The original you might say.” (This is a glorious mash-up of one of Tom Baker’s first lines in 1974 and Richard Hurndall’s as the first Doctor replacement in The Five Doctors in 1983.)
How magical to see David Bradley again, not just playing William Hartnell (or even playing Hartnell as the first Doctor) as he did in An Adventure in Space and Time. Now he’s giving us his first Doctor. I knew full well this special moment was coming but it still touches the fanboy in me deeply.
Usually I approach the Christmas specials with trepidation. Not this time. I can’t wait to see Peter Capaldi and David Bradley performing side by side.