"Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand, is where I fall."


The perfect Doctor Who two-parter is a tricky thing to pull off. A trademark of the rebooted era, they don’t always come together - but when they do, they result in some of the show’s greatest stories.

Ask any fan for their favourite Who episodes and chances are you’ll see the same names cropping up – and they’re very often two-parters.

How about the terrifically creepy The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances? The deeply moving Human Nature/The Family of Blood? Or the sci-fi extravaganza of Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead?

All brilliant, no doubt. However, allow me to make the case for a two-parter that doesn’t get anywhere near as much love but stands apart as the show at the very peak of its powers – Steven Moffat’s majestic season 10 closer World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls.

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Season 10, Peter Capaldi’s final run as the titular Time Lord, remains the great under-appreciated season. It’s no secret that ratings had declined from previous years, with the episode preceding the final two-parter – The Eaters of Light ­– attracting the show’s smallest viewership since its 2005 return.

It's also fair to say that unlike David Tennant and Matt Smith’s incarnations, who emerged from the TARDIS pretty much fully formed on day one, it took Capaldi and Moffat longer to find the Twelfth Doctor’s best self. Season 8 was an up-and-down affair, but by season 9 there were signs that something very special was happening.

So pity the poor viewers who tapped out before reaching season 10, as they missed Capaldi at his most wise, charming and ferocious.

Episodes like Oxygen, Extremis and The Pyramid at the End of the World all deserve special mention, but it’s the closing double that really provides the crescendo.

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David Tennant in new Doctor Who character poster 2023, using his sonic screwdriver
BBC Studios

So, what makes a good two-parter? Fans are used to seeing the first episode set things up effectively, with a strong premise and well-orchestrated cliffhanger, but keeping up the pace and intrigue over a second part is a far harder task. In truth, only the very best manage to pack enough storyline to justify the extended runtime.

One way to address that, which Moffat was particularly adept at, is to make the two episodes distinct enough in tone and location to keep the narrative fresh, while ensuring they still very much serve as a single story.

Season 5’s The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone was a successful prototype for this approach – but nowhere was the effect better achieved than in the season 10 finale.

World Enough and Time is pure sci-fi horror, with the timey-wimey concept of a ship on the brink of a black hole and the Doctor largely powerless to stop the creeping nightmare taking place at the other end of the craft. It’s a claustrophobic watch that closes in on viewers much like the Cyberman helmet eventually does on Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie).

In contrast, The Doctor Falls is all rolling fields and rural farmland. We’re still on the colony ship, don’t forget, but we might as well be at home on Earth. It plays out as a Western – a last stand against the oncoming invaders as a small community band together to survive.

And compared to the previous episode’s ominous images of a polluted cityscape, this is a future worth fighting for.

Mondasian Cybermen standing in two rows of four with a bright fiery light in the distance
Mondasian Cybermen in Doctor Who. BBC

It's these relatively low-level stakes that also benefit the story. We’ve seen huge universe-ending threats in previous finales, but by focusing on the very personal mission of the Doctor attempting to save his companion and just a handful of people alongside them, it makes the plight all the more tangible.

Even the Cybermen – Mondasian, at Capaldi’s request – are stripped back compared to the shiny prime versions we’re now used to. These aren’t faceless machines crying "Delete" like an AI gone haywire; these are human beings sold a lie and now entombed in chrome. We’re scared both of them and for them.

The sense of dread that permeates both episodes is established from the get-go. The pre-credits sequence sees the Doctor begin his regeneration cycle before flashing back to his ill-fated experience on the colony ship. We know his time is running out and we know that he’s alone – we just don’t yet know how he falls.

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Bill’s fate looks equally bleak – we’re not even 10 minutes in before a large hole is blasted through her by the most minor of characters in a cold and unceremonious fashion. Rose Tyler’s grand and elevated farewell, this ain’t.

And things don’t improve from there. The traumatic scenes of Bill and the patients in the ward are among the most difficult to watch in the whole of Who, tapping into a kind of primal fear that makes an encounter with the Daleks look pedestrian.

Peter Capaldi tooking the chest of a Mondasian Cyberman
Peter Capaldi and a Mondasian Cyberman in Doctor Who.

Moffat worked on scripts for season 10 against the backdrop of his mother’s hospitalisation before she passed away, and there are moments where even the Doctor seems to struggle with the apparent hopelessness of his situation.

"You know, maybe there’s no point in any of this at all," he declares at one stage. "But it’s the best I can do, so I’m going to do it. And I will stand here doing it until it kills me."

It’s part of an extraordinary monologue that ranks as Capaldi’s best (yes, even ahead of his rightly acclaimed speeches in The Zygon Inversion and Heaven Sent).

Rachel Talalay’s direction is, as ever, stunning. Bathed in a soft blue glow (are things getting darker – or brighter?), there’s no sweeping score, no doomsday scenario, just an old warrior laying out the code he lives by in a last-ditch attempt to appeal to an old adversary.

Speaking of which, as if there wasn’t enough on the Doctor’s plate already, for the first time ever, the episodes also feature not just one Master, but two, with John Simm’s incarnation unmasked in a monumental cliffhanger that was frustratingly spoiled ahead of time.

Missy and the Master in Doctor Who, both leaning forward. She looks happy and he has a smug smile.
Michelle Gomez as Missy and John Simm as the Master in Doctor Who. BBC

Simm has spoken fondly of his time filming the two episodes, and he’s clearly having a ball. A far cry from the maniacal Harold Saxon and the bleached-blonde power-jumper of previous appearances, here he is completely loathsome in every sense – smug, narcissistic and, worst of all, a destabilising influence on future self Missy.

The potential redemption of Michelle Gomez’s fan favourite antagonist was one of the most fascinating arcs in season 10, and credit to all involved that the ultimate pay-off here – with Master and Missy each taking the other down – feels like a well-earned moment of growth while remaining entirely in keeping with the character(s).

And in a clever bit of doubling, we close on the return of the First Doctor, played by David Bradley, as Time Lords past and present attempt to help each other come to terms with moving on – just maybe not quite so brutally as the Masters handled it.

Originally intended to be Capaldi’s swan song before it was decided he would be back for one more Christmas special, World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls still serve as a poignant elegy for Twelve.

There are no stars. He does what he does because it’s right, because it’s decent, and above all, because it’s kind – without hope, without witness, without reward.

At no point across its 1 hour and 45 minutes does the story sag, as our heroes meet darkness with defiance and come out the other side with something close to triumph. Like a Cyberman blasting through 500 levels of the colony ship, it grips you from the outset and doesn’t let go.

Haunting, heartbreaking and electrifying, it remains the great Doctor Who two-parter.

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