Here’s What The Doctor Who Companion Thought of The Doctor Falls!

Hmm, what’s that, dear boy? A collection of mini-reviews about an episode of Doctor Who, hmm? No, no, no, I’m not sure that’s a good idea, Chessington. What’s that, you do it for every episode and not doing it for the finale of Series 10 would seem odd? Yes, yes, quite so – indeed, mm-hmm!

Well, let’s start with a link to the full review, eh? Yes, very much so, indeed, ah-ha. In his review, Mez felt it was something of a mixed bag – yes, very much a bag of mixed, uh, mixed happenstances, yes, quite so:

“When all is said and done, The Doctor Falls is the best finale that Steven Moffat has done in a long time and certainly the best he has ever provided for Capalid’s incarnation. Is it a classic? In some respects certainly, but not because of its originality but more because of the legacy it provides to Doctor Who mythos.”

Ah yes, but is all said and done, hmm? Let’s ask the crew of the Doctor Who Companion for their further thoughts, shall we? Mm yes, what an idea! What an idea! I’m glad I came up with it.

James Baldock

It just wasn’t very good, really, was it?

I mean I could lie about it, if you want. That might have been the easier solution. I’ve had calls for my head this week. “When the show is cancelled,” someone said, in the wake of a negative write-up I gave it, “the finger will point at this, fair and square”. Clearly he’s overestimated the clout held by a single entertainment journalist, although I did appreciate the compliment.

Here’s the basic issue: the Doctor is old and tired and gives up. That’s it in a nutshell. His plan to get rid of the Cybermen is to blow up as many as he can while a group of colonists escape in a lift. It’s an excuse to write him into a situation where he is forced to regenerate – and then stubbornly refuses to, using pain as a stimulus in much the same way that Rutger Hauer staves off his death towards the close of Blade Runner. That’s the sort of corner that will prove difficult to write yourself out of the next time it happens, although that’ll be Chibnall’s problem, which largely explains why Moffat did it.

The leads, to be fair, acquit themselves brilliantly. Mackie is all tortured angst and wall demolition (she will, at least, be useful if the Doctor ever needs a knock-through); Lucas improbably gets a love interest, but his farewell is pleasantly understated; Gomez and Simm work well together, whether they’re dancing or (literally) at each other’s throats. Simm, in particular, is a revelation, the Master we could have done with ten years ago, instead of the mugging (if well-matched) idiot who came up against Tennant – each Master reflects the Doctor they’re encountering, and this older, less ridiculous version is the perfect foil for Capaldi. Speaking of Capaldi, we are once more in BAFTA territory, with the actor switching between tearful pleading and raging against the dying of the light, often within the same reel.

But the real problem with The Doctor Falls – aside from its failure to live up to the generally tremendous series that preceded it – is that Moffat once more sacrifices story for crowd-pleasing spectacle, Bill’s tedious (and overwrought) resurrection a depressing reminder of Clara’s. This is ultimately about pushing the envelope as far as possible before abruptly dropping it in the shredder: all you end up with is a bunch of plain white confetti, of little use to anyone. “Doctor Who,” says the chief writer, “shouldn’t really be about death. I don’t believe it’s the kind of show that says there are bitter, twisted, nasty endings because it’s not.” Keep telling yourself that, Steven.

Andrew Hsieh

A new Moffatian classic – part 2. Quite a contrast to last week’s horrifying thrills, but in a spectacular way. The three Time Lords unite to battle against the ultimate collective of Cybermen (in three different designs), and this is full of epic gunfights and explosions that we occasionally see in the Moffat era; in contrast to RTD’s. Seems to me that Rachel Talalay enjoys directing action-driven sequences for Doctor Who, just like the two previous finales that were also – coincidentally (?) – 60 minutes long. That is what I enjoy about extended episodes, which make the storytelling epic(er) and exciting(er)!

I absolutely loved the chemistry between John Simm and Michelle Gomez, from the memory time-syncing bantering to the heartbreaking literal backstabbing (pardon the pun). What impressed me the most about Harold Saxon’s return is his Delgado-esque beard mixed with Ainley’s recurring returns in the 1980s. Even though they were previously portrayed as antagonistic, for a very long time, it seems to me that they have redeemed themselves for this occasion, and that is one positive outcome for the two Masters. Their character arc could also act as a ‘pre-se-quel’ of sorts to Dark Water/Death in Heaven, due to the timelines of both incarnations formulating their Cybermen supremacy agenda; that’s up to the fans to speculate and draw their own conclusions. It also came as an unexpected surprise when the Doctor mentioned Donald Trump by name, right in front of the two Masters, as that reference reflects Simm’s hilariously eccentric “reign” as Prime Minister who invaded our world – that made me burst out laughing to tears!

Oh, Bill, what will we do without you? The frequent shot-shifting of Bill, from Mondasian Cyberman to normal human (vice versa), was one of the cleverest aspects of both the plot and the production. I initially thought that her friends managed to free and get her out of the suit without causing further injuries. This is one tear-jerking subplot that I would never ever forget for the rest of my life; even with the surprising return of Heather (from The Pilot) who uses her Bad Wolf style deus-ex-machina to full human again, unlike Rose giving Captain Jack Harkness immortal life. Whatever happens to them both, it doesn’t look like their story is over.

Moving onto the didn’t-see-it-coming cliffhanger ending, I honesty couldn’t believe my eyes at all. David Bradley, the man who we know as the uncanny Bill Hartnell from An Adventure in Space and Time, officially enters the Whoniverse. I wasn’t sure whether he was going to be asked to ‘reprise’ the role, but this as the very original incarnation – turns out many fans’ dream came true after all. Was this ending a deliberate callback to The Tenth Planet? Well, both incarnations were still on the snowy planets when they regenerated. And it’s very clear for me to point out that this is first ever episode to feature multiple Doctors and Masters, even though they did not meet altogether, which is – fair to say – a tiny bit sad. With only five months to go until Christmas, what will Moffat (in disguise as Santa) throw down the chimney top? Who knows?

Philip Bates

My initial reaction to The Doctor Falls was pretty much the same as Death in Heaven and Hell Bent: that was dreadful.

I’ve had over a week to cool down, but haven’t had the guts to rewatch it again (and I normally watch each episode two or three times in the 7 days following transmission). I’m afraid it started out fine, and just got worse – with brief moments of real lovely storytelling.

I don’t believe the Doctor’s plan consisted mainly of “I’ll blow myself up and let some humans escape to a higher level”. (Especially, given the time dilation, the Cybermen won’t really take that long to create an army again. Within a generation, the humans who have escaped with Nardole will be attacked once more, and they’ll just have to hope Nardole has prepared them well enough.) It was like he was begging for regeneration – and then inexplicably refused to do so. Just bizarre. And I can see Moffat trying to create parallels between the First and the Twelfth Doctor’s regeneration, with that cliffhanger that presumably occurs in the time the Doctor goes back to his TARDIS in The Tenth Planet. I can just see him telling the universe that he doesn’t want to go.

But it was a mess. And this is coming from someone whose favourite era of the show was under Moffat’s tenure! Yet this feels so adrift from the series I love – especially depressing as Series 10 has mostly been a solid run of stories. That’s what’s so frustrating about The Doctor Falls.

Instead, let’s focus on the things I liked. John Simm. He’s just exceptional. I’ll be gutted if this is the end for him, although I also really liked him wheeling the Doctor around in a wheelchair, just as he did in Last of the Time Lords and The End of Time.

Also: Nardole, given his time to shine. Given something to do! Yay! I’m now annoyed he’s gone, but his last scenes were perfect.

As much as I’d predicted Heather’s return, it wasn’t pulled off very well. I’m not complaining too loudly about that though, because no show can have too much Stephanie Hyam.

Jonathan Appleton

Not for the first time I found it a rather disappointing conclusion to the very promising opening of a two-part season finale. All that creepiness of the hospital and the slow-dawning terror of cyber-conversion was replaced by a rather sketchily drawn pastoral setting where the Cybermen served only as cannon fodder. And surely anyone who has watched the programme for the past few years would have felt more than a twinge of déjà vu at the Doctor’s lonely stand in defence of an isolated community (The Time of the Doctor, anyone?) and Bill’s going off with a mysterious female to explore the galaxy, not dead but not quite alive either (Clara… in the last series.).

There were some nice moments – I found the scenes where Bill realises what she’s become moving and wonderfully acted – but, although it was fun to see the programme do a multi-Master story for the first time, I was left wondering why the character needed to be in this story.

And there were a surprising number of loose ends. Why is the Doctor so insistent that he mustn’t regenerate? (It’s not like he hasn’t been through it before.) Will Bill ever find out he didn’t die? What’s going to happen to Nardole and the Waltons on the ship? If Moffat weren’t leaving at Christmas he’d no doubt come back to at least some of these a couple of years down the line but it’s hard to imagine they’re all going to be wrapped up in the hour or so of screen time he has left.

Finally, I may as well throw this one out there because it’s starting to bug me… if everyone accepts that Big Finish’s Spare Parts is one of the great Doctor Who stories, why doesn’t someone just commission Marc Platt to adapt it for the TV series rather than continue to nab bits of it for inclusion in less good episodes?

Simon Mills

Overall, my opinion of The Doctor Falls is somewhat bizarre. I loved it! I also hated it! There was so much to love about this year’s finale – Nardole, CyberBill, the Missy/Master love-in, Cybermen of different eras, Capaldi’s performance, the Master’s swansong, the thrill of that snowy epilogue… but the story that was supposed to underpin all of this was just kinda “meh”. There’s a threat from below decks. Nardole does some trickery. Cybermen get blown up. And that’s about it. As I mentioned in my full review of the previous episode, World Enough and Time, I was really hoping they didn’t throw away that superb setup this week, but that is exactly what they did! The creeping tension, the body horror, the mind-bending physics of gravitational time dilation – all thrown away so we can blow up masses of Cybermen… again! Ask yourself: would this story have played out any differently if the Master/Missy hadn’t been there? No. So, you have to ask, what was the point of them being there except to have some sort of existential crisis away from the action?

It scores VERY highly on the squee factor, but low on story. So I give this a B+ out of 10. See! I’m so messed up I can’t get my scoring system straight!

Oh dear. Judging from the DWC Collective, The Doctor Falls didn’t go down too well. But what did you think, dear readers…?

  • The Lazy Womble

    I really love The Doctor Falls, and you know how much I have struggled with a lot of Twelfth Doctor stories. I agree that the Doctor’s plan is pathetic. But that is the whole point. The strength of the episode is the overwhelming sense that the Doctor has no idea how to end this and so is just putting sticking plasters over as many holes as he can. Is it a fitting end to Capaldi’s time as the Doctor? Possibly not. But then it isn’t, is it?

    For me the problems with the Doctor’s “plan” actually make the episode great.

    • daft

      It’s just one of those things were it just feels like the Doctor is going off in a bit of a huff – can’t be bothered to press the inevitable (ingenious) Nu-Hu ‘reset button’. I’m all for characters having to do a bit of ‘spade work’, but it just feels like it’s done here in a contrived ‘end of era’ emotional journey way – not helped with parallels to Smith’s The Time of the Doctor departure.

      • The Lazy Womble

        There is a lot in what you say. And on other occasions, it would annoy me. But here it doesn’t. I cannot explain why I like the contrivance here but not in other episodes. But I do.

        • daft

          Well, to be fair, as one of Moffat’s sternest critics, I think DWC team are probably being a little harsh here, for the most part it was an enjoyable episode better than the sum of its parts. I think the real issue is Moffat has just stayed a little too long, and with his very particular subset of writing obsessions and working methodologies, most are seeing the cogs whirring around by now. That said, you get feeling he would have left after S9, but he has been essentially warming the seat for Chibnall – fans of DW are a little bit mystified by such courting by Beeb bosses, given his lukewarm Who track record, but they are probably playing the long term game with him, warehousing him hoping he creates another Broadchurch success down the track. 🙂

  • Peter Rabytt

    I think DWC are being a bit harsh about the Doctor Falls. I too love the way the story was set up in the previous episode and concede that the Doctor Falls does not have the same eerie suspense and chills…….but then the Doctor Falls is the series finale. It seems almost inevitable and probably right that the actual final series episode is a different sort of beast, more action, more explosions, more climactic…..and this time it also had to prepare for Capaldi’s departure. Okay, the story end does not live up to the build up……but to be fair that’s probably true of 95% of Doctor Who.

    There were some odd things about the episode. Why was Nardole better placed to protect the future of ‘The Waltons’ than the Doctor? I didn’t get that. Would it also not have been worth at least trying to locate the Masters Tardis to try to get to his own (at the very least so we get to see the Masters Tardis!) I do agree that there were similarities with the 11th Doctors final stand and that Bill’s ending was too similar to Clara’s. But hey, there was a lot to enjoy in this episode and for me the 60 mins just flew by. I was prepared to just run with some of the madness and have a good time. I thought it was a lot of fun with some very good moments. A decent end to a good series (I don’t count Christmas episodes as part of a series, Christmas episodes are a different, sort of stand alone…. and usually inferior animal in my view…..)

    • Michael Hatton

      I will say this, while it would’ve been nice to see The Master’s TARDIS, I don’t think it would’ve been possible to use it to get to The Doctor’s TARDIS upstairs, no matter which way you look at it. Here’s what was said in episode 11:

      NARDOLE: We can take the Tardis, go back and get it right.
      THE DOCTOR: This close to a black hole, we’ll never be able to pilot her accurately.

      So, if The Doctor went downstairs to grab The Master’s TARDIS in order to reach his own in the hope of not being affected by the time distortions upstairs, then he would’ve ended up being unsuccessful. And even if he did make it, there’s the strong possibility that he wouldn’t make it back to the correct time downstairs. And to make matters worse, he would now have two TARDIS’s with him stuck upstairs, both affected by the gravitational pull of the Black Hole. Oh and there’s also the fact The Master hasn’t installed the spare dematerialisation circuit Missy gave him yet. And also the likelihood that The Master wouldn’t let The Doctor touch his TARDIS to begin with.

      And in regards to why Nardole was better placed to protect the children instead of The Doctor? I personally think this all comes back around to The Doctor’s “plan”. Like The Lazy Womble said, there’s the overwhelming sense that The Doctor has no idea how to end this, so is just doing whatever he can in order to stop the onslaught of Cybermen. To add to that, I also think The Doctor has a bit of a death wish. That’s why he’s so reluctant to regenerate; he either dies or survives in this current incarnation, kinda following on from what Bill said. Additionally, here’s the episode’s explanation:

      NARDOLE: And more to the point, you are not sending me up there to babysit a load of smelly humans.
      DOCTOR: Yeah? Well, I’m afraid that’s exactly what I’m doing.
      NARDOLE: Huh? This is me we’re talking about. Me. You know what I was like. If there’s more than three people in a room, I start a black market. Send me with them, I’ll be selling their own spaceship back to them once a week. Please, I would rather stay down here and explode. You go and farm the humans.
      DOCTOR: Listen. One of us has to stay down here and blow up a lot of silly tin men, and one of has to go up there and look after a lot of very scared people, day after day, for the rest of their lives, and keep them safe. Now the question is this, Nardole. Which one of us is stronger?
      (Long pause.)
      NARDOLE: Damn.
      DOCTOR: My condolences.
      NARDOLE: I’m going to name a town after you. A really rubbish one.
      DOCTOR: Oh, I’m counting on it.
      NARDOLE: And probably a pig.

      If you draw yourself to this bit of dialogue from The Doctor – “Which one of us is stronger?” – I think it’s pretty clear that The Doctor just isn’t strong enough physically and mentally to take care of these people in the way that Nardole is; The Doctor has literally and figuratively “fallen”. See what I did there? Yeah, I’m smooth. And I know that to us it seems Nardole isn’t strong enough either but in-universe, The Doctor has known Nardole for thousands of years; he probably knows the man inside and out, and knows well enough that Nardole is fit for the job. Besides, Nardole’s got a romance going; The Doctor’s doing him a favour.

  • Planet of the Deaf

    Slightly surprised by the generally negative opinions here, when to me it was a very decent episode (at least 9/10) and that’s from someone who’s been in general apathetic about S10 overall.

    I guess Simon’s opinions probably are nearest mine.

  • Peter Rabytt

    This is a reply to Michael, whose reply to my post came up in my email from Disqus as on this thread, but then isn’t there when I go to DWC??
    Anyway, brilliant response Michael and you are absolutely right. Thank you for such a great reply and your observations. Pete