Doctor Who Series 10, Episode 12
“The Doctor Falls”
Posted by Kim
Well. That was an episode.
I’ve been ruminating on “The Doctor Falls”ever since it aired, trying to figure out JUST how I feel about it. Much like the Master, I’m of two minds. One mind tells me that all of the performances were brilliant, Rachel Talalay is at the top of her game and should be directing feature films, and it was a heartbreaking conclusion to this chapter of the Doctor and Master story. That’s what one mind says.
My other mind can’t get over how much time was wasted giving NARDOLE a love interest. (@ Steven Moffat WHY?) My other mind can’t get over the atrocious way Bill Potts’ story was handled, including her supposed happy ending. (It is NONSENSICAL.) My other mind really can’t get past the fact that Doctor Who really only ended up defining Bill by her sexuality, which is something we all feared they would do when it was announced in the first place. Oh, sure, there was the thing about her mum, which was dropped entirely after the Monk disaster. And yes, she had a pack of friends who we never saw again. She worked in a chip shop and audited the Doctor’s class. (Or was she a full-time student? They really couldn’t make up their mind.) When it comes down to it, I don’t think we EVER knew what Bill Potts wanted out of life and that’s what upsets me the most about this whole thing. But don’t worry, guys, she reminded us she liked girls every other episode.
I really get steamed because when I look back at Bill’s journey as a whole, all I see is wasted potential. Pearl Mackie is a BRILLIANT ACTRESS, y’all. She left everything on that screen and she clearly poured her heart and soul into Bill Potts. So why do I feel like I don’t KNOW her? It’s been pretty clear, with all the behind the scenes changing of the guard, that we were always only going to have Bill for one season. (It would be one thing if just the Doctor was changing, but the Doctor AND the showrunner? Chibnall is going to want a clean slate.) We know it’s possible to have a fully fleshed out one-off companion. We saw it with Martha Jones. We saw it with Donna Noble. So why didn’t we get it with Bill? When I look at Series 10 as a whole, I feel like Bill’s characterization is a lot like Clara’s was in 7B. Bill ended up being whatever the episode required her to be rather than the show giving her a solid through-line. And that’s distressing.
What irks me the most is how PASSIVE Bill has been all season. It always felt like things happened TO her, rather than her making things HAPPEN. Never was that more evident than in “World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls.” Sage touched on the fact that we’ve already DONE the companion waiting thing in her last recap. What irritates me the MOST about that story for Bill in regards to her waiting is that it’s NOT young Amelia Pond waiting years for her imaginary friend to show up, nor is it Rory Williams nobly guarding the Pandorica. Hell, it isn’t even Rose being trapped in a parallel universe. No. This is Bill being shot in the chest. This is Bill being revived and KNOWING she is in danger and not DOING anything about, choosing to wait for the Doctor to come and get her like he said he would. This is Bill waiting around (DOING NOTHING) for ten years. This is Bill literally being dismembered and turned into a Cyberman against her will, being stripped of everything other than her mind that is HER. How can you view that as anything but horrific? (And like Sage says…companions in peril is nothing new and is actually an essential part of Doctor Who‘s DNA. But this is extreme.)
It doesn’t stop there. It’s Bill being banished to a barn because everyone in the straight out of the 1800’s farm settlement is terrified of her. It’s Bill being told that she can’t express anger because her anger is dangerous. (I repeat: SHE IS ESSENTIALLY NOT ALLOWED TO GET ANGRY ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED TO HER. What the damn hell.) It’s Bill having to maintain a stiff upper lip when the Master TAUNTS HER calling her a fridge. A FRIDGE. (I get they were trying to be clever about fridging. I get it. I am not amused. It’s not funny.) It’s Bill brokenly crying out “Everyone’s always going to be afraid of me, aren’t they?” It’s Bill being shoved to the side while everyone else makes all the decisions. It’s Nardole’s LOVE INTEREST (@ Steven Moffat WHY) drawing a gun on her as soon as she walks in the room and Bill having to say that she understands. It’s the writers having her crack jokes about her dismemberment. It’s all so fucking degrading.
Are we going to gloss over the fact that she essentially asked the Doctor to kill her? Not essentially, actually. She blatantly SAID it. “I want you to know, as my friend, I don’t want to live if I can’t be me anymore. Do you understand?” That can’t taken any other way. While Bill’s mind is her own, her body is not. And she knows she’s gradually losing control of her mind and she would rather die. I know we’re supposed to think that Bill staying behind to fight in the last stand against the Cybermen is some heroic choice but from my vantage point what other choice did she have? She’s a fucking Cyberman. She knows she is not getting out of the suit. The Doctor knows it too, even when he asks her if she’s SURE she wants to stay behind. “You KNOW I am” is her reminding her of her request. There’s no getting out of this for her. There is no life for her beyond this, so she may as well going down fighting on the side of good. I see it less as agency and more as making the best out of a shitty situation that was beyond her control.
THUS WE GET TO DEUS EX HEATHER.
There were seven of us crammed into my tiny apartment to watch this episode, because we all knew we would likely need the emotional support (and all the wine). And every single one of us GROANED when Heather emerged out of that puddle. Seriously? Out of all possible endings, THIS is what they chose? A character we have not seen or heard from since the PREMIERE? We’re supposed to cheer for this? We’re supposed to think this is Bill’s happy ending? Listen, if there had been Easter Eggs scattered throughout the entire series about Heather, I would have bought into this. We know it can be done. Russell T. Davies was the MASTER of the season-long Easter eggs, with the way he used Bad Wolf, Vote for Saxon, and “There is something on your back.” Steven Moffat did it himself with the crack in the wall. So why the hell were there no indications at ALL that Heather was a thing? She tells Bill that she tracked her through her tears; that’s what led Heather to her. GUESS WHAT. Bill basically cried every fucking episode. It would have been so easy to drop in some allusions to Heather following her through space and time.
I don’t really get why we’re supposed to be jumping with joy over this? Their kiss was lovely and I would never want to discredit how IMPORTANT of a moment that is for Doctor Who in terms of representation. But it just feels cheap to me? There’s no emotional payoff here for me. We got more of Bill and Penny and their Monk interrupted dates than we did with Bill and Heather. We as an audience didn’t have any sort of investment in the Bill/Heather relationship. HELL BILL DIDN’T EITHER. She barely knew her! They had a brief flirtation and that was it. And now suddenly we’re supposed to believe that Heather has been tracking her this whole time and that they are going to be space girlfriends traveling the universe? I don’t think so. Listen, at least Clara had an established relationship with Ashildr/Lady Me, so THAT was totally believable. This isn’t. It’s so out of left field. The whole “You are like me now” thing (Sage: WHAT IS THAT? Me: DEAD.) and Heather’s comments that she could make Bill “whatever she wanted to be” are so nonsensical. This REEKS of a last-minute re-write/ramshackle “Oh crap what do we do?” kind of thing. It’s like Moffat took a step back and SAW what he was doing with Bill and then went “Hmmmm…what can I do to try to make the audience forget how badly I fucked this up? I KNOW! MAGIC LESBIANS.” It just feels like they were tossing a bone and we’re expected to be happy with it. If you take it at face value, I suppose you can be. However, in the immortal words of Cher Horowitz, this story is a full on Monet. From a distance it looks good, but up close it’s a big old mess.
Bill Potts (and Pearl Mackie) deserved better.
When it comes down to it, I feel a lot of Bill’s story came at the expense of the Master story, which sucks because the Master stuff is SO GOOD. (This is why we didn’t need Nardole. @ STEVEN MOFFAT WHY?) John Simm was living his best life revisiting his Maniacal Master. And Michelle Gomez, you guys. Honestly, she’s been the MVP of the season in my eyes. She fucking GOT IT. It was such a layered and complex performance. So much was going on just in her eyes and her inner conflict was REAL. Missy went on a JOURNEY this series and the whole time I was expecting her to pull a fast one on the Doctor and reveal that she had been planning a long con and that the whole thing was bullshit. Because Missy learning empathy? Surely that wasn’t possible, right? EXCEPT IT WAS.
JUST LOOK AT HER FUCKING FACE. That is not fake. That is genuine emotion and it’s a genuine desire to do RIGHT by the Doctor for the first time in this long and complicated love story. Because that’s what the story of the Master and the Doctor IS. Whatever kind of love you think it is, it IS a love story. (*sings* Every story…tale or memoir…every saga or romaaaaaaannnnce.) Yes, Missy struggled throughout this entire episode as far as making a true stand but that’s because of her younger and more bitter self being RIGHT THERE and clouding her thoughts. People/Time Lords don’t change overnight, you know. So she was still struggling with her desire to be good ANYWAY. So Simm!Master certainly didn’t help. But then you see her fighting herself all through the episode. She wants. It’s all in her face. It’s in the way her voice breaks when she says “Me too”. It’s in her barely restrained tears as the Doctor delivers one HELL of a speech.
The Doctor: Hey! I’m going to be dead in a few hours, so before I go, let’s have this out, you and me, once and for all. Winning? Is that what you think it’s about? I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone, or because I hate someone, or because, because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun and God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works, because it hardly ever does. I do what I do, because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind. It’s just that. Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live. Maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, you know, maybe there’s no point in any of this at all, but it’s the best I can do, so I’m going to do it. And I will stand here doing it till it kills me. You’re going to die too, some day. How will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand, is where I fall. Stand with me. These people are terrified. Maybe we can help, a little. Why not, just at the end, just be kind?
THIS RIGHT HERE IS WHAT MAKES ME SO FUCKING MAD ABOUT THIS EPISODE. Because this scene, this speech? It’s fucking gorgeous. It’s one of the highlights of the entire series. (God, I’m going to miss the way Peter Capaldi monologues.) This speech is the very essence of the Doctor. It’s his entire life philosophy and purpose. (Which is even more infuriating when you look at the multitude of UNKIND things he did this series. No, I will never be over the gaslighting in “Lie of the Land,” thanks for asking.) Just be kind and help people when you can. That is what he’s been trying to teach Missy this whole time. And ultimately, I think it’s what she learned. I just think she put it into practice in a different way.
I would like to believe that when the Doctor and Missy grasped hands before she turned her back on him that the Doctor felt the knife she had up her sleeve. I would really like to believe that a part of him, much like the part of him that remembers Clara, knows that she didn’t turn her back on him in his hour of need. I want to believe he knew what she was planning to do because it’s devastating for me to think that the Doctor regenerated thinking that he had failed to get through to his oldest friend.
Because in the end, he did get through to her. Missy chooses him. She stabs Simm!Master and her look of triumph is heartbreaking. Then she walks away to rejoin the Doctor when HE shoots her with his sonic. She was going to stand with the Doctor…and then she shot herself in the back. Literally. (Time Lords are really hard to write about.) And her LAUGH when she realizes it. GOD. It’s actually perfect. It’s a gorgeous mixture of “Oh fuck, of course this is how it happens. It makes so much sense” and complete disbelief at the ridiculousness of the whole thing. I like to think that Missy’s last thoughts were of the Doctor and how she HOPES that he knew the truth.
Because without hope, without witness, and without reward, she was his friend.
- Like, okay, I LOVE all these comments about gender being fluid with Time Lords but does anyone else feel like Steven Moffat is daring Chris Chibnall to do something he’s not REALLY going to be able to do? (This is how much faith I have in us getting a female Doctor and Chibnall has a network to answer to, after all.)
- The Master’s vanity is everything.
- I am ALWAYS here for a Donald Trump joke but I’m equally a little irked that it feels like Moffat is writing for an American audience, if that makes ANY sense.
- Seeing all the former companions hit me RIGHT where it hurts. As did the Doctor referencing the final words of his tenth and eleventh selves. THAT is the kind of fan service I’m here for.
- HOWEVER, I’m a bit confused at the Doctor’s sudden reluctance to change. He’s been talking about regeneration the whole series. It had seemed like he was ready. So him being all “NOPE” all the sudden was jarring to me because it didn’t make any sense. And I’m not buying Moffat’s comments about WHY the Doctor is resisting regeneration. Try again please.
- WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN IN THE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL? It’s the First Doctor, y’all!
What were your thoughts on “The Doctor Falls”? Are you in the positive or negative camp? Let us know in the comments.