by Julian Spivey
They all stay filed away in my head – my favorite “Doctor Who” episodes – I can think instantly of favorite episodes featuring Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith. But, despite being The Doctor for three full seasons and doing a fine job of it I honestly don’t have many Peter Capaldi episodes that instantly come to mind, except for “The Husbands of River Song,” the Christmas special from 2015.
I think Capaldi may have saved his best performance for last, or likely second to last. The season 10 finale, “The Doctor Falls,” instantly becomes the most memorable performance of his tenure and the best written episode from “Doctor Who” producer Steven Moffat in some time.
We knew this was going to be The Twelfth Doctor’s last hurrah as we saw him beginning to regenerate in last week’s penultimate episode (which was really part one of a two-part finale) “World Enough and Time” at the very opening of that episode, but we didn’t yet know why. We wouldn’t find out until the end of “The Doctor Falls.”
“The Doctor Falls” is rather finite and Moffat does a terrific job of essentially bringing his era of “Doctor Who” toward an end – we aren’t going to have many recurring characters left after this episode – giving future showrunner Chris Chibnall, who’s currently wrapping up his fantastic mystery series “Broadchurch” on BBC America, a completely fresh start.
In “World Enough and Time” we were subjected to two great shocks – the conversion of companion Bill Potts (the excellent Pearl Mackie) into a Mondasian Cyberman, something that hasn’t been seen on “Doctor Who” since 1966, and the stunning return of John Simm as The Master. This was thrilling for fans who got a chance to see two Masters, him and Missy (the terrific Michelle Gomez), together like we had seen multiple Doctors together in “The Day of The Doctor.”
At the beginning of “The Doctor Falls,” The Doctor is teamed up upon by Missy and The Master, who look to use the Cybermen to annihilate the human race. Just one problem – The Doctor shrewdly tricked them by programming the Cybermen to target beings with two hearts, which Time Lords have, putting Missy, The Master and himself in a dire situation, but protecting the humans. The Doctor is struck down by a Cyberman before being rescued by Bill’s Cyberman, which hasn’t completely taken her over.
The group of The Doctor, Bill, Nardole (the great comic relief of Matt Lucas), Missy and The Master outrun the Cybermen to a different sector of the massive spaceship they’ve been on all along, reaching a solar farm with many kids the Cyberman are targeting for conversion. Here The Doctor heals from his wounds, though not completely as he’s showing signs of the regeneration we knew was coming. The first truly tear-jerking moment of this episode comes when Bill, not realizing she’s been converted into a Cyberman, sees herself as a Cyberman for the first time. She sheds a tear, something The Doctor finds hopeful, because Cybermen do not shed tears.
The group is preparing to save the children and fight off the Cybermen, but The Doctor simply isn’t going to get help from his old friends, turned foes The Master and Missy, though he’d hoped all along that he’d be able to turn Missy good again. It’s maybe the most dramatic and best scene of the episode and of the series in quite some time, with Capaldi’s monologue becoming the ultimate moment of his tenure as he tries to persuade the two to help.
Here is that glorious monologue in its entirety:
"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 I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. 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, maybe there’s no point in any of this at all, but it’s the best I can do, and I will stand here doing it until it kills me. You’re going to die, too, someday. When 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.”"
Of course, it doesn’t change the minds or hearts of The Master, though for a split-second we believe he’s gotten through to Missy. She thanks him for trying, but turns down his offer. This leads to another tear-jerker moment when The Master and Missy are trying to escape back to safety when she turns on her prior self, slyly stabs him in the back and attempts to return to help The Doctor before The Master shoots her full blast in the back with his sonic screwdriver. It ends the run of two of the series’ finest villains in The Master and Missy.
Back at the battlefront The Doctor has sent the kids to safety with the aid of Nardole, bringing yet another tear-jerking moment when Nardole is forced to say bye to his friends. It’s crazy how attached you can become to characters like Bill and Nardole in just a 12-episode season, but that shows they’ve left a great mark on the series like other short-lived companions have before.
The Doctor and Bill stand side-by-side one last time together to bring kindness to the universe. The Doctor seemingly sacrifices himself to put an end to the Cybermen. He’s completely dead this time, no regeneration in sight. Then Bill comes upon him to mourn his death, before surprisingly finding herself back in her human form. In a finale full of surprises, one of the biggest was the recurrence of Bill’s love interest Heather from the season opening “The Pilot,” who has freed Bill from the Cyberman’s case, not saving her life, but giving her a happy ending as the two will roam the universe together. This is not before bringing The Doctor’s dead body back to his TARDIS for a proper sendoff. Remembering how important tears are Bill sheds one last tear on The Doctor before leaving. This tear begins the regeneration process all over for The Doctor, who like the ones before doesn’t want to go, he refuses to regenerate – trying to will the regeneration away. In the biggest surprise of the finale the TARDIS lands a snowscape, where The Doctor hears a familiar voice from long ago – it’s his original self as played by David Bradley, recapturing his role as the First Doctor who he portrayed as actual First Doctor actor William Hartnell (who died in 1975) in the 2013 BBC docudrama “An Adventure in Space and Time” about the creation of “Doctor Who.” Damn, this show can get weird and tricky at times.
I guess the Twelfth Doctor and the First Doctor are both going to have themselves a final hurrah in the Christmas special at the end of this year before Chibnall starts the series anew sometime next year. As good as Capaldi and “The Doctor Falls” was, though, it may be somewhat disappointing that his role of The Doctor was completely wrapped up in the Series 10 finale.