Friday, 30 June 2017

Hey, I managed to get this written before the finale airs! It looked like I was going to have to write one long review for the two-parter and pretend that had been the plan all along.

Though the quality of Steven Moffat’s series finales has varied, one thing I’ve always liked about them is how he’s not stuck to one story type, like how Russell T Davies always ended his runs with a big invasion of Earth, with the annual attempt to go bigger by adding an extra zero to the number of Daleks getting to the point where returns had considerably diminished. Here we are now at the finale not just of Series 10 but of the Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi eras of the show (assuming, as Moffat has hinted, the Christmas special follows on from 10.11 and 10.12 as a loose third part), and we’re ending with a story that’s similarly dissimilar to the finales that have gone before; it’s still very ambitious, but instead of Davies-esque epic stakes, its ambition lies in its concept. Well, concepts.

As World Enough and Time begins, we have two different stories going on – the time dilation affecting the 400 mile-long ship, which by itself is an intriguing pitch for a Who episode, and the redemption of Missy. As we go along, these develop into storylines that could easily be defined as 'Genesis of the Cybermen' and 'The Two Masters' – both of which would be better episode titles than we’ve actually got, but neither of which should actually be said out loud by any of the characters, because that would be cheesy as hell. Oops.

And they’re both really strong ideas for finales, at least as far as pleasing fans is concerned. Over the years I’ve been a Who fan, a Mondasian Cyberman origin story and a Master-ful twist on the multi-Doctor episode are two of the ideas I’ve seen come up most often as fans’ most dreamed about stories. Trust Moffat to do both of them at once, then.

Let’s talk about the Cybermen first. Though one of the most commonly recurring villains, post-2005 Doctor Who has consistently struggled to get them right. When they were originally conceived by Kit Pedler, the Cybes reflected 1960s fears about transplants and ‘spare part surgery’, allowing for body horror-focused villainy. I really like Series 2’s Rise of the Cybermen as a modernised update on that – asking what upgrading humanity means in the age of the internet. Since then, however, they’ve mostly been generic stompy robot villains; even Neil Gaiman, promising to make the Cybermen scary again, did little more than give them superficial new tricks.

So it makes a lot of sense for this story to have taken the Cybermen back to their beginnings. I was worried that the Tenth Planet-esque costumes would look ludicrous today, particularly from the perspective of casual viewers who don't care for the nostalgia, but the gradual build-up of these cloth-faced 'patients' is more than strong enough for the episode to get away with it, especially thanks to the macabre touches of the kind Moffat excels at – the volume knob sequence is delectably nasty. It’s the closest the Cybermen have got in New Who to living up to their original concept – though that, to an extent, can be a bad thing as well as good. As I said, the Cybermen in the 1960s reflected 1960s fears, and so the Cybermen in this 2017 episode also reflect 1960s fears. It might be a creepy story, but it lacks the contemporary relevance that the 2006 episodes did succeed in updating. Still, it’s a much better use of the Cybermen than the boring battle droids they’ve been for the past few years.

With the Master, by comparison, Moffat may be looking back at the villain’s history, but he's also moving that story forward. Missy’s recurring presence throughout the three Capaldi series has explored her friendship with the Doctor and how similar they really are, so it feels very right for this era to end with the Doctor trying to redeem her. And if we pretend Series 10 so far had done a good job of building up this arc, having her on the way to redemption and thrown into a story in lieu of the Doctor is a great way to start the finale.

Indeed, her parody of his entrances is a lot of fun (well, except for the ‘Doctor Who’ joke; though a nice dig at fans who get too wound up about this sort of thing, it goes on way too long – had it ended after her first mention of “it’s his real name”, it would have been a much stronger skit overall). The flashbacks with the Doctor opening up to Bill are lovely, too, feeling like a welcome and insightful change of pace in order to dig deep into this friendship. Plus, there’s a surprisingly mature view on gender from the keyboard of the man who once made Karen Gillan wear a policewoman stripper outfit.

But then... Missy doesn’t do a lot for the middle section of the episode. In fact, she does nothing except watch the Doctor spout out exposition (which, by the way, is a stupid move on his part – he’s wasting years of Bill’s life drawing diagrams when he should be calling for the lift). It’s sad that this promising story is so completely abandoned and she doesn’t get much chance to actually play the Doctor once the plot begins.

However, after they finally do get moving, which is basically at the end of the episode, we have that reveal – it’s John Simm! There’s not too much to say about this at the moment, as it’s the next episode where we’ll properly get to see Simm and Gomez together, other than what a cracker of a cliffhanger it is. Well, it would have been better had he not been all over the trailers – I still remember my giddy disbelief in 2006 when the Daleks showed up at the end of Army of Ghosts, and this could have been an equivalent moment. Nevertheless, having Simm appear in disguise throughout this episode is a fun way to introduce him, and a very classic Master kind of plan from his perspective; it draws attention to the distinctly different approaches both of these Masters have, which only makes me more eager to find out how they get on, and just what Simm Master’s real plan is. But that’s all for next time.

The other thing I’m most eager to find out, and the part of the story I’m least sure where it’s going, is what will happen to Bill. And that’s one I’m less confident will be pulled off... With a full regime change coming for Doctor Who, it’s looking very unlikely that Pearl Mackie will stay on for another series, but as I pointed out last week, Bill’s been seriously sidelined towards the end of Series 10. This series started off so well, with a clear focus on Bill being the Doctor’s student, and so it’s fitting that the finale features a ‘test’ – but it’s for Missy, not Bill! In fact, nothing in this episode has much to do with Bill’s character arc; while the episode does have other things to focus on, it would be a shame for her to be written out in an episode as impersonal for her as World Enough and Time. Whether she stays a Cyberman or not, Bill deserves an ending, and I hope the finale delivers.

And that seems to be the conclusion of a lot of my points about this episode – it sets up a lot of things that are reliant on the second half of the story not dropping the ball. I have a lot of questions that I hope are answered, but I’ll be happy for those answers to come alongside more of this deliciously creepy take on the Cybermen and the inevitable delight of watching Simm and Gomez riff off each other. In fact, despite my trepidation (and partly because of it), I think I’m looking forward to The Doctor Falls more than I have any other individual Who episode for years, which means World Enough and Time must have done something right.


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