Black holes are weird. The Master is complicated. The Doctor doesn’t want to go on anymore. And Bill is gone. One of the better companions, and certainly the best companion to Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor, has exited the show. As far as season finales go, this is one that actually paid off.
The real star of the show is Bill, who plays a dual role as a cyberman and her own inner avatar. I generally hate devices like this, where Bill is actually speaking in her cyberman voice but the audience generally hears her as herself. But the monotonous cyberman voice doesn’t lend itself to nuance and Pearl Mackie’s excellent delivery should not have been masked. It was a good decision, and one that worked for this episode.
The Doctor, The Master and Missy have all joined the same side (relatively speaking) for the majority of the episode, as they all are threatened by the cybermen thanks to The Doctor’s machinations. This gives much needed time for The Master’s development. John Simm’s Master is far darker, and slightly less sane, than Missy, which leads to excellent interplay between the two actors. Doctor Who has had multiple versions of The Doctor on screen before, but never multiple versions of The Master, at least not in the revised series. The conceit that allows the show to continue for multiple decades also allows for excellent pairings of talent.
John Simm chews the scenery here, he’s manic in exactly the right way. Michelle Gomez is more subdued, but equally chilling. We’ve known that this would be her last season for quite a while, thanks again to the BBC Promotions Department, and her exit from the show left a little bit of a hole. Will she regenerate (even though The Master said it wasn’t possible)? Or will we see a new Doctor Who that is without The Master for a while? There is no real doubt that The Master will return, the question is only how long it will take.
Bill’s exit from the show came as a surprise, although it probably shouldn’t have been. People generally don’t come back from being cybermen, even though The Doctor was able to rebuild Nardole. But it seems that her arc, however short it was, is over. Which is a bit disappointing, considering she grew to be an excellent companion. It would have been interesting to see where she went had she stayed for a few more seasons.
Yet as Steven Moffat takes his last bow, it was probably deemed better to have an entirely new cast start with Chris Chibnall’s run, much in the same way that both The Doctor and the companion started fresh when Moffat took over.
The final moments of this episode is the true heartbreaker, and would have been a complete surprise to me had the BBC’s Facebook page not blasted the reveal mere hours after it aired. As we learn in the last few moments, the Twelfth Doctor comes face to face with the First Doctor portrayed by none other than David Bradley (Walder Frey himself). Bradley last played William Hartnell in the docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time, which dramatized the early years of Doctor Who.
Bradley gave an amazing performance as William Hartnell, and I am anticipating the Christmas Special more intensely than I have anticipated any other Doctor Who special. As a finale, this episode is one of the best, which is surprising considering this series was perhaps average at best. Still, the Christmas Special should give a fitting conclusion to the Twelfth Doctor’s story. This episode served the purpose of concluding Missy’s and Bills, and at that task it was excellent. We shall have to see how this story is concluded on Christmas Day.