Wow. Doctor Who does not disappoint. We have seen throughout this series the growth of Missy’s character, from an enigmatic prisoner within a vault to an anti-hero making an honest attempt at being good.
Of course, since this is the penultimate episode of the series, along with being the first part of a two-part arc, there will be some major character changes and that means some major spoilers.
One of the few things that I disliked about this episode didn’t have anything to do with the episode at all. It had of course to do with promotions. We knew going into this episode that two things were going to happen: that this would be the last series involving Peter Capaldi’s doctor, and that John Simm would be returning to the show as The Master. Of course we’ve known for quite some time that Peter Capaldi would not be returning after the series, and we weren’t entirely sure if he would stay on for one more Christmas special, or if next week’s episode would be his last. Which, since the cat has been out of the bag for the better part of a year, it’s probably why they decided to open the episode with the prologue of Peter Capaldi beginning his regeneration. As far as opening scenes go this is a great one. If you had been living under a rock for the last year and a half you might actually have been surprised, which I think was the intention when Steven Moffat wrote the episode. However, since I knew that Capaldi would not be returning, instead of this being a shocking moment designed to put me in suspense, I found myself thinking “huh, so that’s how it’s going to happen.” To put it bluntly, because of the press surrounding Peter Capaldi’s exit my reaction to his regeneration in the prologue was clinical, rather than emotional. Of course, there is still one secret that hasn’t been revealed, and that is who will be playing the next doctor. Presumably will find this out at the end of next week’s episode.
Because it had already been announced that John Simm would be returning to the show, I found myself looking for him. Which, to be perfectly honest took me out of the episode a little bit. Again, this is not the fault of the Doctor Who production staff in anyway, and I’m not going to review the episode harsher for it. The blame for this rests solely on the shoulders of somebody in the BBC marketing department, who for whatever reason decided to let us know that Simm would be returning.
All of this leads me to the greatest surprise in the episode, one that completely blindsided me: the death of Bill. I want to say that it was a bold choice, and if her death had been permanent it clearly would have been. But her death is simply a vehicle for the reintroduction of the Mondasian Cybermen. And, it’s still actually a pretty good choice. Yes, deaths that aren’t permanent in any sort of writing are bad and should be avoided, but this one at least furthered the plot in a meaningful way. So, although I would have to take points off for Bills “death” I’m not taking off too many.
To be perfectly honest, this episode is already so dark that had Bill’s death been real, especially in the first 15 minutes of the episode, I think it would’ve been downright pitch black.
One of the things that is truly excellent about this episode is the melding of accurate science (relatively speaking) with the structure of the episode. The Doctor does an excellent job of explaining the effects of gravity near a black hole, and this plot device necessary for the structure of this episode happens to combine brilliantly with the actual science. Assuming somehow a society were able to build a 400 mile long ship, the end that was closest to the black hole will experience time much much more slowly. And of course, this is exactly what happens.
One thing that was a little jarring was the amount of time between when The Doctor begins to explain their predicament and when The Doctor is allowed to finish. And I think this was a conscious choice by Stephan Moffett, because he wanted to put the view were in Bill’s shoes. We are left in a cliffhanger, mid sentence and then we cut directly to Bill. The vast majority of the episode of follows Bill as she goes from waking up in this draconian hospital to being one of its employees. Each new revelation that Bill experiences is slow, drawn out, and methodical. Nothing is rushed in this episode, and nothing needs to be. It’s the kind a slow burn that still leaves you on the edge of your seat for the better part of an hour.
When The Doctor finally begins to make his way to the lower levels of the ship, where Bill has spent the better part of a decade waiting for him, it is when the episode truly turns sinister. Again, this episode has slowly been building to the revelation that the poor souls in this hospital are nascent Cybermen. And it would’ve been fun to have watched the episode and be constantly guessing who these people covered in bandages are. Again, we have the promotions department at BBC to blame for this.
The biggest reveal, the one that I had been actively searching for came as a bit of a surprise. I had been wondering when John Simm’s Master would show up for the entire episode, but I didn’t realize who he was until his confrontation with Missy. The reveal was brilliant, not only from the technical aspect (the production did a great job of hiding Simm’s face) but because of the story implications it presents. As The Master explains to Missy, The Doctor will never forgive her after he learns what they’ve done to his companion.
What more is there to say about this episode? It’s one of the best in the series, only slightly behind Extremis. I can’t wait to see the conclusion to this story. The main question is about Missy: will she side with The Master or will she side with The Doctor? Either way it will have serious implications for the future of the show.