Monday, 3 July 2017

Doctor Who: The Doctor Falls (Episode Review)


The Moffat era has seen extreme highs and lows from start to finish. Rarely finding any middle ground, it all too often either succeeded with flying colours or proved to be the kind of disaster that nearly killed the show back when Colin Baker was involved. It was always a massive question just how it would end, but the good news is that The Doctor Falls is one of the best tales we have seen in a long time. In fact, it's probably the single best finale we have seen since The Big Bang. Not because it tried to do everything, but because, for once, the writing team tried to keep things simple for a chance

The Cybermen are on the move throughout the ship, rapidly converting everything on their deck and preparing to move up through the ship one area at a time. With the Master having revealed his hand at last, the Doctor awakes bound to a chair with only a terrifying vision of a city gone mad before him. Yet, the Doctor is not done yet. Even as he lies defeated, his companions having abandoned him or become the very thing he fights, he readies himself for the worst. For if this is to be his fall, he will make certain that everyone and everything horrifying on board this ship goes down with him...

The Good



For starters, let's just focus upon the fact that this is simple. Really, for a long time now we have seen a bizarre addiction to complexity harm the stories over and over again, to the point where it was actively harming the show. While Moffat's ability to weave insane time-travel paradoxes and fairy tale-esque fantasies was always a major strength, it seemed at times he was doing it purely for the sake of being complex. There was no meaning to it, no greater idea, and sometimes it even hurt the story by opening up gaping plot holes in what was supposed to be a smart script.

Where is this going? Well, The Doctor Falls is smart, but it's smart in the right way. It opens up elements like Bill being resistant to the Cyber-conversion and writes in a few extremely clever ties to past stories in order to justify certain turns. It then opts to also execute this as much through the camera as the script itself, while also devoting time to just about every companion involved. Even when it does open up possible plot holes, the fact it's not trying to force itself to be intelligent (No, sorry, INTELLIGENT!!!!) means that you can put some concepts down to what came before. It's earned that good will, and they make basic logical sense in some regards. 

Take the actual setting of this episode itself - a farming deck a couple of levels above the city the Cybermen are being produced in. There are people there who have forgotten that they are even on a spaceship, but the setting itself and the time dilation (where possibly several generations have passed since the ship arrived) and perhaps even a few twisted facts might help them to gradually forget that. Plus, even their basic presence could be put down to the expedition which was mentioned in the first part, where a group was sent up to find somewhere else and never came back. Only, in this case, it was because they couldn't return rather than a massed slaughter. Yes, some of this involves joining the dots, but at least it's not much of a stretch to join the two together,

Breaking away from the story not screwing itself over though, this is a situation where it manages to be fast paced but very satisfying. The episode spends just enough time on the lower decks to give you some insight into how bad things are, before it moves elsewhere. It never over-exposes anything, never forcibly pushes an idea too far, but it always leaves just enough to be satisfying. Barring one or two exceptions admittedly, but we will get to those later on. This definitely helps given that this was set up and promoted as a finale months in advance, giving the Doctor a moment to revel in one last, truly final moment to reflect upon who he is. This is executed in a brilliant speech to the Master(s) where he finally tries to make his old rival understand just why he does what he does, and convince them to remain. Combined with Bill getting a decent level of closure and Nardole getting a chance to quietly snark in the background while showing off his skills, it's a nice ending to a TARDIS crew who really deserved better stories than what they got.

The actual action here is fairly damn good for a BBC budget, with the director (Rachel Talalay) pulling off more than a few smart tricks to disguise the limited numbers of the army involved. We see massed troop formations, basic reactions and a few great money shots, after which the action itself is either tightly cut or limited to enclosed environments to hide their limited numbers. Honestly, this is the sort of thing which should be shown to most film students on how to execute a big scale action piece on a very limited budget. It makes the finale all the more satisfying as, even when it's clear that there.s only a relatively small number of foes surrounding the Doctor, it's delivered brilliantly enough to help you forget about that.

The Cybermen themselves, and the subject of conversion followed by adaptation is core the the story. In fact, their ability to rapidly adapt and upgrade is what ultimately makes things worse and better for all involved, as the situation still spirals out of the Master's hands despite his best efforts. He forgets just how crude their technology is in every regard at  first, before promptly underestimating their sheer diligence and capacity to rework anything they have on hand into a new weapon. This allows fans to see a multitude of different generations of Cybermen fighting alongside one another for the first time - with several having been reworked to be a more familiar battle armoured design - and it's a nice touch to be sure.

Oh, and there's the use of Bill and Ted time travel theories at one point. It's small moment, but it's enough of a fun little time-loop to just let the episode get away with it.

So, what went wrong then?


The Bad



Despite the Bill and Ted moment, there is still some bizarrely stupid decisions at points in regards to time travel and the effect of time dilation. This is most evident when it comes to the elevators themselves and the Doctor tries to justify the fact they can't just race to the very top, but you end up with so many questions that it becomes difficult to justify some of his actions. The same goes for the use of two incarnations of the same character meeting up, as it tries to make sense of a few things and make proper use of what they have on hand, but there are just a lot of questions left by the end.

Another big problem is with the Master himself, as he really doesn't do much here. At all. John Simm is hardly bad as he's veering much closer to the traditional Master over his usual demented self, and his chemistry with Michelle Gomez is one of the big highlights of the story. Equally, the subversion of your usual expectations when it comes to her twist is brilliantly fitting of the character. The problem is that, between him setting up the Doctor's death and then leaving, he doesn't do much. He makes a few spiteful lines, has a few conversations, and even twists the knife purely for the fun of it, but that's it. It honestly seems he showed up for a ratings boost and not much else, as you could remove him from this half of the story and it would have very little impact. Missy herself is equally mistreated as her entire intended storyline is abruptly ditched at the last moment, and then just forgotten about. The moment itself is actually fine, but when you look at all that was leading up to it, there should have been a lot more to do with her rather than just burning a few narrative bridges.

A much bigger failing of the story is often how the script seems to forget some very basic things, both long term and brief concepts that it has set up. Cybermen are supposed to be emotionally blunted, and yet this story shows them using rage to fire their main weapons. The actual presence of the prototype patients seemed to be something largely conserved to a few locations, yet all of a sudden we have masses of them up and about, wondering the upper decks as well, acting as drones. Then, you have it ditching a few story elements which seem to be forgotten in the conclusion. Take the janitor upstairs. Take a look into the comments section of the last review, and you will find a few very good points on the problem with the character. Personally, I was holding out hope that this was going to be a big twist - That the janitor was a minion working with the master or something of the sort. Instead, he's just forgotten by the end and that's that.

In an act of perfect irony, just as the script itself seems to focus upon characters forgetting they're on a ship, you then have the writer promptly doing the same. The Doctor ends up inflicting such a massive level of damage it could well break the entire thing in half, but it seems to be completely forgotten in the conclusion. Then, to top this off, nothing is done to actually save it. Even with millions left on board and a perfectly functional Cyberman producing factory left on the lower decks, it's still left on the verge of destruction with the Cybermen ready to recover at a moment. The ending ignores this in favour of trying to make everything happy.


The Verdict



This is something of a switch off your brain and enjoy it story, but it's not nearly as dumb as others we have seen. You have great action, acting, character moments and some fantastic directorial choices to help keep things fun, and the Doctor's actual "death" - or what will lead to it - is very fitting of this incarnation of the character. So, on the whole, despite everything that has happened this series will end on a high note thankfully. At least until we get to the Christmas special, because damn that could be very fun or very stupid depending upon how it's handled.

This will be it for Doctor Who for a while. As it sort of tends to take over the blog while it's on, we'll be moving back towards a few of our more typical articles for the time being, and hopfully finishing off a few long-running ones. Perhaps actually getting to the rules on a few Games Workshop books for once.

6 comments:

  1. While this did end up being way better than I thought it would, I wouldn't exactly call this one of the best finales we've had since a lot of it was still pretty stupid and didn't make much sense even with how the episode was stated to work.

    The biggest question is why Missy and the Doctor don't try to go down to the Master's TARDIS and use that to pull the ship away from the black hole right at the start of the episode when the Cybermen are after them. After all, we know it's entirely possible for them to do this thanks to episodes like the Satan Pit, and after pulling them away they could just drop them off on a planet that could easily be inhabited by humans. Given how the Cybermen are bent on making themselves better to live in their environment without issues, putting them on an inhabitable planet or even just setting course for one would be enough to nip the whole Cybermen problem in the bud before it even started spreading out into the galaxy as a whole.

    Also I'm a little confused as to how paradoxes work in Doctor Who. I'll admit I'm no expert but I thought that coming in direct contact with your past self (as in touching them) was supposed to fuck up the timelines something fierce beyond just making them lose their memories. Given how often 'lost their memory' is used in the Moffet era I wasn't exactly happy to see it here either since it's just another cheap way to justify a plot hole without doing anything really to fix it.

    I hated how Missy's redemption arc ultimately ended up meaningless. She doesn't really do anything in the finale that couldn't be done by Bill and then her run ends in a very anticlimactic way that had me going "Wait, that's really it?"

    The Doctor's decision to sacrifice himself though brings up no shortage of holes. First of all why doesn't Nardole just do it? They've acknowledged several times now that it's possible to rebuild him and apparently he managed to regrow lungs after having them turned to mush, so it's not like it's impossible to have him survive, and furthermore, how didn't that kill the Doctor? It takes a bit of time for regeneration to kick in so he should have easily been killed in that blast.
    It also sucks that detonating the explosion would've been the perfect thing to do with Missy instead (and in fact I remember reading that when they first introduced the Master they intended to have him sacrifice himself to save the Doctor, so this could have been a cool nod to that), but they were too determined to have her arc receive no payoff I guess.

    I like that they brought the Pilot back and I really liked what they did with Bill, but if the Pilot is really this powerful then that raises too many questions. Why couldn't the Pilot just heal the Doctor if it can rearrange atoms as it wishes (not to mention do both time and space travel)? Also why did it wait this long, or is the answer really that Bill didn't cry hard enough?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, no, I can agree that there were still more than a few plot holes and just outright dumb moments present to try and justify certain elements. Missy's redemption arc being aborted, the Master effectively being window dressing, and quite a few big problems hinging upon the Cybermen all stand out here, and there's still a lot left unresolved. Even if you do accept certain things, then others will always arise in their place, like the fact the Pilot should have shown up a dozen times before now, or how the time dilation element seemed to be oddly focused only upon certain bits when the plot needed it.

      With that being said though, the reason I praised it was because so many other finales before now have just been facepalming or so riddled with plot holes that they were very difficult to enjoy. If you sit down and think about the show's history, you have the first one involving the Pandorica which is pretty decent, then the whole River Song thing which became a mess of inconsistencies and an insane villain plan, and things went downhill from there. By at least having something which isn't trying to introduce two dozen paradoxes and mess with a gigantic end of the world event, it manages to outdo them.

      Delete
    2. Though, with that being said, I'm almost tempted to accept the whole memory thing between various incarnations of the same time lord as it resolves a lot of questions. Specifically how various versions of the Doctor keep meeting up with himself only for it never to remember or effect him at all. At least this offers a basic excuse to sidestep a lot of narrative issues in the long run.

      Delete
    3. Hmm... Maybe I misspoke when I said it wasn't one of the better finales and should've said it wasn't a good episode because now that I've looked at what we had in the past the previous finales (and specifically the finales) don't exactly have a good track record do they?

      I'm not so sure I agree about the paradoxes though since I don't get why the Master did what he did, and if he remembers meeting Missy enough to the point that he carries around a spare part for his TARDIS (even though they stated he can't remember, and also how did Missy keep it when she was arrested?) then I don't get why Missy didn't remember what he was about to do in the end.

      One more thing I thought of: you're right when you say that it would've been cool if the blue guy was a Master crony, but you know what also would've been neat? If the Cybermen, the ones who survived (because there's no way Bill should be the sole survivor) came and tried to take everyone left to repair since apparently they're after people with either one or two hearts to be repaired. I really thought that would happen with both the Doctor and Missy at the end and that's how they get out of there, but Missy's forgotten and the Doctor survives because... there's literally no reason given and his suit not even being slightly singed is one of the dumber parts of the show so far.
      It would make sense too because the Doctor's stated he can regenerate and destroy all cybernetics on him in Nightmare in Silver, so he could start the conversion, regenerate, and we'd have a decent reason as to why he's not dead (granted it still doesn't explain away why he didn't instantly die, but it's something).

      Delete
  2. There's other minor bits too, such as the Cybermen's sudden forcefield that's powerful enough to block a barn-destroying blast but not powerful enough to stop a weaker explosion from the ground (just don't include the forcefield in the first fight and this would've been fine). There's the bit about how the Cybermen were changed to only look for those with two hearts instead of one so they have no reason to go after any humans on the ship anymore (seriously, that should've been the thing that saved everyone on the ship) and then there's the bit where the Master/Missy have the Doctor in the chair. That whole scene was shot and paced terribly, and when the Master/Missy realize something was wrong with the Cybermen it feels like we skipped an entire scene of them realizing something was wrong.

    As for other good points besides what they did with Bill, I liked seeing the older incarnations of the Cybermen among the newer ones, though I had to question their helmet beams a little. They're so powerful but it seems like the Cybermen just dropped them for no reason when they made their war model and I don't get why.

    I liked the plan for fooling the Cybermen with the explosions, though as mentioned I thought the whole siege was made stupid with the fact that the Cybermen were only supposed to be searching for people with two hearts.

    I think that was about it. They didn't really resolve their problems in this episode so I felt cheated when it was finally over since everyone on the ship was still screwed, and all the good points I can think up are countered by the bad. Even if you liked Missy's conclusion I've got a question about it, why couldn't she have blown up the lowest floor like the Doctor was planning to do with the farm? Wipe out both floors, redeem the character, erase the Cybermen, everyone's safe or better yet, why wouldn't she enter in to the computer for the Cybermen to look for two-hearted individuals at the end of the episode and then let herself get taken to save all the humans on board while still getting redeemed?

    Finally I hated the finishing moments of this episode, because it just highlights the greatest weakness about Moffet, his endless cliffhangers with shit resolutions. Each and every single time he tries setting it up by going "Just wait until you get to this moment!" But then you get there and it's extremely disappointing because he spent too long building it up and couldn't deliver on what he promised, and ultimately this whole things ends up being about little more than missed opportunities.

    ReplyDelete
  3. For the record I really don't want to dislike these episodes. In fact this one had a lot more emotion and character to it than most Moffet episodes (in comparison to Davies' episodes) and I loved that. I also loved the moment when the Doctor's running from the Cybermen, as well as their response to when they've cornered the Doctor and he says who he is (probably because they didn't run away in fear like every other time). There's enough emotional beats in this one that I really want to forget about the problems it had (as I can do with certain Davies episodes like the Waters of Mars), but then I just look at all the episodes leading up to it and I can't.

    With every emotional beat that was good, there was a narrative problem (or five) that was bad and it just made me sad as a whole. Like with the Eaters of Light it wouldn't be hard to fix these problems, but I'm getting the impression that the writers didn't really care to write more than a first draft. The actors are all trying to deliver really good performances even with plotholes the size of the black hole they're in front of and if you just took this episode apart scene by scene and examined them individually it looks really good, only becoming a weak episode when it's all put together in the end.

    ReplyDelete