The Doctor is dead. Long live the Doctor. Well, sort of. At the end of season 10 we’ve got a Doctor hanging on for one more ride, and a show we’ve gotten to know for over a decade about to kick the bucket, making way for another show with the same name. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a true thing. The looming changes are rumored to be quite drastic, and while I don’t know how to feel about them just yet, it feels like it’s time for an overhaul if I’m being honest. Still, I can’t help but feel the emotions that come with the inevitable change that keeps Doctor Who going.
The finale to season 10 really should have been titled “The Master Falls” or “Bill Falls” or “Lots of People Except the Doctor Fall” to be more accurate. You would think in an episode full of deaths (and half-deaths) they would have delivered on the one in the title. Chalk it up to one more misdirection in a season full of false promises, I guess. It was an emotional finale to be sure, but one that ultimately fell flat. And I think that’s more a fault to the state of the series than the episode itself.
Doctor Who is still some of the best television currently airing, but we know what to expect at this point, don’t we? I’m going to place the blame squarely on the much-maligned reign of Stephen Moffatt for that, but after ten seasons, it’s really hard to stay fresh no matter who is running the show. “The Doctor Falls” is just another example of how even the twistiest and most clever plots and dangers just aren’t resonating like they used to. Did we really fear that a companion would die for real and not ride off into the sunset? No. Do we really think that having two Master deaths means the Master is gone for good? No. Did we really think the Cybermen were an actual threat to the good guys? No, again. I still love all this stuff, but something is missing, right?
Here’s what I loved about this episode. The Doctor felt true, as he has of late thanks to a well-rounded, though perhaps expected, closing to Twelve’s arc. Where he started as a curmudgeon, he now is self-sacrificial, loving towards both the innocent (the townspeople) and the most guilty (the Master). He’s hopeful through the tears because that’s real life, and he should know it better than anyone. Capaldi is revelatory as Twelve, and this is him at his absolute best. Pearl Mackie deserves another season, though Bill really doesn’t. She’s such an organic actress. And while the episode felt like it tried too hard for the feels, the theme of identity is exactly where we should be at the edge of tomorrow’s Who.
The Doctor: “Bill, what you see is not you. Your mind is acting like a perception filter. You still yourself as you used to be.”
Bear with me on this one. Identity is basically the entire reason for the gospel. Christ died so that we may be set free to live and have his righteousness counted as our own. So, our sin has no bearing on our salvation and leads to no condemnation for us. It changes who we are. Our identity is in Christ. But gosh if I don’t see myself in Bill in this beautifully sad little scene. We spend so much time as Christians looking at our old selves. We quote scriptures and write songs and preach sermons that focus on our old self like it’s something we should be ever concerned about. But it’s gone in the eyes of our Father. Paid for, eradicated. Thankfully, we’re not now mindless Cybermen. And just as Bill found freedom in the end (weak as it may have been) by focusing on who she became, so we find freedom in renewing our minds to the truth of the gospel.
Look, it’s an imperfect parallel to say the least, but that’s where it led me. And that’s what this show does so well. Doctor Who is at its best when it focuses on the reality of our human struggles. From that, we see the beauty of scriptural truth, even if it’s written by atheists. We do call this Who-ology, after all. I don’t doubt we’ll see more of this in the coming years of the show, but I am hoping most of all that it is enhanced by the changes, not lost in the shuffle.
I’m not exactly sure where I’d rank this season against the modern era, but it’s certainly closer to the bottom. Mediocre seasons happen, and it’s important to remember that it doesn’t reflect on the Doctor. Eleven had season 6 (the astronaut season, ugh) which is the worst by miles and miles, but he had some of his best moments within. “The Doctor Falls” is this season in a nutshell. Great moments, great acting, but no stakes and no lasting resonance. It’s just another thing that happened. And that’s just not where we want this show to be.
At the end of this review I’ve surprised even myself. Before this season, I was adamantly against this show changing too much, but here I am defending the need for it. Despite how Tenth Doctor I feel about it not wanting it to go, I’ll always remember when Doctor Who was this show. And I’ll be rooting for it as it regenerates into a new era. Because we need the Doctor. In a sea of anti-heroes we need a humble, quirky, mad-man-in-a-box hero. Even if he sometimes forgets it, that’s who he is. He’s the Doctor. And he helps people.
Next time on Doctor Who:
I love the Christmas specials. I just wish they weren’t circumvented by regenerations. Oh well. In the lead up, expect lots of over-hypedness about the new season and the next Doctor. And if you want my opinion, I do think they’re preparing us for a female Doctor, for whatever that will mean. I say don’t shake the (blue) box, though. No one wants to ruin a surprise on Christmas.