Throughout the years, Doctor Who has attempted to tell stories about the terrifying concept that underneath a Cyberman’s armor is a human being imprisoned in a metal shell. “The Doctor Falls” succeeded where others have failed. At the end of the previous episode, Bill was converted; however, her strength of will allowed her to fight her programming and remain herself. Director Rachel Talalay conveyed this visually in some really interesting ways. For most of the episode, the audience sees Bill as she sees herself, but we are reminded several times that she is no longer what she once was. Through some clever camera tricks, Talalay shows Bill as we have come to know her and then, within the same shot, as a Cyberman.
Early in the episode, the Doctor is electrocuted; however, he is reluctant to change and spends the rest of the adventure trying to prevent regenerating into the Thirteenth Doctor. After the attack, he, Bill, Missy, the Master, and Nardole escape the bottom of the ship to a farm located in the middle of the ship. This is the same ship from the last episode that is escaping a black hole, so due to relativistic physics, time slows down the closer they get to the top and speeds up the closer they get to the bottom. This means that the higher they get, the longer the Cybermen have to prepare and upgrade themselves at the bottom, so it is impossible for them to reach his TARDIS on the top floor. There is no way for the Doctor to rescue the Mondasians on the ship. His only hope is to protect them for as long as he can. It is not impossible for the Master to reach his TARDIS since it is at the bottom of the ship (where time would be running at the same speed as the Cybermen), so he and Missy head for the elevator to escape.
As the first multi-Master adventure in the show’s history, this story was able to illuminate the character in a new light. The Doctor’s arch-nemesis has always been portrayed as a perverse version of the Doctor, whose underlying motivation is narcissism. Missy’s arc this season has been one of a possible redemption. The Doctor has always held out hope that his friend would turn to good, and he believes that may finally come true. Her internal struggle is personified as she is literally caught between the man she once was arguing with and who she hopes to become. She decides to stay with the Doctor and stabs the Master, putting an end to one of her more erratic and brutal regenerations. Rather than see himself grow and change (which can be terrifying for anyone), he shoots her in the back. Clearly, this is not the last we will see of the Master; however, it is a nice end to this chapter in his/her story. Their constant flirting which eventually led to stabbing/shooting himself/herself in the back is the perfect conclusion for such a self-loathing egomaniac.
The finale also gave Nardole and Bill their own satisfying sendoffs. The Doctor fights off the Cybermen so Nardole can lead the survivors a few floors higher, where they will hopefully live out the rest of their lives. In one of the most optimistic exits for a companion on Doctor Who, Heather (the girl with a star in her eye from “The Pilot” who became liquid machinery) returns to rescue Bill. Clearly in control of her powers now, she is able to rearrange Bill’s atoms so she is no longer a Cyberman, and the two fly off to explore the cosmos together. Personally, I do not like when there is a changeover to a new Doctor and companion at the same time. It is too abrupt of a change. Keeping the same companion helps to ease the transition to a new Doctor.
As for the next Doctor, the Twelfth Doctor spends this episode trying to prevent regenerating into him or her. The epilogue shows him in the snow as we saw him in the prologue of the previous episode, where his past comes back to haunt him in the form of David Bradley as the First Doctor. Bradley previously played William Hartnell, the original portrayer of the Doctor in “An Adventure in Space and Time” (a TV movie on the origins of the show as part of the 50th anniversary celebration). The big question seems to be: “Where in his timeline is this?” It seems likely that this is during “The Tenth Planet”—or at the very least is supposed to evoke its memory. “The Doctor Falls” echoes “The Tenth Planet” which showed his first regeneration and marked the first appearance of the Cybermen as they attack a base at the South Pole.
It is possible that this is at some other point in the First Doctor’s timeline, but despite when it is, I hope that we will see some classic companions. If it is set during “The Tenth Planet,” then Ben and Polly are likely to appear. If it is earlier, then we could potentially see his granddaughter Susan, Ian, and Barbara. Seeing as the Christmas special will be a multi-Doctor episode, it would be a good time to have them face off against a classic villain. I am still waiting for the return of the First Doctor enemy, the Meddling Monk.