Doctor Who: World Enough and Time
Doctor Who: The Doctor Falls
(2 episodes, s10e11-12, 2017)
Powerful, surprising, and heartbreaking: A Doctor Who triple threat.
World Enough and Time
Upon a snowy landscape, the Doctor stumbles from the TARDIS and repeats the word “no” as he begins to regenerate. He falls to his knees as the energy overtakes him…
…and we flash back to a long cylindrical spaceship hovering at the edge of a black hole’s event horizon. The TARDIS materializes in the control room at the closest point to the phenomenon and Missy emerges. She describes herself as “Doctor Who” and introduces her companions. As alarms sound, we find out that this is a test of Missy’s resolve to be good. The Doctor watches from the TARDIS as Missy, Bill, and Nardole work through the puzzle and make contact with a blue-skinned humanoid named Jorj.
Jorj arrives at the control room with a gun and demands to know which of them is human. As three lifts race toward the control room, the Doctor emerges from the TARDIS and Bill admits to being human. Jorj declares that she is why the lifts are coming and shoots Bill, mortally wounding her. Figures with bandaged faces emerge from the lifts and take Bill, claiming they will fix her but will not return. The Doctor decides to trust them and leaves a psychic message for Bill to wait for him when she wakes.
Before the trip, Bill had disagreed with the Doctor about the rehabilitation test. The Doctor wanted Missy to be good, but Bill didn’t know if it was possible. They later had a discussion about the Doctor, the Master, and Time Lords and their flexible approaches to gender. Bill confided that Missy scared her, and the Doctor told Bill that he would do his best to not let her die.
This pressure now weighs on the Doctor. He let his companion die on his watch.
The Doctor tries to scan the lift with his sonic screwdriver, and when Jorj threatens him, he warns Jorj not to make him angry. The Doctor is borderline furious. Nardole finds thousands of life signs in the lower levels of the ship, leading the Doctor to understand that the different levels of the ship are moving at different times due to relativity.
On one of those lower levels, Bill wakes up in a medical facility with a cybernetic heart in her chest. She gets the message from the Doctor and meets a caretaker named Mr. Razor. She also hears a cybernetic voice calling out in pain. She finds the patient as screens show the time differential between Floor 0000 and Floor 1056. She can’t stop the voice from chanting “pain” over and over, and a nurse merely mutes the voice instead of tending to the pain. Bill finds that the others are also chanting about their pain but their voices are also muted.
Mr. Razor finds Bill and takes her to his room for tea. He explains that they are curing the people in the surgical (conversion theater) suites and that she was saved from death with her new “shiny” cybernetic heart. She’s been on this level for months and passes the time watching the live feed of Level 0000. The Doctor literally takes a week to raise his eyebrow. Bill eventually recovers enough to work as a cleaner as she continues to wait. Meanwhile, the Doctor uses Venusian aikido to knock out Jorj and make his way to Bill.
Bill also cannot leave the hospital. Her heart will supposedly cease to function and the patients will raise the alarm. Mr. Razor explains that the people are being converted to survive Operation Exodus, a necessity since the human lifespan cannot survive the trip back to the top of the ship. Mr. Razor takes Bill outside one day, and sure enough, after a brief walk, her heart begins to fail.
The years pass and Bill continues to wait. She watches as the Doctor, Missy, and Nardole board a lift. They cannot take the TARDIS because the black hole with mess with navigation. Mr. Razor tricks Bill into one of the conversion theaters and condemns her to a full conversion. After all, people usually scream when they find out the real reason for surgery. They fit her for a headpiece that will inhibit emotion.
When the Doctor, Missy, and Nardole arrive on the bottom floor, Missy is left to explore the ship’s computer history. She soon meets Mr. Razor who is enamored with her and seems to know who she is. On separate paths, the travelers learn the truth: The ship’s origin was Mondas, the twin planet of Earth, and the conversions are the genesis of the Cybermen.
More shocking, Mr. Razor reveals that he is Missy’s predecessor, the Saxon Master. With that revelation in mind, Missy reverts to her cruel nature.
Even more shocking, this trip has turned upside down. The Cyberman standing before the Doctor is Bill Potts, and the former companion cries beneath the mask as she tells the Doctor that she waited for him.
The Doctor Falls
On Floor 0507, farmers and families face off against the scarecrows – the prototype Cybermen from Floor 1056 – shooting them at night and restraining them on wooden crosses by the light of day. One of those days, the relative peace is broken when a shuttle crashes through the ground near a girl named Alit. From the wreckage emerges a Cyberman carrying the unconscious form of the Doctor.
We flash back to the Doctor restrained to a wheelchair on the roof of the hospital on 1056. He was subdued by Missy and the Master, dancing and flirting as they discuss the Doctor’s deaths and how many regenerations he has left to spend. Notably, Missy cannot remember what happened that forced her regeneration. The Doctor ponders what happened in the Master’s life since he vanished while blasting Rassilon with his life energy.
Upon returning to Gallifrey, the Time Lords showed their gratitude for the Master’s help in preventing Rassilon from executing the Ultimate Sanction by restoring his body and kicking him off the planet. The Master stole a TARDIS and landed on the Mondasian colony ship where he lived like a king and killed at his leisure. When the colonist overthrew him and he attempted to run, he found that his TARDIS was burned out from being too close to the event horizon.
While they gloat, the Masters are shocked to find that the Cybermen are advancing on them. When the Masters attacked the Doctor, he was able to change the coding for humanity to read two hearts instead of one. With the Cybermen marching to convert the Time Lords, Missy knocks the Master unconscious and rescues the Doctor. She frees the Doctor and he calls for Nardole, who has successfully stolen a shuttle.
As the Masters and the Doctor try to board the shuttle, a Cyberman attacks the Doctor with an electrical shock. Bill kills the Cyberman but the Masters take over the shuttle as the Doctor falls. Bill stops the craft from taking off and ensures that the Doctor boards the shuttle.
That same shuttle has since crashed into 0507, leaving the entire group stranded. Two weeks pass as the Doctor recovers and Nardole prepares the families for war. Bill has been resigned to the barn since she frightens the children, and while she believes that she is still human, everyone else sees her as a Cyberman. Alit comes to her side with a mirror and Bill is shocked to see her true self. When the Doctor arrives, he rewards Alit for being kind to Bill. They have a brief discussion about Cybermen and what she’s become, Bill’s anger and grief boil over as she accidentally destroys the barn’s door.
The Doctor is amazed by Bill’s resiliency against the Cyberman programming. When Bill sheds a tear because everyone is afraid of her, he wipes it away and notes that she shouldn’t be able to cry. They meet with the Master, who mocks Bill and tells the Doctor about a plan that he and Missy have been working on. As they all walk across the farmland, the Doctor limps and stifles regeneration energy in his hand, revealing that his electrocution was fatal. When Bill worries about him and her future, he tells her that “where there’s tears, there’s hope.”
They reach the forest where the Master and Missy theorize that they’re out of temporal sync so they can’t retain their memories of these events. Missy reveals that the forest around them is a holographic wall disguising the lifts. Missy calls for one, not remembering that it is coming from the bottom floor and not empty. The lift reveals an evolved Cyberman, and despite killing it, the trio of Time Lords knows that the Cybermen now know where they are.
They cannot run because time is running faster on the lower levels. The Cyberman invasion would easily catch up to them. They have no choice but to fight as the Cybermen begin punching through the various floors. Nardole uses the fuel piping on Floor 0508 as weaponry and the Doctor finds a service duct that can be used to evacuate the children. Meanwhile, the Masters discuss running for their TARDIS on the bottom floor. After all, Missy once (now) threatened her former self into carrying a spare dematerialization circuit.
As night falls, the first wave of Cybermen appears. Nardole tricks them into believing that a single apple can destroy them all. When the Masters decide to leave, the Doctor delivers an emotional and passionate speech on why he helps people. It’s not easy and doesn’t always work, but it’s the right and kind thing to do. The Master ridicules the Doctor and continues on, but Missy is somewhat moved. She agrees that being the Doctor’s friend was what she always wanted, but she goes with her predecessor anyway. Within minutes, the two Masters arrive at the lift where the younger tricks the elder by fatally stabbing him and leaving just enough time to reach his TARDIS before regenerating. Unfortunately, the Master fires his laser screwdriver at Missy and mortally wounds her.
By all appearances, Missy dies. Her last intention was to return to the Doctor’s side.
The next wave of Cybermen arrives and Nardole’s tricks force them to retreat and develop a new plan. The Doctor downloads the plans for the floor into his sonic screwdriver and sends Nardole to escort the children to the service ducts. The Doctor convinces Nardole to leave despite the latter’s protests. After all, the Doctor is treating this like a suicide mission and Nardole owes him too much. The Doctor convinces Nardole that this will be penance for his crimes from before the Doctor rescued him. Bill stands beside the Doctor and Nardole admits that he’ll never be able to find the words for their sacrifice.
Now alone on Floor 0507, the Doctor and Bill prepare for a last stand by saying their farewells. They move to opposite sides of the floor and engage the Cybermen. The Doctor cites his numerous victories over them – Mondas, Telos, Earth, Planet 14, Marinus, Voga, Canary Wharf, and the Moon – before falling to several laser blasts. He nearly regenerates, but holds it back as he ignites the piping below the floor and engulfs the forest in fiery destruction. The Cybermen are destroyed.
As Nardole and his charges reach Floor 0502, he holds out hope that Bill and the Doctor will return. Alit convinces him to move on and focus on living with them instead.
Amongst the wasteland that is Floor 0507, Bill finds the wounded Doctor. She’s barely functioning, but her personality is nearly restored, and she mourns over the Time Lord’s body. She is surprised to find Heather emerging from a nearby puddle and learns that she’s real through a passionate kiss. Heather changed Bill into a being like her, and together they take the Doctor’s body back to the TARDIS. Heather sets the controls for a new location and offers Bill the choice to return to her old life or live a new one at her side as she travels the universe.
Bill chooses the latter, shedding a tear over her friend and telling him that “where there’s tears, there’s hope.” The two women depart as the TARDIS flies on and the Doctor heals, dreaming of Bill, Nardole, Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Captain Jack, Donna Noble, Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, Sarah Jane, Amy Pond, Clara Oswald, and River Song as they each call his name. The last voice is Missy’s, one which awakens the Doctor as he mutters some words of his former lives. He yells that he can’t keep being someone else and suppresses his regeneration as the TARDIS lands.
The Doctor is defiant, telling the TARDIS that he would listen to the lesson it’s trying to teach him, and steps into an arctic landscape. He screams into the snow and stifles his regeneration, pledging not to change as he hears a voice that echoes his concerns. When he demands to know who the other person is, he’s surprised to find the Doctor in the snowstorm. The original, you might say.
He finds the First Doctor.
Before this point, the televised history of the Cybermen was pretty simple: There were the Mondasian Cybermen from this universe and the Cybus Cybermen from Pete’s World. This pair of episodes complicate the evolution by introducing various origins for the Cybermen of this universe.
After Mondas was ejected from Earth’s orbit, the Mondasians were split into two groups based on the desire to fully embrace cyber conversion. The so-called Faction left Mondas to find their destiny in The Wheel in Space, The Invasion, and The War Games (with a cameo in Carnival of Monsters and brief nods in Dalek and Death in Heaven). The remaining Mondans would evolve into Cybermen in this episode – and in the audio drama Spare Parts and the comics The World Shapers and The Cybermen, if you count those – before proceeding to The Tenth Planet. It’s worth noting that the Cybermen in The Tenth Planet arrived with their rogue planet, so these Cybermen might not be those Cybermen.
Apparently, every other version of the Cybermen evolved independently and on parallel trajectories across time and space. At least, that’s how the story goes as of right now since Doctor Who‘s continuity is perpetually fluid.
As if that wasn’t enough, we get a quasi-confirmation that “Doctor Who” is a legitimate variation of the Doctor’s name. These days, fans will point to all sorts of sources to justify the character’s moniker of “The Doctor,” but there are several sources that also make “Doctor Who” just as legitimate: The computer WOTAN repeatedly called for “Doctor Who” in The War Machines; The Second Doctor used the alias “Doktor von Wer” – literally, “Doctor [of] Who” – in The Highlanders; The Second Doctor signed a note as “Dr W” in The Underwater Menace; Bessie’s license plate was WHO 1 and WHO 7; and Miss Hawthorne referred to him as “the great wizard Qui Quae Quod” – literally “Who Who Who” in Latin – in The Dæmons.
What about the show’s credits, you might ask. The character was credited as “Doctor Who” from An Unearthly Child all the way through Logopolis, spanning 18 seasons of stories. Starting with Castrovalva and the Fifth Doctor’s run, the character was credited as “The Doctor” through the TV movie (which also credited the Seventh Doctor as “The Old Doctor”). The name changed again to “Doctor Who” for the Ninth Doctor‘s run before returning to “The Doctor” in The Christmas Invasion. Rose also featured a website entitled “Doctor Who?”.
All that to say that either name is legitimate, really. Sure, Missy lies… a lot… but her lies always have a kernel of truth within. In recent years, the title has referred more to an ethos and mission statement rather than an actual name.
Considering the stories at hand, the horror film feeling of these episodes is amazing. The first half is edge-of-your-seat tension mixed with copious amounts of body horror, and the second half blunts the body horror for more battlefield tension. The tension follows the lighting, leading to more empathic storytelling in daylight and ratcheting tension during the night. The Doctor’s impassioned speech is truly a last-stand Hail Mary pass, and it serves up more tension before the final battle. The moment that truly sent shivers down my spine was “pain, pain, pain,” cueing the audience to just how monstrous the Mondasians were.
Another shocker was the identity of Mr. Razor, but this is only because I didn’t the “coming soon” teaser at the end of The Eaters of Light when this series was in first-run. If I had known that John Simm was returning, I probably would have seen right through the Mr. Razor disguise. Since I didn’t know at the time, it blew me away back in 2017.
As someone who earned a degree in physics, I love when science fiction shows play around with the subject and can explain it to the home audience. Gravitational time dilation is a real phenomenon related to special relativity that has been observed on Earth. Scientists placed identical atomic clocks at different altitudes (which relates to the pull of gravity) and noted significant differences in time between them. In this case, “significant” is on the order of nanoseconds, but imagine scaling that up beyond the fragile envelope of our atmosphere to a really long spaceship parked longitudinally on the event horizon of a black hole. That difference in gravity is pretty big.
I did have a question about fridging the black woman in this story – a terrible trio of tropes! – but Bill doesn’t really die and she’s not put in peril by the villain simply as a means to motivate the hero, so I dismissed the idea.
The video of Level 0000 looks like a paused classic black-and-white episode of the show. It added to the feeling of tension and was a nice callback to the era that this story and its cliffhanger were meant to evoke.
The two Masters working side-by-side in this story was pure joy. Notably, this is the first televised story to feature multiple Masters. It was also the third finale of the three in Capaldi’s run to feature the Cybermen.
In the end, I’m left in awe of the Twelfth Doctor’s resolve and strength. He survived all of that and still had the fortitude to hold back one of the character’s most primal forces, setting the stage for Peter Capaldi’s swan song in the next adventure.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.