Doctor Who Commences Another Long Goodbye
But is the current Doctor's antepenultimate episode anticlimactic?
I wasn't watching Doctor Who while Russell T. Davies and David Tennant were making the long, dragged-out limp to the end of their shared tenure on the show. However, I circled back later and thus can say with confidence that Steven Moffat will have his work cut out for him if he wants to stage himself an exit as indulgent and self-congratulatory as that was.
But while Moffat, who wrote this episode, seems unlikely to send Peter Capaldi parading around time and space to moon at all of his ex-companions, he's certainly not above raiding the show's past in his own way. Indeed, he never has been. What follows, then, is a ranking of this week's episode's classic Who source material, from least obvious to most.
- Dr. Who & The Daleks and Daleks' Invasion Earth, 2150 A.D. (1966)
This pair of movie projects was designed to cash in by allowing audiences to see Daleks in color for the first time. They also featured Peter Cushing as a character who called himself Dr. Who. It was hardly less goofy than Missy introducing herself similarly at the start of this episode, much less the extended riff that followed. Moffat has mucked about with Who mythology pretty shamelessly over the years, but leaving us saddled with the knowledge that the Doctor's mysterious real name is actually "Dr. Who" might be grounds for excommunication.
- "The Ark" (1966)
The new episode is set entirely aboard a gargantuan colony ship that seems to have multiple independent biomes, not unlike this serial from late in the First Doctor's run. Not to be confused with 1975's "The Ark In Space," which was a whole different and much better thing.
- Interstellar (2014)
Obviously this isn't a Doctor Who episode. But years pass for Bill, four hundred miles further from a black hole than where the Doctor spends just a matter of minutes. So it's hard not to be reminded of the movie where Mathew McConaughey journeys to a black hole and, thanks to supergravity and relativism, has an afternoon outing while his teenaged daughter grows up to be Jessica Chastain. Alas, it appears to be the only science fiction movie Bill never got around to seeing.
- "Spearhead From Space" (1970) through "Planet Of The Spiders" (1974)
Jon Pertwee was and remains the most James Bond-influenced Doctor, running around in tuxedoes and using (nonlethal) martial arts. Apparently his old Venusian aikido skills came back to him this week, just in time to help him flip Jorj to the deck.
- "Castrovalva" (1982), "Time-Flight" (1982), "The King's Demons" (1983), et cetera
The Master went through a stretch when part of his brand included being a master of disguise. The Doctor would show up somewhere, meet someone with a lot of makeup and a crazy voice, and that person would all too frequently turn out to be the Master. This fits with Bill's long sojourn with Mr. Razor, a scroungy and disreputable-looking hospital drudge who speaks as though in a second language. He also gets all the best lines. That, plus the fact that John Simm's return as the previous Master has been this season's worst-kept secret, should have tipped me off that it was really him under there all along. But honestly, who would go to the trouble of staying in character for years to hide one's identity from someone who's never seen their current face?
- "Terror Of The Autons" (1971) through "Survival" (1989)
As originated by Roger Delgado and carried on by Anthony Ainley, the early Masters always sported a sinister pointed goatee. (I'm disregarding the two Tom Baker-era serials in which the Master lacked facial hair because he also lacked facial skin.) It wouldn't even be anachronistic to call it an evil-Spock beard. Simm has grown one of his own, but it's so non-pointy that I initially didn't recognize it as a tonsorial shout-out. Still, it can hardly be otherwise, right?
- The Three Doctors (1973), The Five Doctors (1983), The Day Of The Doctor (2013)
Having more than one portrayer of the same Time Lord onscreen at the same time used to be reserved mostly for special occasions like decade anniversaries (1985's "The Two Doctors" is both an outlier and rather silly). And also reserved, obviously, for the Doctor. The Master has always been secretly envious of the Doctor; having to wait this long to receive a similar honor probably grates on his/her nerves. At least forty-six is a nice round number.
- "Revenge Of The Cybermen" (1974-1975)
Maybe there are earlier examples of companions being converted to Cybermen like Bill has been. But the one that sticks in my mind is Sarah Jane fading away while veins on her face and neck pulsated in glowing rainbow colors. That's my earliest Doctor Who memory, period. It was on after school and I was maybe seven. Messed me up good.
- The Sound Of Drums (2007)
The return of John Simm as the Davies-era Master is accompanied by his old musical motif of the four drumbeats symbolizing the cardiac rhythms of a Time Lord. It also indicates that Missy's rehabilitation may have just struck a major hitch.
- Genesis Of The Daleks (1975)
Some Dalek stories are better than others, but the one that brought the Doctor and his companions to Skaro to witness (and attempt to stop) their creation was perhaps the best ever. One can hardly blame the Master for sort of name-checking it when he declares the moment at the end of the episode "the genesis of the Cybermen." One can, however, blame Moffat for trying to borrow its reflected glory. By now the Cybermen have so many origin stories -- including at least three homeworlds -- that one might think they just arise spontaneously, like fruit flies or dictatorships.
- The Tenth Planet (1966)
No-brainer. Not coincidentally, William Hartnell's last serial as the Doctor was also the first pre-regeneration story of the series. It was also the first appearance of the Cybermen, and Earth's twin planet Mondas, their doomed (first) homeworld. If these famous original Cybermen were introduced in 2017, they would be unlikely to catch on. Basically the humans defeated them the first time by running out the clock on them. And, as we saw tonight, they were hella dopey by today's standards. But Capaldi is among the oldest of old-school fans, so he gets to pretend to be scared by one as a little parting gift from Moffat. It also looks as though his snowbound regeneration, hinted at before the title sequence, will recall the Antarctic setting of the very first one. But it seems unlikely that said regeneration will conclude before this year's Christmas special. Goodness, even people in the Midwest take less than six months to say goodbye.