Familiar Faces Have A Lot To Face In Doctor Who's Season 10 Finale
And the story comes full circle.
So that's Peter Capaldi's final season in the can, as well as Steven Moffat's, and Michelle Gomez's. And it looks like it might also be Pearl Mackie's and Matt Lucas's last, even though it was also their first (not counting Nardole's Christmas special appearances). It's the nature of modern Doctor Who that just about every season will either be some key player's first or some other key player's last. It makes it difficult to compare one season to another. But I should be reviewing them on their own merits anyway, so perhaps that's just as well.
A good season of Doctor Who is always more than the sum of its parts, and once again I find myself looking back with general satisfaction on a collection of episodes that sometimes left me frustrated as I was watching them. And like last season, experiments with returning to the original serialized roots of the original series tended to not pay off. A three-episode arc sounded like a good idea going into it, but now I just remember a gigantic Monk-shaped crater blasted in the middle of my spring.
I confess that I thought Steven Moffat was leaving the show because he was more or less out of ideas. The lack of a season last year would seem to support this, even if I read somewhere on social media that no time traveler would ever spend any time on earth in 2016. But once again, I haven't given Moffat enough credit. There was some pretty clever stuff this year, like the time-distortion effects aboard the colony ship during the last two episodes. And setting an entire episode inside a computer simulation was quite bold (as was dropping the Pope into a room with a nervous Catholic girl on a lesbian first date). But this was nowhere near as jam-packed with brainteasers as in Moffat's early seasons. Which got exhausting for me, too, admittedly. I guess there's just no pleasing me.
Still, even if my annual ranking of episodes only comes up with about half that I really liked, the season as a whole ends up hanging together better than I expected. For example, what looked like a monster-of-the-week season premiere was actually a setup for this week's finale, with what now seems like Heather's inevitable return. Now Bill's finally ready for what Heather offers, and they can explore the universe as equals. Between this season and the last, the universe threatens to get somewhat crowded with pairs of immortal women zooming around having adventures. Not that that's a bad thing.
And the season-long arc of Missy's rehabilitation, and the speed bump of her encounter with her former self, ended up having a satisfying payoff after all. (Surprise isn't everything, it turns out.) The Doctor finally gets through to her in the end, getting so earnest that his Scottish accent comes forward. Which is ironic because Missy only gets Scottish when she's at her most sarcastic.
In fact, the Doctor's plea for the Masters to stand with him was the emotional climax of the episode, if not the season. Moffat is a savvy enough storyteller to know we remember the endings best, which is why so much of the season's good stuff was, as usual, backloaded into the finale. True, there was a dangerous level of magical hand-waving after the final battle. But Moffat also leaves us with the Doctor's most impassioned argument to his oldest friend, and it's in favor of nothing more than simple kindness. It says something about the direction the world seems headed in that this is the most important thing this year's Doctor Who has to say.
"Oxygen," hands down. Even without my bias towards script writer Jamie Mathieson, this episode stands out for its clever exploration of the pitfalls of late-stage capitalism like technology, user agreements, wage theft, and zombies.
Most companions' sophomore outings are relatively weak, but there is one notable exception. Alas, "
Pearl Mackie/Bill Potts. In her first episode, Bill says she doesn't like her face because it's always doing expressions when she's trying to be enigmatic. But to me, that was the best thing about her. Most companions display a range of emotion, but Mackie showed entirely new dimensions of it. Also, part of a companion's job is to serve as a viewer surrogate, and I'm glad someone finally figured out that Doctor Who viewers tend to be, like Bill, into sci-fi. I had serious concerns about that expressive face covered in Cyberman swaddling for the entirety of the finale, but the old Quantum Leap trick of filming her the way she still perceived herself proved to be a clever workaround. Anyway, I'm glad she got a happy ending, and I'll be sorry if she's gone for good. Capaldi was great as always, especially in the scene with the Masters mentioned above, but this season goes to Potts.
I'm sure plenty of people would like to see this go to Nardole. But the Doctor has always let his conscience be his copilot and it's been fun to see them both take the form of a little bald guy and walk around fussing. Instead, I'm giving it to the Daleks, who were reduced to a cameo in the season premiere. And even in that capacity they were overshadowed by the Movellans, which makes this the latter race's one decisive victory in that war.
Best Use Of An Old Enemy
As usual, this is a crowded field. We had two Masters, multiple iterations of Cybermen, and the season's contractually-required Dalek appearance. Even the Monks had gotten pretty old by the time we were rid of them. But I'm always a sucker for a redemption arc, the bumpier the better. Missy for the three-peat.
Best New Enemy
The Monks menaced the Earth for three full consecutive episodes. On the other hand they sucked, so this would have to go to the self-propelled zombie spacesuits from "Oxygen."
Biggest Unanswered Question
It's obvious: who will be the next Doctor? Not that I actually want to know yet. The last time I was unspoiled for a regeneration was in 1981, and I despair of ever having that experience again. I'm sure we'll have a name by the Christmas special (maybe even one, dare we hope, that reflects the Master's dreaded "all-girl" future), but in the meantime we can speculate how the Christmas special will make use of the First Doctor, played by David Bradley, who played the actor who played the First Doctor in the BBC TV movie about Doctor Who. Obviously Moffat couldn't leave us without one last meta-textual conundrum to try to puzzle out.