Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Without Hope, Without Witness, Without Reward: A Retrospect of the Twelfth Doctor’s Tenure Part 3

by Nicholas Lemieux


Mummy on the Orient Express
Straight after the bleak ending to Series 9, we get The Husbands of River Song, a goofy light-hearted romantic comedy Christmas Special in which the Doctor reunites with his wife River Song, who doesn’t recognize him due to his new appearance, and becomes tangled up in her heist to steal the head of a galactic conqueror.  This special is easily one of the most comedic episodes in Capaldi’s tenure, including a particularly hilarious scene in which 12 pretends to enter the TARDIS for the first time and is “blown away” by its interior (“My entire understanding of physical space has been transformed!”) And yet surprisingly, the ending still ends on a bittersweet denouement, as the Doctor and River spend their final night together on Darrilium, tying into River’s first appearance in the series in the Tenth Doctor Forest of the Dead two-parter,  in which she is killed. With that said though, the ending proves to be more sweet than bitter, as the Doctor reveals to River that a night on Darrilium lasts 24 years, giving 12 and River a well-earned happy ending, at least for now...

Then, after a year with no new episodes other than the similarly goofy superhero Christmas Special The Return of Doctor Mysterio, Series 10, the Twelfth Doctor’s final season, started in spring of this year. The start of Series 10 shows the Doctor in a new position, working at a university as a lecturer. As it turns out, the Doctor has apparently sworn an oath of some kind to guard a mysterious vault deep within the university’s basement, the contents of which forms a major part of this year’s story arc. This series, the Doctor is joined by new companion Bill Potts, a quirky cafeteria worker who becomes intrigued by the Doctor’s lectures about time and space. The Doctor in turn becomes fascinated by her curiosity and, following an incident involving Bill’s potential girlfriend Heather turning into a liquid entity and chasing them, offers to become her tutor, showing her the wonders of the universe. Unlike the complexities involved with Clara, Bill is a more normal and down-to-earth companion,  quickly striking a bond with the Doctor through her love of sci-fi, as well as asking some actually relevant questions about the TARDIS (at one point, she asks the Doctor "If you are an alien, why did you name your box in English?"). There’s also a nice little moment in the premiere episode The Pilot, in which after giving the Doctor a rug for a Christmas present in their last lesson before the Holidays, Bill mentions her deceased mother to the Doctor and laments how she has no idea what she looked like, since there aren’t any photos of her left. When Bill later returns home, she discovers some photos of her mother at the back of a closet. Bill starts tearing up as he finally gets to see what she looks like when she suddenly notices the Doctor in a mirror in the background of one of the images, the implication here being that the Doctor travelled back in time just to get those pictures for Bill as a Christmas present. How far 12 has come indeed. Also along for the ride is wise-cracking human android Nardole, introduced in the prior two Christmas Specials, working as the Doctor’s snarky assistant at the university, who continually advises the Doctor to not neglect his oath with the vault, without much avail sadly (I also found out that Matt Lucas is actually a pretty good actor).

As mentioned before, this season’s story arc features the Doctor guarding a mysterious vault deep within the university, having apparently made an unbreakable oath to guard whatever is in there. Halfway through the season, it is revealed that the being the Doctor is guarding is none other than his oldest foe Missy. As it turns out, some time ago, the Doctor was summoned to a planet of executioners, where Missy was set to be killed for her many crimes. However, under the urgings of a final message from River urging him to stick to who he is, the Doctor decides to have Missy spared from death and, using a loophole in his oath, promises to keep guard of her within the vault, under the condition that Missy will attempt to change her ways. Although I haven’t gone into much detail before, Michelle Gomez definitely does a fantastic job as Missy, maker her simultaneously hilarious and terrifying at the same time. As this season goes on however, we start to see a more vulnerable side to Missy’s character. As revealed in prior episode, the Doctor and the Master used to be childhood friends until the Master started into the time vortex and was driven into madness and villainy as a result. Throughout Series 10, Missy starts to show signs of possible redemption, assisting the Doctor with advice on the villainous Monks invading Earth and at one point shedding tears when she recalls all the millions of lives she has killed and how she can still remember each and every one of their names. The Doctor himself notes this and starts to see these acts as a possible sign of hope that the two enemies will one day become friends again.

For the most part, Series 10 has something of a more relaxed tone than Capaldi’s prior seasons, more adventurous than ever before, episodes such as Empress of Mars featuring Victorian soldiers on Mars battling Ice Warriors, Thin Ice, involving a giant serpentine monster hidden underneath the frozen River Thames during London’s last Frost Fair and Smile featuring the EXTREMELY controversial alien idea of Emojibots, robots that communicate via emoji and kill their victims by hugging them and turning them to skeletons. A brief three-part story arc is set up midseason involving the Doctor unexpectedly becoming blinded in a sacrifice to save Bill in a space adventure and the aforementioned alien Monks and their plans to invade Earth, although sadly it ultimately ends rather anti-climatically .

Things however pick up extremely drastically with this season’s two-part finale World Enough and Time/ The Doctor Falls, the beginning of the end for the Twelfth Doctor. It starts off simple enough; testing her apparent atonement; the Doctor has Missy alongside a reluctant Bill and Nardole to investigate a distress call involving a giant colony ship reversing from a black hole. Things quickly go south however when a neurotic alien technician holds them all at gunpoint and asks if any of them are human. The Doctor tries to intervene but when Bill answers yes, she is shot in the chest and mortally wounded. The Doctor and the others are horrified when mysterious clothed figures in hospital gowns appear and take Bill’s body below deck, claiming they can restore her. When Bill reawakens, she discovers she has been fitted with a mechanical device to serve as her replacement heart. Due to time dilation from the black hole, a few minutes for the Doctor and the others on one side of the ship equals several years for Bill deep below decks. Bill befriends a kindly janitor called Mr. Razor and also discovers several other clothed patients, each one writhing in pain, waiting to be “upgraded”. However, by the time the Doctor reaches her, he makes a horrific discovery: This vessel comes from the planet Mondas, home of the Cybermen, and all of the patients onboard are set to become the original Mondasian Cybermen. Mr. Razor confronts Missy and reveals himself to be her, the previous Harold Saxon incarnation of the Master, who convinces her to turn back to villainy again. And worst of all, the Doctor is too late to rescue Bill and she too is upgraded into the emotionless shell of a Cyberman, who pitifully wails to the Doctor “I waited for you”.

Although the Two Masters plan to use this mass army of Cybermen to conquer the galaxy, they are soon hoist by their own petard and the increasingly evolving Cybermen start to turn on them too. The Doctor, the Masters and Nardole are eventually able to escape to a solar farm hidden away on the vessel, populated only by children and a few adults. Bill also arrives and is able to regain her identity but is horrified by the machine she has become. To make matters worse, more Cybermen are on the way, more advanced than ever before.  The Doctor is determined to protect the people onboard and had Nardole rig a set of defences to protect the farm, but despite this, he is aware that he cannot take on all these Cybermen.

The Doctor visits Missy and the Saxon Master and asks for their assistance in battling the Cybermen, but the Two Masters refuse and plan to abandon him. This leads to yet another one of Capaldi’s defining speeches, which basically affirms the character of the Doctor. 12 runs after them and stands his ground asking for their help. The Doctor explains that he does what he does, protecting the people around him not because he’s trying to win, to prove a point, God knows it’s not easy.  “I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind! If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live. Maybe not many, maybe not for long. But it’s the best I can do. So I’m going to do it. And I will stand here doing it until it kills me.” Capaldi’s acting during this scene basically represents the character of the Twelfth Doctor as a whole. After all these years, the Doctor has not lost his humanity but rather has strengthened it, his duty of care and kindness to the people he encounters and tries his damned best to save. “Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall. Stand with me”. Sadly, the speech does nothing to change the Saxon Master’s mind but Missy seems to genuinely think twice about her actions, although she still leaves with Saxon, albeit with great reluctance. As the Two Masters plan to flee, Missy at the last minute stabs Saxon, triggering his next regeneration as she proclaims that she will stand with the Doctor. Tragically, before she leaves, she is mortally wounded by Saxon’s laser screwdriver, leaving her dying and unable to regenerate. The Two Masters go out stabbing each other in the back, and the Doctor never does learn about Missy’s ultimate decision

Despite this, the Doctor still stands his ground against the Cybermen alongside Bill. Entrusting Nardole with evacuating the citizens, convincing him he is his equal and has the ability to save them, the Doctor and Bill battle the Cybermen with a whole minefield of explosives and soon 12 goes out in a blaze of glory, blowing up the area and destroying the Cybermen once and for all, but killing himself in the process. Bill is left behind, mourning over the Doctor’s body when suddenly Heather  (mentioned above) finally reunites with her and uses her powers to transform to free Bill from her shell and turn her into an entity like herself. Returning the Doctor to his TARDIS, Heather invites Bill to travel the universe with her and Bill agrees, although not before saying a final goodbye to the Doctor.

However, by pure chance, the Doctor’s regenerative energy is able to reawaken him again but he refuses to regenerate. Having suffered through so much grief and loss, the Twelfth Doctor refuses to regenerate even though this will kill him. The TARDIS arrives on a snowy landscape where the Doctor is left crawling, when all of  a sudden he hears a man in the distance calling to him. When the Doctor asks who he is, he suddenly finds himself greeted by his very first incarnation, the First Doctor. “You may be a Doctor” he says “but I am the Doctor. The original you might say”. What happens next, well you’ll have to find out on Christmas Day!

Overall, the Twelfth Doctor has been an immense joy to watch on screen. From duelling Robin Hood with a spoon to staring down mummies on the Orient Express. From stealing Davros’ chair to breaking a wall. From punching racists to blowing up Cybermen, Peter Capaldi has played this role exceptionally with such a range of emotions and it will be immensely sad to watch him leave on Christmas Day, in Steven Moffat’s final episode. All the best to Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall in the New Year.


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