Saved By The Bill
The latest series of time-and-space shenanigans was the best Doctor Who has been for some time, mainly thanks to new companion Bill, but at times ran out of imagination – and, right at its end, was just plain silly.
Series 10 was Peter Capaldi’s final series as the Doctor, and it felt like it. The Doctor was moonlighting as a Professor at a University in Bristol, for reasons unknown to man nor beast. At the same time, he was also (supposedly) stuck on Earth with robot alien Nardole (Matt Lucas), guarding a Mysterious Vault with Something Mysterious in it. Given this, the whole series seemed to be gearing up for the inevitable from the off, clock-watching until the inevitable fiery regeneration of Ye Auld Scottish Time Lord into Someone New.
Thankfully this interim series felt fresh, though, mostly due to straight-talking new companion Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie). A University dinner-lady who also found time to sneak into the Doctor’s lectures, she inevitably met him properly, and found herself first experiencing the wonders of the universe via a puddle in opener The Pilot. No, you have not misread – a puddle. Thrills and spills ensued, but the script equally went to great lengths to make Bill’s reaction to all the usual time-travel things just that bit different. Her winning description of how Capaldi’s Doctor runs endeared her to me no end too. All in all, The Pilot was quite a heartwarming story – and in retrospect, one of the best of the series.
It was a shame, then, that the episodes immediately afterwards were disappointing. Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s Smile, whilst it had an interesting idea at its heart with emoji-robots on an eerily quiet colonised world, was resolved too smoothly. Frost fair mystery Thin Ice, though strong on its script, was let down by its monster essentially being a big fish, and haunted house story Knock Knock, despite a creepy David Suchet, lacked anything very exciting. If anything, the baddies were all too tame.
Meanwhile, don’t get me started on the three-part adventure with new villains the Monks. These decaying humanoid creatures, who commandeered the Earth by stealth, were seemingly supposed to scare you witless. As it was, they shuffled about perpetually sounding in dire need of Lemsip. With the Doctor captured and Bill on the run in the third part, it also couldn’t help but recall John Simm’s first appearance as the Master, where the same thing respectively happened to David Tennant’s Doctor and Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman). The whole story was devoid of suspense and felt a bit flat.
There were, however, some memorable episodes towards the end of the series. Empress of Mars saw the return of the Ice Warriors in a compelling tale where Victorian-era British Army soldiers had colonised Mars. The following episode, The Eaters of Light, a historical jaunt with mysterious happenings, was another highlight, with some nicely understated drama and wit. But even these episodes had echoes of stories past. Here, as throughout this series, Bill’s no-nonsense attitude and quirkiness were the best thing on offer.
However, the greatest frustration has to be reserved for the two-part finale, where John Simm’s Master returned alongside Missy (Michelle Gomez), having unleashed an army of Mondasian Cybermen. This appeared to borrow directly from Capaldi’s first series finale as the Doctor, where Missy … unleashed an army of Cybermen. However, to compound the repetition, just as Gallifrey and the Time Lords were largely under-used and overlooked in 2015’s finale, the two Masters were utterly wasted here.
A conscience-stricken Missy pondered whether to turn against the Master’s evil plan, which was slightly undermined by the fact that The Master didn’t seem to have an evil plan. In the finale, The Master spent the best part of an hour chatting to Missy, lying on a haystack and doing his make-up. There was nothing to rebel against. It was as though Steven Moffat had thought it a good plan to resurrect a popular version of an iconic villain purely for a philosophical natter. Then, in an utterly bamboozling decision, a mortally-wounded Master ostensibly killed Missy off. It was a self-defeating twist in a story of infuriatingly stupid proportions.
Then there was Capaldi’s Doctor himself, who has remained obstinately all over the place in terms of personality throughout his tenure. But given multiple chances to die in a blaze of glory in the finale, he couldn’t even do that right. And Bill (if this was indeed her swansong) was given a lacklustre and (again) unoriginal send-off which didn’t do her justice. That’s not to say that the finale was completely without merit – there were some nice touches in the script. But a thought-through plot to go around them would have been better.
So now we wait until the Christmas special, with another Doctor to boot (David Bradley), to see how Capaldi’s Doctor meets his end, and who will replace him. Let’s hope he can go out on a high. This series has been good in patches, and on balance the best the show has been for a few years – though this is hardly saying much. The show needs new ideas, which is why a new show-runner in Broadchurch’s Chris Chibnall, who takes over next series, is long overdue. Time, as always, will tell what happens next. But as for this series, it was (in every sense) saved by the Bill.