When I saw that the title of this week’s episode was a quote from a poem titled “To His Coy Mistress,” I was expecting some cutesy business between Missy and the Doctor. I was not expecting “world enough and time” to factor into the plot as heavily as it did, both into the apparent plot and the secret plot underneath that was revealed at the end. When I think about it, the whole episode was really one big distraction tactic, or rather about 15 of them rolled into one. Overall, I thought this was a slow burn, but one great meal of an episode.
I enjoyed most of the components of the appetizer course. The opening, which I assume is a flashforward to the imminent regeneration, and can fuck right off), but most of the rest was delightful. For one, the name-related banter. It doesn’t have to be canon or anything, but I’m sure that’s something the writers have been dying to stick in the show for ages. And Missy’s boiling down of the companions to Exposition and Comic Relief was hilariously spot on; it’s always nice when the show can go meta and poke fun at itself. I found myself annoyed with the the flashbacks establishing the Doctor’s plan to test Missy, but the reward there was Capaldi’s brilliant delivery of his motivation for the plan. He’s being selfless on one level, but on another, extremely selfish. He sees the parallels to himself in Missy and fears that he might have the same capacity for evil That fear fuels his need to rehabilitate her, to know it would be possible in himself as well. And lastly, we got what I hope will be the show’s final word on the gender of the Doctor. His take on humans’ “petty obsession with gender” felt pretty genuine, though you could also hear background cries of “so shut up about it already” coming from Steven Moffat’s general direction. I hope this moment can serve as a button on the issue of gender in casting future Doctors. I think it’s not so much that the show doesn’t want to cast a woman, as they want the freedom to cast without regard to gender and I think the point is well made.
The main course had lots of tasty bits, but also provided a bit of heartburn. The different time streams at the front and back of the ship and the pacing of a reveal which had already been given away through marketing combined to frustrating effect. We knew what was coming, so it was a little hard to sit through while the show caught up with itself (though I believe this was an intentional part of the distraction technique I mentioned up top). Along the way, however, we got to meet Razor, who was eminently charming and I liked right up until I didn’t. And we got a heartbreakingly tragic origin story for one of the series’ greatest villains. Doctor Who does a really great job with creating villains who believe they’re the hero. Of course the Cybermen are some of the baddest of baddies, but looking at where they came from, it’s impossible not to empathize with them (which is ironic for a race whose key characteristic is a lack of emotion). The sooner you caught one with Bill’s inevitable fate, the more crushing it became, knowing what was to come and being powerless to stop it. That tension was really well-built and I actually got chills when they showed their new innovation, a headpiece that stops the body from caring about feeling pain. I know I’ve said that killing the first gay POC companion would be a mistake, but I think they way it was executed (sorry) was befitting of the story. Overall, I felt this was a pretty great story, though I really wish the Mondas reveal hadn’t been ruined by marketing. It was such a good twist and it would have such a greater impact if the audience came to it on its own.
But oh what a delicious dessert we got in John Simm. Of COURSE his disguised character was completely charming. In hindsight, that should have been my first clue about who he really was. So much care was paid in those final moments, from Simm’s referential facial hair (the well-known Masters of the classic series had goatees like any good villain should) to the use of the companion to exact punishment on the Doctor, a classic Master move. And hot DAMN, I am ready for this showdown. The business up front establishing the history between the Doctor and the Master just became SO much more important. I fully expect Missy to sacrifice herself to save the Doctor, proving he was right about her rehabilitation, and then the Master will take out his anger about that on him, causing regeneration. But even if I’ve 100% already guessed the plot, I still can’t wait to watch it because Capaldi, Gomez, and Simm will be amazing to watch. I’ll see you all back here next week after the finale!