Welcome back inside the TARDIS! Well, we know who’s in the vault now. Honestly, the reveal was a little anti-climactic, but I feel like the show made up for it with a super cool premise and some really interesting background on how we got to where we are. Bill and Nardole got sidelined a bit, but the business they did get to do was good and I feel like what we got out of the main plot was worth putting the companions in the background (more on that later). So, let’s see, shall we?
The way the main plot unfolded was really interesting and truly Moffat-esque, but in the best way possible. I came thisclose to being annoyed with the reveal that the whole gambit with the Veritas book turned out to be a computer simulation. What saved it for me is that the stakes are preserved. Yes, this particular iteration, with the best minds on the planet taking their own lives when they learn the truth may have all been fiction, but the threat behind it is real and so much scarier. (I do feel like the “borrowing” vision from his future self being part of the simulation will allow him to escape the consequences of what seems like a really bad idea.) This race that designed the simulation (were they named? I didn’t catch it) are not only out to take over/destroy the Earth, but they’re preparing for it better than any invaders the Doctor’s had to face before. So, they’re scary in the larger sense, moreso than any threat faced so far this season, and, especially given the knowledge that both Moffat and Capaldi are leaving at the end of this season, this episode seems to have set up the major conflict we’ll see in the finale, likely the cause of his regeneration. When the Doctor seems to be this afraid of someone, enough to make him turn to his oldest frenemy for help, you know it’s bad.
Speaking of the impending team-up, Missy’s back! Hot damn, I love Michelle Gomez so much. I might be as sad about her exit as I am about Capaldi’s. It was such a refreshing turn of events to have the flashbacks to Missy’s execution actually explain how she came to be in the vault and what happened to the Doctor and Nardole after the events of “The Husbands of River Song.” Thanks, Moffat! (See, I’m not always mad at him.) There was never a point at which I believed the Doctor was going to execute the Master. He’s been in this position before (see the 8th Doctor’s one actual televised adventure as an example) and he’ll always choose to imprison the only other living Time Lord. Still, it was a nice piece of work between the Doctor and Nardole, using River’s diary as his conscience in a moment of uncertainty (though I was wrong about the appearance of her diary in an episode that featured a library spelling out her actual return to the story).
I was a little bugged by the Doctor using his high kill-count on the Fatality Index as a threat to the monks to defend his decision not to kill Missy. You can’t just say “I’m not going to take a life” one minute and turn around and tell the people trying to stop you “you better back off, look up how many people I’ve killed” the next. But that’s the kind of inherent inconsistency that’s part of the show’s DNA and part of the Doctor’s struggle. He can’t save everyone and he tries to punish justly and I think that’s the balance that was attempting to be struck here. Missy is important to him and more valuable dead than alive and flawed as it makes him, I’m betting he just couldn’t bring himself to do it even if there were every reason in the world to kill her. This is going to make for a very interesting team-up. He won’t be able to trust Missy, but he’s still going to need her help. I’m just excited to see their frenemy dynamic in action, since we’ve only seen them working against each other in the past. I’m predicting Missy will die a heroic death (and be quite annoyed by it), since we know it’s the actress’s last season and she seems irrevocably tied to the season-ending conflict. All speculation, of course, but it seems a safe bet.
So let’s talk companions for a moment. Bill and Nardole seem kind of superfluous in this episode, and it only just clicked for me in this episode that they have been sort of extraneous to the Doctor all season. Taking on Nardole seems almost to be a decision the Doctor regrets sometimes, since he’s always trying to escape him, his rebukes, and his duty, and as I mentioned last week, Bill seems to be treated more like a child than most companions. Now that we know it’s Missy in the vault, it makes a bit more sense that the Doctor has surrounded himself with some pseudo-companions: He considers Missy his true companion, even though she hasn’t done anything yet and we’ve only just learned that she’s been there the whole time. The Doctor continues in a (grand)parental role, as his only “real” interaction with Bill in this episode is to encourage her happiness with Penny after what he learned from the Extremis email. I found that exchange very touching and sweet, especially in view of her interaction with Moira. If Bill does leave at the end of the series, I hope it’s executed as the Doctor pushing her toward happiness. If the purpose of her experiences in the TARDIS is to provide her the confidence in life she seemed to lack when they met and to remind him of why it’s important to save/help the people he can, I’ll be a happy fan. Let’s see Bill ride off into the sunset with Penny, eh Moffat? And I just have to say, the moment I learned that Nardole is a secret badass, but that it’s never actually been a secret, I realized I’d known this all along and I LOVED it.
The show’s not wasting any time with these invading aliens either, as they appear in the trailer for the next episode. I’m honestly glad about that, I do get bugged when a show introduces a major threat and then keeps it in the background until the finale rolls around while the characters carry one with other adventures and just give a mention to the impending threat in the meantime (I’m looking at you, Supernatural). There doesn’t seem to be anything to laugh at in the trailer either, so expect an intense episode. I’m psyched, I’m scared, I’m excited. See you all next week!