Warning: This episode recap contains spoilers. Proceed with caution.
Man, do I wish I liked this finale more than I did. It’s a complicated one to unpack. I didn’t dislike it, I just wish it was better. There was definitely stuff about it I enjoyed, some stuff I really didn’t, and some stuff that just had me scratching my head. So let’s get into it, shall we?
Let’s start with the good things, so that no one gets the idea that I totally hated it. All the stuff with the companions was fantastic. I really enjoyed Graham’s plot to escape the Cyber ship in cyber suits and all the wacky comedy that went along with it. Seeing Cybermen suits move like humans (like when one of them peeked around the corner to make sure they were safe) was extremely weird, but funny. It did seem like awfully dumb luck that none of the Cybermen Ryan and Co. blew up and shot turned out to be their friends. I was very proud of Ryan for overcoming his dyspraxia to land that shot with the bomb. His disability has definitely taken a backseat this season, which is a little disappointing. I really thought Graham and Yaz’s “farewell” conversation was very sweet. I was stone cold SURE it was a harbinger of one of their deaths and was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong.
The villainy was also pretty well done. Sacha Dhawan really got to shine in this episode, he seemed truly unhinged at certain moments. Seeing the Cybermen march into the Matrix chamber for the first time actively gave me chills, like ohshitohshitOHSHIT chills. And the design and theory behind the Cyber Masters was also very cool. Those ridiculous time lord collars and the etched Gallifreyan in their armor was really beautiful but also terrifying as hell because of how wrong it was. (The robes were just silly. Ditch the robes, costume deptartment. We get the idea without them and Cybermen don’t need clothes for any reason. Stop it.) Points for the callback to the Tennant era with the Doctor’s reaction to the Judoon’s appearance in the TARDIS. And when the Doctor finally came back to herself and started talking to herself again in the Matrix, that was really good fun, but it starts to border on what I didn’t like about the episode.
Let me be clear, I do NOT have a problem with the changes they made to Whovian lore. I found the whole Doctor origin story quite interesting in concept. There are plenty of people out there who will claim that Doctor Who is ruined forever, I’ll leave that to them as I don’t agree at all. What I did have a problem with was how the story was told. For one thing, it was kind of a boring episode. So much telling and not nearly enough showing. This episode was billed as mind-blowing. We were told nothing would ever be the same. While the reveals were major, they did not feel major. Another problem I had was that the Doctor was sidelined a lot of the time. When I said I enjoyed Dhawan’s Master, I didn’t mean I wanted the show to be 90% him. The show is called Doctor Who, but she didn’t really do very much and when she did, it wasn’t as cool as I have come to expect from the Doctor.
So the fun thing about Doctor Who is getting to see the Doctor outthink her enemies and defeat them without using violence. I’m not saying she doesn’t have blood on her hands. I’m not saying she hasn’t left really bad enemies who deserved it to their deaths before. She definitely has. The only thinking she had to do was in how to get herself free from the Master’s paralysis field. The rest of her plan came from seeds planted by the Master just to see if she’d do what he would and turn herself into him. And of course she wouldn’t, we know she wouldn’t, hand-detonating the Death Particle is a very un-Doctor move, but the tension was pretty much let out of that climax when Ko Sharmus showed up to sacrifice himself for her. Not to be a crazy feminist, but way to let a man take all the agency away from a female main character. I appreciated the “universe still needs you, my time has come” angle, I even picked him early on to be one who wasn’t going to make it through the whole episode. But it’s still a bad look to have a woman not be able to figure out anything but the most violent solution, be unable to follow through with it but have no back up plan, and then let some random male human character we barely come in for the deus ex machina win. That’s not what my Doctor does. Since that is what ended up happening, I would love to see some internal fallout from that within the Doctor, that she let herself be saved by another’s sacrifice because she couldn’t come up with a solution and have that really bother her. We did seem to see a hint of it on her face in her scene alone in the TARDIS before the Judoon showed up. I hope we see more.
And then there were the things that just flat out didn’t make sense or weren’t fully explained. Top of the list: Why does anyone ever believe the Master? He gave no convincing reason, beyond his “gift” of a ruined Gallifrey for the Cybermen to work with him. Once they were already there, why would Ashad listen to one thing he said instead of just shooting him? Maybe it’s a flaw in him because of the human part of him, but that did not come across. Also, why did the Doctor believe him about her backstory? They gave her one line literally saying, “Why should I believe anything you say” and then following his unconvincing answer, she bought everything he told her hook, line, and sinker. Perhaps there was something about her experience in the Matrix, where she could feel internally that what he told her was the truth, but again, that didn’t really come across. Also, Why did the Master destroy Gallifrey? It seemed like his rampage led him to the secret of the timeless child, but was also somehow the justification for the destruction? I guess they wrapped up the story of the Irish policeman, but it didn’t really satisfy. And we still don’t know as much about Ruth as I’d like to. I mean, obviously she’s a pre-Hartnell regeneration (cue the angry fans about how there CAN’T be a pre-Hartnell Doctor and the show is RUINED), but we still don’t know anything about why she is being hunted down by the Judoon and what that has to do with our Doctor and why did the Doctor see her specifically (other than, the show gave that actress a contract for a certain number of appearances this season)? I’m not saying all these things make no sense at all, but an episode that partially bored me and left me with this many questions, isn’t a very good episode.
If you didn’t like this one, I guess you can blame me. After “Resolution”, I declared that these showrunners were allowed to touch whatever they wanted from Who lore, past or present. And again, I don’t have a problem with the long-term impact of this story on the canon or with any of the actors. The problem came in the execution and the blame really lies with Chibnall, though I hate to say it because I really have enjoyed a lot of what he’s done with the show so far. This one though, was a miss, and a big one, unfortunately. I’m not screaming for his head or anything. I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.
So, that’s it from me this season. I’ll see you around the holidays to see how the Doctor escapes Judoon prison (which, how the hell did they get into the TARDIS in flight?!?!?! UGH) and what the Daleks have to do with it. Til then, seeya fam!