Honestly one of the best season of the show for some time. The biggest issue is that I feel like they have finally begun to write for Capaldi in a way that makes sense… just in time to kill him off!
In fact, killing people off is generally a bit of a trend this season. I guess that’s what happens as we come to the end of Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner (frankly, could not come soon enough). We have one completely new companion, Bill, who makes it a whole one season before being killed, plus returning sort-of companion Nardole who, fittingly, sort-of gets killed off. Oh and then there’s one of the more inventive takes on the Master in ages, with Missy forming a reluctantly willing third cog to the plot. To the show’s credit, it keeps these varying plot lines and characters all neatly moving along without feeling rushed or over complicated. There are several of the normal Doctor Who issues, such as perpetually referencing events yet to come in less of a fore-shadowing way and more an eye-rollingly irritating one, or chucking out a couple of clear filler episodes without much cause to exist, or relying on deus ex machina to save the day. But, again to its credit, these are all present much less than any season in recent history, making it a generally fun and entertaining 12 episodes.
Most importantly, the big multi-part plotlines are relatively linear, at best genuinely clever (i.e. the Cybermen) and at worst a little cliché (the Monks). The Monks had a great build-up and were a classic Moffat creation: they’re creepy, unsettling and interesting. I loved the idea of a race being able to plot an invasion via VR, running the simulation enough times that all variables are accounted for. Okay, it’s pretty ridiculous science, but it’s fun fiction so I’ll let it pass. Unfortunately, they’re ultimately let down by a final battle which relies, yet again, on love, the all-powerful God machine that Doctor Who just loves to use as a crutch to get itself out of a corner. It works well enough, but I would love to see some more interesting and intelligent finales in the Whoverse at some point.
On the flip side, the Mondasian Cyber-Men, whose plot is a veritable treasure trove of clever ideas and Easter Eggs to Doctor’s past, are great. The situation that creates them is clever (okay, still a bit ridiculous, but come on) and almost believable. The modern Cyber-Men have slowly morphed into sterile zombie clones, but these original models are deeply disturbing. They’re a race born of desperation, which makes them somehow far more terrifying. It also features two of the best “twists” in recent seasons, with Bill having no hope of recovery from a surprisingly early point in the plot and the inclusion of John Simm once again taking up the role of the Master. That latter twist is genius and it was a huge amount of fun seeing him return to the role alongside his female counterpart, both of whom have created iconic versions of the character. The back and forth between them is wonderfully written, as is Missy’s slow realisation that she isn’t him anymore. I was worried the Master’s meeting would result in her total relapse as a villain, but the actual outcome was much more interesting. At the end of things, the Master killing Missy to prevent himself becoming good, just as she chooses to follow the Doctor, was a perfect ending for both the character and the plot.
As a result, it’s slightly irritating that her death was overshadowed by Capaldi’s regeneration. Whilst I like where it’s left the series for the Christmas special, with everything else going on it did leave the final episode a little bloated. We also now have yet another companion who is neither dead nor retired, but rather transformed into a wanderer themselves. Bill becoming a water creature (?) and going off to explore the stars was a nice payoff, and made the season pleasantly circular, but at some point I feel like we’re going to need to finalise some of these characters. Right now we have the Doctor’s daughter… somewhere; Clara off flying around in her own T.A.R.D.I.S.; Bill in water form exploring the universe; Nardole waiting for the Doctor to save him (and the remaining colonists). All I want is for a couple of threads to be tied off, preferably not in some big crossover where they all bandy together to save the Doctor, either from himself or the forces of evil. Could we just have a clever, low key update on these loose ends?
Still, overall, I’m excited for Doctor Who again for the first time in years. I’ll be sad to see Capaldi go, as I feel he is the singularly most underutilised iteration of the character to date, but I welcome Jodi Whittaker and whoever the new showrunner will be to build on season 10 and keep it moving forwards. I’d love to see more interconnectedness with the show’s past, more clever alt-history stories and more nuanced companions. Fingers crossed for season 11.