There have been a few patchy episodes this series for sure, but this week? Wow. Episode 11 pulled out all the stops. If you haven’t seen it yet, DON’T READ ON; there are a ton of spoilers coming up. Go and watch it now, then come back. We’ll wait.
The trailer for this week’s episode kind of felt like it had given us some massive spoilers already, what with the teased appearance of John Simm and the Mondasian Cybermen. But my goodness, that wasn’t the half of it.
«I was watching you on the screen. It took me a while to work out who you were. You don’t remember me, do you. You don’t remember being here before. I’m very worried about my future.»
I still can’t quite believe I didn’t see it coming. Perhaps that’s a little embarrassing, but I’m not going to fib and pretend I clocked it early on. Gullible, perhaps, but I’m going to go with ‘trusting’ as that sounds a bit more flattering. With hindsight, the clues were there, and they were great big neon clues too.
The first clue was in the title, a reference to Andrew Marvell’s poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’. When I saw the title, I just thought it was a knowing reference to Missy’s redemption arc. Don’t be coy, Missy. You can do this. Let’s go; we haven’t got forever; «Had we but world enough and time, this coyness Lady were no crime.» But it turns out it was an even bigger clue than that. The poem is a persuasion poem, about the manipulation of a woman by a man, who flatters and then threatens in order to get what he wants. It’s playful and light-hearted, but with perhaps an undertone of emotional blackmail. The carpe diem message relies on a recognition that death is imminent: «At my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.» And it’s her death, not his. Because life’s too short to waste it on worrying about being good, and moral, and boring, the message is «let us sport us while we may.» Let’s have fun instead. I had thought it was about the Doctor and Missy; but it was more about the Master and Missy. It even sums up the Master’s attitude to Bill: don’t trust the flattery, it’s just self-interest. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a reference in the poem to different perceptions of time, albeit in a ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ way, rather than the impact of time dilation. So yes, quite a big clue, and I didn’t clock it.
Can we have a moment of respect for the Master’s commitment to disguises though? Bill was hanging out with him for years and he kept that accent going and that Mission: Impossible face on. That’s pretty impressive. I didn’t catch his name the first time (Razor), and just nicknamed him Sassy Filch, so I guess I had subconscious doubts about who he was meant to be. And I thought they’d put a lot of effort into making a random character vaguely hilarious! I was thinking, Ooh, they’ve done a great job writing this character whose name I don’t know, who will probably never be in it again… But isn’t his sense of humour a bit dark? «For some people it goes all…..vending machine.» And yet I still didn’t put it together.
Where are we in the Master’s timeline? I couldn’t quite figure it out… He’s been Mister Saxon already, but that was pretty much the first thing this incarnation of the Master did after he appeared at the end of ‘Utopia’. Does this take place before or after ‘The End of Time’?
«She scares me. She really scares me. Promise you won’t get me killed.»
The big Master reveal wasn’t the only shocker of the episode. I’m going to assume that there’s no coming back from this for poor Bill. Those big speeches from the Doctor never normally fail in such an epic way. That gun left quite a decisive hole in Bill’s chest, and that was before her conversion to the creepiest kind of Cyberman the Whoniverse has ever seen. She was another ‘Girl Who Waited’ for the Doctor to save her, and he was just too slow, and too late. They nearly lost her last week; she was introduced as a Disposable this week, and now it looks like she has met a similar fate to Danny Pink. Will she retain any of her Bill-ness? Poor, poor Bill. It seems like such a sudden end for her.
«I am Bill Potts. I waited. I waited for you.»
Another shocker? The regeneration. Now, they’ve trolled us with this before; they did it a few weeks ago when the Doctor tested Bill. They did it when Ten got shot by a Dalek trying to do a rom-com run towards Rose in ‘The Stolen Earth’. He got out of it then by channeling all that energy into his spare hand, which then spawned Doctor Two in ‘Journey’s End’. But we know that Capaldi’s departure is imminent, so if they are trolling us again, they need to be doing it more imaginatively, or Twelve is just the Doctor who cried ‘Regeneration’. Here are some theories for you: if Mission: Impossible reveals are now standard, maybe this is Missy or the Master disguised as the Doctor and undergoing his/her regeneration instead… If it is really the Doctor, then where is Nardole? The Doctor seems to be alone and desperate during this regeneration. Please don’t say Nardole meets a sticky end as well! YOU’VE TAKEN BILL, DON’T TAKE MY NARDY TOO!
«Hello ordinary person. Please maintain a minimum separation of three feet. I’m really trying not to kill anyone today, and it would be tremendously helpful if your major arteries were out of reach.»
Missy was an absolute delight this week. Seeing her play the role of the Doctor was like watching the Faith/Buffy body swap episode of BTVS in some ways; everything she did was a judgement on the Doctor’s perceived goodness and the hypocrisies she perceives under the surface. His relationships with his friends? Well, they are just Exposition and Comic Relief. The disposables. They are pets and babies. He’s the cradle-snatcher hanging around with infants. There is uncomfortable and inept flirting. It is all done with a flourish; Missy is enjoying making fun of the Doctor. But she is also doing this to establish her place in the Team TARDIS hierarchy. She outranks them; she is older, wiser and knows the Doctor better than either Bill or Nardole ever will.
And the affection is mutual. The Doctor describes the Master as his first «Man-crush». Let’s not diminish this by calling it a bromance; it’s much more profound than that. «She’s the only person I’ve ever met who is even remotely like me.» There’s a bond going back centuries. «We had a pact. Every star in the universe, we were going to see them all.»
This bond is firmly centered on how much they have in common, which is fine and dandy until she meets someone with whom she has even more in common. The show’s given us people arguing with themselves before — most recently in ‘The Day of the Doctor’, but what about when you are horrible to yourself? «He’ll never forgive you. Not when he discovers what you’ve done to his little friend.» Whereas the Doctor wants to mold Missy into someone moral, the Master plays on her guilt and her shame to manipulate her. This is going to come down to Missy’s choice: which double or version of herself will she want to listen to? Which shoulder angel will win the battle? The ‘good’ one that she has playfully lampooned but secretly admires? Or the ‘bad’ one that she is afraid and ashamed of? Clever and evil aren’t necessarily the same thing… Will she choose clever or evil in the end?
And what about those Cybermen? There’s something universally horrifying about the sound of a dentist’s drill, so thanks for that. We knew where this was going, as the trailer had told us. The voices were another clue, promising that Bill «will be repaired», and then reassuring her that «Full conversion wasn’t necessary» just yet. The repeated sound of «PAIN» echoing through the hospital was pretty grim, as was the horrible realisation that Sassy Filch’s Nurse friend (unimaginatively, I nicknamed her Nurse Ratched) wasn’t fixing the pain, just turning down the volume of the alert. They are all in agony. «KILL ME.» By the time Bill is converted, they have a new gadget; it «won’t stop you feeling pain, but it will stop you caring about it.» Heart = broken. I’ve usually found Cybermen more ridiculous than scary, but these ones are definitely more sinister. It’s the cloth masks. They look like a cross between a robot, a mummy and a clown to me.
Please don’t be too upset that ‘Doctor Who’ has finally been used as a name. It’s a joke, run with it.
That enormous ship was definitely Red Dwarf-esque, right?
Superman Gravity and Time Dilation! Apparently this time anomaly is a Real Thing, though I confess I did have to Google it.
The Doctor criticises modern society for its «Petty obsession with gender and its associated stereotypes». Does that mean that Moffat is getting annoyed with the whole ‘make the Doctor a woman’ debate, or does that mean that the showrunners might have made an interesting casting choice? I read a rumour online that Pearl Mackie might be the next Doctor. If so, that would be a first! (I would obviously be delighted as she has been amazing this series. I would be very sad to see her go, but I can’t see any way to save Bill that won’t feel like a gimmick… Would it be too jarring for Pearl Mackie to play the Doctor?)
Another blue man! And a nice little touch: you couldn’t tell he was blue on the monitor, so when he arrived, it was a bit of a surprise. In hindsight, this was another clue, wasn’t it? SHAME. SHAME.
Project Exodus sounds remarkably like the quest to Utopia, where humans were converted to Toclafane, in the three-parter ‘Utopia’, ‘The Sound of Drums’ and ‘The Last of the Time Lords’.
For more info on the Mondasian Cybermen, check out the wiki here.
Next time: The finale! It’s an epic battle against the Cybermen in ‘The Doctor Falls’, and Missy needs to choose a side. Plus that regeneration is still pending… (But Capaldi is in the Christmas special, right? So all may not be exactly as it seems…)