The Doctor Who Regeneration Review is a weekly column cataloging all the times Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor nearly regenerates, or dies, in the latest episode of BBC America’s popular science fiction show. Since this is the
Scottish “cross” character’s final season — a fact the showrunners have enjoyed teasing in the promos — we decided to tease back. Most items are serious, some silly, and all measured with the Doctor’s 💕.
In columns past, I brought up the season eight finale “Death In Heaven” to make the point that outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat has been regurgitating the same ideas from past Doctor Who episodes. This is especially true of situations in which the Doctor, faced with an insurmountable problem, readies himself for the final battle of his many lives before a companion or supporting character steps in to save the day. Moffat is by no means the only writer to implement this device, as “The Eaters of Light” scribe Rona Munro — a Doctor Who luminary — did just that with her jaunt through ancient Scotland.
Moffat mostly avoided the trope in “World Enough and Time,” which ended on a cliffhanger designed to steer audiences toward “The Doctor Falls.” Yet the “Death In Heaven” comparison remains, for like former companion Clara Oswald’s (Jenna Coleman) boyfriend Danny (Samuel Anderson), Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) finds herself “upgraded.” That is to say, Bill is no longer a human being from the 20th century, but a member of the Mondasian Cybermen‘s ranks. And despite the Time Lord’s promise to make things right, she will never regain the life she lost when a nervous, gun-toting alien blasted her into oblivion.
The Doctor has yet again let a companion down. Sure, both Missy (Michelle Gomez) and the Master (John Simm) are there to rub it in, but it’s not enough to distract from the fact that “World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls” are singing the same old song. But then something remarkable happens. Moffat and director Rachel Talalay devote a considerable chunk of time to Bill’s perspective, through which we realize she still sees herself as human — despite the new robotic components. As the Doctor puts it, her mind is strong enough to look past the machinery. This better serves Bill and Mackie, as it retains some agency for what appears to be the character and the performer’s final episode. It also serves as an hour-long, and long-deserved, guilt trip for the Doctor. Bill has no choice but to leave when the credits roll. The dying Time Lord raves against his coming regeneration, of course, but the failure reminds him — and Moffat, perhaps — that he too must go.