Synopsis: Trapped on board a spaceship in the event horizon of a black hole, the Doctor witnesses the death of someone he pledged to protect and battles time itself to redeem his mistake.
Review: This episode begins with the Doctor staggering from the TARDIS into a snowy wasteland, seemingly about to regenerate. We then see the TARDIS materialise on a spaceship that had sent out a distress call, where Missy walks out with Bill and Nardole and declares herself “Doctor Who”. We see in a flashback that the Doctor’s plan is to test Missy’s redemption by placing her into a situation that the Doctor would normally handle. After some investigation it is discovered that the ship is straining against the pull of a black hole. A blue skinned man bursts into the room and after a tense conversation shoots Bill in the chest. She is then taken to the other end of the ship, where time moves more slowly, and repaired. While the Doctor and his companions deliberate over what to do, many years pass for Bill, who has struck up a friendship with a mysterious man. She also finds work as a cleaner for a hospital where many patients are being “repaired”. By the time the Doctor arrives at the other end of the ship the mysterious man has delivered Bill into the hands of the surgeons for full conversion. He then reveals himself to Missy as John Simm’s Master. The Doctor and Nardole find the first proto Cyberman that reveals itself to be Bill. The episode ends with both incarnations of the Master standing next to Cyberman!Bill. John Simm‘s Master calls this a “genesis”.
This was an utterly fantastic episode. Pearl Mackie performed brilliantly as the stranger in a strange land, having to get used to her new environment without the Doctor. The opening shot of the spaceship reminded me of the Red Dwarf opening and the CGI of the black hole was stupendous. There is humour in this very dark and gripping episode, with something of a call back to the Matt Smith-era storyline of the Doctor’s true name only played for laughs, with Missy claiming that Doctor Who is the Doctor’s real name. The flashback where Bill and the Doctor discuss Missy’s redemption is heartbreaking for a couple of reasons. First, it shows that the Doctor’s belief in the inherent goodness of all beings is sorely misplaced given the events that transpire over the course of the episode. Second, the scene is probably the last time Bill and the Doctor are together as friends before terrible things start happening. Very interesting was the Doctor’s exposition of his and the Master’s childhood together, with some humour when the Doctor called the Master his mancrush. It was intriguing that the Doctor said that Missy was the only person who was just like him, and again heartbreaking as the two incarnations of the Master appear to be behind the genesis of the Cybermen.
There was some phenomenal acting in this episode from both of the leads. Peter Capaldi performed excellently in the scene when the Doctor was attempting to save Bill from being shot as well as in the exposition scenes after Bill has been taken away and when the Doctor discusses the Master’s past. A theme throughout this series has been the Doctor’s overconfidence causing even greater problems to occur. We saw this in the three parter in which the Doctor loses his sight and we see it again here when 12 sorely underestimates how bad things can get. Pearl Mackie conveys Bill’s fear, trepidation and vulnerability superbly when she is at the other end of the ship and I found the skipping between the two time zones an interesting storytelling device. This episode calls back to The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances from series 1, with the hospital patients immobile in their chairs. The parts where Bill was investigating the hospital were very tense and creepy.
John Simm gave a spectacular performance as the mysterious man who befriends Bill. The part where he ripped off his disguise to reveal the Harold Saxon Master was incredible, as was the trust that he built up in both Bill and the viewer. I had no idea who the mysterious man was until his conversation with Missy near the end of the episode. Very, very poignant was the reveal of the Cyberman that the Doctor and Nardole discover as Bill, especially considering her asking of the Doctor not to get her killed in the flashback scene.
Overall, this was a phenomenal episode that has left me excited for next week.
- Incidental Music10