Coming off what I think is the best series of “New Who,” this series – which is set to be the final one for many of its cast and crew – was always going to have a hard time following up. I just hoped it would not be a mess – that it would, if not equal series 9, at least produce consistently high quality episodes. As it turns out, series 10 turned out to be one of the more pleasantly satisfying series of all of “New Who.” Most episodes, even including last year’s Christmas special, The Return of Doctor Mysterio, were at the very least decent and at best solid. There were a couple of episodes, namely Oxygen and Extremis, which stood out from the pack and were both pretty outstanding, but overall, the theme of this series seemed to have been a solid, if sometimes unremarkable, run of episodes. The biggest surprise, however, was that the two-part finale actually turned into one of the best finales the show has ever done.
I don’t know why, but for whatever reason, Doctor Who has never been good at finales, at least not in this new incarnation. While there were several finales I enjoyed, not all of them were completely flawless. Sometimes they were solid episodes that didn’t quite satisfyingly conclude the series’ story arcs, etc., sometimes it was the other way around, sometimes a mixture of the two, but whatever it is, the showrunners so far, Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat, just couldn’t get it right. Even Hell Bent last series, which remains one of my favorites, is actually a mess of an episode, and it’s only the last 20 minutes (and really most of the stuff involving The Doctor and Clara) that works and works wonderfully well. With this being Moffat’s last series, however, he has managed to do it – World Enough and Time was a terrific episode with lots of great twists and turns (some of which unfortunately were spoiled by the BBC for the sake of marketing) and The Doctor Falls (not a fan of the title) was a very well done followup and satisfyingly and surprisingly brought a conclusion to several series-long story arcs and even set up what is likely to be a huge Christmas special. None of these episodes are, of course, anywhere near as good as Heaven Sent, but I really doubt that episode will be equaled anytime soon, let alone bested. Still, I thought the way the finale wrapped everything up was pretty satisfying.
Let’s go back to the beginning though – we had a new companion this series in Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts, who if I’m not mistaken is not just the second only black female companion in the series but also the first openly gay female companion. The series in fact also features the very first lesbian kiss of the show (unless I missed something else). Given all of that, I can imagine this series would be under a little extra scrutiny, though I think some people jumped the gun in criticizing Steven Moffat – this is, unfortunately, a bit of a problem in media criticism nowadays where people don’t have the patience to just wait a little bit and see what happens. I mean, I do think this is understandable, but I still wish they had waited for the series finale. I will say that I really liked Bill – I really enjoyed Pearl Mackie’s chemistry with Peter Capaldi, and I loved how earlier in the series she kept asking all the right kinds of questions, questions you wouldn’t think of, and was overall very fun to watch. I don’t think she will ever rank among the best companions, but for a one-off companion, she was solid and I’d say handled far, far better than they handled poor Martha (Freema Agyeman). I found many of her scenes in The Doctor Falls really sad simply because of how cruel her fate seemed to be, until Moffat of course pushes one of his reset buttons and Bill gets a somewhat happy ending. It’s almost a deus ex machina, but I’m okay with it – I think anything else would have made Bill’s inclusion in this series pointless. In fact, the only real negative I can say is that I find her ultimate fate to be rather similar to Clara’s last series.
I think this series is also the best versions of The Master and Missy we’ve had by far. I found The Master to be an absolutely terrible character – far too over the top and campy and John Simm, who is generally a good actor, was just ludicrous in that role. Michelle Gomez as Missy unfortunately had some of the same traits, although last series I found her tolerable. This series I thought was a much better showing for both of them; they were both restrained and Michelle Gomez even got to show us what a wonderful and subtle actor she can be when allowed, especially in episodes like The Doctor Falls. Admittedly, the whole subplot of The Doctor trying to turn Missy good was a bit underdeveloped for my liking, but the resolution of it, a brilliant twist of irony, and almost cruel considering The Doctor will probably never learn of it, was pretty neatly done.
I also liked how they didn’t just withhold stuff from earlier episodes for the finale and several subplots actually became important in other episodes in the middle of the series. I thought The Doctor’s blindness was easily the most interesting aspect of the series (although its resolution came off a bit calculated), but other things, such as the photographs of Bill’s mother in The Pilot becoming important later on in The Lie of the Land were well done and made the series feel more cohesive. There were of course some episodes that just didn’t work – such as the okay but completely forgettable Knock Knock – and certain plot elements that seemed to have been inserted for the sake of trailers and not the episodes – such as The Doctor’s faux-regeneration in The Lie of the Land, which was a scene that really made no sense whatsoever. Nardole as the secondary companion, I think, was – well, he was there, I guess. I’m not sure if his presence or absence makes much of a difference, but I do like Matt Lucas and he was really funny and never annoying, so that’s a positive, I guess. The filmmaking, as usual, is your standard, generic TV. There were a couple of shots I really liked – especially the opening of Oxygen, which was really creepy and effective and kind of reminded me of the film Gravity (but actually good) and the opening shot of the spaceship in World Enough and Time. Unfortunately, again, nothing comes close to Heaven Sent, which I wouldn’t say was great when it came to its filmmaking, but it had the most interesting cinematography that I’ve seen on this show and Rachel Talalay’s direction and the editing was at least decent, if not solid. Murray Gold’s music doesn’t quite shine here as it did last series but it has its moments.
I have, of course, saved the best for last – Peter Capaldi. I have honestly always thought of him as an actor first and Doctor next, if you know what I mean. There have been good Doctors before, but take David Tennant for example. He is a good actor, but he has limited range – he works well within that range (see his terrific turn in Jessica Jones for how well he can modulate himself for a role while never really broadening his range) and he was a great Doctor, but Peter Capaldi, quite frankly, is a great actor and quite easily the best Doctor of the show by far, if only for that reason alone, though there are other reasons as well. He has great range as an actor and brings a tremendous depth and gravitas to his character, but above all he’s a subtle actor, so even when he’s playing broad comedy, he doesn’t overdo it, and he can transition between comedy and serious effortlessly. Look at his speech about what defines the legacy of a species in Thin Ice – he underplays it wonderfully. This has always been a hallmark of his acting – even going so far back as series 8. He always knew when to be restrained and he understands that sometimes he just needs to remain still. His best performances will always be the ones in series 9, particularly Heaven Sent, but his performance in The Doctor Falls, especially his speech about kindness, was just as good and it’s just another wonderfully acted moment. I am definitely going to miss him.