If Walls Could Talk: Doctor Who’s Two-Part Finale According To M.H. Norris and Mark Twain (Series 10)

M.H. Norris

On an episode of The Raconteur Roundtable, James and I sat down and broke down the first half of Series 10, taking a look from both a content and a writing standpoint. I would like to extend that look today, and examine the last two parts of Doctor Who’s tenth series.

“World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls” were the two-part finale that all but ended both Steven Moffat’s and Peter Capaldi’s time on Doctor Who.

As I get started, I’d like to put my traditional disclaimer up. Peter Capaldi’s run on Doctor Who had many problems. Yet, I do not blame Peter Capaldi for a single one of them. If nothing else, I can see where he tried so hard to save it.

To assist me in analyzing the two-part finale, I’m going to pull Mark Twain’s nineteen rules governing literary art, from his classic essay, “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses.”

Serious spoiler warning for the two-part finale of Series 10 of Doctor Who, “World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls.” To illustrate the rules, I will not be withholding spoilers up to and including the last minute of the show. If you have not had a chance to watch and do not want to be spoiled, I’ll see you back here in a couple of days after you watch.

Let’s get started, shall we?

1) That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

Take an honest, objective look at the episode and tell me where this went? If you say from one end of the ship to another, I’m going to stare at you.

What did it accomplish?

In fact, “World Enough and Time” could have not existed, and could have been shoved into the first five minutes of “The Doctor Falls.” We would not have lost a lot.

The same thing can be said of “Extremis” earlier in the season. Though, with “Extremis,” that was glossed over in a line in the second part.

The Doctor, Bill, and Nardole go through this whole adventure, shoot there are even two Masters running around too. But at the end of the day, when the dust settled and everyone more or less moved on from this, what was accomplished?

Absolutely nothing.

The Cybermen are still on the ship. Nardole is stuck there. Bill is…. Well we’ll save that one for a later rule. And the Doctor… actually we’re going to save that one for a later rule as well. No-one has changed, as characters. The Masters are fundamentally the same, shedding whatever attempts at character development the series has given them. Nardole is the same. The Doctor is the same. Bill is the same.

The plot is static. The characters are static.

Two hours of footage have gone nowhere.

2) They require that the episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it.

As already stated above, we could have done without the first part of the two-parter. The sole purpose of this episode was to remind us that time moved faster at the bottom than it did at the top of the ship.

Let me state that one more time in case you didn’t notice it here or in the episode, time moves faster in the bottom of the ship than it does at the top.

In fact, Whovians have taken the time to diagram this.

But seriously, what happened in “World Enough and Time”? Bill is killed (in the most obnoxious and unrealistic way – if you’ve seen the scene in question you know what I mean). But then she’s not killed, she’s partially and then later fully converted into a Cyberman.

The Master is around, two of them. One, Missy is with the Doctor the other is in disguise helping Steven Moffat leave his mark on canon by changing the origin story of the Mondasian Cyberman (keep in mind these are the Cyberman who we meet in the 1966 serial The Tenth Planet).

And of course, countless references to  time moving faster in the bottom of the ship than it does at the top.

This entire episode could have been condensed and added in, giving Part 2 some much needed tension and help.

3) They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

Bill…

Oh Bill…

We first met both Bill and Heather in “The Pilot” where Heather ends up (according to the Doctor) dead due to a weird space oil thing that’s not fully explained and is the one vague point in the only solid episode of Series 10.

Is she dead?

According to the Doctor, yes.

Is she living?

According to Heather, yes. It’s just a different kind of living.

Either way, the distinction isn’t made clear.

4) They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

Heather, who came to assist in Bill’s exit is an excellent example of a violation of this rule.

We never saw any sign of her and her puddle all season long.

Until we did.

Until, such a time as it was convenient to the plot for her to show back up. And convenience to your plot is not a sufficient excuse to randomly throw a character back into a story. Her presence was unestablished. She is the worst kind of Deus Ex Machina.

5) They require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

There’s a balance between character-building dialogue and cutting into your action sequence with needless dialogue that really doesn’t belong here.

There’s two particular times where the dialogue really stood out as unnecessary and did nothing more than to further bog down an episode that was already bogged down.

Let’s take a look at  the first one.

MASTER: You can’t win.

DOCTOR: I know! And?

MASTER: Come on, Lady Version. I honestly don’t know what you see in him.

MISSY: Likewise.

Both turn and begin to walk away.

DOCTOR: No! No! When I say no, you turn back around!

The Doctor runs, catching up with them before cutting their path off by standing in front of them.

DOCTOR: Hey! I’m going to be dead in a few hours, so before I go, let’s have this out, you and me, once and for all. Winning? Is that what you think it’s about? I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone, or because I hate someone, or because, because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun and God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works, because it hardly ever does. I do what I do, because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind. It’s just that. Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live. Maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, you know, maybe there’s no point in any of this at all, but it’s the best I can do, so I’m going to do it. And I will stand here doing it till it kills me. You’re going to die too, some day. How will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand, is where I fall. Stand with me. These people are terrified. Maybe we can help, a little. Why not, just at the end, just be kind?

MASTER: See this face? Take a good, long look at it. This is the face that didn’t listen to a word you just said.

He walks off.

DOCTOR: Missy. Missy. You’ve changed. I know you have. And I know what you’re capable of. Stand with me. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.

MISSY: Me too. But no. Sorry. Just, no. But thanks for trying.

First, let me take a second to point out that I’ve never been a fan of this buddy-buddy thing that Moffat has been doing with the Doctor and the Master. They were friends once upon a time, but that ended a long, long, long, long time ago.

All through classic Doctor Who, the Doctor and the Master fought each other. There were plenty of times where if he’d had the chance, both would have killed the other.

The Master didn’t hesitate to torture him in Series 3, now did he?

Yet, all of a sudden the two are all buddy-buddy.

If the Doctor knew he was going to die (and he did) and got to have it out with the Master one last time, this doesn’t seem to be what they would discuss. Especially not after all the lead up Steven Moffat has planted all season long.

Another example of this happens a few minutes later and this one has been annoying me just as much. Take a look:

DOCTOR: Yeah. This is it, I’m afraid. So, if there’s anything we ought to be saying?

BILL: I can’t think of anything. Can you?

DOCTOR: No.

BILL: But, hey er, you know how I’m usually all about women and, and kind of people my own age.

DOCTOR: Yeah?

BILL: Glad you knew that.

Both know this is the last conversation they’ll get to have with each other and this is what they spend it on?

So much potential for one last touching character moment. And that’s how they say goodbye.

6) They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.

Series 10 was almost completely void of characterization. The Doctor was never consistent episode to episode. Besides being gay and the bit with her mother, we never see a lot of what makes Bill Bill. Writers bounce back and forth between portraying her as intelligent, or so stupid that, as a physics student, she doesn’t know what CERN is.

The Doctor acted in and out of character the whole series. In several episodes, I would see him act in a way that he never would have (siding with the emoji bots in “Smile” is a good example of this).

Another thing that was extremely out of character were the Masters. Let me make one thing perfectly clear.

The Master would never shoot himself.

In fact, all through classic Who, most of his arcs were about him finding ways to prolong his life. Shoot, the entire Doctor Who TV movie (1996) exists because the Master just won’t die.

So he/she goes and stabs themselves in the back, twice?

No.

It’s not in the Master’s character to do something like that.

7) They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it.

This requires a character to have consistent characterization which is something Twelve is noticeably lacking. I get the character shifting a few times in the first few episodes, he’s getting a feel for his own skin as well as the writers getting used to him.

But for three seasons for his character to shift, rather dramatically at times and then flip flop back to previous versions for no reason?

8) They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as “the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest,” by either the author or the people in the tale.

Why on Earth would the Doctor set the Cybermen databanks to target him, Missy, and the Master. I get the idea of trapping the two of them, but he also traps himself.

And why does he keep fighting this battle. I get it’s because it’s “Kind,” but it’s pointless. For the first time ever, I find myself agree with the Master on something.

But because the Doctor claims it’s who he is, it’s suddenly okay.

9) They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

Heather is another point. She magically comes in at the last minute to give Moffat a cop out of actually killing Bill.

Actually, why didn’t Bill die in the explosion the Doctor set off?

Another thing was that the Doctor suddenly expected the Master to change after millennia of the two bashing heads and fighting across the cosmos?

Talk about exploiting miracles.

10) They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

It has been years since I’ve felt like I’m invested enough to care what happens to the characters in Doctor Who. I honestly felt nothing during “Angels Take Manhattan,” and while “Face the Raven” was a good exit, said exit was later voided—thus promptly voiding any emotional impact it had.

Why should I care if Bill was shot? We’re really not given a lot about her character. She couldn’t afford school, she sold chips, the Doctor decides to take her under his wing. She’s gay, she lives with her Aunt. Her mother died when she was little.

All of this information was given to us in “The Pilot.” But none of this is built or expanded on or really presented in a way that makes me want to care. The only thing we learn later is she’s really into the lost Roman legion, which hardly gives us anything else to latch onto.

Even with all that time with the Ponds, it was such shallow character development that I had nothing to latch onto and be interested in.

All these goodbyes are happening and I felt nothing. I was not invested.

11) They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

Yes, to an extent, part of the Doctor’s character is that there is a certain degree of unpredictability.

But this surpasses it.

He wants to have a heart to heart with the Masters. He lies to Bill. He tricks Nardole in basically waiting a few extra years and then dying anyway because he is in an impossible situation.

12) Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

All through Series 10, the Doctor and the Master have seemed to be attempting to rekindle their friendship. They dance around it, especially in “Eaters of Light,” as we lead into the penultimate.

Another place where this rule may have been broken was with Bill and the Doctor as they said goodbye (see dialogue with rule 5).

Series 10 seemed to love to beat around the bush and never actually give you a moment to get attached to the characters.

13) Use the right word, not its second cousin.

All of a sudden, the Mondasian Cyberman developed a laser canon on their heads. Bill discovers this by getting angry with the Doctor.

Off and on, he got her to use it a couple of times and referred to it as “could you get angry on this.”

No.

14) Eschew surplusage.

Be clear.

That’s all that that means. And look, I saved you a trip to Google.

Moffat bogged down his entire last season in the need to be technical and make himself appear clever.

Let’s be clear on something. Nothing makes you look less clever than someone being able to tell you were trying to be clever.

By bogging down a  script with useless things that only hide the point of your episode (or book or whatever it is you’re writing, you find yourself in the position where someone like me is making this list.

15) Not omit necessary details.

For this one, I’m going to go back to “Oxygen” for my example. What was this mission doing? Why were they there? How and when did the suits malfunction? Why did no one remember Nardole is a robot and could handle the vacuum of space better than Bill? Why would any company supposedly interested in making money kill its highly-trained employees, when getting new ones would surely cost more? How is bringing down one company supposed to end capitalism forever? Why are the employees seemingly familiar with films from thousands of years beforehand?

One necessary detail from the two-parter that would have been included, especially because it would have been a fun technical detail, is more on the relation of time throughout the lower parts of the ship. It seemed as if each floor worked on a different speed of time but how much did they differ?

16) Avoid slovenliness of form.

Quite frankly, Doctor Who slovenly this entire two-parter. Yes, usually the Doctor is coming up with and executing a plan on the fly. But usually it’s not so slipshod as he was here. Yes, in one way, the Doctor was being written towards his regeneration, but you can write him there without him actually going there.

Look at Three, look at Nine, look at One and Two. The others (besides Ten and Eleven who were intentionally omitted from the list) I’m not as familiar with their regeneration stories to be able to make the comparison.

But while they would end up at their ends, they still kept on the adventure like normal.

For some reason, the tenth Doctor got it in his head to throw himself a giant episode long pity party about regenerating and every regeneration since has also had it.

And I’m quite frankly over it. But that’s a post for another time (and maybe for the Nexus instead of here).

All of this is beside the true slovenliness of form that’s haunted the entire 10th series—broken pacing, here in spades, of overly-long set-ups and rushed conclusions.

17) Use good grammar.

The one rule that “World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls” manages to avoid.

Mainly because this rule is meant for other mediums.

18) Employ a simple and straightforward style.

Everything has to be this big ball of complicated. Look at the River Song arc. It lasted from 2008 to Christmas of 2015. Sure, for binge watchers, this approach may work, but for causal watchers and for posterity—who might not watch this in a straight line—this approach is not beneficial to the show.

It shoots Moffat’s Doctors in the foot because some of their notable serials will have trouble translating to posterity in the way classic Who does. Twelve has three good episodes. Husbands of River Song is bogged down by her plotline. The Return of Doctor Mysterio to an extent because they constantly mention the previous episode. Which leaves “The Pilot” all alone for clear, heavy-continuity-free, recommendations.

Overall, the two-part series finale to Series 10 was flat, lackluster, dragged in its pacing, and often made truly inexplicable decisions.

Truly, the best part was the last minute where we get the first on-screen appearance of the first Doctor since the 1983 serial “The Five Doctors.”

Hopefully Christmas will do him justice.

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