The series finale opens with an in medias res as we see the beginning of the next regeneration… and then we cut to the opening titles and the actual episode. The TARDIS arrives on a gigantic ship that’s trying to get away from a black hole and sent a distress signal. Missy, who is “Doctor Who” now and her two disposables, “exposition” and “comic relief” (brilliant self-irony here from Steven Moffat) are here to help. But, a crew member arrives and demands to know which one of them is human as certain creepy figures are coming for them. The Doctor, who’s been observing from the TARDIS emerges to help save Bill, the target, but the crew member shoots her right through the chest.
Bill is taken away to be repaired, even though there’s a literal hole where her heart is supposed to be. She’s taken down to the bottom of the ship where she survives and begins waiting for the Doctor like he told her to. She befriends a weird old man named Mr Razor and starts working in the hospital where her life was saved, all the while waiting for the Doctor, Nardole, and even Missy to come. She realizes that time goes much faster for her than it does for her friends on the top floor. In fact, Bill ends up waiting years until the Doctor and the others finally take the lift down.
For them, only ten minutes pass between Bill being taken and taking the lift, but in that time the bottom floor has developed a plan to get stronger and get up to the top of the ship. Live is pretty awful down at the bottom, you see. Meanwhile, they are treating special patients, trying to eliminate pain and aiming higher and higher. When Bill notices that the Doctor and the others are heading down she asks Mr Razor to show her where they will arrive. Instead, he takes her to conversion where she gets the full upgrade and becomes a Cyberman.
As it turns out, this is not a human colony ship as the Time Lords thought, but a Mondasian one where the genesis of the Cybermen is well underway. When they arrive at the bottom, the Doctor and Nardole encounter the converted Bill who keeps repeating that she waited for the Doctor. Missy meets Mr Razor, who unmasks himself and reveals that he is the Master’s previous regeneration, the one who became Prime Minister of the UK and battled with the Tenth Doctor. In other words, the Doctor is in the trouble of his lifetime.
Oh boy, there’s a lot to talk about. Let’s start with the obvious big deal of the return of the Mondasian Cybermen. It would have been better not to know they were returning (same with John Simm). The way it played out, Missy’s big realization that the ship is from Mondas wasn’t a big deal for those who read the news about the season. Regardless, this was more than a worthy return of the iconic foes that the First Doctor faced more than half a century ago.
Rachel Talalay, one of the most talented directors working on Doctor Who right now, managed to make the Cybermen scary again. The lead-up to the reveal was still somehow full of suspense despite the fact that most people knew exactly what was coming. This together with the numerous Classic Who references (like good old Venusian Aikido) made “World Enough and Time” a nostalgic yet refreshing episode to watch. I’m not a big fan of the Cybermen in general, yet Talalay and Moffat made me love them in this episode. They were genuinely scary and that’s a big feat to pull off.
The Master, at least John Simm’s version, was also reminiscent of the Classic Era. He was less RTD’s maniac and more the calm and collected, mask-loving evil genius of the Delgado and Ainley years. We’ll see how the two Masters play off of each other in the next episode, but seeing as both Gomez and Simm are absolutely brilliant individually it’s hard to imagine them being anything but spectacular together. There is the question of Missy not recognizing her former self (and not remembering) plus the fact that in one scene her dialogue sounded an awful lot like that of River Song. I’m willing to put both down to just Steven Moffat being Steven Moffat, although I’m hoping for a logical explanation for the former in the final episode of the series.
A much bigger issue with the episode was the handling of Bill’s character and her fate. Bill Potts has been the light of this series since the beginning, with her relatable and quirky personality and everyday problems. Not to mention the power of representation and how she is a queer woman of color traveling with the Doctor through time and space, calling out sexism, and talking about sexuality with Roman soldiers.
The Monk trilogy already put her through quite a lot but that was nothing compared to what Bill had to endure in this episode. Not being listened to was just the beginning. After that, she was shot through the chest and then waited years for the Doctor to come for her. This sound a lot like Amy Pond, but what Bill was put through actually rivals the pregnancy storyline that poor Amy went through in Series 6 in it’s tragedy and horror. Another thing? She’s now the second companion of color to get turned into a Cyberman because of the Master.
It must be said, Moffat actually killing off a companion for good would be a brave and “about time” move for his final series. The false alarms and everyone’s deaths being twisted until they didn’t really die was tiring even before Clara came along. By now, we really can’t trust Moffat with what he does to his characters. Is Bill going to remain a Cyberman?
On the one hand, that would mean actual consequences that Doctor has to face. Moffat’s DW has been lacking that except for the famous “Heaven Sent” situation and the brief blindness following “Oxygen”. On the other hand, do I really want it to come at the cost of Bill Potts? That would be killing off (or inflicting a fate worse than death upon) the first queer woman of color companion for what’s essentially manpain. Remembering Danny Pink, one would think Moffat’s characters never actually die, unless it comes to black characters. Do we really want that?
I’m not trying to say that this is a part of some big conspiracy, and I certainly do not want to accuse Steven Mofat of being racist or homophobic. I genuinely believe that he chose to do what he did with Danny Pink back in Series 8 because that was the only logical way to get the main characters involved in that particular plot. I have the feeling that he decided to go in a similar direction with Bill because he knows the criticism he gets for not letting anyone else die a truly tragic death. The Ponds lived until they were 80, River’s consciousness lived on, and Clara is practically immortal until she’s done having fun.
Death has become cheap on Doctor Who. We now know that the main characters are going to have a wibbly-wobbly death that’s by no means as tragic as it could be, even if it is played for drama like in the case of the Ponds. With Bill suffering this horrible, horrible fate Moffat could prove with his last companion that he’s not afraid to pull an Adric. To a certain degree I would even agree with a move like that, but you know how it goes, be careful what you wish for. If Bill remains a Cyberman or simply just dies, it will give birth to numerous unfortunate implications (implications Gretchen will be tackling later this week, so stay tuned for her response to this episode). DW really shouldn’t go that direction, not with Bill.
The fate of Bill Potts aside, “World Enough and Time” was one of the best episodes I’ve seen in a while, and that includes last year’s favorite “Heaven Sent”. Steven Moffat and Rachel Talalay make a good team. Now that they have an excellent cast to work with plus the ability to toy with two Masters and the origin story of the first Cybermen, they have to make the last episode even better, they just have to. Unfortunately, I’m way too worried about Bill to truly hope for the best possible final episode. Whatever happens the best we can ask for is a worthy second part to a story like this one. It looks like the Masters’ redemption will be front and center alongside the Cybermen problem, and at the end of it all, the Doctor might fall for good—or at last this regeneration.