Full Spoilers for the Season Finale
Warned, we begin:
The Doctor: “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 I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. 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, maybe there’s no point in any of this at all, but it’s the best I can do, and I will stand here doing it until it kills me. You’re going to die, too, someday. When 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.”
Yeah, this one doesn't fit in my episode-by-episode progress here, and even the last-seconds appearance of The First Doctor doesn't justify it (although, if only these episodes aired when I was blogging The Tenth Planet, all would be perfect. Truly, had we but world enough and time, this coyness blogging would be no crime...)
So why do it now?
Well, because, the internet is abuzz about this extraordinary two part story now, tonight, and I just finished watching the second part. But also because I think that Moffat and Capaldi, Mackie and Lucas, and Gomez and Simm, have centered the Doctor and his universe, friends and enemies, in a parable for our time and for all time, really.
What is the great thing our culture, our politics, our time lacks?
Whether it's Brexit, or Theresa May's thwarted effort to sell a "dementia tax"; or the roiling mess that is U.S. politics writ large, or the rise in hate crimes, the fact is, our times are deeply divisve, angry, and cruel.
So Mr. Moffat has told us a story.
A story in which a hero finally acknowledges that he is doing the best he can do, and asks help of his oldest friend and oldest enemy. And they say no, leaving together, and when the oldest friend's hearts misgive her, she kills the oldest enemy, her shadow side, and, happy to rejoin her friend at last, turns to him, but is killed by her shadow side with his last action.
The Master laughs, malicious to his last breath, knowing that he has prevented his future self from standing with the Doctor, even at the cost of his own future. Missy laughs, ruefully, sadly, yet acknowledging the irony: Her best decision was in fact "Without hope, without witness, without reward.".
So too the Doctor. He fights on, and on, and on, carrying the day, but losing his life.
And Bill--feared and hated by the people she is serving, because of her ghastly appearance, the Cyberman who remains a woman of heart, despairs when she finds the Doctor's corpse.
Only Nardole is left, and Nardole has dedicated himself to saving the life of the children and humans left on the ship at the edge of the black hole. He may never face the Cybermen again, or they may come for him and his wards tomorrow--or today.
That's the real end of the story. That's its point. The Doctor says it in so many words. I've quoted it above, but here's the critical bit: "You’re going to die, too, someday. When 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.”
The Doctor falls, faithful to the end. Bill too. Missy too, least likely of all. And Nardole still serves.
Strip away the magic ending for Bill--too specifically foreshadowed back in The Pilot for me to resent, but, yes, magic; and to the weary old Doctor summoned one last time from death's door, only to find himself there already--and that is what we have seen. The tragic end, with happy aperçus.
But none for Missy, who has truly changed, truly grown. She enjoys playing the old game for a bit, this time with her charismatic prior self to add to the fun. She abandons the Doctor, sadly, in contrast to the Master's flippant and contemptuous stroll away from him. But at the last, lethally embracing her former self, she says goodbye to what he meant, and explains why she's changed:
I loved being you. Every second of it. Oh, the way you burned like a sun, like a whole screaming world on fire. I remember that feeling. And I always will. And I will always miss it.Missy echoes the Doctor's final speech in The Day of the Doctor; she too has been going home to her oldest friend, though he may never know it; the Mistress has come home, the long way 'round.
Oh, because he's right.
Because it's time to stand with him.
It's where we've always been going, and it's happening now, today.
It's time to stand with the Doctor.
The first part's brilliant, claustrophobic and creepy thriller was one of my favorite episodes even before I saw the payoff. The comic, all-too-meta comic opening transforming swiftly to a body-horror story that served as the Genesis of the Cybermen, wrung our hearts at Bill's loss--I could have written a long appreciative post about that. It deserves it.
But tonight, I can't help but feel that if do that now, you might lose the urgency of the parable.
Without hope, without witness, without reward.
I may be a preacher of sermons for decades; I'll never beat that sermon.