If the next Doctor is not a woman, Steven Moffat has done a good job making the people who avoid casting a woman look like massive dicks. That's a little flip but it's true and one of the takeaways from the bittersweet season finale of Doctor Who that aired to-day. If one thinks a bit about the plot, there are a lot of things that don't make sense but the thematic stuff is so good I kind of don't care. "The Doctor Falls" brings a new dimension to the season long focus on mentalities that regard other people as less then human to justify subjugation or murder, the most interesting thread in the episode relating to gender and even gender dysphoria.
Spoilers after the screenshot
I really didn't find John Simm half as annoying as he was under Russell T. Davies, maybe because now he's channelling Delgado and Ainsley so much, but also here he's working as a nice representation of resistance to the idea of a female Doctor along with empathy and femininity in general.
The Master: "Do as she says? Is the future going to be all girl?"
The Doctor: "We can only hope."
This seems a pretty loud and clear way of Moffat saying, yes, the next Doctor ought to be a woman. Moffat also uses Simm's Master to bully Bill (Pearl Mackie) on her gender, the above exchange arising from a subtle reconfiguring of the Cybermen, as a concept, to a socially enforced gender construct. The way Missy (Michelle Gomez) awkwardly apologises to the Master for calling Bill "her" is part of Missy perfectly being placed as the transition point, the people caught in an old fashioned view of gender realising that recognising someone's gender identity is truly more natural than trying to force one on them. Missy really has learned empathy, or gotten back in touch with it.
The episode is both about the experience of not being taken as what one sees oneself as and also about the pain involved in change. It's painful for Missy to face that she's not the Master anymore, it's painful for the Master to contemplate his future, and it's painful for the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) to contemplate change again as he begins the process of regeneration.
Capaldi, it needs hardly be said, is magnificent in this episode, in big and small moments. His discomfort when trying to explain to Bill what's happened to her is so nicely layered with sadness and empathy. This episode actually invokes that word and the Doctor even mentions Donald Trump, making it clear that this season long theme has very much been motivated by the world's current political climate. It leads to a really fitting modification of the Third Doctor's phrase, "Where there's life there's hope" to "Where there's tears there's hope."
I loved the fact that Twelve gets to offer someone a jelly baby (he offered one in a cigarette case in his first season, like the Fourth in Face of Evil, but this time he was actually able to say it). I like it because, really, more Doctors should do it, there's no reason it should be so married to the Fourth--the Second was actually the first to do it--and I also liked it because it was like the Doctor taking the line back from Simm's Master who used it in one of his Russell T. Davies episodes.
Nardole (Matt Lucas) had a couple nice moments and his goodbye was good though it mostly made me wish more time had been taken to develop him over the season to earn his protestations about being likely to sell children on the black market.
One could say Bill's resolution is very much like Clara's only taken a step further--like Clara, Bill has died and been reborn and has gone off with another woman to have adventures, only Bill's relationship is explicitly romantic. And really sweet. I wish there'd been more build up of a relationship with Heather (Stephanie Hyam) but her appearance and the role in the resolution was so cool I'm willing to accept it. Now they're both water and, as Heather tells Bill directly, change has become for them something easy and fun.
I wonder if the appearance of David Bradley at the end was prompted by leaked set photos from the Christmas special. It made me curious to see how this unfolds, in any case. Bradley isn't that much like Hartnell but at least he's a good actor.