And they do. Only as we well know, she’s become a Cyber-woman now. (You just know Bill would have asked why that’s not what female Cyberman, like “Time Lords,” are called.) Through her new get-up she tearfully tells the Doctor she listened to his subconscious message and waited… (Oh, and if you’re wondering, this isn’t reversible by just traveling back in time to before all this began; the Doctor mentions that they’re too close to a Black Hole for it to be exact enough to return.)
And that’s not the only revelation coming our way. While Missy was doing her computer thing, she runs into Mr. Razor, prompting a few big discoveries. First, the people Bill saw on this ship aren’t humans. They’re from Earth’s “twin” planet, Mondas. This means all the Cybermen we’ve met thus far are Mondasian Cybermen. Secondly, Mr. Razor’s just a disguise… Turns out, he’s Missy’s past self: The Master (returning guest star John Simm).
Together they approach the Doctor, Nardole, and Cyber-Bill, and Missy reveals that it’s not exactly Operation Exodus that’s been happening… Instead, it’s a genesis… A genesis of the Cybermen. Cue the sound of (dramatic) drums.
There’s a lot to unpack in this episode, so let’s get started. First up, from the get-go it’s clear this is an episode Moffat has wanted to write for a while now. Why else would he save such an iconic villain, and gift it to super-fan Peter Capaldi for his final two episodes of his very last season? But it’s not just that. There are little flecks of references to things Moffat’s been asked about or even poked fun at during his tenure on the show.
We see it in how he jokes about the Doctor’s name really being “Who” (a question fans stopped asking a long time ago) and even at the Doctor having been a woman once. Sure, he’s skirted around the issue of casting a female Doctor by giving us a female Master, but this is really the first time we’ve seen the Doctor discuss Time Lord gender bending with a companion. In a way, it’s significant that it’s Bill. As we’ve seen all season, the new companion has a fresh perspective on every aspect of the show so far, including this, given their little exchange:
BILL: “Time Lords, a bit flexible on the man-woman thing then?”
DOCTOR: “We’re the most civilized civilization in the universe. We’re billions of years beyond your petty human obsession with gender and its associated stereotypes.”
BILL: “But you still call yourselves Time Lords?”
It’s part of what makes Bill’s fate at the moment sting. Before the season even started, it was teased that perhaps Bill wouldn’t survive to see the end. And while it certainly seems that way for now, I’m hopeful that with three Time Lords involved (I’m not sure how helpful either versions of the Masters will be) they’ll be able to come up with some kind of solution. Though I will say, I wasn’t particularly affected by this particular twist. Seeing Bill shot was affecting. Seeing her be turned into a Cyberman… not as much as it should have been.
Part of this is because we’ve known that the Mondasian Cybermen were coming for weeks now, and seeing Bill get shot made it seem like an eventuality rather than a twist. (Especially after she was carted off to be “fixed.”) Another part of this is because we’ve seen Danny Pink experience something similar back in season 8. The same for Ianto Jones’ girlfriend over on Torchwood (though this was before the series started), but at this point fans (or maybe just me) have experienced enough beloved characters get transformed into Cybermen for it to really hit home. I will say that getting a flashback montage of Bill so soon after her getting shot — and the episode focusing on her experience so much — was nice, and served as a solid reminder of how good an actress Mackie is.
Speaking of transformations, we also get a glimpse of what could be the Doctor’s next regeneration — though that won’t be coming until the Christmas special, hence all the snow. (I say what could be because as we saw in “Lie of the Land,” the Doctor’s regeneration has been used as a red herring a few times this season.) But it is interesting to note that Capaldi’s hair looks possibly like Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor’s hairdo in the future. I wonder if this has something to do with John Simm now sporting a Roger Delgado-esque goatee in this new appearance, which I’m pleased to note is all at once restrained and still madcap, kind of like Missy’s in this episode. Something I did find interesting about his return is that he’s genuinely concerned for his future self, which could have to do with the Doctor’s attempts to rehabilitate Missy. Perhaps he was concerned that Missy really was changing for the better.
But the fact that we now see the Doctor go up against two Masters and a classic villain once again relates back to this being Moffat’s swan song, while also speaking to his impact on the Doctor Who mythos these last couple of years. As a showrunner, he’s given us a 50th anniversary special that saw the Doctor meet his past incarnations, and episodes that saw Missy and the Master interact. He’s also brought back Gallifrey (taking us there in the process), taken us to Skaro (and introduced us to young Davros), and explored the Doctor’s youth somewhat. Heck, we even saw the Alpha Centauri come back and visited the Ice Warriors on their native Mars a few episodes ago.
Now, he’s delving into the psychology of the Mondasian Cybermen (back on the show for the first time since 1966), which is quite heartbreaking but fits in with the larger themes of this season and the series as a whole. In their efforts to escape their painful existence, the Mondasian people have started modifying their bodies to the point of living in excruciating pain, all in the hopes of being strong enough to take reach the top of the colony ship and take charge of their lives. (It’s similar to the Daleks, who are encased in armor, but that has nothing to do with escaping pain as much as keeping them battle ready.) The reveal works well to highlight the painful origins of these specific Doctor Who villains who haven’t been as effective as they could have been in the recent series.
But the fact that these Mondasians (who look quite human) and Jurj’s blue self are on this ship, makes me wonder if these are callbacks to earlier episodes in the season. Could the people on the colony ship in “Smile” have been Mondasians? After all, their planet looked quite similar. (Probably not though seeing as it was Earth events referred in that big book Bill encountered.) In fact, I may have griped that I wanted Bill to be a normal companion, and not particularly special in the way Amy and Clara wound up being in the end. But faced with a distinct lack of Bill next season, I’m actually hoping Moffat finds a way to save her.
Next week’s hour is titled, “The Doctor Falls,” but considering he’s got Nardole and two versions of the Master on his side as he faces off against a hoard of Cybermen, maybe he’ll be able to pick himself back up again. At least until the Christmas Special.