No disrespect to the current Doctor Who, but the last time the series tried to do an epic three-part finale, it really dropped the ball. (I’m referring to the complete thud that “Last of the Time Lords” is, following off the great set-up by “Utopia” and then “The Sound of Drums.”
So, you’ll have to excuse me a bit if I’m a bit nervous about seeing where this potential three-part finale takes us this time around.
But I will admit that, so far, so good.
“The Haunting of Villa Diodati” was teased as the Doctor Who story where the Doctor meets Mary Shelley. Shelley is important in literary and world history for helping create the genre that Doctor Who exists in. And despite warnings from the Doctor to the TARDIS team to not mention Frankenstein to Shelley, you just know that somehow, something is going to show up and inspire her.
What it is is the Lone Cybermen that Jack warned us about earlier.
But more on that later.
What we get leading up to the big revelation (and like Ruth showing up, the arrival of the Cyberman threatens to overshadow pretty everything else in this episode) is an atmospheric episode that felt like it was taken right out of the Gothic era of classic Doctor Who. And given my affection for that particular era of Doctor Who, that’s a good thing.
Seeing various figures who will have a profound impact on our world and its literature was fun — even if the show does go to extreme lengths to make Byron out to a hormonal imbalance with legs. The concept of the house that closes in on itself with various rooms not allowing people to leave and characters vanishing was unnerving enough and visually, it was all well shot.
But then the Lone Cyberman shows up and a lot of that early work is forgotten.
I will say that the Lone Cyberman does seem to borrow a bit from the Borg, giving us a human face to the cybernetic race. I understand why this has to happen (it would get tedious to see the Doctor talking to a regular Cyberman for the substantial amounts of exposition that have to take place), but it still feels like Chris Chibnall is too quick to borrow elements from the show’s history and other series.
Certainly, the Doctor’s anger at the Cybermen is easy to understand — where it’s the fate of Bill Potts the last time she met them or going all the way back to Adric’s death in the classic series (and given that “Earthshock” was chosen as the story to give fans a taste of the fifth Doctor’s era, it’s something that can and hopefully is familiar to new Who fans). And as quick as I am to call Jodie Whittaker out for what I see as deficiencies in her portrayal of the Doctor, let me also call out that she does a great job here walking a fine line between anger and the darkness that is inside the Doctor. Her speech about standing on top of the mountain and not always being able to win was chilling and pitch-perfect.
It’s also interesting to note that the Doctor has no choice but to give the Lone Cyberman what he wants, thus ignoring Jack’s warning and setting things up for the two-part finale to come. We’ve heard various Cyber-wars mentioned over the show’s history and the Cybermen certainly are not strangers to trying to use time travel to manipulate their own history (see “Attack of the Cybermen” for example).
So, we’ve certainly set things up for an epic finale. I just hope that the show can deliver the goods….