Lots of people fall in the final episode of Series 10: Missy falls to the ground and presumably dies; the Master falls as the elevator plunges down to the lower levels of the colony ship; Bill’s Cyberman body falls as Heather rescues her. In fact, the only person who doesn’t fall, in fact fights falling with everything he has, is the Doctor. Alternatively, the Doctor falls many times during this episode, but each time he finds the strength, the assistance or the miracle to stand back up. It is so like Moffat to give an episode a title that looks straightforward, but really speaks to a much deeper meaning. (Giving you the side eye, Thin Ice.)
I read “falls” in terms of dying/regeneration. So, if the Doctor doesn’t actually “fall,” what’s really going on? Truthfully, he does “fall” after he blows up level 507. CyberBill finds him and takes him to the TARDIS where, appparently, her tears revive him enough to get the TARDIS going and kick-off his regeneration. So, while he falls temporarily, it was brief and relatively meaningless. This fall certainly wasn’t permanent in the way the title suggests. It doesn’t seem to be the point.
I think the fall that Moffat is pointing to is the Doctor’s resistance to regeneration and change, especially in the face of Bill’s choice to evolve when given the opportunity by Heather. (More on this in a bit.) He says this directly as he fights his regeneration process. We all know he has to regenerate and that change must occur. So does he. However, just like he did during Twelve’s first episode, Moffat places our fears and doubts, (probably his own as well) on the screen. All of us together are worried about the end of this Doctor Who era. Those of us who love this TARDIS team, characters and creators alike, have had moments (or months) of not wanting anything to change. And so, here is the Doctor, feeling all of our feels right on the screen for everyone to see.
But, the Doctor is supposed to be the mentor this season, right? The wise professor, the stalwart guardian of the vault, the venerable grandfather. He should be modeling for us courage and bravery in the face of change, but he isn’t. He’s having a temper tantrum and we’ve all been invited. I think this is the “fall” Moffat is talking about in the title of this episode. He may also be foreshadowing the challenge Twelve will face in the Christmas episode.
As for Bill, her arc makes me happy. In World Enough and Time, she transform. It is a terrible, horrific transformation. But, as with every child, parents can not stop them (us) from becoming who (what) we are meant to be. Thankfully, Cyberdom is only a way-station for Bill. I would have preferred that she had 100% agency and volition in this completion of her arc, in the manner of The Lie of the Land . However, when offered the terrifying and miraculous choice to become something new and different, Bill took it (literally by the hand), evolving into a being able to travel the universe. She now has all the autonomy and agency she needs to create whatever life she wants, including exploring a relationship with Heather or returning to her old life. In the end, as all children inevitably do, Bill chooses her own destiny, leaving the Doctor to his.
The final scene between Bill and the Doctor is both the conclusion and the beginning of Bill’s story arc. She began as a young, naive, inexperienced young woman with heart full of curiosity, adventure and longing for more from her life and the world. Bill sought out time with Doctor as way to expand her world. The Doctor invited her to be mentored. Bill accepted. Throughout the series, Bill and the Doctor have been progressing through a normal relationship arc consisting of increasing attachment, followed by differentiation.
This theory of the development of human connection (called the Separation-Individuation theory of child development) was first articulated by Margaret Mahler in her book The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant (1975). When we are infants, we are symbiotic with our primary caretakers, meaning psychologically we are more one with them than a separate individual. As we grow, we become less them and more ourselves. This process is called differentiation.
We see this process play-out with Bill as she journeys with the Doctor, encountering the universe, becoming more and more knowledgeable (and secure) about her self. Finally, she is ready to leave the Doctor, telling Heather that she’ll take the lead, thank you very much.
In case I haven’t made it obvious enough, this is also the journey of children and parents. I remember one evening about a year before my mother passed away we had dear family friends over for dinner. We were talking about how hard it can be when kids grow-up and leave home. My mom, very much surprising me, said, “Actually, it makes me happy. When my girls left home, ready for their lives and eager to go. It meant I had done enough for them. That I had done a good job.”
The Doctor had done enough for Bill. Bill, grew-up and found her true self (and got the girl and a kiss). I do not, however, believe this is the end for Bill. After all, the Doctor didn’t get to say good bye.