This review contains spoilers for this episode and the Peter Davison story, Earthshock. Our spoiler-free review is here.
10.11 World Enough And Time
“Hello! I’m Doctor Who!”
I really liked World Enough And Time. I want to say that up front, because there’s something I need to get off my chest about the last ten minutes of so of the episode. It’s best to do that first, I figured.
Back when the Cyberman encountered the fifth Doctor in the terrific story Earthshock, the BBC went to great lengths to protect fans from spoilers. That was a lot easier back then, without pesky social media, websites such as this, and The Sun journalists to worry so much about (The Sun had other people to annoy back then). But the BBC of the 1980s even roped in TV listings magazines, the Radio Times in particular (again, in days before the Radio Times had a Twitter feed that was, er, ‘more liberal’ about spoilers), who ensured that no mention was made of the Cybermen in the preview of the programme.
The upshot was that, at the end of episode one of Earthshock, when the Cybermen came bashing through a wall, it was a huge surprise. A brilliant surprise. Heck, I remember watching it live (we used to do things like that too), and I’m still talking about it over 30 years later.
You can see where this is heading. Oh to have been able to watch World Enough And Time in that kind of bubble, where the surprises were kept under lock and key. Because I can’t help but feel that by revealing the presence of both the Cybermen and John Simm’s return as The Master in advance, this particular episode was undercut. The BBC would rightly argue that the majority of casual fans wouldn’t give two hoots. I get that. But for Doctor Who fans, the ones who, er, ‘gently’ try and persuade others to give the show a go, was there anyone out there who didn’t know what was coming?
“Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain”
What’s particularly disappointing here is that there were two big returning foes in World Enough And Time, and both of them have been known about for nearly three months at least. Why did we have to know about both of them? Wouldn’t the presence of one have distracted us sleuths from the other? Would it have been possible to hide, for instance, the return of John Simm? We’ll never know. It’s good to see Simm back, though, and his Master seems a little calmer than the last time we met.
The frustration is that Steven Moffat wrote an episode that beautifully built up to the reveals, albeit as if we didn’t know what was coming (which, again, I do understand is how it needed to be written). Thus, we got the revelation as to what planet they were at. “It’s Mondas”, said lots of Doctor Who fans, watching the episode. “Mondas”, popped up the message on the screen. That’s a reference that’ll mean nothing to those aforementioned casual viewers, but plenty to us. Furthermore, the Cybermen were teased quite wonderfully, little touches like the volume knobs disguising the pain the subjects were suffering. I don’t think I’d have been able to resist writing the moment where they come through the door and Peter Capaldi gets to meet some of his childhood heroes either. It was all really well done, and nerd gold.
But that, coupled with John Simm being built up to – and hidden well under make up for most of the episode (I for one didn’t twig immediately that it was him) – led to an ending where many of us said “I know”. I can’t be the only Doctor Who fan who wasn’t entirely keen on the “Genesis of the Cybermen” line, either. It was the one line that clunked for me, as fun as it was.
In fact, the episode even started with a tease – again – for something that we know is coming, as the Doctor started to regenerate. We know! We know! I will gladly retract every word of this if the new Doctor is revealed in next week’s episode as a genuine surprise, though. Even though I’m not reconciled to losing Peter Capaldi yet, if something else has been hidden in the midst of the many spoilers, that’d be hugely impressive.
I’m not naïve. Doctor Who lives in an ecosystem where websites – and we’ve been guilty in the past – know that spoilers equal webclicks. But I wonder if there’s a conversation now that needs to be had as to where the line is between spoilers and actually starting to undercut the drama.
And breathe out.
“He dropped the Who when he realised it was a tiny bit on the nose”
The reason I’m so frustrated by the spoiler ecosystem is I thought World Enough And Time was at several times quite superb. Director Rachel Talalay and Steven Moffat are clearly a potent creative combination, and the middle of the episode in particular, as Bill creeps through a hospital evoking memories of The Empty Child and Asylum Of The Daleks was tonally outstanding. I felt like I was watching someone play an excellent, gripping survival horror videogame, where any minute something could leap out, or the tone could shift. Some of the most impressive horror cinema at the moment can be found on the small screen, and World Enough And Time had evidence in abundance to support that.
It did lots of little things well, too. Having sat through Interstellar and watched that film try to explain distortion of time, I’m not surprised that Steven Moffat deployed Doc Brown tactics and gave the Doctor a marker pen and a board to get it across here. In terms of economy of storytelling, I couldn’t really fault that, and it quickly got us to the idea that, on a 400 mile-long spaceship – and a very well realised one – time is moving at a different pace at one end to the other.
The idea of Bill spending months, even years, watching the Doctor move at a snail’s pace on a screen was terrific too. Given that Bill’s expected lifespan – notwithstanding the fact that she had a massive hole blasted in her – is a lot shorter than the Doctor’s (or, er, Doctor Who’s), seeing her losing so much time (“how many more years?”, she specifically asks at one point) as she waited had a little more impact. Sure, lots of companions in recent years have done a lot of waiting – Jack, Amy, Clara, Rory – but that’s the price of traveling with a Time Lord at the moment. Take a fully stocked Kindle would be my advice.
World Enough And Time also had the measure of a part one of two, with very welcome scene setting, dialing back on the action and focusing on the sense of impending dread. I’m a real sucker for part ones, and I enjoyed immensely seeing the Cybermen slowly coming together. Also, putting in place the idea of The Master returning to stop his future self turning nice is a sizeable strand to explore. Next week’s finale, inevitably, has an awful lot to get through as a consequence of all of this. It’s got to resolve the fact that Bill is a Cyberman (remember Yvonne Hartman back in Doomsday? I very much did, watching this), and that she has an Iron Man-style heart. It needs to sort out the Master/Missy conundrum. There’s still the ship heading to the black hole. And the next time trailer suggests further conflicts. Oh, and there’s that regeneration tease at the start of this episode to get back to.
All as a result of testing Missy, of answering the nearest distress call, and following the Doctor’s desire to have Missy as a friend. “Are you having an emotion?” queries Nardole. He was. And the Doctor’s stories of Missy/The Master being his first friend was really quite delicately done.
“Time Lords? Bit flexible on the whole man/woman thing, yeah?”
It would be remiss not to recognize Steven Moffat’s position on various facets of the show’s lore, too. Here, he reaffirms that the likes of Bill and Nardole are companions, not assistants. And then there’s the whole question as to whether to refer to the Doctor, or Doctor Who (as the character was originally credited).
Within ten minutes, I might politely suggest that we all knew what side of the line Steven Moffat is on, as he also solidifies the position on Time Lords and gender as well. It was like a below the line comments section being played out on screen.
There was much to enjoy. I’ve watched this twice now, and found it – once my aforementioned frustrations had died down – better second time around. Excellent for the most part. It’s Steven Moffat using time travel and distortion very, very well (and giving how much was being put across, it was very easy to follow), backed up by excellent production values, a quality score, and strong direction. A sparky, ambitious, often-gripping piece of television, just robbed of some of its impact by the need to publicise the show.
Now let’s see if The Doctor Falls can pay it all off next week…
Read our review of last week’s episode, The Eaters Of Light, here.