This review contains spoilers. Our spoiler-free review is here.
10.7 The Pyramid At The End Of The World
This is an episode, I’d suggest, where the bulk of conversation is going to be centered on the ending. But we’ll get there. Because it’s also one that demonstrates it’s the small things that matter. In the case of the world ending this time around, it’s miniscule details that can kickstart the process. A dropped glass after a few drinks the night before. A pair of spectacles getting smashed in an innocent accident, in turn limiting the eyesight of Rachel Denning’s otherwise super-efficient scientist. A Time Lord losing his sight – save for the ability to read some emails in his glasses – by trying to save his companion.
Put all these together? We’re all knackered chums, I’m afraid. You can almost imagine Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park explaining all of this, with a dribble of water running down his hand. Doctor Who has a go, but doesn’t look quite so Goldblum-y in a leather jacket.
But that’s episode seven for you. From the pens of Peter Harness and Steven Moffat, this one that picks up in the immediate aftermath of last week’s Extremis, with Bill on her date night for real this time, trying to explain a strange dream where the Pope ended up in her flat. And just before you started questioning which high-ranking official would pop out of her bedroom door next, enter stage right the Secretary General of the United Nations. He’s there looking for the Doctor, and promptly explains the pyramid of the episode’s title. It’s appeared on Earth, overnight, in a tactically astute position. It hardly sounds like a sign of peace.
Spoiler: it isn’t.
Instead, it’s an object that looks suitably dramatic (which seems to be the key criteria for why a pyramid was chosen), and houses the monks from last week. The monks who have already run a trial invasion of the world, and now are getting ready for the real thing.
This isn’t quite your conventional invasion, either. Notwithstanding the fact that the word ‘silence’ is dropped a few times to give theory-hunters (guilty) a few scraps to feast on, the key point here is that the monks won’t invade the Earth until consent to do so is specifically given.
And there’s more. You sort of have to ask nicely, and you most certainly have to mean it. This is duly proven by adding a few more brutal deaths to the collection that Doctor Who has duly racked up already this series. 16-bit computer game nerds: remember Cannon Fodder, with the graveyard at the end? Now imagine that with all the people who have died in this run of Doctor Who on that screen. And there are still five episodes to go after this one.
While we’re monkchatting, they also say (well, do that whispery thing that Who monsters like to do) at one point that this is the form they’ve taken, but it’s not their real one. Does this mean, at some stage, we’ll be seeing who’s really pulling the proverbial strings here, and their true identity?
“It chose to sit in the strategic intersection of the three most powerful armies on Earth”.
After a pacey, impressive set up then, The Pyramid At The End Of The World admirably slows down to slide more things into place. In this sense, as I noted in the spoiler-free review, the episode could quite easily have been the opening of a two-parter, as much the middle part of three. As things stand, I’m still not quite sure – after two viewings – as to where Extremis fits in now, certainly to the degree that it seemed to a week ago. I get the story strands, and the computer simulation, but it took a whole episode to set up to that. And then The Pyramid At The End Of The Earth escalated the threat anyway, and made it a real one.
The proof will be in next week’s episode, Toby Whithouse’s The Lie Of The Land. I’d imagine the three-part nature of the story will be realised there, and it’ll be clearer where things fit in, and to what degree.
Whithouse also has the job of picking up from the very, very good ending of The Pyramid At The End Of The World. The Doctor’s blindness, which has lasted longer than many of us suspected, is resolved here after all, but with one hell of a price paid. Not a regeneration, rather absolute permission being given for a deadly invasion of the planet. Not that Bill had much choice in giving said permission. There was Erica to save – the needs of the one outweighing the needs of the many – and the need to have the Doctor leading the fightback. It’s not hard to conceive that had Bill not given permission, the monks would have kept going until they found someone who would. And the episode had all but run out of guest stars to kill.
“I wouldn’t have even voted for him. He’s orange”
The middle segment of this one I had a few quibbles with. I liked the impending sense of doom, which had a tinge of Torchwood: Children Of Earth to me. Also, as the biological threat escalated, I did make a mental note to dig out a copy of Steven Soderbergh’s thriller, Contagion, for a deserved rewatch. Furthermore, ticking Doomsday clocks are always fine fodder for building tension, and making clear the stakes. They proved to be so again.
But still. What this series has been excellent at so far is having a mixture of the Doctor, Nardole and Bill – sometimes all three – puzzling things out, and using their intelligence to resolve situations. The stories have been careful to show some of the working too, and I find stuff like that really satisfying.
Here, the Doctor and Nardole know that there’s something, somewhere on the planet that’s kickstarted impending destruction (and by the end of the episode, it looks like Nardole is in trouble for one – he might just need a few repairs…). At the point they realise this, the only way you could know exactly what was if you happened to have a load of dangly string lights set up inside a tactically astute pyramid. But the Doctor and Nardole manage to home in on the problem in what feels like double quick time. I do get the William Goldman approach to screenwriting: the reason people pull up in the movies and always find a parking space is who wants to watch five minutes of an action hero working their way around a multi-storey? But also, there has to be enough there for the audience to buy. I thought this shortcutted things just a little too much.
I’m still not really sure what the benefit was of the Doctor not telling Bill he was blind, either.
Also, there’s another love conquers all-style current to the ending. I don’t think the monks would have needed their string lights to sense 20% of people rolling their eyes a little at that. It does make sense for the episode, in putting true feelings and justification behind the consent that Bill gives the monks. But I’m wagering there will be comments.
“Of course I can, I’m not just sexy”
It’s escalated a lot this series of Doctor Who, considering that there are still five episodes left. Appreciating the publicity hasn’t been shy of spoilers as to some of the foes that lie ahead, I’m genuinely curious how it all ties together, and just what’s around the corner. Because this series run has felt more concentrated than, I’d argue, any since Moffat’s first. This particular episode – an impressive one, with caveats – didn’t even feature Missy and didn’t feature the vault. It’s going to be some run-in. The Pyramid At The End Of The World, appreciating the quibbles I had with it, managed to push the accelerator still further (and I really did like it, no matter how much of a grumpy git I’m coming across as).
The immediate questions? Well, what’s going to happen to Nardole? What’s going to happen to Bill? What’s going to happen to the world? And, you know, that vault?
As Bill says to the Doctor, “I tell you what old man, you better get my planet back”. And as the Doctor says earlier in the episode, “bring it on”.
Read our review of the last episode, Extremis, here.