Doctor Who: 10.07 The Pyramid At The End Of The World
Last week ended with the Doctor still very blind and very aware of an impending invasion by the mysterious monks. With an enemy that has studied your every move through countless simulations , the stakes were certainly raised for the middle part of the loose trilogy of stories. I was expecting great things this week.
While there was greatness, there was also no denying that the premise of an enemy that knows you better than you know yourself was squandered. I was expecting the monks to be one step ahead of the game, countermanding every move planet Earth made, outwitting the Doctor at every turn. Instead the plot was all built on the idea that the monks knew something humanity didn't and they would only save the world if it was promised to them in return.
It was an interesting idea; were the monks villains in their own right or were the saviours of humanity? In many ways they were both. The doomsday clock was moving ever closer to midnight and it seemed even the Doctor was unable to stop it. The monks had it in their power to avert a future where every living thing on the planet was dead just one year later. But they were also taking advantage of the situation, holding the Earth at a metaphorical gunpoint in exchange for its surrender.
The apocalypse itself was completely unexpected and it made the episode all the better for it. The huge pyramid in a part of the Earth hotly contested by Chinese, Russian and US forces certainly suggested the monks had arrived on the cusp of World War Three but it was all - like the titular pyramid - a giant red herring. Instead the monks had foreseen. through their many simulations, that something as simple as one scientist breaking her glasses and another having too much to drink the night before would result in the pair making a fatal mistake in their study and unleashing a plague that would wipe out all life on Earth. There was an urban, British horror move vibe to the Yorkshire lab that would bring about the end of the world and Rachel Denning in particular made a great impression as the level headed scientist trying to avert disaster and then working with the Doctor to eradicate the virus before it could spread.
Where Peter Harness, fresh from season nine's excellent Zygon two-parter (and THAT anti-war speech by the Doctor) excels is in the moral dilemmas The Pyramid At The End Of The World presents. Despite the warnings of the Doctor that the monks are not to be trusted, you can fully understand that the leaders of each nation might be willing to give up their freedoms to stop the apocalypse. But where the episode really digs the knife in is the moment that Bill is put in the same position, when the monks give the authority to speak for the Doctor, AKA the President of the world. It's a terrible choice for Bill to make; is the Earth better off without the Doctor or is sacrificing humanity's freedom worth it if it keeps him alive to save them all?
And of course she choses to give the monks what they need in order to restore the Doctor's sight and allow him to escape the explosion he has rigged up to destroy the virus. There's a certain amount of tragedy in the act; surviving or not, the Doctor had already found the means to stop the apocalypse but his decision to keep his blindness secret from everyone is his undoing. In the end it's not the monks they might kill him but a keypad to a door that he can't see to open. Only Bill can save him but giving the Earth up to restore his sight; poor Nardole might have succumbed to the virus while inside the TARDIS. Having grown to like him so much these past weeks I wonder if Moffat is going to kill him off just when he is needed most. Certainly, there is no one to hold the Doctor from releasing Missy from the vault now to save the Earth.
The Pyramid At The End Of The World doesn't quite deliver on the promise of Extremis but it doesn't go for the obvious route either. What was most surprising was that the apocalypse wasn't a global invasion with spaceships but a science experiment gone very wrong. The low key aspect of it worked surprisingly well. The monks are fantastic creations - I love that they took the form of corpses for humanity because they already view them as dead - and I hope we get to see more of their intelligence and skill in the following episode.
The trailer for the upcoming episode certainly has a Last of the Timelords vibe to it and I'm eager to see where Bill is pushed next. It feels like we're building up to the finale mid-series and that makes things very interesting because I have no idea what to expect.