Doctor Who #989: The Pyramid at the End of the World

"The end of your life has already begun. There is a last place you will ever go, a last door you will ever walk through, a last sight you will ever see. And every step you ever take is moving you closer. The end of the world is a billion, billion tiny moments... and somewhere unnoticed in silence or darkness it has already begun."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 27 2017.

IN THIS ONE... The Monks make Earth an offer it can't refuse.

REVIEW: Halfway through Capaldi's last season, the doomsday clock motif feels especially appropriate. Regardless of whether the Monks save the Earth or not, the Doctor is heading for a very personal doomsday, and so are we. That designed confusion between the end of the world and the end of a Doctor is what makes me forgive Bill's decision at the end, as the Monks need not save the Earth - the Doctor already has - but need to save the Doctor, who has become HER world. Moffat is evidently foreshadowing how Capaldoc will die through a sequence of tiny innocuous events that will "butterfly" into something unstoppable. He already seems to know the sequence has started, though it could just be a case of the blues due to his current blindness. The crashing of bottles and glasses repeated through the episode are a perfect metaphor for the random nature of the universe. Can't wait to see if and how this pays off.

The Pyramid at the End of the World may have strong thematic elements and a lot to like besides, but at times, the tension can seem forced. Watch out for plot holes. Namely? The far-reaching powers of the Monks, never truly explained, though I can reserve judgement until the next episode in which, presumably, the "link" they forge with humanity and why they need to be invited for it to work WILL be explained. But there's still a big difference between using your TARDISy pyramid to tractor beam submarines or spy on Earth's immediate future, and waving the Doctor's blindness away from a remote location. Does the link somehow merge their simulations with local reality that they can update it? I'm sure people are going to use the Doctor's uncharacteristic red shirt in this episode to theorize we're still virtual (and updating the clocks, etc.), but you can't go to that well too often. Regardless, the Monks seem to do a lot of stuff for effect and not much else. There's really no reason to replace only part of the bomber's crew except to give the pilot a scare - oh I'm sorry, I meant, to create a cool/scary image for the audience. One also wonders how the Monks will get love from anyone if they keep turning our representatives into dust, and though Bill asks for help out of love, it's love for the Doctor, which isn't the way the Monks characterize their process. Another place where the dialog doesn't match the rest of the show is in the vision of a dead world. The Doctor talks about 2018 like it'll be a lifeless dead moon, but the clips used clearly show trees, so the conclusions he draws are suspect as well.

And then there's the lab stuff. While I quite like Erica (as does the Doctor), her lab partner is the worst scientist in history. His hangover is so bad, he might as well have the plague from the minute we meet him, and not only does he accidentally create the killer bacteria, but he handles it without his mask on and dies a deserved, gory death. Then we find out the lab routinely vents toxins into the air, when their biochem work could conceivably create a lethal bacterium like this one. So it's not just that one guy. Are we sure the bacteria won't escape through a plot hole? The Doctor isn't protecting himself from the stuff either, and though his trick to find the right lab is very clever, you would think there would be an easy way to get around the rather retro combination lock. Take a picture, send it to Bill's phone, and so on. I know he's basically Daredevil at this point, but the episode doesn't take enough tools away from him to make this work. (Speaking of which, is the TARDIS affected by the bacteria? What's going on there?)

And while a lot of the details don't stand up to scrutiny, none of that really matters while you're watching it. The Monks' misdirection works well and ups the tension, even though all they really have to do is sit around and wait, given their knowledge of probability, perhaps not accidentally looking like the Fates inspecting threads made of potential, their appearance that of corpses because that's how they see us. The regulars give strong performances (though the military types are pretty bland) and get a lot of good lines. Bill's date with Penny cut into the "previously" section is a fun way to recap Extremis (though it begs the question as to whether Bill's loose lips might one day sink ships). And there may be something relevant in the use of the loaded word "consent", though if it's a metaphor, it's going to need another episode to reveal itself.

VERSIONS: A line of dialogue referring to terrorism was reportedly excised from the episode, out of respect for the victims of the Manchester Arena bombing, which occurred five days prior to broadcast. Essentially, terrorism was one of the hypotheses thrown out as a possible world ender.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Plot holes aplenty, but the tension is so high, they mostly get a pass. The kind of episode that is at once riveting yet falls apart under close inspection.


Anonymous said...

That (dead) lab guy was really the worst; every single review I've seen agrees that he is astonishingly, implausibly bad. A guess: the original script called for someone to have slipped the lab guy a drug at that party, so he's not just hung over, he's still mildly stoned.

I wonder if there's a surprisingly direct explanation for the Monks requiring consent: what has happened to every other invading species that showed up without the consent of the Doctor (or his proxy)? They refuse to make the same mistake those idiot Daleks keep making, so they waited for a moment when they could gain consent.

Siskoid said...

I like all those theories, only wish they were actually said in the episode.

Most plot holes could, in fact, be fixed with a single line of dialog.

Anonymous said...

"Most plot holes could, in fact, be fixed with a single line of dialog."

So true, and "Doctor Who" is generally very good at it. How much mileage have they gotten out of "a fixed point in time" and "we're part of events now"?

I have a thought on fixed points in time incidentally: a fixed point is something that, if it didn't happen, would prevent or obviate some time-traveling event. The obvious example is killing one's own ancestors, but it would also apply to, say, Mount Vesuvius blowing (because if it didn't then Captain Jack wouldn't have gone there/then to sell alien military surplus). This doesn't mean you can't change some events related to those fixed points -- saving Peter Capaldi's Roman family for example -- provided that those changes don't result in alterations to time travel events.

Is it possible that sometimes the TARDIS doesn't go exactly where intended because the TARDIS is sensitive to where/when it "needs" to appear?


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