Steven Moffat announced his impending departure from Doctor Who on January 23, 2016. Since then, the whole damn world has seemingly lost its mind in a myriad of ways. The UK is leaving the European Union. Donald Trump (allegedly) Manchurian Candidated his way into the White House. And American Idol is coming back.
Admittedly, one is less consequential than the other two, but, seriously, why is ABC bringing back American Idol? It’s only been gone for one season. Aren’t you supposed to wait at least a couple of years before you revive a TV show?
Either way, the changes underway in the UK and US combined with the never-ending drumbeat of scandal, terrorist attacks and saber rattling between nations seemingly hell-bent on going to war has led some into depression, fits of anxiety, political action or willful ignorance. Others, of course, are celebrating the actions of the people they voted for. Still, it’s understandable to be freaking out just a little bit. Heck, the literal doomsday clock has been moved up!
However, times of trouble have a way of giving rise to amazing art and other forms of entertainment. A normal person might not know what to with the news about the doomsday clock. Moffat, though, saw the perfect opportunity for a Doctor Who story. When our reality begins to look like fiction it’s up to our fiction to fight back, and that’s what “The Pyramid at the End of the World” did, posting a scenario where the next Doctor Who alien threatening to invade Earth devises a dastardly plan to simply sit back and wait for us to stumble into a world-threatening scenario of our own making because, to paraphrase Terminator 2, “It’s in our nature to destroy ourselves.”
As the second part of a trilogy, “Pyramid” is arguably a filler episode, possibly disappointing, even, since it punts Missy’s part in helping the Doctor into next episode. However, as with most of season 10’s efforts I found it to be wildly inventive, a taut thriller with ample humor and a cracking climax wherein the Doctor – for the second week in a row – beats the bad guy but still loses.
Here’s what I liked and didn’t like about the episode:
What I Liked
What I Didn’t Like
That about sums it up, really. There was nothing about “Pyramid” which I didn’t like, from the clever “previously” and “now” re-working of a standard “previously on” segment at the beginning to the Doctor’s lie about his eyesight coming back to bite him in the ass at the worst possible moment. So, there will be no nitpicking or criticisms from me. Instead, here are some of the elements of “Pyramid” which particularly stood out to me:
–The topical nature of the story. Doctor Who is no stranger to social or political commentary, but it’s been quite a while since the show has felt quite as of the moment as it was in “Pyramid,” an episode in which all an invading alien race has to do is simply pop down in a strategic point between US, Russian and Chinese military forces and watch their leaders scramble to work together ala Arrival. Predictably, those leaders eventually turn on/lose faith in The Doctor because while he’s anointed President of Earth in this particular crisis he’s also an outsider, one sympathetic to humanity’s cause, sure, but an outsider nonetheless. That the episode sees fit to kill off all three of those leaders might seem to be in poor taste, but for me it only contributed to the boldness of the story. They gave peace a chance. It didn’t work. Sorry, John Lennon. Then they gave surrender a chance, and that too didn’t work because the bad guys will not accept rule granted by fear.
-The twist. Of course, while everyone worries about World War III there’s a deadly disease constantly threatening to break out of some lab somewhere, caused, in “Pyramid”’s case, by nothing more than a simple and honest human error with a decimal point. That “Pyramid” chose to tell this side story through two characters with an equal chance of mucking everything up – one a man who’d partied too much the night before, the other a dwarf whose reading glasses had been broken on the way into work – speaks both to the suspenseful nature of the story as well as to Doctor Who’s on-going inclusiveness since the mere fact that one of these characters is a dwarf is never commented on.
-The notion of an intelligent alien race which recognizes we are ultimately our own worst enemy. It’s a very 2017 sci-fi story to feature aliens who’ve run the computer simulations of Earth and realize, “Guys, if we just sit back and let the humans destroy themselves eventually they’ll not only need us to save them but they’ll love us for doing it. This is going to be so easy.” It’s very Moffat to create monsters who choose to look like human corpses because, to them, we all look like walking corpses. Plus, hey, those red robes they wear give them a slightly decaying Imperial Guard feel, which is nice.
-Bill acting out of love and not fear or self-preservation. Ahhh, you guys. Bill’s just the best. I hope that before the end of the season she will finally get to have a proper date with that girl, one which doesn’t end with some world leader bursting into her kitchen at the worst moment possible.
–The ongoing humor of Nardole covertly acting as The Doctor’s eyes. Turns out, this modified Cyrano act only lasted two episodes since The Doctor now has his eyesight back, but it was good while it lasted and also cleverly sucked us in with the jokes before pulling the rug out from under us and paying everything off with a climax the Doctor’s reliance on Nardole to help him see fell apart at the worst possible moment.
What about you? What did you think of “The Pyramid at the End of the World”? Let me know in the comments.