Sunday, June 11, 2017

Doctor Who Series 10 - The Pyramid at the End of the World - Episode Review

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My review of the previous episode: Extremis.

[Sorry for the lateness: spent the last two weeks settling into my internship in Washington D.C. - in related news, keep an eye out for my writing at The Weekly Standard.]

If anyone was wondering which part of this episode Steven Moffat wrote, it should be pretty obvious when Peter Capaldi starts monologuing self-seriously about death. It's pure Heaven Sent. There's a kind of Moffaty gimmick at the center of The Pyramid at the End of the World, too: the concept of all-knowing aliens who can pinpoint world disasters and prevent them. On first viewing, I had rather a hard time coping with the idea of a benevolent invasion, but the more I think about it, the more I like it.

Three world powers - China, Russia, and America - face off in a dusty war zone who-knows-where. The situation escalates further when a mysterious extraterrestrial pyramid appears in the no-man's-land between the armies. Leaders call in an expert, who also just so happens to be president of the world (and for those of you who don't remember that weird series 8 plot point - it's the Doctor). The Monks have run so many simulations that they can now predict the future, and use visions of devastation on Earth to convince the secretary of the U.N. and three generals to surrender to the salvific alien force, motivated by fear and cunning.

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The Monks, however, don't accept those motivations. They want to be loved. It's easier to oppress people who love you. And while the world leaders fail to pass the test, Bill ultimately wins the victory over herself and learns to love the Monks. Or does she? Really, she loves the Doctor, which means the Monks' acceptance of her offering doesn't make sense. But there's a certain amount of fairy tale logic at work here, or perhaps religious logic - a calculus of sacrifice, offering, and faith.

It's a religious type of story. Last week, the Simulation Doctor had to find out a way to rebel against his evil creators, but here Real Doctor faces Monks who want not just power, but worship. They're an atheist's idea of God: a cruel, loveless creator who is responsible for evil but still demands love. It's notable that Moffat cloaks these demons in the guise of religious figures, as he did the Angels and even the Silence. Perhaps the Monks work better as political figures, however. Orwellian rulers promising safety as long as they obtain...the consent of the governed. Ah, so that's why consent was so important.

Of course, if these Monks can heal the blind and stop missiles and predict the future, how in the multiverse don't they have the power to simply overcome humanity? And why wouldn't they want to? They say love is the most efficient way to go about it, but gaining Bill's thankfulness seems like a minor victory for a race determined to win the gratitude of the whole human race. I guess we'll find out more about that in the next episode.

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Other thoughts? The solution the Doctor's blindness felt a little cheap. He's not really had to suffer a lot because of it. Simulation Doctor stumbled around a bit, and Real Doctor had to ask Nardole the odd question, but thanks to his sonic shades, he got along pretty much like always. Grading papers must have been a chore, but it's not exactly a chore like punching through a wall of gemstone is a chore. And while I like that Bill took the reins for once, her decision to give up the entire freaking world because a scrawny blind madman in a box needs her feels like a slap in the face to all the Doctor's efforts to defeat the Monks. Besides, why in the world couldn't the Doctor send Bill a video feed from his sonic shades? She could've talked him through entering the pass code. This plot hole is glaringly obvious.

And while I hate to bring this up, Bill's overblown faith in the Doctor is straight out of the Martha Jones playbook, which is a bad sign. Speaking Martha Jones, since we're aware of the return of John Simm later this season, it's hard not to draw parallels between his appearances in the Russell T. Davies era and the plot of Series 10 so far. For one thing, this is the first three-parter the show has done since the series finale of Series 3, which featured the first appearance of Simm's Master. The plot of each episode has resembled the plot of the original three-parter, and the trailer for next week's episode seems to follow the pattern exactly. Given the fact that I loathe the original trilogy with a passion, this comparison casts a pall over my impression of Pyramid at the End of the World.

Overall, I'm torn about this episode. It's okay, I guess? It feels like the show is weak when it separates the Doctor and Bill. Coming right after an episode in which Moffat pulled the old "it was only a dream - I mean, a virtual reality" trick, it's depressing to have another story where it feels like the good guys haven't made any significant progress by the end of the episode. And if I know my Doctor Who, I can feel a big reset button coming up next week. This really should've been a season finale.

Longish

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