Sunday, June 25, 2017

Doctor Who Series 10 - World Enough and Time - Episode Review

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My review of the previous episode: The Eaters of Light.

Holy crap.

You know, there's a part of me that hates this type of episode. It's the first of a two-parter, and since this is Steven Moffat, I really doubt that he'll be able to pull off a safe landing, especially to a story as ambitious and twisty as this one. But boy, does he make me hope (and that's hard to resist).

I loved this episode. I loved it for many reasons. Before we get to anything else, let's mention Rachel Talalay's direction, which is, as always, superb. She handles the episode's different locations and situations with aplomb.

As far as the story, World Enough and Time is certainly a hodgepodge, a Moffaty porridge of concepts, but for once, it's focused and it makes sense. There's a good balance of light and dark, as the episode flits from one mood to the next. On the one hand, Moffat breaks out his sitcom experience to give us some of the brightest, sharpest dialogue we've heard all season (Moffat's meta "Doctor Who?" joke gets one last hurrah). Dealing with two sardonic Masters and the grumpiest Doctor since Christopher Eccleston, Moffat pulls out all the stops. We've seen several different takes on the character, but nobody writes Missy like Steven Moffat, and he's just as adept with the Master.

But while the perky music and constant stream of quips is delightful, this is certainly no lighthearted episode, as the rest of the story is concerned with the body horror of a Steampunk world. Early in the episode, Bill is shot in the chest and then ferried down the 400 miles of a ship stuck near a black hole (wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff ensues).

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I'm all for Classic Who throwbacks, but I'll admit I wasn't optimistic about the return of the Mondasian Cybermen. They're certainly creepier-looking than the clunky Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots introduced in the Tennant era, but NuWho in general has struggled to make the Cybermen scary (as it has with the Daleks - and it only pulled that off once). Neil Gaiman gave it a shot by making Cybermen extremely fast, and Moffat himself nearly succeeded with the slow reveal of skeletal Cybermen in tanks.

These Cybermen, however, are genuinely creepy, in part because they're just this side of human. The ghoulish hospital, complete with matronly Nurse Ratched, doesn't hurt. And putting Bill, the most vulnerable, big-hearted companion Steven Moffat's ever created, into this situation, makes the whole thing all the more terrifying. I love it.

The story embraces the horrific transhumanist dream of creating perfect humans, though it doesn't spend a whole lot of time engaging with the idea intellectually. It's ironic that, by pooh-poohing biological gender differences, the episode also upholds the most pernicious real-life form of surgical transhumanism: transgenderism. (And I'll be honest, the mental image of William Hartnell having a man-crush on Roger Delgado is possibly the least sexy mental image in the known universe.)

This episode also has big mythological implications. As the Master observes, we're finally getting to see the genesis of the Cybermen (hard-core fans will immediately get the reference to one of the best Classic Who stories: Genesis of the Daleks), which is Peter Capaldi's fantasy Cybermen story. He's really getting everything he wants this season.

So yes, the Cybermen are making a triumphant return, as is John Simm's Master, who I did not recognize until he tore off his face mask at the end of the episode. Am I a sucker? Yes, yes I am. I loved Mr. Razor. He was a delightful character. And while there was really not much point in the whole thing, I did still love the reveal. John Simm's nutty Master is probably best in small doses anyway. The small dose we received has promise - he seems intent on corrupting Missy, and she seems...not entirely averse to being corrupted. I can't wait to find out what happens when she has to decide between the Master on one shoulder, and the Doctor on the other.

My review of the next episode: The Doctor Falls.


And now for a bit of speculation. This episode, like the best cliffhangers, leaves us with a number of dilemmas which seem utterly insoluble. For one thing, there's Bill as a Cyberman. I can't see Moffat doing another Danny Pink ending, especially for a main companion, but there doesn't really seem to be any way to bring Bill back (if, indeed, that Cyberman is Bill).

Missy and the Master? Despite her usual act, I think Missy has started to care. And that means she's about to come in conflict with her younger self. I could easily see that leading to her shooting him, or vice versa (gee - what if they shot each other at once?!) and then we'll see a regeneration. Or possibly, something paradoxical will happen, which will somehow spin everything back to the beginning of the story, with Bill safe, the Master's memory conveniently wiped of all that happened, and Missy having redeemed herself. Could the Doctor regenerate and then be paradoxed back into himself? Could totally see Moffat have the Doctor regenerate into Stephen Fry and then undo it.

Sorry, that's all a bit silly. Speaking of regeneration, though, I'm buying the theory that next week's episode will end with something mortally wounding the Doctor, who must then, for some reason, hold off regenerating for the entirety of the Christmas special (as, I think, happens in one particular Classic Who regeneration story). We're pretty sure, at this point, that Pearl Mackie won't be in the special, so who knows who will be acting as his companion. Will we get a multi-Doctor story? Or will there be an interim companion to shrive the Doctor's soul? (a la Wilfred Mott, or Handles).

I don't know, but after a lackluster middle of the season, I'm finally curious, again, to see what happens next.


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