This review is for the episodes “The Pyramid at the End of the World” and “The Lie of the Land”, which together form a single Doctor Who story. It could also be thought of as a three-parter with “Extremis” (in a very similar format to Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords), but it felt right to write about Extremis separately. Other than that I don’t have any particularly logical reason! But Doctor Who is full of those kinds of grey areas. Without getting too bogged down in those kinds of discussions, it is worth mentioning that multi-part stories with fairly loose links between the episodes is a good way to go, as each episode also feels individual in its own right, so new viewers are not excluded. This is important when you are spending a third of your episode tally for a season on one story (if you want to look at it like that!)
There are many kinds of hero in fiction/television/film etc. A lot of them use physical violence as much as their brains (e.g. James Bond, superheroes in general), but the Doctor is different because 99% of the time he saves the day with his intelligence. I think what impressed me the most about this story is how the Doctor’s intelligence is at the forefront, and how he uses it to solve problems – that’s the Doctor at his best. The way he narrows down the location of the crisis facing the world is great, particularly when he switches off all the cctv cameras to see which one goes back on.
I like how the Doctor’s blindness turned out to be central to the plot. We will have to gloss over how his glasses can show him lots of details and information, but can’t show him some numbers on a very large combination lock. Quite what the point of the Doctor suggesting a combined strike on the pyramid is escapes me. I think it is a clumsy attempt to show how his blindness is skewing his judgment, but in the end it is little more than an excuse for some impressive effects shots. It’s an out of character moment.
Some points where I think the script editing needed tightening up a bit (as usual for this season!)
(1) Why would you have an airlock in the lab, but then vent air automatically without being able to stop that process? A bit silly for a lab dealing with potentially dangerous chemicals.
(2) You don’t put on PPE in a lab and then drink a cup of coffee there.
(3) The great big rotating number combination lock where you would expect just a keypad was a bit of an obvious plot device (because a keypad could be operated by a blind person).
Bill is such a great companion, and for me made the right decision in Pyramid (there’s an interesting debate right there!) because with the Doctor dead there would have been no guarantee that the monks would leave rather than trying again at the next world crisis, and also the Earth would be unprotected in general. Save him, and whatever the consequences at least he is around to sort it out. But the standout moment for me was when Bill lost faith in the Doctor. The expressions that passed across her face were a virtuoso acting performance – stunning stuff. I would question whether she could have actually pulled the trigger at that point, and also whether what the Doctor was doing was strictly necessary – did he really need to drive her to the point of murder in order to make sure she hadn’t been got at? It seemed a little contrived to me, but the acting – sublime. Also, a bit bothered by how he could magically conjure up some regeneration energy, which cheapens the concept a little, although it is playing with our knowledge that the Twelfth Doctor’s time is nearing it end and to a certain extent preparing us for that.
The monks are suitably scary so there is something for the kids watching as well. The way their mouth moves when they talk is very creepy, but is reminiscent of the original Mondasian Cybermen, which is perhaps slightly clumsy in a season that is going to include them as well. All things considered though we are basically where we have been with virtually every episode this year: entertaining, exciting, a return to form for Doctor Who, but in need of some better script editing. RP
The view from across the pond:
Back in 2006, when David Tennant was new to the TARDIS, his Doctor said something wonderful. “You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world! This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have – arm yourselves!” The Doctor is at his best when he’s intelligent. And in this story, we see his intellect on display from the CCTV, to the lab, even his work to make sure Bill has not been turned.
But did the writers have nearly the same intelligence?
In Extremis, we saw the Monks planning for invasion. By Pyramid, we see them arrive. By The Lie of the Land, we see their influence and eventual downfall. It’s a good three-part story with memorable moments. Unfortunately, with part 2, especially coming off the very thought-provoking first part, the problems outweigh the good. Thankfully the finish is good. Let me first defend a point Roger made: I don’t think the Doctor had a lapse in judgment when he approved the strike on the Monks. I saw that more as a “get it out of your systems” approach. He knew he would be pointless telling the three parties that their weapons would have no effect so he basically says “go for it” because he knows nothing will come of it. It was so insignificant to the Monks that they don’t even take offense. They just move on. Now, the Doctor has their attention and the three nations will listen.
As for the negatives of the lab scene… The lab: this lab has no safety features in place. That includes allowing drinks in the workspace. Simple IT work doesn’t permit drinks in labs. In a lab that can effectively damage the whole planet, how does that get past QA? The airlock: Door 1 has to close before door 2 could be opened. Simple fact of how airlocks work. To solve this, a particulate piece of matter could have been transported… something that might be undetected by sensors. Same end result, more believable solution. The keypad: instead of what looked like a kid’s toy, they should have used a non-standard keypad with a lockout on it. Perhaps instead of 1-3 on the top row and *, 0, # on the bottom, maybe it could have been *, 0, # be at the top. The Doctor manually feels the buttons, “knowing” 1-3 is on the top row, and it fails. He tries again and it fails again and this time causes a 90 second lockout. Sadly, 90 second is just too long. He tries to reenter it but… Bill makes the deal with the monks, unwilling to chance it. Tension maintained, end result the same, but logic has a place in the writing.
Luckily most of this gets redeemed by the superb acting of Pearl Mackie in the final part of the story. Bill’s ordeal is at the heart of The Lie of the Land, as she basically lives like Martha Jones did; she’s in hiding but looking for the Doctor. When she finds him, he puts her through near-torture. This is unlike the Doctor considering we learned he can mind meld with people (The Girl in the Fireplace). But her reaction is brilliant. The shock, horror and relief all conveyed in a look is outstanding. Her later realization that her memory of her mother could save her is even more heartfelt. She carries the weight of the story and brings it home. Missy also has a standout moment when the writer pulled an idea from The Silence of the Lambs making Missy have the same power as Dr. Hannibal Lector. Creepy… well done!
On a side not regarding the Doctor’s abilities: As humans age, we become better in some areas and worse in others. Maybe regeneration brings out different things in each Doctor. For instance, his mind-wiping abilities are present (The Pilot) but he has not always had that ability. (Or has he?) Same for the aforementioned mind-melding! He is able to put his thumb to the forehead to knock people out (Battlefield) and silence people with a “shh” (Closing Time). And maybe he’s always been able to summon regeneration energy but didn’t use that ability (short of fixing River’s wrist) since it was limited and with his 13th regeneration, he feels braver with its use (The Angels Take Manhattan, The Witches Familiar, The Lie of the Land).
Doctor Who is a great show and accessible to all ages, which is something I really appreciate about it, but it’s far from flawless. With so many different writers and ideas over 50+ years, it’s hard to remember all the facts. I prefer when we have stories to think about like Extremis but some of them just don’t make it to that level. Viewed strictly for fun, the Monks Trilogy has a great opener and a strong close but the middle gets a bit fuzzy, but ultimately, it’s still a chance to spend time with The Doctor.
This chap Roger and I encountered at The Doctor Who Experience.
I debated about writing a review of a revised version of the episode, but I thought that might be considered monkey business!
(sometimes, the material just isn’t there…)
Read next in the Junkyard… Empress of Mars