Doctor Who – Season 10 Episode 7
“The Pyramid at the end of the World”
Doctor Who continues the story started last week with a mysterious 5000 year old pyramid that appears overnight.
Global threats have happened so often in the revived Doctor Who that they’ve become something of a joke. It gets to the point where the Earth has been threatened too many times and it’s very difficult to take seriously. Of course this is a well that the writers are going to return to from time to time but it’s becoming more difficult to make it interesting.
This episode is a classic example of “end of the world fatigue” as I had difficulty investing in any of it. With this being an ongoing series it’s obvious that the Doctor will find a way to defeat the invaders but even at that there are ways to create jeopardy that makes the plot feel something other than disposable. This episode completely fails to create a credible threat level.
It’s a shame as there were lots of solid ideas in here. Using the Doomsday Clock as a measurement for how much danger everyone was in was definitely a good idea and it did go some way towards creating tension but compared to what else was going on it was a wasted device.
Another notable idea was a 5000 year old pyramid appearing out of nowhere. That mystery alone is enough to sustain an entire episode. If the focus had been on the pyramid then the episode could have spent more time developing the characters and establishing a compelling mystery around the pyramid.
Doing it this way would have allowed more time to develop one of the central conflicts of the episode. The idea of the pyramid appearing in a global hotspot that the American, Russian and Chinese armies are interested in is a fascinating one because it creates a sense of global tension that puts nervous nations with an itchy trigger finger in a situation where they have to either work together or doom the world. The Doctor being in the middle of this trying to offer alternatives that appease all three leaders could have been a great source of tension as well.
This element is present but it’s largely in the background and the heads of these armies aren’t characters that can really be invested in because they’re so thinly developed. When they’re killed it’s just another thing that happens rather than being an actual tragedy.
There was some merit to the role of the different armies in the episode. I liked that the Doctor told them to show strength which seemed to be something of a stalling measure so that they wouldn’t constantly badger him to come up with a plan. It’s the equivalent of dangling keys in front of a Cat to divert its attention. When they’re focused on attacking the pyramid they aren’t looking to the Doctor for answers. He knows fine well that it won’t do any good but giving himself more time to think uninterrupted is the real goal here.
I also found the offer from the alien monks interesting. They are offering to protect the Earth forever which seems surprising considering they have been established as antagonists but the word “protect” should be read as “enslave” which is obviously far more nefarious. There is more to unpack from this than the episode allows as there’s the big existential question of whether being enslaved is perhaps the lesser of two evils. If the aliens are genuine in their pledge to make sure that Earth is defended from any major threats to the Human Race then is it really a terrible thing for them to call the shots? It would mean a loss in freedom but possibly a guarantee of relative safety so there’s a debate to be had there that isn’t addressed in any great detail.
It is in there and the Doctor is hugely against it because he believes that handing over freedom is the worst thing that people can do. Having the leaders of the armies turning against the Doctor and reminding him that it’s their planet not his had a lot of potential to raise the stakes but it fades into the background of events.
Similarly, World Peace is essentially declared to see if that has any effect on the Doomsday Clock. The agreement that is reached is a historic moment that is bafflingly robbed of any weight outside of the exact scene it happens. It’s all but forgotten minutes later and only really exists to move the plot along to the next thing.
The actual danger represented by the two scientists, Erica (Rachel Denning) and Douglas (Tony Gardner) was poorly done in terms of how it was set up. Everything about these two characters appeared incompetent at first. Douglas was hungover and Erica was dealing with blurred vision thanks to her broken glasses yet both of them decided that they were able to continue working on their volatile world killing bacteria. If they were allowed to be as smart as they should be then they wouldn’t have taken such risks with dangerous chemicals. Their stupidity ends up being the thing that almost dooms the entire world so it’s strange that the Doctor doesn’t address this when he come upon them.
Erica was definitely the strongest character and in other circumstances she could be companion material based on how well she handles the crisis once she knows that there was one. She takes on the companion role in a sense by helping the Doctor deal with the situation and the dynamic works well enough. The version of Erica in the latter scenes is a complete contrast to the version in the earlier scenes.
The Doctor’s blindness is used really well in this episode. It was a nice touch to confirm to the viewer that he could see the screens using the tech in his glasses but couldn’t see the content of the screens which sets up the Doctor’s problem towards the end of the episode when he can’t see the numbers to key the override and save his life. This is what forces him to be honest with Bill since he thinks there is no way out of the situation. I couldn’t help but wonder how events might have changed had the Doctor told her at an earlier point. Bill finding out causes her to consent to the offer in exchange for restoring the Doctor’s eyesight which allows him to survive but puts the entire Human Race in a really dangerous situation. It’s an impulsive, emotional choice and plays out as such which makes sense given Bill’s reaction to the situation. She chose her friend over the Human Race to the Doctor’s shock. It’s a solid moment that is well played by both of the actors.
Interestingly, sight is a common theme throughout this episode. The Doctor’s blindness proves to be significant as does the blurred vision caused by broken glasses and a hangover. It also comes into play on a metaphorical level as Bill is able to see the world differently thanks to her adventures with the Doctor. It’s a subtle recurring theme that doesn’t really go anywhere but the emphasis on it does prove interesting.
The alien Monks aren’t all that scary as Doctor Who villains go. They don’t do enough to earn the description of terrifying as they spend much of the episode making threats that they don’t seem to follow through on. I feel that they should be more menacing than they actually are considering they have carried out extensive scenarios on Humanity and claim to know exactly how they will react to a given situation. It doesn’t seem that they’re taking advantage of it nor does it amplify the threat they represent beyond it being something that is constantly brought up. Rather than telling us what the aliens might be capable of the episode should really be showing us.
An underwhelming episode with some good ideas that fail to be developed fully. The episode suffered from having far too much going on which meant that the interesting ideas didn’t have the time they really needed. I really liked the idea of three powerful armies being interested in the mysterious pyramid creates global tension as they each have itchy trigger fingers and different viewpoints. The Doctor being in the middle of this could have been a great source of tension as well but it largely fades into the background. I did like that the Doctor instructed them show strength as a way to distract them while he can think of a solution. The offer from the alien monks was interesting as well but wasn’t developed as well as it could have been. Essentially it represents a loss of freedom in exchange for protection which is definitely a debate that begs to be had but isn’t.
The actual danger that comes from the two scientists is bizarrely handled. Incompetence is what puts the world at threat and Erica faces no punishment for it. Outside of that she was a good character and the situation allowed for the Doctor’s blindness to be used well but the setup was really weak. I did like that Bill’s choice to let the aliens enslave Earth as well as restore the Doctor’s sight was purely an emotional one that should hopefully create consequences next week. The aliens themselves weren’t that threatening despite constant reminders that they had run extensive simulations and knew exactly how humanity would react to any scenario. It’s something we’re told rather than shown which makes them far less effective as antagonists.
- interesting ideas throughout
- the effective use of the Doctor’s blindness
- all of the interesting ideas being horribly underdeveloped
- the alien Monks being less than effective antagonists
- danger that comes out of incompetence from characters who should know better
- too much going on
User Review( votes)
We’d love to know your thoughts on this episode and anything else you might want to talk about. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up.
If you want to chat to me directly then I’m on Twitter as well.