Last week Doctor Who ‘Extremis’ burrowed away in my brain for days and gave me a breakdown of sorts. My initial positive reaction gradually dissipated as gaping holes in the setup opened wide before me. There were huge flaws but as a story to set up a trilogy I accepted it. But then comes ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’…
Firstly the episode has to open with a recap of what happened last week. This means Bill relays the story that The Doctor has told her to her date, Penny. Knowledge of The Doctor is shared pretty freely it seems. Anyway, Bill and Penny return to the kitchen table. Now Steven Moffat clearly found his joke about the Pope interrupting a date so funny that he not only had to replay it for the audience but repeat it with someone else. It was misjudged in ‘Extremis’ and verging on offending the viewer by expecting another laugh seven days later. The pre-titles therefore serve no purpose whatsoever except to prepare you for what is to follow; scene after scene of plot exposition.
From the very outset viewers endure scene after scene of humans and alien creatures conversing. Humans talking to humans. Humans taking to aliens. Alien talking to aliens in the presence of humans. The only potential action sequence of multiple human forces attacking the pyramid is swiftly negated. Instead we get scene after scene of exposition. There is no action whatsoever. Dialogue heavy scenes sunk series 9 stories and we are back to that method of storytelling. No show, all tell.
All the way through the episode is desperately attempting to explain what the hell is going on. From why is the pyramid in Turmezistan to the Monks need for consent, all of this has to be spoon fed to the viewer. The three minutes to midnight doomsday clock had to be explained too but why these creatures choose a 5,000 year old pyramid to hide out in was not.
At least the Monks did something this week. They actually took a few lives. But overall they just stood around, walked, pointed, did their inconsistent speech (flapping the jaw up and down irrelevant of the dialogue) and droned on about consent. “Fear is not consent.” If BBC Shop was still open that could’ve been the next t-shirt slogan. Was it intended to be a weird allegory about rape? Anyway, the Monks require a disaster to befall the human race in order to be invited to take control of planet Earth. But they don’t want the humans to know about it, just take their word for it. The Monks don’t even cause it, they just watch it happen. If the humans don’t know about the disaster befalling them then they won’t consent effectively to saving. But I imagine these creatures of seemingly limitless power and benevolence can rectify everything even after it is too late? It’s just nonsense.
Last week we learned that the creatures have run simulations to identify Earth’s weakest moment. This was a simulation so intricate that it could predict the presence of two non-humans and that one of them was blinded by events that occurred in the far future. Yet they still didn’t anticipate that The Doctor, like he always has done, would save the day, which he does. For the viewer there was absolutely no doubt as to where the disaster would occur because they’d been shown it.
One scientist has her reading glasses broken and the world will end because a hungover colleague gets his sums wrong and loses the ability to close airlock doors properly. What the hell kind of story is that? Getting the quantities of chemicals wrong, fair enough. But an experienced scientist is expected to lose the ability to shut an airlock door behind him because of a hangover? Come on! When you are working in that environment you are meticulous about safety protocols. Equally you wouldn’t just remove your helmet because you felt nauseous. Those suits are worn for a reason. Similarly what kind of air filtration system removes bacteria only to pump it out into the atmosphere? Bit of a design flaw that. At this point I lost patience with the product.
Anyway, The Doctor solves it all because that’s what he does. Then for all the technology in the laboratory a door is fitted with a manual locking mechanism. Why? Because The Doctor, you might not have realised this, is blind. You wouldn’t have thought so the way he flew round the laboratory but honestly he’s blind.
Blind or not blind?
When The Doctor first appears in the episode he opens his eyes and moves around the TARDIS console strumming his guitar. He then places the instrument down without any problems at all. No missing the rack, he just turns and places the guitar safely in its place. It certainly doesn’t imply that The Doctor is still blind. In the remaining scenes the sonic sunglasses provide some form of vision. Surely if you were actually blind you’d still move a little hesitantly even with these sonic shades?
To make things worse as The Doctor was locating the lab he removes his sonic shades, holding them in one hand. Despite being blind he still managed to move directly towards the TARDIS console and operate the correct lever to dematerialise. It was a smooth movement. He’d already walked around the console and yet showed no hesitancy whatsoever. And this was supposed to be a character who was blind? All of this inconsistency meant that I simply stopped believing that he was blind because he wasn’t moving like he was. The sonic shades were also so effective that he just moved around as normal. No tripping up the step in the TARDIS, or catching the corner of console. Nothing. So when I needed to believe that he was trapped because he couldn’t see I just didn’t.
Earlier in the episode the sonic screwdriver was shown to have the ability to lift a MANUAL barrier. It was seen in the series trailer and in promo pictures, you can’t miss that it is manual barrier. A sound effect tried to hide this fact but even the most moderately attentive viewer would’ve noticed this. If this magic tool can lift a manual barrier then to see it stumped by a door was simply inconsistent. Similarly, the idea that Bill had not worked out that the Doctor was blind stretched credibility. Nardole stood metres away telling the Doctor what he should be seeing made it a bit obvious. So far the character has been presented as sharp and intelligent making this at odds with the rest of the series. In her defence I stopped believing he was blind too. To base the entire finale on resolving this inconsistency was utterly bewildering. So then suddenly The Doctor has his sight back again.
Ultimately we’ve spent two episodes, nearly an hour and a half, to get to the point where The Doctor has sight again and we can have an episode with the Monks in charge of Earth. As a result we have had to endure not one but TWO setup episodes to get to that point. Frankly, it hasn’t been worth the effort. Missy will also be in that episode next week too so the Monks will probably be made redundant so she can get in her sparky dialogue. Other than the line “To rule with fear is inefficient”, there is very little about the Monks that makes sense thus far. In fact there is very little about them which is even notable at all. They just feel very generic and bland.
Next week ‘The Line in the Land’ could be a classic with some fabulously dystopian imagery. However the journey to get to that point, over the course of two episodes, has been prolonged, confused and tedious, full of inconsistent messages. After the first five episodes were so consistently strong, two thirds of the Monk trilogy have so far been nothing but filler material. I liked the simulation idea but gradually it fell apart. This week it didn’t take extended consideration to become irritated by the paper thin idea that a hungover scientist will bring about the death of civilisation.