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Monday, 26 June 2017

Doctor Who S36E11: World Enough and Time

Doctor Who
Series 36, Episode 11
World Enough and Time.

So, if you've been on this blog for long enough, you'll have noticed that I really don't rate Steven Moffat as a writer. I wrote an entire editorial series on his misogynistic tendencies, and in general I find his stories to be high on 'dazzle' factor but low on actual substance, often trailing off into either total incoherence or boring cliche.

That having been said, my one massive problem with this episode aside, this is a superbly written episode. It's tense, scary, both deeply human at points and unnervingly terrifying at others, with a solid and easy to understand concept, some excellently telegraphed but still compelling plot twists, and atmosphere in spades. It's in spitting distance of being a perfect episode, and it's certainly the best episode this current series has had so far.

As the TARDIS arrives on a ship caught in the gravitational well of a black hole, ostensibly for Missy to show how much she's improved, things rapidly go awry when Bill is shot, and then dragged away by men in masks to be 'repaired.' Waking up at the bottom of the ship -- which due to the black hole is moving through time more slowly than the top, where the Doctor, Nardole, and Missy are -- Bill spends years in a sinister hospital, where several patients are undergoing a painful treatment, and befriends the janitor. Eventually, Bill learns that an entire civilisation has flourished at the bottom of the ship, and that it's dying -- and that the people there have a gruesome plan for surviving.

So, I said I had one massive problem with this episode, and that's the disparity between its really interesting set-up -- Missy saving people -- and what most of the episode is devoted to. I was really excited to see that, but what we get instead is what we get is about two minutes of Missy doing stuff (and even then getting ‘guidance’ from the Doctor) before the focus abruptly shifts away from her and onto the Doctor again. Throughout most of the episode, she barely even talks.

Missy's hat is v. nice, though.

You know what would have been a way better idea? Cut out Oxygen. Move the Monk trilogy and Empress of Mars to be earlier. Maybe even cut out Smile. Have episode eight or nine be about Missy saving some people, and have the Doctor be mostly absent for it, and then work her into The Eaters of Light in a bigger role. That episode is already one of the stronger ones this series, but the switch-up to making it about Missy, and having it culminate in her truly trying to do something selfless (or seeming to, at least) would have had real impact.

It would also benefit this week's episode: At the episode's close, the janitor reveals himself to have been the Master all along, here to turn Missy back towards being evil, and leveraging a now cyberised Bill to make sure the Doctor rejects her (or, at least, to make sure Missy thinks he will). It's an effective moment already, but with Missy actually seeming to have been redeemed, at least to some degree, it would have had that much more punch.

Still, on its own merits, without that set-up, this episode is actually surprisingly good. Done right, the Cybermen are terrifying, but New Who has always struggled somewhat to make them so, usually resorting instead to making them disposable footsoldiers in one-off episodes, or having them be fodder for the much less scary Daleks. Doing an origin story for a classic set of villains is always a risky proposition, but it's managed here with aplomb, slowly building us up for the Cybermen to appear properly.

The Doctor and a Cyberman.

Now, imagine how great that would have been without the preview spoiling both that the Mondasian Cybermen were returning, and that John Simm would be showing up as the Master. The way this episode is built, I do honestly believe the idea was that the preview wouldn't show any of that, but something must have gone awry between writing and filming and preview creation. This is one of the few instances I can think of where the preview somewhat spoiled my enjoyment of the episode, because the gut-punch of the Cybermen reveal with that distinctive head-piece, and the reveal of John Simm otherwise would have blown me away.


Next week honestly looks like it's going to ruin this whole set-up, with the Cybermen being boiled down to disposable things to blow up, and even the ugly New Who Cybermen making an appearance (ugh). The series also continues to tease the Doctor regenerating, and if he actually does regenerate next episode, I will eat my hat, because god knows this show has teased regeneration enough times before without ever managing to follow through on it.

Also, Capaldi's already confirmed for the Christmas special, so there's that.

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