After last week’s subpar beginning can The Pyramid at the End of the World pull this season’s three-parter back on track?
I said at the end of last week’s recap that I was withholding judgement on it until I saw more of this “Monk’s Trilogy”. Now, with two installments down, I think we can safely say, no matter what happens next week, that first part was definitely the weakest of the batch. Moffat did something no one should ever do. He went Full Moffat. And that left this week’s writer Peter Harness rather to cope.
Bill: “How would I know the President? I wouldn’t even have voted for him. He’s… orange.”
Harness last wrote the openly political two parter “The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion” in Season 9. Because of this, I was expecting another openly political parable. With the trailer suggesting we were “in the world’s biggest hotspot”, and shots of desert and a Pyramid, I figured maybe “Middle East”? I was wrong. Instead we were in Turmezistan, a faux country which we last saw in the Zygon episodes. Here is a country where the Chinese, Russian and American armies all stand at the ready, and the fear is that, by the Monks and their pyramid arriving there too, it is only a matter of time before World War III.
But Harness is better than that. World War III is, like communism, just a red herring. A distraction–a feint to pull the Doctor and company away from the real danger. It’s a time eater with pretty blue strings that show a possible future, one where fear and strategy collide. Those with power aren’t the ones who would bring about the end of the world. Neither, for that matter, is Trump, whose orange ghost was acknowledged at the top of the episode when the Secretary General of the United Nations decided to interrupt Bill’s date with Penny. (Hey, could’ve been worse. Could’ve been the Pope.) Between his election and Brexit, people are wandering around worrying about Russia, and China and North Korea and World War III starting because of a tweet in the wrong direction.
The Doctor: “What do you depend on?
Nardole: “Air, water, food, beer.”
What is the real danger? Human nature and human error. The end of the world isn’t going to happen with an order to go live with the nuclear football. It happens in a smashed pair of Erica’s glasses when the door closes on her purse, in Douglas’ hangover from a party the night before. This is how the world ends: not with a bang, but with a misplaced decimal point and the failure to close a door.
All that being said, in order to make up for last week, Harness would have had to pull out something brilliant. Instead what he pulled out was merely good. If last week had been better, we might be in good shape going into the final installment. But as it is, we’re merely in recovery mode. To be fair, some of Harness’ conceits worked *very* well. The opening “Previouslies”, mixed with current day’s “Now”, that consists of Bill basically telling Penny all about traveling with the Doctor and the story of last week as a first date was pretty genius. (Seriously, if I went on a date with someone who told me all that, I would be in their bed *before* the Secretary General OR the Pope could interrupt.) And the events that really were bringing about the end of the world, interspersed with everyone else worrying about it, was a great tension builder.
The Doctor: “So, World War Three – what do you think? Basically, we’re against it.”
The problem came in some of the leftover tropes from earlier seasons which I wish Moffat would just lose already. (And which, we should note, Harness abused freely last year in the Zygon two parter.) I’m talking about the airplane, and more importantly, the Presidency. Look, as an American, I can understand the British fascination with the idea of “the President of the World” which then overrides whatever us Americans put in office this time. (Right now it might even be handy.) But personally, I find the entire gag to be irritating as hell. I also didn’t like Turmezistan last time, and I’m no more fond of it this time. Not to mention the whole “Generals agreeing to override their nations to stop World War III.” But maybe that’s because the US is already opening back channels to Russia via certain sons-in-laws, you might have heard? Anyway.
My last complaint though, is the big one, and that’s Bill. Bill has, so far all season, been way more observant and smart. This episode put her much closer to the Clara mold than she’s been pushed so far, and that irritated me no end. Nardole is standing *right there loudly narrating to the Doctor what’s happening in front of him*. And Bill doesn’t put it together that the Doctor’s blind? The Doctor is about to tell her something… and then gets the idea to blind the Monks? AND SHE STILL DOESN’T DO THE MATH? Girl has been established to be way faster off the mark than that. And then having her lose her head, and being the one to give away the Earth to the Monks? Because she loves the Doctor and would rather sacrifice the many for the one? No one puts my Bill is the Dumb Companion corner. (Not when they’re making Nardole into some sort of hacker hero, even if his lungs were gotten on the cheap.) By next week, I want to see her, and the Doctor’s new find Erica, running the damn joint.
The Monk: “To rule through fear is inefficient”
The Doctor: “Fear is temporary. Love is slavery.”
The question now is, how does it end? By the end of the hour the Secretary General, and all the heads of the major armies have been offed by the Monks for insufficient consent to their ruling Earth. Instead, its Bill who gave away the store, exchanging the entire Earth, and all it’s people, just so the Doctor can have his eyesight back. She did it for love, of course, which is the only form of consent the Monks will take. Now it’s up to the Doctor to defeat them…when he doesn’t know what their form of conquest will take. Will he have Nardole? Or Bill? or even the awesome new Erica?
Next week’s trailer of part three “The Lie of the Land” gives us a glimpse of what he’s up against. And it looks liek the answer to him having anyone might be no. What we see instead looks like a hella dark fascist take on Earth. Bill and Nardole are styled like something out of a version of the movie 1984, with the Doctor as our on-screen Big Brother. Looks like it might just be time to let Missy out of that Vault and see if she can help undo what love hath wrought.