WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
I wasn’t particularly impressed with the first part of this three-part story, Extremis, so I wasn’t expecting a great deal from this one despite being a fan of Capaldi’s Doctor. I was glad that the story had broken free of the simulation aspect of the storyline and was able to progress normally but as I said in my previous review, this could have easily been the opening episode of a two-parter or had the simulation shortened to make for a tighter story overall.
That aside, this is the episode I’m concentrating on now and it starts off with a recap as you would expect but it’s handled in a rather unique style with Bill having a conversation with her girlfriend Penny (who we were introduced to in the previous episode). It’s told through a combination of flashbacks and Bill describing what happened during the simulation but telling Penny that it was a simulation created by the Doctor. While it’s original, it works on the assumption that the Doctor would have told Bill every detail of his experience in the simulation.
However, the flashback format allowed for the episode to flow straight in so once back at Bill’s flat, the couple are interrupted when a group of UN soldiers burst in unannounced. Approaching Bill, they quickly call in and introduce an old man, the UN Secretary General and they ask Bill -much to her confusion – for help. They’re looking for the President and believe she knows where he is. Making an off-the-cuff remark about Donald Trump (which I thought was a bold move for the BBC to allow), she’s corrected… it’s the President of Earth that they’re looking for.
Upon finding the Doctor, it’s explained that a mysterious pyramid has appeared in a neutral area of land bordering territories patrolled by forces from America, China and Russia. Despite being a recent “arrival”, studies show the pyramid to be over 5,000 years old. The Doctor sets off to investigate, aided by Nardole who watches from the sidelines but giving him directions and providing him with descriptions to help the Doctor conceal his continued blindness. On reaching the pyramid, a door opens to reveal one of the mysterious Monks…
The Monks claim to have arrived to help save the Earth from an event that will place the entire planet in mortal danger as long as they are asked and the planet is surrendered to them willingly. Simultaneously all around the world, clocks and watches change to 23:57 representing the time on the doomsday clock telling the Doctor that time is running out to save the planet. Believing that war may be imminent between the three nations represented at the convergence point the Doctor tries to find a way for them to come together, but the real threat might lie elsewhere.
The Secretary General and the leaders of the three armies present, along with the Doctor and Bill are shown simulations of the possible future that can be prevented if they ask for help. The vision of a planet devoid of life is too much for the Secretary General to bear and he immediately asks for help, surrendering the planet. While his intentions were well meaning, the monks believed that he was only acting out of fear and not to devote himself and the planet to their rule. As such, not only did his attempt to save the planet fail, but his life was sacrificed in the process.
The surviving military leaders, along with the Doctor are left to try to figure out what peril exactly the world is in, while the military are becoming more and more desperate even to the point of wanting to surrender in order to save the planet…
Elsewhere, at a genetics engineering laboratory in the UK an experiment is being undertaken by scientists testing a new chemical agent on plants but it is starting to go horribly wrong. The bacteria that has been created has destroyed the plants and if not quickly isolated is going to escape the lab and into the atmosphere destroying all life on Earth.
Realising that the threat isn’t a military one, the Doctor discovers that the monks are observing current world activities to find where the impending catastrophy is set to take place. Tracing the camera feed that the Monks are watching to the source, the Doctor rushes to intervene while the monks try to pressure Bill into surrendering on behalf of the Doctor (as the representative of the President) and the human race.
Arriving at the laboratory the Doctor realises that the threat of the bacteria is all too real and that the automated sterilisation system won’t activate in time to stop it from spreading. The only way to save Earth is to destroy the lab and kill the bacteria that way through the heat generated from a chemically triggered fire. He heads into the lab with the door sealed behind him but once the improvised explosives are set, the doors lock behind him and he finds himself trapped. The remaining scientist, Erica, gives him the code to unlock the door from the inside but he can’t get out – it’s an old-fashioned wheel combination lock and without his vision he can’t use it.
The Doctor finally admits to Bill that he can’t see or open the door. Not wanting to lose the Doctor, Bill heads to the Monks and pleas for their help to restore the Doctor’s sight against his wishes, no matter what the cost. With his sight restoring, he is able to open the lock and escape safely but at what cost to the planet…?
This made for a welcome contrast to the first episode in this story. It was well paced and while there was never and real menace or sense of threat from the Monks themselves, the tension was played wonderfully throughout. From start to finish you were left asking yourself not only how did they know what the future entailed but how could they not only change the future but what powers did they possess to change the world and things around them to the extent that they did. Hopefully at least part of this will be answered in the next episode but leave at least some element of mystery to leave the door open for a return in the future.
Obviously having the Doctor trapped inside the laboratory was intended to tease the fans and be the first hint at a regeneration this year. Certainly we saw in the series trailer and from early press photos that Capaldi’s Doctor has been seen to go through some form of regeneration process during the season (as you can see here) but what that will entail and when it will happen we still don’t actually know.
All that aside, I truly enjoyed this episode, far more than I expected after the previous one. The humour was kept down to just a few small remarks here and there which I felt worked well considering the powerful nature of the plot itself, and I really loved seeing the continued development of the bond between the Doctor and Bill. I really hope that this continues and that Chibnall sees sense and keeps Pearl Mackie on board for Season 11 as it will be a great loss to see her leave following such a great start.
Overall, a great episode and it has me eagerly awaiting part three…
All photos are © BBC and used with permission.