WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
The worst aspect about multi-part episodes, especially since Doctor Who was relaunched in its current format, is maintaining the quality across every episode in the story. For two parters it’s simply a case of bringing the story to a satisfactory conclusion but it’s not as simple with a three-parter in the case of this concluding episode to the story that started a few weeks ago with Extremis. For this to work effectively, the whole package needs to have a clearly defined beginning, middle and an end but so far it’s only been the second episode I’ve found to be only remotely engaging so was the story’s climax going to be able to bring a satisfying conclusion to the tale…?
The consequences of Bill’s plea for help to the Monks in The Pyramid At The End Of The World have come to fruition. They now control the entire world. In fact, history reveals that they have been with us and caring for the planet since time began. However, there are those amongst the population who think otherwise; that the Monks have only been on Earth for six months and have been altering everyone’s memories to think otherwise. Anyone who believes that is arrested and astonishingly even the Doctor is supporting the Monks with this illusion.
Bill’s original memories are intact and she quickly comes across Nardole whose memories are intact as well. Thinking that the Doctor is plotting against the Monks, they try to find him and find out what’s wrong but on reaching him it appears that he has genuinely turned against humanity and calls guards on them. Bill feels that she’s left with no choice and grabs one of their weapons and shoots the Doctor, forcing him to regenerate…
Or so we’re lead to believe. The gun was filled with blanks and it was a test set by the Doctor to make sure that Bill wasn’t sent to check up on him by the Monks. Satisfied that she’s retained her own memories, he explains that he’s slowly been recruiting people and helping to restore their original memories including all of the guards that he “summoned”. Knowing how serious the situation was and that the Monks needed to be stopped the Doctor realised that he needed help and that there was only one person he could ask. Someone from his past that was back at the University…
Where the Doctor opens the vault to talk to his arch-nemesis Missy. On asking her about the Monks, she confirms that not only has she faced them before on her travels but she knows how to defeat them. After talking to the Doctor and Bill and trying to help the Doctor figure it out for himself, the shocking answer is revealed. The Monks are dependent upon the original source of the request for help and the use of transmitters around the planet to help spread their false memories that are transmitted to the entire population. The only way to stop them is for the source to be killed… and that means Bill’s life is at stake.
Refusing to accept that option, the Doctor traces the source of the transmission of the false memories to the church that the Monks are using as their centre of operations – another mysterious pyramid in the centre of London. Assembling a small group of guards, the Doctor takes Bill and Nardole to try to take control of the transmitter and instead broadcast an accurate representation of Earth’s history from the Doctor’s mind no matter what the cost.
At the heart of the transmitter is another Monk wired into it but he seems to be able to overpower the Doctor mentally and stops him from taking control of the transmitter. Trying one last ditch attempt to save the planet, Bill takes over and plants memories of her mother into the system – one reality the Monks hadn’t anticipated, shutting their transmission down and returning the population to normal and freeing them from six months of alien control.
Plot wise, this is nothing original, nor is it something new to Doctor Who. A similar theme was used at the end of the third season with David Tenant in the two-parter The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords. While all of Earth’s history wasn’t altered in that storyline, the population had been lead to believe that the Master had been involved in the UK’s political scene for far longer than he actually had and I do feel that it was handled better back then. The episode also relied on the over-used Doctor Who plot trope of having the entire human race “forgetting” a major planetary incident. For something as significant as an alien invasion that lasted for six months you’d think that more than a few people would remember it, but having this convenient excuse time after time is now becoming tiresome.
One of the biggest disappointments about the entire episode was the long-awaited return of Michelle Gomez as Missy. While she appeared previously in the story, it was only in flashbacks so this was set to be her first “real” appearance in the season and I have to be honest and say that it was a huge anti-climax. Her scenes were all too brief and rather than Bringing her into the episode completely to work alongside the Doctor, she was sidelined and used as little more than a cameo to offer sage advice to the Doctor and Bill and nothing more. The only real moment of note with her in the episode was at the end but I felt that it was a wasted opportunity to have the two working side by side as friends as was hinted at in Extremis.
The scene where Bill confronts the Doctor is probably the strongest of the episode and really shows the darker side of Capaldi’s Time Lord at its finest. While we all know that the Doctor must be up to something the tension between him and Bill is played wonderfully and you can almost sense genuine disdain for the human race coming from the Doctor. If this episode were watched out of context or viewed by someone who hadn’t seen the series at all, they’d have no reason to think that the Doctor wouldn’t be acting the way that he appeared to be.
The teased regeneration was a nice touch and I’m sure it had people on the edge of their seats wondering if all of the official responses from the BBC for the last few months regarding Capaldi’s successor were to throw us off the scent and that we were about to see the next Doctor, only to have that taken away from us. It did raise one interesting, yet unanswered question though. This “fake” regeneration obviously used some of the Doctor’s regeneration energy so does that mean he used one of his regeneration cycles to test Bill or did he simply shorten his lifespan in his current body? There was no real explanation and the fact that Bill didn’t even ask what happened to the Doctor afterwards was somewhat baffling.
This episode really felt like the first in the three-parter in many ways. While there were some strong elements to the story in parts as we saw the the episode develop, the Doctor reveal his true intentions and the brief assistance from Missy, once again we had the reset button pressed at the end of it with no lasting repercussions. Other than strengthening the relationship further between the Doctor and Bill, allowing more character development for Nardole and giving us the chance to see a new facet to the interplay between the Doctor and Missy, there wasn’t really much to take from all three episodes and it’s a shame to see a quarter of the season wasted on what seems to have been just a rehash of old ideas.
All photos are © BBC and used with permission.