Shortly following the events of “Extremis”, Bill’s actual date gets interrupted by the Secretary General of the U.N. who takes her, the Doctor, and Nardole to a pyramid that has mysteriously appeared over the fictional country of Turmezistan. Inside the pyramid are more of those monk aliens who set a doomsday clock for the human race. However they’re not trying to destroy the world, as we soon discover, but are rather predicting it, and offer their protection in exchange for the humans’ consent -but it must be “true” consent as they define it. The Doctor immediately opposes this idea, having reason not to trust them, and sets about finding the cause of the impending destruction before time runs out.
Like “Extremis” this is an episode that features two storylines, however in this case they feed into each other and balance one another out much better. The subplot which concerns a small lab in Yorkshire and the scientists containing it, you’re not sure what it’s building to exactly, only that it’s the cause of this great disaster the monks are predicting. And I admire this episode for taking a bit of a different spin on the alien invasion story, in that the aliens aren’t actually doing anything hostile. Even when they counter the attempted attack on their pyramid by transporting themselves into aircraft and submarines replacing the humans, they leave the humans unharmed and release them shortly after. All they’re really doing is bargaining their way to invited conquest, which is a unique idea. But they still kill people where they see their consent as being clouded by fear or strategy. And so the Doctor has to find a disaster rather than avert one as it’s happening. This plays out rather well with different world powers assisting. The way he’s able to identify the source of oncoming doom is legitimately very clever, and the idea that a misplaced decimal point could result in someone spreading an airborne toxic that could kill so quickly and gruesomely, is a little funny, but campy enough for Doctor Who. The episode on a whole is more straightforward in its plotting than the average Moffat episode.
It also does fairly good on its conundrum for the Doctor, who’s still concealing his blindness from Bill, but is generally getting on fine. That is, until the final minutes, when his inability to see puts his life in jeopardy. He confesses to Bill he hasn’t been able to see since the space station and this failure of trust on his part has huge consequences as we’ll see in the next episode. It’s that theme of distrust and unwillingness to connect that really works here, and the Doctor’s going to pay the price with the Earth’s freedom. Bill’s reaction to the Doctor’s confession is great too, coming across as a genuinely heartbreaking revelation on Pearl Mackie’s part. And it makes her subsequent actions believable in the knowledge she still has yet to learn of regeneration.
Of course, these assets aside, the episode is far from great, and is host to a number of problems. For one, it seems a little too easy to make the American general the abrasive one who takes a military stand to surrender to the monks. The Russian and Chinese representatives just follow suit after a very convenient and grossly optimistic solving of international conflict by the Doctor (complete with the goofy line they’re “giving peace a chance”). And while I’m all for Trump jokes, the one inserted near the beginning of this episode was rather lame, and felt exactly as tacked on at the last minute as it most likely was. The monks are still not that interesting a design and I’m not sure I like their voices not being in sync with any mouth movements. I get what they’re going for with this: a reference to classic series monsters like the Ice Warriors (they even have a similar sounding voice) but it doesn’t work all that well today when the show has a budget above rubber costumes. The cast overall is decent, but no one apart from Capaldi and Mackie are given much to work with. Matt Lucas at times even seemed hardly there (though I applaud them for hiring a dwarf actress to play one of the scientists without her appearance being in any way relevant -it’s coming a long way from the days of Sil). The reminder of that stupid plot point from a couple series’ ago that the Doctor was made President of Earth I could’ve done without. His monologue about the end of the world over the introductory shots of the scientists was delivered well but meant nothing. It implied that the end of the world was really the ends of little worlds, but the accident that eventually takes place is certainly more extreme. The threads inside the pyramid that represent how many days are left are a little unclear, considering how little time they’re supposed to have. That kind of concept wasn’t necessary and was most likely just included for the Fates imagery. And the images that Bill witnesses in the thread look just a little too much like stock footage of disaster aftermaths. There’s a weird thing that they try to slip under the rug, which is the Doctor’s apparent magic ability to make every top secret document in the world available on search engines, just by touching screens. The Doctor’s pretty amazing but his skills have their limits.
There were some little touches in this episode that I liked, such as the switching back and forth from “previously” to “now” exposition as Bill tells Penny about the Doctors’ “dream”. There are some very creative elements to the episode, like how the Monks take over the plane without harming the pilots. Though a number of jokes aren’t funny, the really good one that stands out is when the American comments that the Monks look like corpses, and a Monk responds with “you ARE corpses”. And again, the Doctor disrupting all CCTV feeds to discover which lab the Monks are watching by which one will switch immediately back on, is as smart as Nardole acknowledges it. I also like the Doctor looking stylish in red, and he has a few great lines in this episode: “somebody somewhere is doing something that’s about to blow up in everybody’s face”; “Hello, I am the Doctor, saving the world with my eyes shut!” And was that a My Fair Lady reference when he said “by george, she’s got it!” in response to the scientist figuring something out?
There’s no interesting visual sense and some pacing issues with “The Pyramid at the End of the World”, but overall it’s a better successor to “Extremis”. It’s not great or even really good, but it has enough original ideas and moments that it’s definitely a passable episode of Doctor Who, and it leaves you in an interesting place by the end. The Doctor is well on his way to success when he figures out he can blow up the lab to get rid of the toxin and save the world; however he hits a roadblock when he has to enter in a code he cannot see to get out of the room. With Nardole passed out in the TARDIS, he has no options, and as he talks to Bill over a comm of some kind, confessing his blindness, she being in the Monks’ eyes, the greatest power due to her connection to the Doctor, makes up her mind to use them to save him -over his incredible objections. She gives them her consent which they judge as pure, to give the Doctor back his eyesight. I don’t really know how they can do that, how far their power goes that they can remotely repair his retinas, but they do it, and he gets out of the room in time. While it’s a little disappointing to have this character crutch cut short, it does make sense, and leaves the Doctor having learnt a harsh lesson. The teaser for the next episode shows us a world ruled by the Monks, the Doctor being off the grid apart from broadcasts he makes, and it suggests probably misleadingly, that he’s joined with them. Bill is sporting a different look, and we see that Missy is back, possibly in an alliance of convenience with Bill or the Doctor to overthrow the Monks. It actually looks really thrilling, even if it does appear to be borrowing too much from “The Last of the Time Lords”, right down to the Master being involved and Bill being out there on her own just like Martha. But it certainly has me looking forward to the next Doctor Who episode, which I wasn’t for this one -making it even more of a pleasant surprise.