Reviewed by John Hussey
Well things certainly got interesting at the end of “Extremis” (setting up The Monk Trilogy rather nicely) as we were introduced to The Monks, a terrifying looking order that have built simulations in order to learn all of our weaknesses to construct the perfect invasion strategy. The Twelfth Doctor managed to send himself information from inside the simulation, thus giving him a little insight into this terrifying new set of circumstances that may prove to be his most difficult challenge yet.
“The Pyramid at the End of the World” moves the narrative forward by examining the strange phenomenon of a 5000 year-old pyramid suddenly materialising in the middle of the fictional country Turmezistan. I like how the theme of this trilogy is incorporating ancient civilisations and age-old myths (though the Veritas was solely a sinister plot-device to indicate that people weren’t real, but it was still a really interesting incorporation of beliefs and religious orders) as it really delivers a sense of different cultures, added by the stunning overseas filming (which I find always adds to any narrative within the show because it looks more realistic or other-worldly).
Things get quite intense when (followed by another interruption to Bill’s date with Penny [which wasn’t quite as hilarious as last week’s encounter with The Pope, but was still amusing]) the United Nation get involved, leading to American, Chinese, and Russian forces surrounding the Pyramid. This really made the narrative feel like a global threat, pushing the episode to be more political in its design as it displayed a very real look at military deployment.
Once again The Twelfth Doctor becomes the President of the World and is brought in to lead the UN into battle, to which the Time Lord actually goes ahead with to my absolute surprise. Considering what The Last Great Time War did to The Doctor (particularly in creating the infamous War Doctor), and The Twelfth Doctor’s clear feelings towards war as indicated by his opinions towards Danny Pink, and his glorious anti-war speech in “The Zygon Inversion”, you’d assume that sending troops in to attack The Monks would be the last thing he’d consider (and surely condemn). I suppose it just shows how desperate the situation is, or that he already came to the conclusion that The Monks’ power would deflect every attempt of attack.
One thing I have to strongly point out is the absence of UNIT. Where the fuck are they? It really does annoy me in any modern-day narrative when the catastrophe is massive, or on a global scale, and UNIT aren’t involved. Bullshit! This is the reason they were formed in the first place, to investigate the unexplained. But I suppose considering they are no longer apart of the UN they may not have been called in (which is still a bullshit excuse). The other reason is probably because the likes of Kate Stewart and Osgood would’ve been more inclined to listen to The Twelfth Doctor, thus the debate of “whether or not the human race should surrender” would quickly become redundant.
But still, considering how much prominence UNIT has had over the last three series, especially during The Twelfth Doctor’s era, you’d expect them to at least have an appearance, even if their presence was solely to observe due to the UN’s involvement. Perhaps when things started to get heated Kate and Osgood may’ve become more inclined to get involved, thus backing-up The Twelfth Doctor’s argument, and in many ways made the episode’s dilemma a bit more interesting (especially in establishing the sometimes backwards thinking of the military mind). So, yeah, I am really pissed that Kate, Osgood, and UNIT didn’t make an appearance and were shafted for no good reason, merely being mentioned by passing sentences.
I suppose the problem with not having UNIT was the episode didn’t feel like it had any relatable military characters. In many ways this is why UNIT make modern-day political, or invasion, narratives more exciting because you have so many wonderful, and memorable, military characters involved. The Brigadier, Sergeant Benton, and Captain Mike Yates were fantastic characters and they all contributed to The Third Doctor’s refined era. So naturally when you have generic military leader A, B, C, and D, you feel the narrative deflates slightly in audience relation, and honestly, I couldn’t give two-flying-fucks about the Secretary General, the Commander, Col Don Braddit, and Xiaolian.
The pacing was certainly slower this week, which is rather odd considering we’ve entered the second part to The Monk Trilogy, but none-the-less, it does build-up to another shocking conclusion. But I suppose this is the problem at the minute: build-up. This means a lot is resting on next week’s episode and it has to deliver, otherwise the entire trilogy is completely wasted. I suppose another factor is I don’t know whether I’m satisfied with the direction this trilogy is heading.
I think this is because I personally wanted this trilogy to reintroduce The Master, but of course (sadly), this hasn’t happened. With the BBC personally announcing the return of John Simm I was really counting on him having a major role within Series 10, and with Missy being announced for both The Monk Trilogy and the finale I hoped he would appear in all five of these episodes too. But, alas, it would appear I have to wait until the finale to see if the anticipation is worth it.
Speaking of Missy, she is also absent from this narrative. Considering she was featured heavily during the flashback sequences in “Extremis”, and revealed to be the thing within the Vault, Missy is pushed completely aside for this second segment. Though to be fair she wasn’t needed but it is interesting that we’ve had all this build-up to the Vault and now that we know what’s in it it’s simply been abandoned for a better narrative. That’s the truth really. Prior to knowing who was in the Vault it was a great mystery, but then when we discovered it’s the most obvious, and blandest, answer you can’t help but feel cheated, meaning the sweet distraction of The Monk arc feels like an okay contingency prize.
I wouldn’t say “The Pyramid at the End of the World” was particularly bad or anything, merely slow and full of build-up (which if the next episode pays-off then, in my eyes, this has been a successful set of episodes). It’s definitely one of those episodes were the build-up is the best part, which to be fair, keeps you on the edge of your seat as you constantly ponder what’s going to happen next. The Monks continued to feel like The Silence as they demonstrated their powerful capabilities and proved that they could easily control the Earth without even needing to invade (which is a truly terrifying thought, making them a real threat).
The Monks do prove to be one of the better monsters out there, in both their design and structure. Sometimes I prefer slow, and calculative, enemies instead of your typical invading forces (which is probably why the likes of the Daleks, and Cybermen, have become really boring because the writer’s only concentrate on the one aspect and rarely delve deeper to make them more threatening and scary). What makes The Monks even more sinister is their insistence on getting humanities’ permission to save the planet from certain destruction, meaning we are practically handing over the planet ourselves.
It’s a really ingenious scheme which becomes all the more personal, made worse by the fact that you don’t know what you’re consenting to. The Monks have scanned the planet over and over and have learnt of a moment in time were humanity will bring about their own destruction, to which they can prevent at an unknown price. For all we know they may just want to destroy the planet anyway, meaning the dead planet The Twelfth Doctor, his companions, and the military leaders were shown may still actually happen. I mean, The Monks don’t exactly look trustworthy and are (pretty much) trying to blackmail humanity, probably so they can have control over the Earth or enslave us.
The narrative continuously showcases the gravity of the situation (and The Monk’s deadly presence) by reminding the characters of the countdown towards doomsday as everybody’s clock gets closer and closer to striking midnight. What makes the circumstances even more clever is the actual reason behind the catastrophe. It leads you to believe it’ll be something obvious like aggression caused by war, to which the leaders actually agree on making peace (but this naturally doesn’t do anything), but instead it’s a couple of random events, i.e. a character drinking the night before, and another breaking her glasses, to which creates a planet-destroying bacteria. Fucking genius!
What’s clever is the episode kept emphasising on these two characters and these two tiny events, to which became pieces of a larger puzzle, and then you begin to realise the true gravity on the situation. “Shit! This is what The Monks are talking about! These two characters are the reason the world is going to end!” The clever writing doesn’t stop there. Upon The Twelfth Doctor realising the world will end by a bacterial outbreak (with help from Nardole’s brainstorming) he narrows down his search by blocking The Monks’ vision via turning off every single camera to all the different research facilities across the planet. The Twelfth Doctor was then able to discover the place they needed to be once they identified which facility’s cameras The Monks switched back on.
Of course by this point time had nearly run out and the military leaders hesitate, to the point where they disregard The Twelfth Doctor’s advice in favour of consenting with The Monks. But of course it isn’t that straightforward. The Monks need to be loved. So every time someone approaches them without having passion within their consent are destroyed (bye-bye military leaders, can’t say I fucking care). Things become really interesting when The Twelfth Doctor manages to come up with a means of stopping the deadly bacteria spreading, but ultimately hits a massive curve-ball upon escaping the facility before it blows-up.
The Twelfth Doctor is unable to see the combination lock in order to reach the TARDIS, thus preventing him from escaping. This moment was another shocking scene to bare (Christ, Series 10 should be dubbed “the season of tension”), resulting in you wanting to grab The Doctor and shake him. “Why the fuck do you have to lie to your closest friends you fucking idiot?!” It’s a perfect example of The Doctor playing the lone-wolf and going in completely blind. He never dares to think of the consequences of his actions, or how they may affect those around him. In lying to Bill (and practically everyone except Nardole) he has made himself completely vulnerable.
This moment really affects Bill to the core (which really showcases how fantastic her character is, particularly in how much she has grown to admire and care for her tutor) as she ultimately decides to consent with The Monks in order to get The Twelfth Doctor’s sight back. In some ways it is rather cheap how he manages to get his sight back but I think that can be forgiven given the consequences of him getting his sight back. Now The Monks have gotten what they wanted, and the scary part is, we still don’t fucking know what they intend to do, making for one of the greatest cliff-hangers in the history of Doctor Who.
“The Pyramid at the End of the World” really culminates the fantastic structure, and character building, of Series 10 so far. The cliff-hanger clearly shows how much Bill cares for The Twelfth Doctor, along with demonstrating how the Time Lord’s arrogance has greatly cost him, making me wonder whether or not this was The Monks’ divine plan all along. The simulations accounted for everything, so why not take The Doctor’s vulnerabilities in account, using both his companion and his ego against him at the same time, ultimately handing over Earth on a silver platter.
It’s fair to say I’m really interested to see where The Monk Trilogy will go from here, and how it will ultimately come to its conclusion. From the looks of the “Next Time” trailer, things are going to get really intense, and extremely emotional.