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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Doctor Who: History Is Written By The Victors

You may have noticed there was no review last week. This was because I felt that episode was on the uneventful side and was spending too much time setting up to something much bigger. This week, we'll be looking at both episodes, The Pyramid At The End Of The World and The Lie Of The Land, as they're both tightly interconnected with each other, and Pyramid works much better as the first half of the episode than it does as a stand-alone.

That said, for any sci-fi junkies out there, this is for you.

Dr Daniel Jackson is furious that he's not allowed in Turmezistan.
Pyramid is an interesting little mystery story with a very large threat looming in the background. We're privy to the events that are foretold by the Monks as they unfold while the Doctor, Bill, and the rapidly dwindling leaders of the world try to figure out what kind of threat would be so great as to make the Monks appear, offering to save us.

There's essentially two stories going on here, side by side, completely unconnected until the end of the episode. The A-story is serviceable: Nardy is tolerable, having toned down his more annoying tendencies; Bill is still dressed in 1990's finest; The Doctor is still pretending not to be blind, and has apparently been fumbling around the wardrobe, now wearing quite a flattering loose-fitting red shirt under his coat; and the Monks finally get some proper screen time, and they are superbly creepy. Like telepathic zombies wearing fine silk robes, they create a great visual dissonance between pristine and rotten. Even the Doomsday clock has a relevance, being something that most people are aware of already and having only recently been set again in our world.
The real star of the episode: this amazing outfit.
The B-story is a very Michael Crichton-esque outbreak story which, while also serviceable, suffers from one very, very glaring flaw: a super bacteria is created which could wipe out all life on Earth by misplacing a decimal point without a single automated alert that would either stop the process or notify the scientists. (Editor's Note: I was quite put off by the WTFery of a bio lab which automatically and irreversibly vented to the outdoors even during quarantine lockdown.)

I quite liked Erica, though. Although we're never quite sure what happened to her, I think we can be pretty sure she's dead. Single-episode companions that the Doctor likes, asks their name, and makes an offer to usually end up dead. See Kylie Minogue's character, Lynda with a Y, and several other examples.
Between that laugh and this smile? Capaldi can be terrifying.
Moving into Lie of the Land: this episode was much better, but suffered in a few places as well. It's a well-constructed episode, but it's a little too evocative of previous episodes, almost as if they took concepts that worked well enough as individual episodes and mashed them into a single episode:

  • The Doctor losing and the bad guys using him (or his technology) to rule the world hearkens back to The Sound Of Drums/Last Of The Time Lords where The Master held The Doctor prisoner and used his TARDIS to hold back a paradox, while his (coincidentally, I'm sure) black, female companion was one of a few that knew the truth and participated in a resistance. 
  • The resolution of the episode - using Bill's emotional connection to her mother to overcome the Monk's signal - was a "power of love" resolution like Closing Time's, where Eleven convinced a father to overcome a Cyberconversion to save his son. 
Still, despite the copied elements, there were a lot of themes at work in this episode that were really great, and I feel it's objectively better if only for Peter Capaldi's presence. Twelve played a long game with Bill that would have made Seven proud, giving her the photographs of her mother (that he took after she told him she didn't have any), as well as de-converting his own guards and giving Bill a test that rivaled Seven forcing Ace to question her faith in him in Ghost Light. His speech to her, touching on fascism and fundamentalism, free will and peace and order, was harsh, cold, and very, very believable, given how alien and detached Twelve gets at times.
The Doctor's place: Between Humanity and danger.
Episode Eight of the season takes us inside the vault (after a raucous scene of the Doctor crashing his prison ship into the coast with such maniacal laughter that, Erin and I agree, suggest Capaldi could play an excellent Joker), and we get an extended sequence with Missy. She's allegedly, in her words, going "cold turkey" from being evil, and Michelle Gomez does what she does best: doing her damnedest to steal every scene from Peter Capaldi. It's a huge credit to her that she's capable of playing so well against his intensity. I feel like they both get progressively more Scottish in every scene they share together, as Gomez's emphatic pronunciations of certain words ("gud") would be completely over the top coming from anyone else.

Twelve pays Bill an amazing compliment with "In amongst 7 billion, there's someone like you. That's why I put up with the rest of them." After her determination and bravery, I really feel she deserved it, too.

I would normally say Pyramid  wouldn't be a required watch, but it sets up Lie of the Land in such a way that you'd really be missing out a lot by skipping it. Lie, on the other hand, does not have the strongest story, and there are so many questionable moments of science that I can only recommend it on the performances of the cast alone, as well as another of the now-infamous trademark Capaldi monologues. If you enjoyed his scene-stealing moments in the Zygon two-parter or the masterpiece that was Heaven Sent, you'll enjoy several parts of this episode.

NEXT WEEK: SPACE 1899 AND I AM HYPED

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