Saturday, 3 June 2017

The Pyramid at the End of the World written by Peter Harness & Steven Moffat and directed by Daniel Nettheim


This story in a nutshell:
The Monks want the planet Earth but only if you give it to them out of love…

Indefinable: What is this obsession with making the Doctor the President of the World? If there was ever a time when that was necessary surely it would have been when he was exiled on Earth in the 70s and he stood as the planets protector without a means of escaping? It feels like such a comic book idea and far less impressive than it is probably meant to be. It’s the sort thing a five-year-old might come up with in a moment of excited madness. He might have proven himself to be loyal to the Earth but to give absolute power to one individual, especially one as emotional and reactionary as the Doctor seems really inadvisable. It strains credulity that the powers of the Earth would surrender control to an alien. Billy (my other half) made a rather sick joke about refusing to watch the series anymore now because the Doctor has been incapacitated – to the point where he left room at the beginning of this episode in a fit of pique when he realised the Doctor was still blind. I fell for it and he returned laughing his head off at me. I should have left with him, I think. It’s a bit cack-handed, this approach. I thought I was stuck in a time loop the amount of times the Doctor tried to tell Bill that he was blind and the way Nardole relays the information to him feels much less subtle this time around because Bill is listening. She must really be distracted not to realise. He’s really trying to take the mantle of Kathryn Janeway this season for blowing stuff up without good reason. Smile and Oxygen have already seen his finger hovering over the self-destruct button and to make up for the fact that he didn’t want to destroy anything last week he makes two attempts at devastation this week. When was the Doctor’s go to response to fire a missile? 

Groovy Chick: I was less thrilled about Bill’s love life making an appearance this week, simply because it has no impact on the plot whatsoever. What’s sad is that it is the one moment of true characterisation in the whole piece and it has nothing to do with the central plot. Replaying the same gag as last week elicited more a sigh than a laugh too. Would Bill really tell her date that the Doctor is an alien and catch her up to speed on the events of Extremis so faithfully? Actually, maybe she would, my boyfriend claims to be on good terms with a race of giant clams on his jaunts around time and space so I guess any amount of bizarre behaviour is possible. It’s certainly not something I would advise though. I like Bill a lot and I think Pearl Mackie is proving to be something of a revelation. She brings a sense of realness to the show that has been lacking for quite some time. So it irritates me that she written so stupidly at the climax. I don’t buy that anybody would make the decision that she does at the climax. Weighing up the fate of the entire human race over the life of the Doctor and opting for the latter. If you think about the implications of that for one second you’ll see that it is an insane bargain. I get that Bill figures that he will save the world ultimately but for that one moment she sold out the entire human race to give the Doctor back his sight. Please let’s not have this be her defining moment. Even the Doctor is appalled.

The Good:
· How nice for Doctor Who to feature a little person as a guest character. It really is a diverse show in how it showcases everybody these days. Boo hiss for failing to give her a role beyond ‘scientist.’ Erica features in about 15 minutes of this episode and I learnt exactly one thing about her. She wanted to be
· The visual of the pyramid is a striking one and the director has taken some sweeping Ariel photography of Tenerife to make this alien ziggurat as impressive as possible. During the first ten minutes, Pyramid feels genuinely epic. The music is phenomenal here too, listen the score as the Doctor approaches the Monks’ new home. Watching them bring down the plane and dumped a submarine in the middle of the desert was beautifully done too (although the Monks in the cockpit looked very funny at the controls). Turning people into dust isn’t a new idea but the visual effects make it look like a truly horrible way to die.

The Bad:
· How do the events of Extremis impact this story in any way? Why was it necessary? The Doctor had an early warning that the Monks were coming…but the whopping great pyramid would have soon alerted him to the fact anyway. Had the Monks staged a sudden attack then an early warning would have been a strategic advantage.
· This is the third episode on the trot that has begun with a voiceover. I realise it might make the story feel more important but please let next week’s just start on its own terms.
· The Doctor poses that the Monks could do powerful things with the knowledge they have gleamed from studying history back to the dawn of humanity. I certainly hope they get the chance to act on that knowledge because it isn’t followed up in Pyramid.
· I like the idea of the Monks hanging around and waiting for a cock-up on humanity’s part that might cause the end of the world and then stepping in and being held as our saviours. However, the way that cock-up is presented is so ham fisted it almost felt as if the script was talking down to its audience. It’s like it’s being pitched at a very young audience. Broken glasses, a scientist with a hangover, poor safety measures, a tumbler lock rather than a keypad…where Extremis felt as if it was subtly building to its big revelatory moment, Pyramid might as well have big arrows pointing at these things screaming DISASTER IMMINENT! The Monks themselves are an interesting prospect, but I’m not entirely sure that they are a particularly exciting one. I can see why the idea of a race of beings that don’t invade but wait until humanity is ready to let them take action as their Gods is an original one. But it means instead of lots of exciting scenes of the monster of the week attacking we get lots of hanging about and fondling of their timeline fronds in their spaceship. Hardly thrill a minute. So, I respect this on an intellectual level, whilst I’m being bored to tears. Because if there is one thing this episode needs it is more action.
· The last time Peter Harness took a stab at international politics he reduced the fate of the world to two big boxes with shiny red buttons. That’s probably not very fair, one of the reasons that the Zygon two parter was one of my favourites of that year was because it dared to dabble with politics and social commentary. Even if it didn’t have the nuts to take any of it into grey areas or to push that commentary in a way that held a mirror up to our uglier characteristics. Neutered as it was, it proved that Doctor Who could, with a little more bravery, have something vital to say. Pyramid on the other hand, lacks any intellect when it comes to its politics. This us the Ladybird book of government where three of the super powers are represented by their military leaders, ill-defined and characterised (as in they have no character whatsoever) and ready to make a deal to hand over the world at the slightest provocation. It’s appallingly simplistic and how the Doctor simply collects them up and brings them together, without argument or differences, feels for once that Doctor Who is completely mis-representing the political climate. It’s so juvenile. I would rather Doctor Who’s usual representatives in this kind of negotiation were involved (Kate Stewart and Osgood) because at least it would have been nice to see them. Possibly we should feel something as the military leaders are turned into dust…I was just pleased that this retarded attempt at politics was over. The scenes where they are discussing the future of the Earth with the Doctor are painful, I couldn’t buy into the characters at all.
· Did anybody wonder if the Monks might have been lying? That they had just created their vision of the Earth’s future to get the powers on Earth to capitulate?
· The Doctor and Nardole walk out of the TARDIS into a bio-hazard area without protection? Come on.
· I can’t think of a Doctor Who story that hasn’t used a standard keypad as a door mechanism in years. However, the Doctor is blind and would be able to work his way around a key pad (three rows of three) and so just this week we’re faced with a tumbler locking mechanism. And thus the danger of the climax he faces makes sense. Go figure. It’s all so contrived…and all so Bill can make the stupidest decision in companion history.

Result: A bit of a struggle, actually. This is a largely empty affair that feels once again like set up for the main event rather than the meat in a three-part sandwich. The Pyramid at the End of the World sacrifices its characters to the plot, a typical trait in this period of the show. There are a wealth of guest characters in this story but I at no point felt as if I got to know them, they are simply functions of a glacial plot. I’m not sure what to think of the Monks. On the one hand it is novel to have a different kind of invasion story, one where they will only invade once humanity has given its consent. However it doesn’t make them the most exciting of monsters, fondling their tendrils and hanging about waiting for a duff move to be made on humanity’s part. And they’ve featured in two episodes now and feel as I know absolutely nothing about them, their motives or their history. The first ten minutes feel fresh and interesting, the idea of the 5000-year-old pyramid that appears overnight is striking but I expected the initial talk to give way to some action that never comes. It doesn’t help that things are boiled down to their most simplistic level with both the disaster that will bring the world to its knees being insultingly signposted and the bringing together of the military leaders failing to work on any plausible level. This is The Sound of Drums. It’s The Day of the Doctor. It’s Heaven Sent. It’s the middle of a three-part Doctor Who epic and yet it feels so conversational and paceless. The Pyramid at the End of the World is trying to do something different, which should be applauded. However, within it’s intriguing premise it is plodding and childish and the talk there is lacks punch. Let’s hope that Bill’s ridiculous decision shifts things into a more engaging gear. A few extra points for some powerful visuals: 5/10

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think we can all agree that the drunk scientist is one of the dumbest Doctor Who characters even.
The whole president thing is stupid and self indulgent.
I wonder if next episode will stick the landing?

DavidW 87 said...

While I appreciated what they were going for, ultimately this episode is pure filler, and apart from the very end can be skipped with little consequence to the Monks story arc. You would think "Extremis" would be the filler because of the simulation scenario but it ends up having more substance despite that due to its clever and intriguing plot and satisfying resolution. This one takes place in reality (or does it?!) yet has far less engaging material. Go figure.

I almost feel sorry for "The Lie of the Land" because with two episodes of build-up, one of which was excellent, the pay-off needs to be fantastic. Toby Whithouse hasn't dissapointed me so far, but has this arc gone too far off the rails for even him to save? I hope not.

Liam Morrell said...

I agree with most of your criticisms, instead of president of the world, why not make The Doctor head of UNIT? That would make more sense. UNIT should have been in this story too, even if it was only one of Kate or Osgood.

Daniel Leonard said...

I agree with most of what you say - although I do feel rather better about this episode after the infuriating car crash of an episode that followed - but I was actually okay with Bill's decision. It seems implausible to me that the Monks would just leave when the Doctor averted the biohazard disaster. More likely they would just wait for the next potential danger - and in the Doctor Who universe scarcely a week can go by without the Earth being in some kind of danger - and try again, only without the Doctor being alive to help.

It also fits with the Doctor's general attitude - the Doctor rarely makes the decision to sacrifice the few for the sake of the many, usually opting to save everyone who is in imminent danger and trust that he will later on find a way to save the many somehow. It may not be a wise way of operating, but it's how he does things, and Bill's decision fits very well into his philosophy.

Not sure why I'm making excuses for this one, given that 'The Lie of the Land' was so awful that Pyramids should probably be written off, but I had the thought so here I am posting it. Hope it helps.