Sunday, 25 June 2017

The World Enough and Time written by Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay

This story in a nutshell: The Genesis of the Cybermen? 

Indefinable: When David Bradley as William Hartnell said in An Adventure in Time and Space that he could do it all with a look I thought he sounded insane. Until I saw the look in Peter Capaldi’s eyes when Bill was shot, suddenly and unexpectedly, in this episode. It’s one of sheer disbelief and horror. It chilled me to the core. The Doctor has high hopes that Missy can be helped, even if every fibre of his being tells him that she is incorrigible. I felt the weight of their history here, the fact that they have been friends a long time and that the Doctor is trying to forge a path to the relationship they once had. The Doctor and the Master had a pact once that they would go and see every star in the universe. The Doctor has lived up to that where the Master has just been trying to destroy them. 

Funky Chick: Oh Bill. Poor, poor Bill. Had Amy Pond or Clara Oswald been put through these terrors I probably would have applauded, but thanks to the warm performance of Pearl Mackie I have really warmed to Bill and that makes this episode quite a disturbing one.

You’re So Fine: I’ve always liked Missy and this is a great new angle on her character. We’ve seen her embrace villainy and madness but given this is the episode with the return of Simm it’s intriguing to note that she has never actually been written as opposing the Doctor or attempting to kill him, especially in comparison. Simm’s Master was all about humiliating the Doctor, making him see that his way is better. Missy caused a terrible Cyberman catastrophe in the series finale but it was in aid of handing the Doctor an army to command. She might have mistreated Clara terribly in the series nine Dalek spectacular but she was there as the Doctor’s friend, to help him. She has always stressed the relationship between them being a special one. He might not trust her, but she has never actively opposed him. So, this is her chance to step from the TARDIS and be him for an adventure. And what a jolly time of she has too, until people start getting killed. Can I believe that her time in the vault has had a serious effect on her and that she is genuinely on the road to redemption? Do you know I rather hope so. Because that would make this unusual arc (in the sense that it is not building up to some kind of calamity but the recovery of an old friend) something that was worth following and concluding. I would genuinely like to see Missy stand at the Doctors side, madness and all, and embrace the universe. In the meantime we get to enjoy her wit in insulting the Doctor’s companions and her shock as she comes face to face with her predecessor. It’s a good episode for her for sure, but as an indication of how strong this story is her story isn’t even the focus.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Look at them. They’re screaming in pain every second they’re alive!’

The Good:
· Talk about getting your attention in the pre-credits. It has nothing to do with this episode but it’s a teaser for how much this story will affect the Doctor’s regeneration. We’ve heard that Moffat and Chibnall have collaborated on the regeneration and that it is going to be a bit different than before. Teasing it in this way before the event itself is quite unusual regardless. That sure looks like the Antarctic, the setting for the first Doctor’s first traumatic change of identity. Will this tie up with that story somehow? The fact that I am speculating like this show that it has gotten it’s claws into me.
· Effects have come a long way since the show was brought back in 2005. Over the previous ten seasons Doctor Who has been a showcase for some gorgeous CGI and physical effects work. Some people have criticised the show since the Mill hang up their boots but I don’t think anybody can deny that the luxuriously long and detailed shot along the hull of the colony ship is one of the most impressive piece of effects work the show has ever put out. It reminded me of the opening Trial sequence, heralding something important and foreboding. Zooming through the windows into cityscapes and beautiful vistas is the sort of visual imagination that I associate with Doctor Who at its finest. After four weeks of plodding, it felt with one expensive sequence that the show was back at the top of its game again.
· He’s gone and done it. Or at least I hope he’s gone and done it. He’s killed a companion in a shock moment without a speech or fanfare (Clara’s death seemed to go on forever). My jaw hung as the camera panned down to the gaping hole that the shot had left in Bill. Cutting to scenes of the Doctor and Bill enjoying each other’s company in the most mundane of ways – had it been the two of them off exploring the universe it would have been trite somehow – really drives home the injustice of her death and how close they have become because he can confide his secrets to her. How the scenes intercut is beautifully handled by Talalay, I’ve seen a similar shock cut back to a mortal wound in an episode of Buffy (Selfless) but I think it was handled even better here. I was shocked by the gun going off because it was sudden and unexpected but the abrupt cut back to Bill, the life draining out of her, was just as wrenching.
· He comes in for some stick. Re-using old music. Drowning out important scenes. Overstating the drama with the chorus of doom. Etc, etc. However, Murray Gold has been a mainstay on the series for ten series now and has provided some beautiful, shocking, creepy, memorable music. Series 10 has seen something of a renaissance, the music has been one of the strongest elements and The World Enough and Time is possibly the zenith of the series. He’s perfectly in tune with the episode, suggesting the wonder of the colony ship, the joy of Missy’s misadventures, the horror of conversion and the importance of the closing moments. I particularly like how he plays disturbingly with a violin during the moments of medical horror, the sack clothed zombies truly disturbing in the wake of his discordant theme.
· Wait for me. A subconscious message left by the Doctor to Bill. I thought the direction of the moments where the Doctor haunted Bill in the hospital were exceptional, more than justifying the concept. However, the pay off at the climax, to what I thought was a moment of touching character conceit, lead to four words that will burn in my mind. I waited for you. It’s Moffat’s writing at its most shockingly cruel, and its finest.
· I said to my friend Jack last night that it feels like Moffat is finishing his era as he began right back in series one. There is definitely an Empty Child feeling to The World Enough and Time. Some chilling ideas, a slow-paced build up, time for some atmosphere and the director to flex their muscles and a riveting climax. Between The Empty Child and The World Enough and Time Moffat has verged between delivering genius and absolute drivel, depending on your tastes but it’s interesting to see him ditching all that noise, spectacle, clever cleverness, timey wimeyness and sex and just concentrate on a slow momentum, character and atmosphere. Where he began. He never should have stopped.
· Bill explores the hospital in some of the most frightening scenes we have seen in Doctor Who for a while. Partly that is down to the stunning direction and the lighting, and partly it is thanks to the concept of being able to turn down the volume of agonised patients screaming in pain and begging to be killed. These scenes are slow and suspenseful, quite the opposite of the deafening spectacle we are used to.
· I pegged that John Simm was playing Razor about ten minutes after his introduction, but the fact that it took that long is a testament to what he achieves here. Razor is a memorably bizarre character, reminding me of somebody that might show up in The Doctor’s Wife. Just on the right side of lunacy to be an ally, but not entirely to be trusted. He’s funny and approachable, until it is time for him to reveal his true colours. When you realise that the Master has been grooming Bill for the entire episode for a very important role, these scenes take on a whole new dimension.
· I love the visual gag of the Doctor and co freezing every time we cut from them to Bill in the hospital, to show how time is moving at two different rates. More importantly it stresses how long Bill has been in the hospital (years) waiting for the Doctor to rescue her.
· Those smoky, grimy, desolate, apocalyptic vistas are exactly how I always imagined Mondas to be. A planet drained of life. This is just a teardrop of the suffering that is being experienced by the planet.
· Will that go down as one of the most effective cliff-hangers in all of Doctor Who? If they follow through on its implications, definitely. As much as he has tried (and he really has), Moffat has fallen a little short of providing historical moments of Doctor Who but with this – the coming together of two Masters and the Doctor’s companion bringing forth the genesis of the Cybermen – surely qualifies. It’s a moment we may be talking about in years to come. As a scene, it’s outstandingly realised. I especially love the creepy as fuck original Mondasian Cyberman walking out of the darkness and the growing horror on the Doctor’s face when he realises who it is. So little of Moffat has left me desperate to see what happens next. This is almost redresses the balance. I’m chomping at the bit.

The Bad: It’s always nice to have Missy take the piss but if I never have to hear the words Doctor Who within an episode again it would be too soon. There’s making a point and labouring one. And it would be very remiss of me as a reviewer not to point out, despite how well I thought those elements were handled here (and they were handled extremely well) that this story is part of the Moffat obsession with looking back at the shows past rather than embracing what it could be without heavy elements of continuity. I think a whole season without a single reference to the past might be in order next year.

Result: ‘I waited for you…’ A ghoulish nightmare of an episode, an important moment in Doctor Who history, exceptional build up to the finale and a masterclass in pacing, atmosphere and delivering shocks, The World Enough and Time is the classic that a lot of people have been waiting for in series 10. It’s been heralded by many as the best episode ever and I can see why, it’s chillingly well done and about as close to on the nose horror that Doctor Who can explore in its teatime slot. Has a companion ever had to suffer the sort of indignity that Bill does here? Moffat is a clever bastard in that for one year he has focussed all of his energy on getting the companion good and likable, making the audience fall in love with Bill a little bit. Then he waited his season as we got to know her and then inflicted terrors most foul on her in the lead up to the finale. Whilst many of the big revelations of this episode were spoilt in advance – and I’ll chorus with everybody else that that is such a shame because it would have made this episode scream with surprises – the fate of Bill slipped completely under the radar and as such the moment she was shot, or worse, the cliff-hanger where she is revealed as the first Cyberman in existence are agonising viewing. I was genuinely short of breath watching. I’m scared that the time distortion effect on the ship is Moffat’s get-out clause for this incredibly brave act but for once I’m hoping that I’m wrong and this is her fate because it would be a far more memorable way to go than anything the finale could conjure up. It’s ghastly. Rachel Talalay has proven herself three penultimate episodes on the trot now (Dark Water was insidiously creepy and Heaven Sent features possibly the best direction of any Doctor Who story) and her work on The World Enough and Time more than matches up. I have long been a campaigner for the conversion of the Cybermen to be explored more vividly, to use them use as cut-price storm troopers and really focus in on the act of losing your humanity and being turned into a machine. I can’t imagine the series topping this for sheer creepiness. Some scenes left fingers running up my spine (‘Pain…pain…pain…’). I pegged a particular actor halfway through the episode in another guise but that didn’t detract from the performance or the surprise reveal at the climax. Those last five minutes truly got my heart racing in a way that Doctor Who hasn’t for such a long time. That last scene will go down in history: 10/10


Unknown said...

I loved it as much as you but I have this awful feeling that not only will next weeks episode will be awful but it will undo everything great about this episode as that seems to be the norm for Moffat nowadays.

ali said...

Yeah, I smell another "Hell Bent" coming.

Hopefully it will defy expectation. The new series has a problem with sticking the landing in these two-parters.

Dovid M said...

I'm inclined to agree with the two people above. I wouldn't be surprised if the finale is absolute trash.

Anonymous said...

For me a great set of scenes held together by terrific editing and directing but which doesn't bear close inspection. Moffat is so completely brilliant at imagining tableaux but struggles to narratively thread the jewels together. I probably don't need to mention the brilliant bits as this looks well on track to be the best reviewed episode in Who history so any criticisms from me are mosquito bites on a unicorn! But here goes with the bits surely anyone has to squint at to declare this pretty good episode to be perfect.
1. So Bill gets a flaming huge hole in her - cut to phenomenal reaction shots and then we get a whole lot of talking and exposition. No sense of urgency. It had the same hollow emotional ring as the cut away after the gigglefest that was Bill shooting the doctor or the doctor grabbing the sonic from the drowning kid. Yes I get this doctor doesn't "do" emotions as was mentioned several times in the episode, well until he does which was also mentioned several times.
2. What exactly is the point of Nardole? Answers on the back of a postage stamp
3. There's "meta" and then there is plain old fashioned willy wagging at the audience. Doctor "Who", Time "Lords" - wassup with that sexist crap? "Genesis" of the Cybermen - yeah we get it Steven. Our heads are bloody pulpy messes after all the thumping on the head we have had this episode. Then for Missy to utter about things being too "on the nose" - see. I am being meta about my meta. Are you folks at the back getting that?
4. Simm doing his audition for Fagan for the Bratislava Light Opera's next touring production of Oliver. Sheez I wonder what moisturiser he was using for the ten years he wore that prosthetic to fool the audience, whoops, sorry Bill and still have his baby soft skin.
5. Why couldn't we have had some of the nice backstory bits between Bill and the Doctor just hanging out in the main part of the series rather than info dumped so we will get the "feelz" when the Doctor doesn't prevent her being "deaded". If the relationship and trust had grown organically through the series or there was some slight forshadowing in the previous couple of episodes this wouldn't have been needed. Why doesn't Moffat trust his script and actors to have delivered us to that place?
6. Is Missy a good'un arc has been very half hearted to say the least. I just aren't getting the belief that there is any kind of moral battle happening inside her. Again, the series hasn't organically taken us to the opening point of the episode.
7. Bill and Fagan. The hilarious tale of a rubber faced snaggle toothed janitor and his adorable metal chested offsider hanging out, drinking tea, watching slow television and having zany adventures while trying to keep those hospital floors shiny clean. Also starring Hattie Jacques as 'Ooh Matron, I gotta biggun'.

So, a good episode with some extraordinary pieces and it's clear that this is the first in a three part regeneration story, but it's just not adhering for me. I hope next week earns its place and doesn't dissolve into an emoporn fest with lingering soulful looks between Missy and the Doctor and Bill remains dead. Perhaps her consciousness will continue into that fuzzy world of CAL. I am more than partial to a bit of pathos but having played these cards, surely physical Bill must remain where she is even if Bill's soul or whatever gets retrofitted into one of Moffat's old storylines. Face The Raven, Steven. Remember Face The Raven. Looking at the next time trail I am a bit worried we are going to get cute orphaned kiddies romping through lambent fens and spinneys in adorable pseudo medieval garb fighting off 'every Cyberman ever!TM' while Missy places nice with the Doctor and Simm considers whether Nancy might in fact have been a better part for him if he hadn't got thst rubbish beard.

7 out of 10 from me.

Anonymous said...

Meant to add, hope I didn't come across as rude. Great review as always and love reading your site as you always give a well reasoned view. Too many OMGZ BEST EVAH and Moffat SUX type approaches of late which is why I would only ever post on your site or somewhere like Neil is the Best Dalek if I felt strongly one way or another about an episode.

Notwithstanding me feeling 'meh' about nearly all of this series, the show remains a solid well produced acted and directed drama and obviously around 6 million or so of us watch it each and every week regardless of how we feel about individual episodes. Onwards and upwards to next week....

Anonymous said...

Man, you were DEAD on about how strong this episode would have been without the massive amount of spoilers/leaks this season. I miss the days (especially around the Davies error) where you could gasp at the Daleks coming out of that Void Ship or Derek Jacobi being the Master or Rose Tyler popping up in the first episode of Series 4 (even though you heard she was coming back). There were also cool little nods to the past like Macra popping in Martha Jones third episode. We would get told things in advanced but the production team was still able to hold things back. We were so spoiler free back then.

You hit a lot of points that either nailed something that I was struggling to put words to or just agree with. I don't mind New Who giving nods or having a whole story that harkens back to Classic Who. I do think that one has be careful how often do that and thoughtful on how direct or soft a touch is used. I love getting to see some Classic Cybermen. I loved getting the sneak peak at Proto-Movellans. I don't know want to see references to such things too often (like you). One definitely should be thoughtful of not alienating new New Who might feel like they are being clubbed by fanboy references too often.

As usual, you are one of my favorite reviewers. And you gave me a bit more appreciation for this episode.

Thank You

Anonymous said...

Well that was a good episode.

Does anyone else find it odd that the Mondasians were able to build massive colony ships and hire aliens to work for them? I guess I just assumed they were unable to develop interplanetary spaceships, before they all became Cybermen. Also the idea that the Cybermen technology was developed on a spaceship rather than Mondas itself seems kinda weird to me, like it would take a while to decide to make that your premise.

Also I worry that this story won't have a satisfactory conclusion.

David Pirtle said...

Were it not only half a story, this would rank as one of my very favorite in the show's history. Part two lets it down, but only a little bit. And I just love that the Master gets to wear a stupid disguise once again.