Series 10: The Pyramid at the End of the World Review
Clint Hassell gives his verdict on the seventh episode of Doctor Who Series 10.
Note: this review contains full spoilers for episode 7 of Series 10.
Halfway through “The Pyramid at the End of the World” (co-written by Peter Harness and showrunner Steven Moffat), the Doctor describes a decimated, barren planet Earth as “dead as the Moon.” This meta jab at Harness’ first Doctor Who script, “Kill the Moon,” seems to indicate that the writer is aware of how terrible that episode was, even going so far as to remove its Moon-as-space-dragon-egg and lunar bacteria concepts from continuity. Yet, the script for “The Pyramid at the End of the World” repeats many of the same errors as “Kill the Moon,” ignoring logic and necessary plot development in a way that undermines the effectiveness of the episode.
Just as in “Kill the Moon,” the scientific aspects of “The Pyramid at the End of the World” are so incorrect that it precludes a believable narrative. The Agrofuel Research Operations firm realizes the inherent dangers of virulent bacteria and secures the cultures behind two airlocks, but doesn’t already sterilize the outgoing air, before it is released to the atmosphere? That is not how biochemical research labs operate. Further, not only would a biochemist never remove their biohazard suit without first following proper decontamination procedures, they certainly would never take obviously toxic material past the protection of an airlock, especially in a cup, covered only by their hand. Note that this action contaminates the portion of the lab between the first and second airlocks, meaning that anything in that environment – – including Nardole, the Doctor, Erica, and the TARDIS – – become vectors for bacterial transmission, as they move past the second airlock, without first being decontaminated. The Monks’ descending clocks indicate that the bacteria are no longer a threat, once the Doctor starts the timer on the bomb, but, as presented, the danger is still very present, especially considering the bacteria have infested Nardole’s “human enough” lungs.
It’s not just science that confounds Harness. Why would Erica block her front door from closing, using her purse? She cannot be worried about being locked out, because she has her keys in her hand. The narrative gives no indication that she is planning on carrying a cumbersome load from her car back into the house – – an action that might prevent her from having a hand free to open the door. Rather, Erica and her husband seem to be leaving together for work. Could Erica’s glasses not have been broken in a way that made rational sense? The repeated notion that such a seemingly unimportant event could lead to humanity’s destruction is powerful and drives home the tenuous nature of mankind’s existence; however, the concept is undermined by this contrived scene that fails to adhere to any sense of logic or realism.
Another issue with “The Pyramid at the End of the World” is that the threat of the Monks is still effuse and nondescript. The Monks do not wish to invade a barren Earth, or they would have waited until the virulent bacteria had destroyed all life on the planet. They realize that a race that consents to subjugation is less likely to rebel than one conquered through physical domination or intimidation, yet they require that only one person from Earth’s population give consent. Could this be evidence that the Monks share a common hive mind, and therefore do not understand that the rest of humanity is likely to revolt, despite the consent of even an elected official? Could this be the “link” the Monks tell Bill they will establish? Being two episodes into a three-part adventure and still having not established the parameters of the villains’ motive or means is especially ironic, considering that the Monks claim to desire informed consent, yet do little to inform anyone of their intentions.
Part of the reason the Monks’ plan lacks cogency or bearing is due to the pacing of the episode, which dedicates a large amount of time to the Monks’ co-opting the Doomsday Clock metaphor as a ruse. Considering the Doomsday Clock was created to encourage the world’s superpowers to think critically about the possibility of global nuclear warfare, the Doctor is astute in his reasoning that the world’s armies should work together. Still, making the logical leap from a phone reading “11:57” to “mutually assured destruction” is bit of a stretch, within the context of the narrative. So much time is devoted to this red herring that the episode must allow the Doctor to arrive too quickly at the correct assumption that the real threat is biochemical in nature. Is rushing necessary in a three-part episode?
Worse, the pacing of the episode leaves little time to explore more interesting themes. For example, the Doctor seems to want to warn the military officials against leaping fearlessly into a confrontation, “knowing” that you are capable enough for the situation to work out – – a poignant lesson, considering that the Doctor often does this – – but the episode never fully drives this point home, or connects it in a meaningful way to the Doctor’s past.
Despite its flaws, “The Pyramid at the End of the World” does continue to develop Bill’s character in interesting, unexpected ways. Note that, while Bill is capable of recognizing that the mysterious pyramid is an alien spaceship, it takes her a second to work out the details. Of course, that is for the benefit of the audience, and why Doctor Who continues to utilize companion characters. Further, this is a reminder that, due to Series 10’s vault subplot, which has kept the narrative from hinting at numerous off-screen adventures, Bill has ostensibly only had two proper trips through spacetime (plus a bit of help moving, in “Knock Knock”) with the otherwise earthbound Doctor. Despite being seven episodes into her tenure, Bill still lacks the skills and experience that a companion gains, over time. This is also evidence that Bill is not very imaginative, a continuing theme of Series 10, and a welcome change from a line of companions who seem tailor-made for a life of adventuring. “The Pyramid at the End of the World” repeating many of the themes from “Kill the Moon” or “The Zygon Invasion”/“The Zygon Inversion” would be less satisfying, if Bill were a carbon copy of Clara, Amy, or Martha. Despite Nardole clearly narrating events occurring directly in front of the Doctor, Bill cannot see that the Doctor is blind. Later, she is unable to envision the Doctor’s point of view and sides with the majority, even against the Time Lord.
Despite not serving as his empathic translator in the dialogue between the world’s military leaders and Twelve, Bill is still dedicated to the Doctor, and the final moments of “The Pyramid at the End of the World” are rife with the emotional weight of Bill’s decision to sacrifice the planet to save her friend. However, the tension results from such a contorted plot that it is difficult to be as invested as Harness and Moffat intend. Does Bill really consent? Is she not acquiescing out of fear, like the UN Secretary General, or as strategy, like the military leaders? Supposedly, Bill’s consent is valid because she gives it out of love for the Doctor – – but that’s not love for the Monks, which the Monks themselves stated that they needed earlier. Even the Monk judging her consent states in the moment that “We must be loved”; Bill obviously doesn’t, so, why is she not atomized? Were the Monks, seemingly beaten at this point, willing to accept Bill’s otherwise impure consent, to finally gain control of the Earth? The Monks motives are unclear, leaving the audience – – like the Doctor – – in the dark, though not blind to the faults of the script.
To see reviews of “Kill the Moon,” “The Zygon Invasion,” and “The Zygon Inversion” – – each featuring many of the same problems as “The Pyramid at the End of the World” – – click here, here, and here.