Series 10: The Pyramid at the End of the World Advance Review
Note: Doctor Who TV’s pre-air views aim to be as detail-free as we reasonably can while still offering a critique, but as everyone’s spoiler sensibilities are different, we advise you read on at your own discretion.
Last week saw the set-up for the first part of “The Monk trilogy”. This week we resume in the wordily titled “The Pyramid at the End of the World”.
The sinister Monks have returned and this time taken up residence in a huge pyramid on Earth as they prepare to enact the next stage of their plan. The Chinese, Russian and American military surround the location and it seems like war could break out any moment. Can the Doctor prevent it before it’s too late, or is conflict inevitable?
Back in 2015, Series 9 saw Peter Harness (“Kill The Moon”) and showrunner Steven Moffat team up to bring us the Zygon two-parter. The writing duo returns for another collaboration here with an episode that is on familiar territory. Once again it’s a slow invasion of Earth plotline featuring a tough dilemma for humankind, and with a stronger political angle (even a certain president gets a little jab).
There’s also similarities to 2016 sci-fi invasion film “Arrival”, which itself borrowed a lot from the superlative “Torchwood: Children of Earth”. In fact the episode does distinctly feel closer to the aforementioned series of the spin-off, rather than the parent show. This is a more mature story, and it takes its time to get going. So much so younger fans and those afflicted with short attention spans may get bored in spots.
“The Zygon Inversion” is best known for containing one of the best speeches (if not the best) of Peter Capaldi’s era, as the Time Lord takes a strong anti-war stance. For anyone expecting something like that again given the identical writers and similar scenario, there’s nothing quite on that scale here, but Capaldi does get a superb little speech early on, while playing on his guitar.
Early on, Bill sees some further fleshing out in her private life in another amusing follow-up scene to last week. Later, she ends up making one of her toughest decisions from her time in the TARDIS yet. The scenes Mackie shares with Capaldi during this are terrific. Nardole meanwhile, is a little more on the sidelines, but lightens up things in quite a bleaker episode.
Perhaps surprisingly, one of the characters entirely absent in this instalment is Missy, which is rather regrettable after last week’s intriguing scenes. Instead more time is given to the main foe. We see a lot more of the Monks here and learn plenty about them, including why they look like they do. As a result of this increased exposure they naturally lose a bit of mystique and fear factor.
There are a quite a few additions to the cast line-up. However, the Commander (Nigel Hastings), Secretary General (Togo Igawa), Xiaolian (Daphne Cheung) and Ilya (Andrew Byron) are all rather clichéd military/official types, with not a great deal to work with (and where are UNIT?). But a more memorable performance comes from Rachel Denning’s Erica, a character who gets caught up in the chaos.
Director Daniel Nettheim, following up from “Extremis,” once again ensures the episode looks the part. The overseas filming has certainly benefited the episode, expanding the scope and nailing the impending worldly crisis. The titular pyramid making for a particularly arresting visual.
Overall, “The Pyramid at the End of the World” is a largely successful middle section to the Monk Trilogy. It’s not as strong as last week’s mind-bending set-up, and is a slower offering, but it does set the stage suitably for the denouement next week.