Doctor Who S10 E11: World Enough and Time
Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas
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…one of the best episodes of the renewed series’ entire 13 year run.
If you have somehow managed to reach this penultimate episode of Doctor Who’s 10th season without learning anything of its contents, you should stop reading this review immediately and go watch it for yourself. It is one of the best episodes of the renewed series’ entire 13 year run: based around good science fiction ideas, packed with unexpected twists and turns, and featuring some of the edgiest horror the series has managed. It is arguable that in places “World Enough and Time” is not actually suitable for the children for whom it was made. I think that is a tremendous thing: children should occasionally watch things that are too scary for them. If nothing else it is educational for them.
The rest of you may already know the premise: the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) has been slowly coaching his arch-enemy Missy (Michelle Gomez), formerly known as the Master, towards becoming a good person for once. He has decided to put her to the test: follow a distress call somewhere in time and space, loan her his companions, and see how she goes doing the Doctor’s job for him. Their destination is a 400 mile-long colony ship, slowly escaping a black hole. Extreme gravitational forces mean that time is passing much more slowly at one end than at the other. While the Doctor and Missy attempt to work out what is going on at the top of the ship, Bill (Pearl Mackie) finds herself trapped for months in a hospital 400 miles below.
The BBC genuinely did this episode a disservice by pre-announcing both the returning guest character and the returning monsters. Had either been kept a secret, they would potentially be the biggest twists of the television year. Thankfully there is at least one major surprise that remained zipped up until broadcast; it’s over and done before the opening titles, and puts a deliberate and hugely effective shadow over the remaining three episodes of Peter Capaldi’s tenure as the Doctor.
So onto the two non-shock returns, since they both formed part of the episode’s advertising. Knowing of the return of John Simm as the Master spoils a perfectly good disguise, as he masquerades for much of the episode as the eccentric “Mr Razor”, Bill’s only friend as she recovers from heart surgery in the ship’s hospital. When he reveals himself to Missy it’s a tremendous moment, and the promise of the two versions of the one character interacting looks set to be a highlight for next week’s follow-up. We have had four multi-Doctor adventures over the course of Doctor Who’s history, but we have never had a multi-Master story. It’s shaping up to be rather wonderful.
Even more impressive is the return of the Cybermen, presented here in their original 1966 style when they made their series debut. The so-called “Mondasian Cybermen” were long considered a silly looking design – silvery balaclavas masking human heads, rather than the subsequent metal helmet – coupled with a ridiculous sort of voice. That is a sentiment with which I have never agreed. More than any other iteration of the Cybermen, the Mondasian originals do not let the viewer forget that cybernetically-enhanced humans live inside those suits. Their voices are deeply unnerving. The Cybermen have popped in and out of the series for more than 50 years now, and I honestly don’t think they have ever been more unsettling or horrific. An early scene sees Bill enter a waiting room filled with half-converted Mondasians. One keeps pressing on a touchpad to say ‘pain’, over and over. Bill hides as a nurse comes in and attends to the patient. She does not relieve the pain; she simply turns down the volume on the speaker. The pain simply goes on. A later scene reveals the pain never goes away; each Cyberman is simply fitted with a device to stop them caring about it.
This is a Doctor Who episode where simply everything goes right. The story is intelligent and dramatic, and laced throughout with horror – the genre at which Doctor Who has always excelled. The science fiction trimmings are inventive and inspire a great plot. The performances are top-notch throughout. The episode makes strong use of Doctor Who’s lengthy continuity, but does so in properly interesting ways. It all ends in one of the best cliffhangers I can remember. So much hinges on next week’s season finale – after all, the advantage of being Part 1 is that you don’t have resolve anything. Assuming “The Doctor Falls” does not drop the ball, this could be the making of one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time, and I don’t say that lightly.