Doctor Who S10 E7: The Pyramid at the End of the World
Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas
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…this will probably be remembered as one of the Capaldi era’s best storylines.
A 5,000 year-old pyramid appears between the Chinese, Russian and American military. Its inhabitants, an alien race of desiccated, hissing monks, have arrived to take over the planet Earth but only when invited. With a doomsday clock counting down to some global calamity, and with only the Monks apparently able to stop it, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) races to save the Earth – but what if the human race does not want to be saved?
Last week “Extremis” revealed an immensely powerful alien civilization running sophisticated simulations of the planet Earth to prepare for a full-scale invasion. This week “The Pyramid at the End of the World” puts that invasion into effect in a fairly unexpected and surprising way. The Monks, as the human characters are calling them, are clearly capable of taking over the Earth by force but instead wait for a specific invitation to do so. They have run so many simulations of the Earth’s history with such accurate modelling that they already know that a world-ending catastrophe is about to occur whether they are present or not. In return for saving humanity, they demand the right to rule it. That’s a hell of a weird concept, and forms the grounding for a very strong episode.
The Doctor spends the bulk of the episode at the pyramid itself, along with companions Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas), negotiating with the Monks and the United Nations Secretary General. The concept of the Doctor being automatically appointed President of Earth is revisited – I still find it a remarkably silly concept, but at least the series is remembering its own past precedents. The Monks are nicely creepy; however their hissing voices do occasionally make it difficult to understand everything they are saying.
While the Doctor and the Monks debate the potential end of the world, over in England that end is actually happening. In a nice touch the episode actually divides its time between one crisis in the middle of Central Asia and another much greater threat unfolding in a bio-engineering laboratory. It is an excellent and well-staged subplot, boasting a great guest appearance by Rachel Denning as a biologist named Erica. With limited time she develops an engaging and likeable character, and once she meets the Doctor she immediately joins the ranks of the ‘should have been a companion’ supporting characters. Hopefully she returns in next week’s episode; personally I hope incoming executive producer Chris Chibnall considers the opportunities of bringing her back in future.
Much of the episode feels relatively by-the-numbers, but a well-executed climax hits its emotional beats with great force. Pearl Mackie is doing a sensational job as Bill, and as with Rachel Denning I sincerely hope that Chibnall is paying attention to her performance. I would be very happy to see Bill stay in the series for a second year. The episode ends at the exact moment its audience will be desperate to know what happens next; Doctor Who used to be the go-to series for cliffhanger endings, and this is one of the very best ones.
After a string of largely self-contained, old-fashioned episodes the series has dived back into the format of recent years with full force. This is a complicated serialised adventure, picking up from where the previous episode left off and concluding on an even larger-scale cliffhanger than before. A lot of weight is being shoved onto next week’s “The Lay of the Land” to succeed: if it does, then this will probably be remembered as one of the Capaldi era’s best storylines. If not, then all three episodes are not likely to amount to much in the long-term memory of Doctor Who’s fans. No pressure.