The classic sci-fi story of monsters invading Earth is a well-worn trope that Doctor Who has a lot of experience with – but this is a double-edged sword. As audiences, it gives us something familiar we can feel comfortable watching. At the same time, whenever it appears we always expect some sort of new twist on the genre, and if it fails to achieve this then it can easily become forgettable. Luckily this week’s episode delivers on all fronts. Especially after last week’s spectacular setup, this was absolutely crucial.
It becomes apparent in ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’ that there are two significant features that set the Monk invasion apart from previous invasion stories:
- The Monks have researched the human race extensively and refined their plan to take over the Earth (as seen in ‘Extremis’)
- The Monks need consent from the human race before commencing their invasion.
These key points make for very substantial threats, predominantly by posing questions that we don’t immediately gets answers for. What have the Monks discovered through their research? Why do they need our consent? Why are the Monks so confident that we will give our consent in the first place?
But let’s get some context by starting from the top. We open this week by seeing the Doctor and Bill quite literally being forced into a warzone to deal with an unknown threat – in the middle of a conflict between the three largest armies on Earth, a 5000 year old pyramid has appeared out of nowhere.
There’s no long-winded teasing of the monster here, as the Doctor runs into one of the Monks immediately upon examining the pyramid up close. The Monk delivers a chilling warning:
Life on earth will cease by humanity’s own hand.
While all this is happening, we see another story unwrap simultaneously. At first its relevance is unclear, but through a series of incidents we observe two scientists unwittingly set off a chain of events that ends in the creation of deadly super-bacteria about to be unleashed upon the world.
Through their simulation, the Monks have been able to predict the exact details of this incident – the time, place, people involved, etc. And as the scientists edge ever closer to accidentally destroying all life on Earth, the Monks use the Doomsday Clock (a symbol of global catastrophe with an interesting history worth googling) to push the army leaders into considering their offer. And what offer is this? Basically perish through a bio-catastrophe, or accept the Monks’ protection and power over the Earth.
Unfortunately, accepting the offer through fear or strategic reasons is not enough. Love is required, as subjects who love their masters are much more loyal and efficient. Or, as the Doctor puts it:
Fear is temporary, love is… slavery.
However, rather than submitting the Earth to the Monks and letting them solve the global catastrophe, the Doctor takes matters into his own hands. He arrives at the location of the laboratory and meets Erica, the sharp scientist who has been made a victim of her own unfortunate human error, played by Rachel Denning. Together, the two of them manage to reverse the Doomsday Clock by exploding the building and effectively destroying the bacteria.
One problem though – moments before the explosion, the still-blind Doctor finds himself on the wrong side of a door with a combination lock. In this instant, his inability to see is the difference between life and death, and he finally comes clean with Bill about his blindness.
It is a beautifully hopeless and melancholy moment between the Doctor and Bill, as reality sinks in. But Bill isn’t giving up that easily, and while the day has been saved and the Monks’ plans have been ruined, she appeals to them – give the Doctor his sight back so he may live, and the world is theirs.
So yes, the Doctor does escape the building with mere moments to spare before the explosion, but a severe price has been paid. The Doctor has his sight back, and now he can use it to see the new world that the Monks have created.
With one more installment in the Monk trilogy, I feel confident and hopeful that we will finish this three-part story with a thrilling episode that will test the emotional limits of our main cast.
While ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’ is a small step down from ‘Extremis’ in terms of quality, it is by no means disappointing. It connects a fantastic introduction to what will hopefully be an exhilarating conclusion, giving us a few small moments to breathe while also packing in some brilliant ideas. The use of the Doomsday Clock in particular set a tone of urgency that persisted throughout the episode, and the fakeout ending that gives us a false sense of security worked well to keep us on edge.
These past two stories have been some of my favourites of the current series, so here’s hoping that ‘The Lie of the Land’ will live up to expectations.
Next week: The Monks have successfully taken over Earth, the Doctor faces deadly consequences for his actions, and Missy is back – for real this time.