Doctor Who S10E11 “World Enough And Time” REVIEW
Airing on BBC One, Saturday nights
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Rachel Talalay
Essential Plot Points:
- The Doctor tests whether Missy can be trusted by sending her on a mission with Nardole and Bill act as assistants/companions/pets/snacks/something or other.
- They answer a distress call from a generational ship 400 miles long which is trying to reverse away from a black hole.
- The bridge at the top appears to be deserted, but there are millions of lifeforms on the lower decks, despite the ship having been empty aside from a skeleton crew a couple of days before.
- An alien crewmember comes to bridge and explains that creatures have invaded the ship and they exclusively hunt humans. Scared that Bill is drawing the creatures to them, he goes all Tarantino and kills Bill, leaving a gaping hole in her chest.
- Some men in cloth masks dragging drip feeds behind them and communicating through Speak’n’Spell machines (kinda) arrive on the bridge. They take Bill, saying they can fix her, but that she will never return. They vanish back into the lifts and zoom back down to the lower decks.
- The Doctor realises the truth: due to the immense gravity effect of the black hole the ship is experiencing extreme time dilation – time at the bottom of the ship is happening much faster than at the top. The millions of lifeforms are actually the descendants of the crew who journeyed to the bottom of the ship when it encountered the black hole.
- So by the time the Doctor, Missy and Nardole make it to the bottom of the ship to rescue Bill, an awful lot has happened to her…
- When she first arrived “downstairs” she was basically still human but with a Cyberman chest unit replacing her missing heart. She is forced to work for the “Hospital” which is planning to turn all the dying inhabitants of the lower decks into Cybermen, in preparation for “Exodus” – a rise through the levels of the ship.
- Bill also made “friends” with a nutter called Mr Razor, who ultimately not only betrays after after years of companionship – he turns her over to the medical staff for full conversion – but also turns out to be the “Harold Saxon” incarnation of the Master.
- On arrival at the lower decks the Doctor and Nardole encounter a Mondasian Cyberman – it turns out to be Bill! The Mondasian Cybermen were the very earliest incarnation of the Doctor’s longtime enemies – the same as the ones he encountered from Mondas back when he was the First Doctor.
- Meanwhile, Missy discovers that the ship was built by the Mondasians. It seems like their evolution on board the ship is paralleling their evolution on their home planet (a twin planet of Earth which went walkabout – as detailed in 1966’s “The Tenth Planet”).
- The Saxon Master then reveals himself to Missy (who for some reason doesn’t seem to recall this episode from her past) and boasts about what he’s done to Bill – he doesn’t want his future self in league with the Doctor and entices her back onto a path of evil.
“The Genesis Of The Cybermen” – as it should have been called (why be so coy in the episode title when prepublicity has hardly kept their return a secret?) – was a hell of a piece of telly. Blame the fact we only gave this four stars in the preview on the BBC screener having bits missing and such a muddy soundtrack that that episode’s awesome soundscape was considerably curtailed. And, let’s be honest, we enjoyed it so much more the second time round when we didn’t have to analyse the fun out of the damn thing.
Killing off Bill and turning her into a Cyberman must be one of the bleakest things that’s ever happened to a Who companion. Okay, the same thing happened to Danny Pink – Moffat’s never one to waste a good trope – but this time the horror of the situation was so much more tangible, from Bill with a gaping hole in her chest to the inexorable march towards full conversion. Danny just vanished and reappeared a Cyberman. With Bill, we lived with her through her transformation. And Pearl Mackie was brilliant throughout.
The post-apocalyptic lower decks were wonderfully and frighteningly realised. The Cybermen have rarely been scarier. The clever use of the time dilation gave the episode an aching poignancy, not to mention the great gimmick of Bill watching the Doctor in ultra-slow-motion on a monitor screen, taking a week to raise an eyebrow.
Sometime Moffat’s scripts can feel like a bunch of ideas all fighting against each other but here they dovetailed perfectly. Even the reintroduction of the Master, which could have been an extreme case of over-egging the cake, is clearly leading to something major next episode, with the Saxon-Master and the Doctor in a battle for Missy’s soul. Plus, John Simm was having a whale of a time as Mr Razor; his cheeky quip about “you saw through my clever disguise” when he takes off his “burgling mask” is a moment to cherish. Also, a fine nod to pointless Master disguises of the past in the classic series (anyone remember the Master as a scarecrow?).
Oddly, Capaldi doesn’t have much to do in an episode that instead spotlights Missy (“Doctor Who!”) and Bill, but the flashback in which he reminisces about his childhood days with the Master on Gallifrey is a lovely moment.
But the true star of the episode is director Rachel Talalay who manages to pace a very oddly structured episode perfectly; who makes the Cybermen creepier than ever; who makes the hospital scenes feel like Shock Corridor meets Terry Gilliam’s Brazil; who creates a soundtrack that sound like it’s carved from a primal scream.
It’s a shame Nardole feels like a spare wheel, and the mechanics of the time dilation don’t bear up to close scrutiny, but these are pretty negligible quibbles. More irritating was the amount of BBC-sanctioned spoilers that preceded the episode and blunted some of the surprises. Rarely have the Spoilerphobes had such a right to say, “Told you so!”
Overall, though, not just one of Capaldi’s best; not just one of Moffat’s best; not just one of New Who’s best; simply one of Doctor Who’s best.
- The Monsasian Cybermen – the earlier the creepier. Arguably the Cybermen have never been more horrifying than when they’re staggering around with cloth bags over the heads, dragging their drips behind them and typing “pain” into their voice modulators.
- The callous way the nurse simply turns the volume down on a Cyberman crying, “PAIN!” is science fiction at its most emotive.
- Killing Bill is an audacious move, and the episode didn’t give any time-wimey easy fixes. Strong stuff.
- The return of Murray Gold’s “This Is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home” to underscore the flashback scene with the Doctor reminiscing about his schooldays with the Master was magnificently stirring.
- Rachel Talalay’s direction was once again outstanding, especially the transitions between the different levels and the creepy atmosphere in the hospital scenes.
- John Simm’s Zathras impression and his eventual reappearance as the Master – the idea that he’d be appalled by he will become (the Doctor’s willing ally) is a peach.
- Missy’s Tyres-from-Spaced moment, grooving to an alarm with a good beat, was hilarious.
- “Think of the age gap!”
- “Nardole, do something non-irritating.”
- “These are my disposables – exposition and comic relief.”
- The tear at the end might have been a little on-the-nose (well, not literally… CyberBill didn’t really have a nose) but it was a lovely image for long time fans (and especially reminded us of Kroton, the Cyberman with a soul, from the comic strip in early Doctor Who Weekly magazine).
- That gorgeous FX shot of the ship after the opening credits was unusually long for Doctor Who – over a minute of continuous CGI. Well done Milk!
- Anything Mr Razor had to say concerning tea.
- The trailers and publicity images for the episode ruined a lot of the surprises.
- The opening sequence – with the Doctor apparently regenerating – would have had more impact if we hadn’t seen a fake regeneration just a few weeks ago in “The Lie Of The Land”.
- We’d have expected the Doctor to be much more angry at blue guy for blasting a hole in Bill.
- While we’re sure Steven Moffat has this all worked out in this head, it’s not clear why the Cybermen can use the lifts to fetch Bill but later in the episode Mr Razor says the Cybermen can’t rise up through the ship until they’re strong. Presumably because of the time difference something happened in the meantime but you really don’t want to be distracted thinking about such things while you should be immersed in the episode. Similarly, how long would the Cybermen who went to fetch Bill have been absent from their own “timeline” and how much could things have evolved/changed in that time?
And The Random:
- “World Enough And Time” is a phrase taken from the first line of a poem, “To His Coy Mistress” by 17th century poet Andrew Marvell. There’s not much coy about Missy!
- Considering all the First Doctor era references so far this season, it’s no surprise to see the return of the Cybermen sporting the look they had in their very first Doctor Who appearance in the First Doctor story “The Tenth Planet” (1966).
- Interestingly, that story also featured the show’s first ever regeneration – from the William Hartnell Doctor to the Patrick Troughton Doctor – and it took place in the Antarctic. Could that “regeneration” sequence at the start of the episode be taking place in Antarctica? It’s certainly very icy.
- The scene that was removed from preview screeners sent to critics was the pre-opening credits “regeneration”.
- Venusian aikido was first used on screen by the Third Doctor in “Inferno” (1970). He is still the Doctor most associated with this style of fighting.