Aired 27 May 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW
Building off the virtual events of ‘Extremis,’ ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’ brings the threat of the Monks into the real world in a wonderfully tense episode predicated upon misdirection. As a 5,000-year-old pyramid appears in a war-torn region of the world and the doomsday clock continues to near midnight, Earth’s major powers must unite to decide if the Monks represent devastation or salvation.
This is, of course, a story in which the ending will be the major talking point, but to ignore the preceding events would be a tremendous disservice to the work co-writers Peter Harness and Steven Moffat put into crafting an emotionally charged situation in a world on the brink of destruction. Given that so little of ‘Extremis’ actually happened to the Doctor and Bill in the real world, ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’ cleverly interlaces the present with those previous events to explain just how much the characters know while bringing everyone into their necessary positions as the UN Secretary General humorously interrupts Bill’s date with Penny and the Doctor in his TARDIS is unknowingly taken aboard a plane through office windows that have rather forcefully been enlarged. The humour ends with the exposition, however, as the danger and politics of bringing together the American, Chinese, and Russian armies as they confront a wholly unknown force speaking about power and asking for consent makes itself known.
Fittingly, it is the Monks who are always quite plainly painted as the main adversaries of this story, even if their strategy is to direct away attention from the miniscule and very human action at Agrofuels Research Operations that truly can inadvertently end the word. The Doctor’s monologue at the beginning of the story states as much up front, putting the audience in the strange position of knowing more than the Doctor, but the two elements of the plot dovetail quite nicely in the end. The inevitable tradeoff of presenting the story in this manner, though, is that it gives the scenes with the Monks in the pyramid a sort of anticlimactic sense from the beginning. Part of this is due to the fact that the humans in power are introduced and done away with in quick fashion, driving the plot forward and better fleshing out the Monks who appear as corpses because humans are corpses to them but failing to add any emotional weight to proceedings beyond what their rank entails. Still, the Monks’ assertion that consent must be true and not based on fear or strategy begins to hint at a much larger social issue that has really come to the forefront in recent years, but the script never truly delves into any meaningful depth with this idea and instead simply uses it to build up the danger of the threat to eventually put Bill into an impossible situation.
Yet where the pyramid scenes couldn’t quite create all of the emotions necessary, the scenes at the research facility unquestionably do. Tony Gardner’s Douglas and Rachel Denning’s Erica instantly come to life as multifaceted and nuanced characters, and the decision to show Douglas on an abnormal day when hungover only further serves to emphasize this fact. It’s Erica to quickly proves her intelligence and competence, though, discovering Douglas’s mistake and taking all of the proper steps to isolate the problem and protect those around her, steps that in any normal circumstance would have worked and deservedly earning her the rare privilege of being offered a spot aboard the TARDIS once the Doctor elucidates where and what the true issue is. While it remains to be seen if that scenario has the opportunity to play out even in the short term, Erica would certainly be a unique addition alongside Nardole’s irrefutable intelligence that can stand against even the Doctor’s and Bill’s insightfulness and sensitivity that keep everything so grounded.
Still, the ending is absolutely deserving of any and all credit it receives, highlighting the Doctor’s pride and refusal to tell others he is blind as a character flaw that ultimately snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. The Doctor’s ability to defeat the Monks while blind is incredibly impressive in its own right, but it’s fitting that such a mundane object as a physical combination lock, something Erica could have prepared for if only she had known about the Doctor’s blindness, can be his undoing, creating yet another foreboding mystery as Bill is forced to give her consent to the Monks in order to keep the Doctor alive and return his sight so that he can see the world in their image.