Aired 24 June 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW
As with all opening instalments of Doctor Who’s multi-part stories, ‘World Enough and Time’ is charged with providing the exposition and plot developments that will hopefully pay off in the upcoming series ten finale, ‘The Doctor Falls.’ However, as has been controversially heavily publicized, there is more than enough intrigue as the original Mondasian Cybermen return to the screen for the first time in over fifty years and John Simm’s Master reappears to cross paths with Michelle Gomez’s Missy.
Fortunately, rather than reveling in pure spectacle, ‘World Enough and Time’ is an episode brimming with clever ideas and superb atmosphere and imagery as the dark story of a 400-mile-long colony ship experiencing differing rates of passing time because of a nearby black hole’s gravitational distortion unfolds. With generations passing at the bottom of the ship as only days pass at the top, the story does well with presenting a world so diseased and decrepit that the alternative of upgrading to a cybernetic being seems viable. Many Cybermen stories over the years have been rather explicit with the body horror that the conversion process entails, but the sight of isolated, cloth-wrapped individuals in a semi-comatose state endlessly pressing a button to indicate their pain and desire to die is suitably unnerving and is effectively more chilling than any scream could manage.
Wisely, writer Steven Moffat doesn’t get too bogged down with the importance of Earth’s lost twin planet Mondas to Doctor Who mythology, focusing instead on the gradual world-building exercise as the proto-Cybermen are slowly introduced and realizing that there is still plenty of time to flesh out backstory for the newer fans in the second half if needed. However, appreciating that this story very much goes against the uncomplicated soft reboot premise that was being touted before this series premiered, Moffat does at least reintroduce the notions of regeneration and Missy not always being a woman to pave the way for John Simm’s gradual but triumphant unmasking and reappearance as a previous incarnation of the Doctor’s friend-turned-foe. Indeed, the Master’s disguise hearkens back to so many of the villain’s appearances during the classic series, and Simm seems to relish the opportunity to play something completely unexpected instead of a darker mirror of the Tenth Doctor. This is quite possibly the most egregiously evil of the Master’s incarnations, tortured by his past and unable to think of being any other way, and Simm excels in both in the quieter scenes while disguised as well as with his grand reveal that Project Exodus is, in fact, the genesis of the Cybermen.
Of course, the Master’s proclamation to Missy that he is concerned about his future, present as the very literal past Missy is trying to shed herself of as she attempts to become good, should play great dividends going forward as well. Moffat nicely weaves in some flashbacks where Bill expresses an outright fear about Missy and claims that she cannot be trusted, and Bill being shot and- after befriending the Master in disguise for a decade or more- turned into a Cyberman at the hands of the Master is more than enough to prove that her qualms were valid despite the Doctor’s unbridled hope. Even if the reason that Missy cannot remember this past has not yet been revealed, it’s quite fascinating to see the Doctor’s unbridled belief in his oldest friend seemingly collapse so spectacularly, even if the incarnation he has become so close to is not the apparent figurehead of his failure. The Doctor desperately wants his one-time friend to be his friend again, but Missy now faces the definitive version of temptation for reversion, ending the story on an emotional and riveting high as both versions stand beside Bill’s Cyberman self and lending an incredible amount of dramatic weight after starting the episode with alighter tone and plenty of in-jokes regarding the Doctor’s past and choice of moniker.