ASSESSING STRESS #7: “The Pyramid at the End of the World”

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

Dear diary. Today, Scarves is not here. Apparently he has joined a bunch of monks and has gone on a spiritual enlightenment journey through the Sahara. That’s weird. I hope those were nice monks, not like the ones in that episode. I don’t really know. Anyway, Scribbles and the other guy are here. And there’s also a guest, one of our contributors/readers. I’m not sure he has given a name to us, though. He’s very elusive. So we’re just going to call him the Elusive Whovian for the rest of the talk. That should work. Goodbye, dear diary. I must get back to eating my curry. See you.

Spoilers follow, obviously. For the episode, “Class” and the Da Vinci Code, if you care about the Da Vinci Code. If you do, we’re kind of judging you, tho.

1) General Thoughts

SCRIBBLES: I enjoyed that very much, and this trilogy seems to be continuing its approach of doing interesting new things. It was a very slow build, but stylishly done, and I think everyone can agree those final ten minutes or so were some tremendously worthwhile payoff. It’s not an outright classic, there’s some rough patches, murky bits, and things that don’t quite work. But for what it is, I rather love it. I very much expect this trilogy to go down as a classic, certainly if Whithouse hits the landing. Most of all, I think it’s doing what I’ve wanted to see from Bill since around “Knock Knock“. The early episodes had a sense of setting up the relationship between her and the Doctor, and now that that groundwork has been laid, it’s time to start allowing Bill to make mistakes and create some drama between her and the Doctor. I’m very excited to see where things go from here.

TIBERE: If you’ve read our blog post on  “The Pilot”’, you’ll know I was dreading this episode quite a bit. I really love “Kill the Moon”, but I will never not be deeply puzzled and disappointed by Harness’ series 9 two-parter, so to see him go into something that looked like another political thriller had me worried. And at the end of the day, those fears didn’t materialize – this was a good episode. Not my favourite, but good – I think it’s very Harness, really, with all the good and the bad that entails. He has a gift for fascinating conceptual pieces, for treating the conventions of the show and the interactions between characters with a very interesting and new angle, but at the same time, with making virtually anything an allegory or a metaphor, there’s definitely a certain amount of awkwardness in the scripts, a hard-to-define lack of grace. Doesn’t make it less of an interesting story.

ELUSIVE: On first viewing, I was really lukewarm on the episode, but it definitely improved when it came to watching it a second time. I’ve previously had mixed thoughts about Peter Harness’s episodes – I’m not a big fan of his particular style – but I enjoyed this one very much. It presented a very unique spin on the traditional ‘Earth invasion’ plot, and had several interesting concepts. The supporting cast was a little weak, Erica excepted, but that was not really the focus of the story. It was, like Harness’s other contributions, focused on its plot, but this time it felt a lot tighter and more cohesive. The climax was gripping, and beautifully utilised the Doctor’s blindness by tying that to Bill’s character. It takes the series in an intriguing direction, and I can’t wait for the next episode.

TIBERE: It also definitely shows just how well the new “connected stories” formula work. We harped on it quite a bit in the “Extremistalk, but still. Having “Extremis” as an opener allows to limit the exposition quite a bit (and thankfully, because it’s already an exposition-heavy episode), and, most of all, to create tons of tension. Like, if half the episode was spent on “ooooh, what are these monstrous creatures”, it would probably be a bit dull – but here, scenes that could be pure exposition are made into something much more interesting because you know the context, and they become a source of anxiety and suspense.

SCRIBBLES: Very much so. And it’s interesting how much of this even still felt like a first part in terms of pacing, I think, due to the way “Extremis” functioned as a prologue. But having “Extremis” first made this an exercise in suspense, a choice heightened, I think, by the crosscutting to the plot you know inevitably has to tie-in to the invasion we know is going to happen, sort of like you’re saying. It’s not really doing a showpiece with the middle slot the way you’d get in, say, Sherlock series 4 or with “Heaven Sent” in the series 9 finale trilogy. But that’s not what this story needs, this story is more a modern day thriller on a big scale, and this needed to be that big invasion story that threw the characters into new places. Also, can I just say, best “previously on Doctor Who” recap ever.

TIBERE: Yeah, “Extremis” is the showpiece, probably. And definitely, Harness does love to play with those recaps, uh? He did the same with the “The Zygon Invasion” one. But definitely agreed – it’s also interesting to note that, structurally, “Pyramid” is a bit of a mirror for “Extremis”: both have a main plot involving the TARDIS team, and another, side plot (Missy/Erica in the lab) we regularly cut to, until the ending ties it all back together.

ELUSIVE: I’m glad to see the “connected stories” structure gradually replace the traditional two-parter, which had grown a little stale by last series. It means that you have the advantage of being able to use previous episodes as a foundation and build-up to higher stakes, but also with the surprise of not knowing exactly what the next episode will be like. It helps that the connected stories so far, this, the Ashildr two-parter and last year’s finale trilogy, have been of such a high quality.

 

2) The fall of the Earth, and how it works

TIBERE: So, we’ve established, and I think that’s the critical consensus on the episode, that the ending really is the most important part – and really, most of the episode is designed to build towards this ending, so, let’s talk about it?

SCRIBBLES: There’s a delightful tension to proceedings early in the episode, all the Monk’s shows of strength. Frankly, their abilities are entirely undefined still, but god, seeing the plane and submarine just lowered outside was a fantastic way to declare, you can’t fight them. I was really uncomfortable with the choice to have the Doctor declare an attack and thought that was an odd choice of Harness until Bill took the words out of my mouth, and then I got the drama he was going for. The Doctor was being pushed into a reactionary place out of fear, that’s always the motivator for things like that. Because he’s blind and scared and doesn’t know what to do, and can’t just talk it out like he should, he’s leaping into the impulsive choice. It’s odd as a beat, but it works in the context of this overarching story, particularly given how quickly Bill objects to it.

TIBERE: So much for the tolerant left, amirite? But yeah, definitely. The Doctor’s aggressive mentality is something that absolutely is typical of Harness’ writing – he always takes the Doctor as a conservative figure of sorts, but his best scripts critique said conservatism. In “Kill the Moon”, he’s shown as a male, white dictator that suppresses the decisions taken democratically by a group of women. And here, his warmongering and occasional display of moral ambiguity comes from a deep sense of insecurity and fear – it shows the Doctor being very vulnerable, not exactly being able to stand up to the challenges the script throws at him.

SCRIBBLES: I also want to say how much I enjoyed the Doctor’s treating with the Monks early on. There’s something of a Western feeling to it, helped by the desert setting, and I think dramatically it’s very satisfying. Feels like the kind of drama of the opening of “Hell Bent“, and given my adoration of “Hell Bent“, that’s not a bad thing at all. The direction was stunning. The Doctor declaring the line in the sand accentuated by a lens flare literally creating that line between him and the Monks, what a brilliant subtle choice. It was a simple scene of talking, but it did feel every bit as dramatic as it should given the impending end of the world. That’s what Doctor Who does best, making talk the richest and most dramatic and interesting thing ever.

Pyramid2.png

TIBERE: If we want to get really meta, we can even try to look into the politics of the western and see how they apply here. I mean, it’s like what “Hell Bent” did – it uses the codes of a hyper-masculine genre where gruff characters have pissing contests to denounce the prism through which the characters see what is actually happening. But yeah, that’s just a great scene – it has a bit of a mythological edge to it; which is of course reinforced by the setting of the “Pyramid“. Like two gods talking to each other. And really, pyramids, mummified corpses, a blind seer – it’s ancient world as all hell. Which I love, obviously. Hell, it even references the Greek mythology explicitly – the Monks are like the Fates, the three goddesses that weave the threads of destiny. They have a bunch of threads hanging around in their ship, the symbolism is pretty clear. Reminds me of the Triple Goddess stuff in “Kill the Moon”.

ELUSIVE: That final beat does remind me of Harness’s other episodes in that it takes the epic stakes of the build up and then grounds it in character. It’s an important moment for Bill, I think, as we have not had something like this so far this series – Bill directly taking control of the situation, ignoring the Doctor in the process, but to save him.

TIBERE: First thing first – it’s a wonderfully cheeky homage to “The Wrath of Khan”. All the more clever because it reverses its conclusion: here, the needs of the few outweigh the ones of the many (Nettheim loves his references, does he not? I’ve also noted that shot of the Monk threating the plane pilot, which is lifted straight from Cameron’s “Aliens”). It’s a conceptually fascinating moment. I mean, be it only for the plot mechanics – there’s this wonderful ambiguity, that’s there even on rewatch, about whether the plan of the Monks was to win through the virus, or whether they had anticipated the whole scenario all along. And it’s a great illustration of the whole “ripples through time” concept, the insignificant action leading to the destruction of the whole world. Although, it’s not quite insignificant – the Monks say that humanity dies by its own hand, and yeah, it would die because of an inept scientific (a white dude, oh, surprise) who is acting like a jackass. Doomed by our own idiocy, so to speak. Although maybe that bit is laid in a bit thick – that he mistakes the dosage is one thing, but to forget his helmet? That’s like, a half-Prometheus, right there. Although, unlike Prometheus, when he does that, he dies. Messily. So, eh, that’s good.

ELUSIVE: I did kind of love the fact that humanity was doomed because a guy with a hangover misplaced a decimal point. Admittedly, it’s not  totally logical (at all), but I like the idea of humanity ending not because of a huge political event, but because of human incompetence.

SCRIBBLES: That, and a woman who just broke her reading glasses. Small slip-ups are a part of life and they do have massive repercussions sometimes. I would have loved something a bit more environmental as the slip-up, given how easily human indifference really does destroy our world in the here and now, but biotech was a nice modern approach, and the casual diversity with Erica not even being noted as different by anyone in the entirety of the story was wonderful. I love that the plan of the Monks was never to create a problem, but to prey on the flaws we have, win by offering us help at our weakest. Because it’s very much the sort of thing the Doctor would normally step in for, and indeed, he nearly succeeds in doing just that here, saving the day as the President of Earth. Plus, given the whole President plot, it’s very much a clear parallel of assuming control of the earth through offer of help, the Monks being much like the Doctor. Given how much Whithouse loves writing the beat of the villains being just like the Doctor, I rather expect we’ll be seeing that subtext made text soon.

TIBERE: Although, even there, Harness introduces more of an ambiguity. We don’t know if the Monks are only watchers, or if they are actively meddling with the events, making sure the glasses get broken and the alcohol drank. Which is kind of the ambiguity that defines the Doctor, when you think about it – between watching and meddling. It’s always the good old “the good villain is a reflection of the protagonist” jazz. Although, admittedly, I’m still not a fan of the whole “President of the World” concept. It feels like a very basic summary of complicated ideas about the Doctor’s brand of power and the way it works. And it’s always a bit iffy to see this title being bestowed upon him by women (Kate) or POC (the Secretary General) that seem to acknowledge him as “superior”. Oh, and the Turmezistan still doesn’t make any sense, but eh, at least they don’t dwell upon it.

ELUSIVE: Yeah, the “President of the World” stuff lingers on here for no real reason, and it doesn’t really work with the Doctor’s character development, given the conclusion he reached in Death in Heaven that he was just someone who helps and not an authority. Ignoring that, the ambiguity surrounding the Monks is really compelling. These watchers in the distance, with the pyramid an imposing feature on the landscape, but doing nothing. We don’t even know their motive yet, but their having to be asked to invade was a new idea.

SCRIBBLES: I’m very curious about the mechanics of the consent in this story. Given what we know of the next episode, it looks like they have assumed control of the Doctor, not Bill. Perhaps, then, love is ownership, consent in this case like signing over property? The generals trying to sign over their armies, and Bill signing over the Doctor, better than any army? That seems to be the case to me.

TIBERE: I think I’m on Phil Sandifer’s side when it comes to reading the consent metaphor – it can be interpreted as a pretty potent message about the fact that dictatorships don’t happen because of fear alone, or because of political calculus, but because some people really believe in a fictional future, that they give their love to a toxic cause. Although, the way they phrase it goes a bit beyond that – the very idea of “consent” is heavily politically loaded, especially in the current context. So, what does it mean? Does it shows that a negative, malevolent force can steal and twist, corrupt for its own purposes, rhetoric that is supposed to exist to contribute to a social dialogue (and that definitely has happened in our world)? Is it a commentary on the way love and sex have become this sort of ideological battlefield that occupies a large part of the current political landscape (maybe less so now, but very definitely by 2016)? It’s a hard metaphor to decipher, in all honesty – which is very typical of Harness – but it doesn’t exactly harm the episode either, it’s more of an intriguing idea where you’re expected to fill in the blanks yourself.

SCRIBBLES: To me, it was more about consent to rule than the consent of a relationship, but equally, the story does a lot to equate, or at the very least compare, the two types of consent, what with all it emphasizes love and pure motives as the driving force of both.

TIBERE: And it does fall back on the fact that at the end, while Bill “gives” consent to the Monks, she does also, in a way, “violate” the Doctor’s consent.

SCRIBBLES: Oh, absolutely. In this ending, Bill is both utterly justified and totally violating the Doctor’s bodily autonomy and his agency. I think it was the only way they really could get away with a “blindness cure” narrative. It’s made clear nothing about being blind makes the Doctor any less good at being the Doctor and sorting things out, his only problem really being not trusting those around him to continue to love, support, and accept him, which nearly worked out fine because he did clearly want to tell Bill twice previously in the episode. And when Bill makes the deal, he spends the whole time asking her not to, saying that he can face his own consequences and take care of things. It’s a great uncomfortable moment for Bill, and I love how sweet but utterly wrong her choice is. When she asks the monks if they can restore his sight, I was blown away by Pearl Mackie’s performance. She sounded like a child to me. Innocent and naive and scared for her friend. And it really soared as an emotional beat.

TIBERE: Yeah, there’s something really innocent about Bill – a sort of very loveable, child-like egotism: for me, it always goes back to that line from “The Pilot”, which is still my favourite of hers, “let me have some good dreams, for once!”. Overall, it’s very similar to what Class did with April curing her mother’s disability. An act of love, yes, but love that manifest itself under a violent guise and is taking into account the desires and will of only a single of the two people concerned. Which would tend to imply that Bill, just like April was before her, is characterized as a bit of a “flawed liberal”. Makes those few iffy bits in “Oxygen” make a bit more sense in context, I’d say. She’s well-meaning, but she doesn’t see how the world can be saved without the intervention of a higher power, that, of course, takes the form of a cis, white, able-bodied (once she “cures” him and changes him back to an idealized form) man. And of course, as we saw in “The Lie of the Land”s trailer, that choice only results in her perfect hero being used by the regime in power. The episode, of course, doesn’t blame Bill for that, but it does explore how the Doctor’s involuntarily shapes the people around him, how the ideas he carries with him can eventually have toxic consequences.

ELUSIVE: Of course, not only did the episode question Bill for fixing the Doctor’s sight, even though he did not ask for it, but it did provide another great message about disability with Erica. She was a really loveable character, being one of the highlights of the episode, but also provided some good representation.

SCRIBBLES: I’d also like to say how Bill pushing herself over the Doctor’s agency feels like a subtler retreat of themes explored in the likes of “The Pilot” and “Hell Bent“, the question of what would happen if other people were to act like they know best for him the way he has many times to them. The Doctor begging her not to the whole time certainly invoked memories of Donna’s ending in” Journey’s End” to me, though I think this episode managed to create nuance and sympathy to both sides of the unfair power exchange far, far better. Because at the end of the day, she violated his wishes and his bodily autonomy to save him. The dilemma just worked better, I think, than “Journey’s End” because of how believable and simple it was, the Doctor unable to enter a combination lock. It’s tangible basis, in a way saying Donna will die unless she forgets doesn’t quite manage. But basically, I think this was a phenomenal story beat of an uncomfortable nature, learning the right lessons from both Davies and Moffat storytelling to find new directions to explore drama in the Doctor/companion relationship and complicate Bill as a character in very rich ways.

TIBERE: Speaking of Bill, and showing that this series has, so far, absolutely stellar construction, it’s funny how the episode builds off “Smile”. Just like in that episode, she is given a vision of an apocalyptic future (well, it’s the past in “Smile”, but still her future, you get it), but here, it’s up to her to prevent it or not. Nice, nice parallels.

 

 

3) Symbols and politics

ELUSIVE: There was a lot in this episode about sight, and fundamentally, the basis that the Monks are more powerful in this respect. The end of the world is caused by a combination of factors all relating to the fact that the humans have had their sight taken away or distorted. Erica’s reading glasses being broken, the other guy being too drunk and so having blurred sight, the Doctor being blind… all these mean that the decision is taken to hand over power to the Monks. The Monks, of course, being all-seeing, with their constant monitoring of the science institute, and also deliberately distorting the focus of the human characters, who are distracted by the warzone and ignore the cause of the problem.

TIBERE: I’m detecting some conspiracy theory stuff in it, too. I mean, that’s hardly my area of expertise, but isn’t the connection of a Pyramid with an “all-seeing eye” sort of a staple of those? The Illuminati and whatever.

SCRIBBLES: Oh, the all-seeing eye is absolutely a cliche of the conspiracy theory type. If I have to see one more movie talk about how the dollar bill is a secret message, I will scream.

TIBERE: But see, Scribby, that’s actually because Amelie is the secret daughter of Jesus and the Louvre has a giant tomb underneath it and it’s all because aliens or something.

SCRIBBLES: But using it as a sort of thematic ground for the Monks was excellent, and offset with the Vatican shenanigans of last week, you can’t help but wonder if Moffat’s been reading Dan Brown. Certainly it’s a new area to implement into Doctor Who, and a pretty successful Hollywood genre, commercially if not critically. Riffing on mainstream styles and genres has always been a strength for Doctor Who, and it’s given some real weight to “Extremis” and “The Pyramid at the End of the World“. Plus, these sort of familiar, archetypal conspiracy images are memorable and iconic because they are compelling. An ancient pyramid spacecraft landing in the middle of contested territory, that’s a fantastically evocative image, and tying it to the pyramid with the eye image makes it even moreso.

TIBERE: Definitely. It ties it all with the omnipresence of cameras and surveillance in our society, too, which is hardly the most original concept, but is still a nice bit of social commentary. It’s an episode about information, really – the gathering and manipulation of it, which is ever so relevant today, with leaks and whistleblowers and so on. And of course, the Doctor, at one point, literally puts “all the classified information in the world” online, free and accessible with a Google search. It’s a beat that’s not really dwelled upon, and it even feels kind of cheap and easy, but the thematic implications (which should have been on the forefront!) are really interesting. The Monks’ weapons are knowledge they have stored and accumulated in what is literally a closed vault (that’s what pyramids are, tombs and vaults), so to beat them you need to introduce democracy in the equation. It looks like the next episode is going to continue building on those themes, which should be quite wonderful.

SCRIBBLES: I adored that beat. As a media scholar, I’ve sat through a lot of lectures on surveillance, freedom of information, all that. You should have seen how excited one of my professors was to present Citizenfour, a documentary of Snowden. So as a result, the invocation of it in this episode felt very exciting and familiar to me, that always wonderful thrill of when Doctor Who intersects with your own world. I love that the way to free the world is information, through releasing it and making it public in the most simple of ways, Google. Like you say, “The Lie of the Land” continuing that with the concept of alternative facts pushed forward by the Trump administration should make for a really excellent conclusion. This trilogy, really, has been all about information. A book, released into the internet, with the secrets of existence inside. A simulation of the world processing all the information of all possibilities as the key to control the world. And now, releasing all the government files online, just as the book was. It’s very much a key theme and motif to this run and I am very excited to see how that is paid off.

TIBERE: A book that’s also a hacker’s tool, a computer glitch, one might add.

SCRIBBLES: Indeed! You need to know the systems and have access to the information to defy it, that seems to be the recurring trend. “Extremis” was all about that, really, defying the imposed narrative structure through gaining control of information and sharing it through an email. That was shown as the one last thing we have when we have nothing else, the power to share information online. Reminds me of how crucial social media has been to grassroots political movements like Black Lives Matter as of late, creating awareness of atrocities through tools like Twitter and Facebook Live to create a real social movement and reach people on a massive international scale. Solidarity and sharing of information are the way to save the world, that is what these episodes seem to be telling us. That’s powerful and so, so very relevant.

TIBERE: It’s definitely interesting to see that theme pop up in Moffat’s writing. Like, he has always been fascinated with malfunctioning systems, ghosts in the machine, grains of sands in the gears, that’s not anything new, but recently he has made more of an effort to engage directly with it. He even had a hacker character pop up in the Sherlock series 4 premiere (technically a Gatiss episode, okay, fine).  And you pointed the link to BLM – that shows a continuity with Harness’ writing, too – the Zygon two-parter, for all its many, many, many, many flaws, made some really compelling points about the use of technology, from its omnipresence in the directing (phone screens, cameras, and son on …), to the themes, with Osgood becoming, in the end, a sort of meme, a self-repeating pattern carrying meaning that anyone can become. Not to forget than in “Extremis”, the Doctor literally sends all his experiences, what makes him who he is, through the mail.

SCRIBBLES: Yep. Anyone can become the hero, the Osgood or Doctor, by picking up that mantle of politicized information. Sort of, like you were mentioning to me the other day about something else, an “I am Spartacus” kind of moment. I am the Doctor. And so are you. You don’t even have to be real to be the Doctor, anyone can be. It’s a title, a meme, a role of heroism that we can all strive for. That feels like the natural endpoint of everything that Moffat has thematically built over all these years running the show, and in a political moment like the one we are in now, it’s the call to action and the comforting inspiration we need.

 

 

4) Guest Characters

ELUSIVE: I have to admit that the guest characters were one of the weaker aspects of the episode for me.

SCRIBBLES: Very much. Erica was tremendously charming, and all the lab scenes had a nice realistic mundanity to them that worked well for me. But on the other side of things, the politicians were rather thinly written, more clear plot motivators and thematic points than actual people. In fact, expecting characterization from the trio of generals almost seems beside the point. They’re sort of clear representatives of a broader system of politics rather than characters, agreeing to choices in unison every time as a way of representing global tensions and unities in a microcosm. It works, I think, but it also gives the actors very little to work with.

TIBERE: Yeah, that’s definitely what I was getting at when I talked about Harness’ metaphorical writing. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – and the scene where they agree to not wage war against each other, even if their superiors disagree, is really lovely (plus eh, it’s impossible not to praise a moment that glorifies both pacifism and disobediance)

SCRIBBLES: To me, that beat felt like a better evolution of the Zygon speech, because it didn’t need to be a big scene walking into uncomfortable territory to make a statement against war, it just needed to show the strength of unity and solidarity and paint an ideal response to crisis for humanity. I think Bill’s response really sold it, too. Her joy at it and how amazing a sight that would be really charmed me, and I hope many kids watching this episode have become good little anti-war Doctor Who fans. For all Bill is pushed into problematic territory in great ways in this episode, she is still in many ways an innocent sort of ideal role model, and in that moment, she certainly served very well in that capacity. She’s a wonderful comfort and inspiration, and always brings new magic and charm into Doctor Who. I think this episode does very good by her.

TIBERE: I was about to say that, thank you, that way I avoid saying more bad things about that story. Mwahaha. Perfect. But yeah – Bill, in a way, is much better suited to a Harness script than Clara, I feel. Clara is already a very meta and abstract character, so, when she’s used in Harness’ very meta and abstract scripts, it does tend to get a bit … messy. But Bill is simpler, and, at the same time, she’s a fundamentally political character – she provides a focal point for Harness’ political and thematic concerns, that allow the episode to flow much, much better than his previous efforts. It might not be his best script, but it’s definitely the tightest – the Moffat co-writeaa probably helped with that, granted-.

ELUSIVE: Harness’s supporting characters always seem to be very functionary, simply furthering the plot without providing any interest. Erica was a wonderful character who was genuinely likeable, but apart from that there was little meaningful characterisation. It’s made up for with the development of the regulars though. And yeah, I do think Bill grounds the episode quite a bit.

TIBERE: I would disagree with that as far as “Kill the Moon” is concerned – both Lundvik and Courtney work really when it comes to making the points Harness wants to make -, but yeah, that’s not an unfair critique.

SCRIBBLES: Perhaps most striking to me in terms of character was how this episode used Nardole, as well. I felt sure it was going to end in them consenting to intervene to save Nardole out of love for him, but that ended up being a feint to hide the final combination lock sequence beautifully. I was very surprised by that twist in a lovely way. Glad to see from the next time trailer he’s okay, though, he’s quickly gone from a bizarre inclusion to a pretty strong supporting feature. This wasn’t his greatest outing, but it was fun to have him here, and certainly the line about beer got a laugh from me.

TIBERE: Him being infected by the bacteria definitely created some interesting tension – I think this series, so far, has been really quite good at putting the leads in jeopardy in a way that feels like it actually has some edge and intensity. That’s not “Oxygen”, but it works much better than, I don’t know, the Doctor’s “deaths” in the first stories of series 9.

ELUSIVE: Penny appeared again this week, and it was nice to see her and Bill’s relationship develop further.  That said, I do hope their dates keep being interrupted by increasingly random people.

TIBERE: I’m betting on the Master. Or, wait, Kate Stewart. No – a dinosaur! Oh, I don’t know. So many possibilities. The Master and Kate Stewart on a dinosaur. That sounds good.

SCRIBBLES: I hope the series ends with some sort of callback to that, or whenever Bill does leave. It’d feel fitting. Penny isn’t the most developed, but so far it’s a very likeable thing to see Bill just happily in a relationship with a nice girl in the midst of this chaos and adventure. I think it’s a testament to the kind of character Bill is, too. Unlike Amy or Clara, she isn’t defined by internal needs so much, not by the typical Moffat approach of internalized traumas and quiet masking of self. She’s well-adjusted, only really struggling in her life because of external forces like homophobia and the social class system, which the Doctor helps provide a ladder up from as her tutor. Of course she’s more grounded and adjusted and can just have a nice relationship in the background without it having to be a big narrative concern. Because that’s who she is. She is in control of herself effortlessly in a way Amy and Clara never were. Rory and Danny were relationships that unearthed Amy and Clara’s insecurities. Penny just reminds us that Bill is gay as hell and very sweet.

TIBERE: And of course, a same-sex black couple. That it kind of awesome – I recall you posting on your Tumblr something about a lot of people coming to ask you “what is that show with that cool gay character?” – there’s definitely a lot of good to be said about the renewed drive for representation we’ve been getting this year.

 

5) Closing Thoughts

SCRIBBLES: A very nice transitional step in what’s shaping up to be an amazing trilogy, really. I feel like it might end up the least fondly regarded of the trilogy, but that’s not a bad thing. It lays the important groundwork and character beats with efficiency and style, and I can’t wait to revisit all three episodes in a marathon sometime. This trilogy is really delivering the sort of exciting, new, complicated stuff I’ve been wanting from series 10, and I have no complaints.

TIBERE: It’s a strong piece. It’s not my favourite – actually, of the episodes that actually try to do something (so, excluding “Knock Knock”, basically), it’s possibly my least favourite; but it’s still good, and compelling. It embodies my feelings about series 10 quite nicely, really – no episode has truly blown me away (“Extremis” was incredible, of course, but I’m not sure I connected with it in a truly visceral way), but the series as a whole has been absolutely spectacular. Really, it’s the perfect answer when you have told all the stories you wanted to tell – start looking at the world around you and comment on it, let it inspire you. There’s a fresheness, an energy and an anger to this run that is properly sublime, and I can’t get enough of it. “Pyramid” is not necessarily a highlight, because it’s centered around explaining a lot of things and throwing around a lot of concepts – but these concepts, placed in the larger context, give way to something big, complex, and tremendously engaging.

ELUSIVE: This episode was no classic, partly because I’m not the greatest fan of Harness’s style, but it was very strong nonetheless. It’s among my least favourite episodes of Series 10, although that is less to do with this story’s flaws and more to do with the strength of the series as a whole. There were some fascinating concepts and nice character beats, all moving along at a steady pace. Definitely very good, and I am cautiously hyped for next week. Whithouse has a less than perfect track record, but it already has two episodes as foundation (and two good episodes at that). Hopefully the Monk trilogy will come to a great conclusion – so far, it’s had an energy and level of innovation that is very refreshing.

TIBERE: Really, it feels telling that this is the first episode that airs after the news that Who has been confirmed (or roughly so) for five more series. Is it a perfect piece of storytelling? No, definitely not, it’s a little bit rough around the edges here and there, and it’s slow and conceptual (much like “Smile”, except I think the sheer mass of concepts developed in that episode justified the form much better). But it shows that Who has still plenty of things to say, plenty of new ground to cover. And it’s not going away anytime soon.

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One thought on “ASSESSING STRESS #7: “The Pyramid at the End of the World”

  1. Pingback: ASSESSING STRESS #12: “The Doctor Falls” and series 10 wrap-up | DoWntime

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