Doctor Who: Tremendous? Appalling? – Reviewer Definitively is Stumped
Well, that was something.
And something is, without a doubt, better than nothing. And, this season on Doctor Who, we’ve had nothing after nothing after nothing after nothing, relentlessly – and that makes this something feel like a grab-your-chest-and-gasp relief. But that doesn’t mean that this something is good just virtue of it being something instead of nothing.
Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself: this episode opens with the Doctor fielding Missy out on a mission to see if she really has changed. Bill, Nardole, and Missy arrive in an enormous spaceship careering towards a black hole, and Bill finds herself missing a substantial portion of her chest after an encounter with a crew member spooked by a mysterious threat. She’s whisked off to the other end of the ship and finds herself with a metal chestplate – and a mysterious new companion who bears a striking resemblance to an old foe of the Doctor’s.
And, bloody hell, was this episode full-throttle. I mean, there was no holding back on any aspect of it: Missy swishes out of the Tardis delivering lines so on-the-nose I’m pretty sure mine’s now broken, while the Doctor and Bill swap pointed remarks about the gender of the Doctor in flashback (which, you know, since you mention it). John Simm – back at last – spends most of the episode in cosplay as a character from a Gogol play, only to literally – and I’m not making this up – pull of a mask to reveal his true form as the Master beneath it. The episode also leans into the gothic horror in a big way, with some really chilling scenes as Bill wanders through the agonized wards of soon-to-be-Cybermen. For once, Murray Gold’s outrageously pointed score doesn’t feel like too much, because this entire episode was too much – in both good ways and bad. It fucking opened with the Doctor regenerating, for Christ’s sake. World Enough and Time didn’t come to fucking play.
Okay, so let’s talk about the biggest deal this evening: the return of John Simm. As ever, it’s always an utter delight to see John Simm hamming it way the fuck up as the Master, even if we only really caught a glimpse of him at the end of the episode as he revealed himself to Missy (and asked for a kiss, making me realize in a horrified rush that my ultimate sexual fantasy is to see these two iterations of the Master get down on each other). Yes, I think we can all agree that this reveal would have been an utterly mind-blowing TV moment had they managed to keep it under wraps, and the Next Week On of last week’s episode did leave me keeping an eye peeled for his arrival, but fuck, if it isn’t good to have him back. While I was totally satisfied with Missy (who is, as ever, just a swooningly hysterical delight in the episode), the two of them together is a tasty prospect and I, for one, am here for it.
This episode also saw the genesis of the Cybermen, which was pretty cool – not only did it actually give the ever-charming Pearl Mackie something to do for once, but it drew some genuinely unsettling moments out of the premise – the actual reveal of the CyberBill (CyBillman? I’m working on it) actually earned it’s impact for once as we’d seen what went into creating this creature, and her reaching for the Doctor and desperately imploring “I waited” was an unsettlingly brilliant moment for the show. Yes, I shit on Moffat a lot and he 100% deserves it, but once in a while his mad genius seems to align into something thunderously engaging – funny, scary, rich with great ideas, and executed with flair and confidence (with great direction from Rachel Talalay to boot).
But. And there always will be a but with this season, because of just how fucking bland it’s been. This episode, as I said above, was something, and that something looks almost revolutionary next to the endless nothings that the show has offered up in the last ten weeks (ten weeks!). This being a Moffat episode that came deep into the Moffat era, I could see all his tricks coming before he even got near them – John Simm’s character was clearly the Master in disguise from the very moment he popped on screen, the black-hole-time-distortion explanation was blindingly obvious from the start, and this whole thing (and I can’t overstate this) was as subtle as a fork to the leg. It was terrible, really, but it was entertaining and engaging and kept me glued to the screen right until the last moments, as opposed to reaching for my cat just to give me something to do through the entire third act. But TV, as a base level, should be entertaining – and Doctor Who shouldn’t earn points for this episode just because it suddenly seemed to remember that.
Not to mention, of course, I’m no fool, and I remember my reviews for the last two first parts of season finales. And they were good, too – they were both about how great these episodes were in comparison to the rest of the season, how funny, how sharp, how scary. Then came the second parts of those stories, which have been without fail dull, contrived, and vein-poppingly frustrating. I’ve no reason to think this double-hander won’t take that route too, so check in next week for what will inevitably be a tear-stained review about a terrible, dissapointing episode.
But, right now, with a week to spare, I can say without a doubt that I enjoyed this. World Enough and Time might have been ridiculous and outrageous at points, but damn it all if it didn’t land some body blows over the course of a tight and compelling forty minutes. It’s a reminder that when the show goes big, it should really commit to the enormity of the story and let the gigantic nature of Doctor Who’s premise shine through. Yes, the show really succeeds in it’s ability to tell small, human stories, but once in a while, when it lets off the leash like this with something monstrous and alien and enormous, it gets away with making us forget that.
But, if that turns out to be another fake-out regeneration? I’ll have you yet, Moffat. And in preparation for next week’s finale, please feel free to browse through all of this season’s reviews at your leisure here.
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