Doctor Who: World Enough and Time (1)

Bill: 'I... waited... for... you.'

Well, it may have taken us eleven weeks to get here, but we finally got our first stand-out episode of the season. Its only weakness was that its main reveals were already known to us, but since that was by design rather than by accident, then I'm not sure we can really complain. (Of course, I do below.) At last, a story that was genuinely engaging, mostly free from the story glitches that have thus far plagued the season, and that featured not one but two captivating Masters.

I can't help but feel that one of Simm's conditions for returning must have been that they not bring back the Russell T. Davies era Master. Whatever caveats were agreed to, whatever crossroad-demon pacts were made, it was totally worth it. Usually the prospect of the Master or Missy returning is enough to send me into a funk, but watching Simm and Gomez riffing off each other was an unexpected treat. Sure, their appearances were brief—so there's still time for everything to go wrong—but their performances tonight were restrained, sinister, and left me gagging for more. Which on the one hand is great for us right now, but on the other makes me sad for what might have been. A more sober Master/Missy would certainly have made a lot of past episodes more palatable.

Initially, I didn't realise that it was Simm playing Razor, but as the episode progressed, and I started looking harder at the mouth and eyes, it eventually clicked. Simm looked like he was having a ball playing what appeared to be a hirsute Zathras clone, but how much more effective would the episode have been had they not spoiled Simm's return? Ditto the appearance of the Mondasian Cybermen. Oh, to have had the luxury of going into this episode cold, without a single scrap of foreknowledge, and devour the surprises as they were meant to be enjoyed.

Because that was how the episode was structured, right? From Razor's increasingly revelatory dialogue to Missy, to the reveal of the cybersuit's emotion-inhibiting headpiece, the whole thing was played as if something unexpected was about to happen, yet when the reveals did come, they were the exact things we'd been expecting. Did they originally intend for Simm's return and the reemergence of the Mondasian Cybermen to be a surprise, only to realise that there was precious little else to tease the fans with? I get that a balance needs to be maintained between promotion and keeping plot points secret, but did they really have to spoil the very things which could've made this episode truly epic?

The two surprises they did manage to sneak past us, the seeming demise of Bill, and a regenerating Doctor, were unexpected, unnerving, and thoroughly absorbing. I have no idea where they're going with either storyline. The Doctor's not due to regenerate until Christmas, so unless they intend to slip in an early regeneration (unlikely due to the limited promotional potential) or another fake out (also unlikely since they've already done one this season), I guess the cold open was some sort of future glimpse at what's going to fuck up everyone's Christmas. Moffat has promised that this time the Doctor's regeneration will be different. What he means by this, I have no idea, but here's hoping that it doesn't leak. We've had few enough surprises this season as it is.

So is that it for Bill, or are there more twists still to come? Despite her cyberfication being telegraphed throughout the episode, it still came as something of a shock when they zoomed in through the eyepiece, to reveal Bill's single tearful eye. Next week is potentially Bill's last outing, so will the Doctor somehow manage to save her, only for her to leave for some other reason? An enhanced understanding of the perils of time travel, perhaps? I would love it if Bill did remain a Cyberperson, but I can't imagine them allowing such a miserable ending to stick. In the Q & A which followed the episode airing, Moffat seemed to suggest that Bill would remain in her cyberstate, but I'm not sure I believe him. He has been know to fib a bit, after all.

Regardless of what happens to Bill, the Mondasian Cybermen were a triumph. I did wonder how their more basic look would translate into a modern setting: the answer is...perfectly. The Tenth Planet Mondasian Cybermen knocked the spots off their Cybus counterparts. The fact that there was no over-the-top John Lumic-esqe character hamming it up, but instead a genuine evolutionary imperative at the heart of the Mondasian story, was pleasantly refreshing. Plus, they were as scary as shit. Next week's trailer shows the return of the more modern cyber design, but I hope that if Chibnall ever brings back the Cybermen, he'll bring back these bad boys.

Everything else about the episode was perfect. The story was engrossing, everyone acted in character and had a reason for existing, the CGIed spaceship and exteriors were beautiful, and there was a genuine sense of peril. Here's hoping that the second instalment turns out to be a 'Hell Bent' rather than a 'Death in Heaven'.

Other Thoughts:

—Now that Moffat's tenure is almost over, I do hope he writes a book similar to Russell T. Davies' 'The Writer's Tale', explaining some of the seemingly weird decisions made throughout his time as showrunner. I bet it'd be a real eye opener.

—I hope they explain why Missy can't remember being on the station. The Blinovitch Limitation effect, perhaps?

—Bill turning the volume on the cyber speakers up and then back down again was chilling.

—'World Enough and Time' is taken from the first line of Andrew Marvells' poem, 'To His Coy Mistress'.

Quotes:

Missy: 'These are my disposables - exposition and comic relief.'
Nardole: 'We're not functions.'
Missy: 'Darling, those are genders.'

Nardole: 'Are you having an emotion?'

Doctor: 'Nardole agreed.'
Nardole: 'No I didn't!'
Doctor: 'You did in my head, which is good enough for me.'

Doctor: 'Venusian Aikido.'
Nardole: 'I thought you needed four arms for Venusian?'

Master: 'Hi Missy. I'm the Master, and I'm very worried about my future. Give us a kiss.'
---
For mor peaces eye rote, sea hear.

8 comments:

TheShadowKnows said...

I haven't checked yet. Is the next episode called "Genesis of the Cybermen" or "The Two Masters"?

Otherwyrld said...

So glad I wasn't the on;y one to make the Zathras connection! And no, I didn't work out who he was for quite some time.

Patryk said...

I'm sure there will be a regeneration in he next episode. Te Master's regeneration and maybe he will also try to use some of that energy on the Doctor, just for fun and that's what the 1st escene shows. Typical fake-out. But then again, all the snow suggests christmas.

jenallday said...

I hope you'll consider not discussing spoilers and future casting in the reviews. I don't watch the previews and don't live in the UK so the spoiler that Simm's Master would reappear this season came from the episode 1 review, and it was a bummer to not be surprised.

It was easy enough not to read any more reviews until I'd finished the season because I was behind this year. But when I go back to watching live I'd like to read along as I usually do.

Paul Kelly said...

I'm not sure what you ask is feasible, jenallday. I mentioned Simm's Master in episode one because the information had been released via official channels prior to the season airing, Simm had publicly confirmed it, and it was teased in the 'Coming Soon' segment at the end of episode one. It was impossible to miss, and was part of the show hype.

I understand that some people like to go into a season cold, ignoring social media, and avoiding all spoilers, and although I prefer not to be spoiled myself, official spoilers seem like fair game. I don't see how I can avoid them, bar never going near a computer, and once I do know them, how can I comment on something happening on the show without referring to them? Should I pretend not to know? Or not comment at all on some pivotal event, knowing full well the likely solution, and that virtually everyone else watching knows too?

It was a bummer not to be surprised at Simm's return, but that's the fault of the press, the BBC, and John Simm. Revealing all is how they chose to roll. Honestly, I think it was a mistake, but it is what it is.

jenallday said...

I certainly understand that this was a show sanctioned spoiler and what with the mystery in the vault it would have been difficult to avoid bringing it up in reviews.

I just wanted to mention it because it's actually quite possible for some people to miss these casting announcements, particularly new viewers who are perhaps years behind and binging and reading reviews as they go.

Was just a thought I wanted to throw out, not a criticism, I really enjoy the reviews!

shruti said...

First of Paul loving you reviews... Discovered it this season and adds a lot of dimension for me.
But I agree with jenallday, please try to atleast put a spoiler tag before you discuss them in a paragraph so people like us can move to the next para. I am not in UK and avoid all promo material. If you warn that you are going to discuss promotional spoilers, we can continue enjoying your reviews without fear of being spoilt.
My two pennies..

Paul Kelly said...

Honestly, Shruti, I've agonised over this. I understand completely people who go into series cold, eschewing all promotional material, and refusing to watch each and every 'Next Week On'. I watch some shows like that myself. But Doctor Who I don't, and realistically I can't see how I could do any differently. If the show puts out promotional material showing Daleks, then when an episode airs that has a whiff of the dastardly pepperpots, I'm going to make the obvious connection. I can't do much else, and I don't really want to put it across as my own genius, when the information was revealed by the powers that be.

Take as a benign example a companion leaving/returning. It's usually announced well in advance of a season airing, but our knowledge of it is often essential to the tension of the season. We're forever looking out for it, which means the writers can throw fake-outs at us as part of the fun, making us believe that it's going to happen before, later, or in a different way than we imagined. It becomes part of the game.

I'm not even sure that 'promotional spoiler' is a useful term, as it's just promotion. It's the stuff they're telling us is going to happen, usually to whet our appetites. I tend to think of spoilers as the stuff they don't want us to know, yet which some idiot leaks. So I'm not sure spoiler tagging things is the best solution, as the things I discuss have usually been officially sanctioned. Simm announced that he'd be returning, the Doctor Who Website reported on it, and it was visually part of the final sequence of episode one. Whether rightly or wrongly, they wanted us to know this information.

So whilst I appreciate your comment, I'm not sure what I can do differently. This season, part of the promotional bumf was that Bill would leave, and that both Missy and the Master would return. I discuss these things repeatedly throughout my reviews, particularly as they pertain to story elements, and I don't know how organic crushing everything into one paragraph would be, how it would effect the flow of the review, nor how spoiler tagging everything would effect the reading experience of those who are aware of what's happening on the show. It just seems unnecessarily restrictive all round.

But I get it. I wish they hadn't done it. I wish I'd gone into the season cold too. But the Doctor Who gods decided this isn't what they wanted, and I'm forced to deal with what they they gave us and how they gave it, imperfect though it probably was.