Sunday, 25 June 2017

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.'

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