Wow! I am so glad I managed to get my name down to review World Enough and Time. It was a real corker in my most humblest of opinions! Sure, there were some problems with the pacing to start with, but it picked up after the point at which Bill (Pearl Mackie) had her little accident. Overall, I thought this episode delivered pathos and tension by the bucket full but was a bit heavy with exposition which could have been trimmed down a little to improve the dramatic tension rather than distract us and take us out of the moment.
Anyway, in brief (with loads of spoilers if you haven’t seen it – and if you haven’t, why are you reading this?!) the episode opens with a shot of the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) with his big bouffant fluffy hair blowing gently in the breeze (Why? Because he’s worth it!) in mid regeneration with loads of that glowy yellowy-orange light pouring out of his shirt sleeves. The first of our impending regeneration teasers…
The story proper starts off with the Doctor directing and advising Missy (Michelle Gomez), Bill, and Nardole (Matt Lucas) on a test adventure. Such a shame, but at this real early point in the story I am already getting annoyed – Missy could be a great character, but is just a little too arch and camp for me. She’s constantly calling herself “Doctor Who” and pretending to be the Doctor, referring to Bill and Nardole variably as “Thing One and the other one” or “Exposition and Comic Relief”. Whilst this is amusing and somewhat meta, it dragged on a bit too long with the rambling dialogue about this being the Doctor’s name, etc. Probably a minor gripe in an otherwise excellent story, but it could have been cut shorter.
We learn a little more about the predicament that they have been dropped into and find out this is a 400-mile long by 100-mile wide colony ship which is slowly reversing away from a black hole. An interesting situation, for sure, and I’m immediately thinking of the movie Interstellar for some reason… They are then accosted by a member of the Blue Man Group (Jorj, played by Oliver Lansley) who tells them the lifts that are on their way “up” to this floor are coming because they have detected a human. The Doctor emerges from the TARDIS but before he can say anything, Bill admits she is the human. Big mistake. She is shot and we see that this is no minor flesh wound, but a big gaping hole in her chest!
Well played, special effects department – this is a well handled moment of shock that conveys the devastating blow without being gory.
Now that the first act is over, we head back into flashback territory to see how we got here and we discover that the Doctor just wants his friend back as s/he is the only person remotely like him (her? Him? – we need new personal pronouns to cope!). This leads us into a forum comments like discussion of gender fluidity in Time Lord society. Did we really need this? We get it. Let’s just move on with the story, shall we? We learn that the Doctor hopes that Missy can change and be good again – perhaps as a reflection on him, reminding us of the Series 8 “am I a good man?” plot.
Flashing forward or back to the future present, we learn that this is a colony ship and that there is a relative time difference between the front/top and the back/bottom due to the nature of how space-time behaves close to a black hole. “Someone has definitely been watching Interstellar,” I decide! It was refreshing to see some science done right for a change, rather than throwing away some wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey guff. Nice.
Bill is “fixed” by the use of an Iron Man-esque chest unit to replace the destroyed heart. We never see the chest unit properly, which was a good choice, I feel, as it adds to the atmosphere of the story helping to build the sense of body horror. This theme carries on as Bill discovers a room full of people covered head to toe in loose fitting baggy outfits and one of them is using a voice synthesizer to constantly repeat the word, “Pain”. Nice and creepy. “Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain.” Another one repeats the phrase “Kill me.”
I’m loving this macabre creepy psychological and body horror mix we’ve got going on that underpins the high brow science and philosophy going on way above them at the top of the ship.
One of these sad, soulful creepy beings is knocked out just before it grabs Bill from behind and we are introduced to a Gollum-like figure in the form of the self-professed janitor, Mr Razor. A more accurate description might be Zathras, if you’ve ever watched Babylon 5! “Zathras is wise! Listen to Zathras!”
The janitor is a comical figure with a great turn of phrase who insists that the tea is drunk very hot so that the pain will disguise the taste! Lovely humour to offset the horror (a bit). Of course, some people are claiming that they instantly knew who this character really was from the outset, but I will admit to being fooled until the moment he contrives to meet with Missy…
We learn by way of a clock comparing timezones that the bottom floor that Bill is on is now 1,000 years ahead of the top floor where the Doctor is. Bill has been down here for YEARS by her perception and asks herself how many more must she wait for him to turn and rescue her. So, this another companion who has waited for a very long time. I suppose that’s an occupational hazard when you knock about with a Time Lord. They don’t put that in the job description, I’ll bet!
The thousands of life signs on the ship are explained as being the descendants of the crew that went down below to fix the engines and put them in reverse. There were only 20 of them, apparently. To my mind, this explains why the population is dying as there wouldn’t have been enough genetic diversity to ensure a robust population after many years of inbreeding. Razor then gives us a big clue as to what is going on when he says that everyone will eventually be “upgraded” and that pain will be cured. Of course, we’re talking about the origins of the Cybermen, as if you didn’t already know by now! An exodus will then happen as they ascend through the ship to the top. He adds further to the mystery by saying there was once an expedition to floor 507 but they never came back and says there is “something up there”. I wonder if this might be a separate branch of the descendants that have gone a different way and artificially evolved quicker. Jumping ahead of myself here, we saw in the “next time” teaser for next week that we have different versions of the Cybermen all knocking around and maybe fighting each other? Could this be what he was hinting at?
Finally, as the Doctor and his crew start to descend in a lift, Bill is betrayed and prepped for full conversion. A nice touch here is the introduction of the Cyberman “ear handles” with the explanation that they are for the pain – they don’t stop it, they just stop you caring about it. Another nice, creepy touch that adds to the pathos of cyberconversion.
Now, towards the climax of this episode we get the meeting of Missy and the heavily-disguised-as-a-janitor Master in the goatee-wielding shape of John Simm. To be honest, it wasn’t until the janitor walked into the room with a lone Missy that I realised who he really was. Doh! I loved this revelation as I enjoyed the Master’s various disguises back in the good ole days – back when I was a wee sprog and was surprised every time that a hunchbacked/deformed/hooded/mysterious figure pulled off his cheap latex mask to reveal the perfectly trimmed goatee of the Master. Okay, so maybe other people worked it out sooner than I did, but I bet I got a bigger thrill at being surprised. So there.
Meanwhile, the Doctor encounters a slowly revealed full conversion Cyberman, just like the ones we first met when the world was black and white and the Doctor was a worn out grumpy old man. “I’m looking for Bill Potts!” demands the Doctor and, no real surprise but sadly sad, the Cyberman responds that “I AM BILL POTTS!” and that she waited. And they kept the original Cybermen voice too! Great stuff.
At this point, we are treated to probably one of the most cringe-worthy lines in the whole story – if not, the most cringe-worthy line ever uttered by anyone ever in the history of everything. The Master waffles on about what’s happening and says this is “the genesis of the Cybermen”. Argh. Smirking fan service aside, I just wanted to pull my ears off at that point.
Finally, as the Master finishes spewing his rhetoric, Missy says, “Have you met the ex?” Quite amusing as I can see there will probably be some sort of twisted incestuous sexual tension going on in the next episode. I wonder what Mary Whitehouse would have made of this twist? Also, probably as an easter egg type gesture, we hear a brief refrain of the “sound of drums” underscoring the Master. I liked that touch, harking back to the days when he was a complete fruitcake who liked to gas people and keep shrivelled Time Lords in cages.
So, there we have it! I may have hated some aspects of this story – the overlong intro, the references YET AGAIN to the gender fluidity of the Time Lords (mmm… sounds like a fanfic title!), Missy being cleverly meta with her “exposition” and “comic relief” references and calling herself “Doctor Who” and the whole discussion around that… but, on the whole, this was a fantastic part one to a season finale with lashings of creepy atmospherics, somewhat reminiscent of a horror video game. Maybe even worthy of the Hinchcliffe era Tom Baker years with The Brain of Morbius, for instance. I just pray to all the gods, the old and the new, that this brilliant set up isn’t all thrown away in part two, The Doctor Falls, next week. We were teased again with an impending regeneration in the “next time” trailer, so they had better make the pay off worth this amount of teasing! No more cheap shots like Tennant’s Doctor regenerating into himself or some other trick.
Will we see the new Doctor next week? Will there be some sort of multi-Master/multi-Doctor skullduggery afoot? We have been told that this regeneration will be like no other, so my money’s on the latter. Maybe it’s an earlier version of the Doctor we will see? After all, David Bradley, who played Hartnell in the 50th anniversary docudrama, An Adventure in Space and Time, is apparently set to make an appearance at Christmas. Maybe he turns up a bit sooner?
Who knows? Who…? Knows…?