Monday 26 June 2017

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who 10x11 - World Enough and Time

Doctor Who 10x11 - World Enough and Time

It's been a fun ten weeks, but now the end is finally approaching. It's time to begin bidding farewell to Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor, Michelle Gomez as Missy, Steven Moffat as showrunner and potentially Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts too. As Doctor Who series 10 draws to a close we begin the two-part finale with World Enough and Time - written by Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay, who previously directed the two-part finales for both series eight and nine. As well as bringing back the original Mondasian Cybermen to screens, World Enough and Time also features the much-publicised return of John Simm as the Master, making this the first multi-Master story put to screen.

The Doctor Regenerates?Missy gets a trial run

Eager to test Missy's atonement, the Doctor takes her Bill and Nardole to answer a distress call from a colony ship reversing away from a black hole. However things go awry when the ship's lone pilot shoots Bill, leading to humanoid figures in masks and hospital gowns arriving to take her to the lower levels, promising to fix her.

Thanks to the time dilation from the black hole, days at the bottom of the ship pass in mere seconds in the upper levels. Bill lives out these days working in hospital, fitted with a mechanical device to keep her alive. She befriends a man named Mr Razor, who explains that the hospital's patients have become extremely sick and the only cure them is to "upgrade" them ready for "Project Exodus". When the Doctor, Missy and Nardole arrive below, they discover that these people are a race long forgotten from Earth's history. Meanwhile Missy has to choose between staying loyal to her past, or changing her future.

Birth of the CybermenHarold Saxon returns

Episodes like World Enough and Time are the ones that make you wish we could go back to the time before the internet, where spoilers didn’t run rampant and all the big surprises weren’t publicised weeks before the episode even aired. The gradual evolution of the Mondasians into Cybermen and the eventual reveal of Simm’s Master are still powerful (and satisfying) moments, but just think how much stronger they could have been if they came as complete surprises. The fact World Enough and Time wasn’t ruined by the BBC’s over-publicising emphasises its quality of storytelling, and as such the episode can be considered as one of Doctor Who’s all-time greats with very good reason.

Despite a string of fantastic stories throughout the 60s, Doctor Who has arguably struggled with the Cybermen for some time. The 70s and 80s provided some memorable episodes but weren’t quite up to the standard of the earlier stories, and since the relaunch in 2005 they’ve been a bit all over the place. Between alternate-universe reboot, sharing finales with bigger threats and redesigns that pushed the robotic element of them much harder than ever before, the Cybermen haven’t quite had the impact they once had. There’s certainly been moments that emphasised the true horror that lies under those metal bodies, but nothing even close to what World Enough and Time managed to achieve. When it was announced that the original Cybermen would be returning there was worry that they might look a bit dated and rubbish, but this was possibly the scariest they’ve ever been.

The proto-CybermenTime runs out for Bill

The key to making the Cybermen work is to remember that they aren’t robots, they’re humans whose emotions have been suppressed and almost every part of them has been replaced with prosthetics. They’re cold, emotionless and will stop at nothing to “upgrade” the world in their image, but they’re still human. World Enough and Time works this mindset into a truly horrifying image, as the last remnants of Mondas wander around the spaceship in hospital gowns, attached to IV drips with a mask covering their entire face. If this image wasn’t terrifying enough, it’s further hammed home by their screams of “Pain” and “Kill me”, sent out through an emotionless voice modulator. But clearly that wasn’t enough either, as those screams are just met by the cold response of turning the volume down on those modulators so that they just keep on screaming but no one has to listen to it. The Cybermen weren’t always a galaxy-spanning race of conquerors, they were once victims of horrific circumstance. This episode shows all of that onscreen for the very first time, setting these scenes in a dark, barren hospital amidst a dying colony. It’s creepy, atmospheric and works perfectly for the Cybermen. Between Moffat’s writing and Talalay’s direction this episode is something really special.

Someone who this episode isn’t particularly special for is poor Bill though, who’s had some of the worst luck as a companion in a while. As if temporarily being turned into a spacesuit zombie back in Oxygen wasn’t enough, this episode really puts her through the ringer. Watching her get a hole blasted clean through her right at the beginning is shocking enough, but as soon as she wakes up with that cyber-heart fixed to her chest its clear there’s only one way the episode is going to end. The whole season has been one great performance by Pearl Mackie but here she shines brighter than ever. With Bill’s future in Doctor Who still unknown this could make for one hell of an exit, providing Moffat’s usual shenanigans of lessening the impact don’t take hold in the following episode.

Bill awakens on the lower decksMr Razer

This episode didn’t just belong to the Cybermen though – putting in an equally fantastic performance were the two Masters. The Doctor was pushed to the sidelines as Missy got her chance in the driver’s seat, treating the whole situation like a casual bit of fun while poking fun at her two unamused “disposables”. Her long-winded dialogue on whether it’s “The Doctor” or “Doctor Who” might be a little too on the nose for some, but it’s the best the horrifically overused joke has ever been (especially the sneaky fourth wall breaking). Meanwhile Simm’s Master stays undercover as the eccentric Mr Razer for the bulk of the episode, his reveal coming right at the end really only as a hook for the next episode. While Mr Razer’s identity might have been immediately obvious to some, he plays his part in such a way that you find yourself doubting it until those suspicions are finally confirmed. After watching his friendship with Bill blossom over months (possibly years) it’s downright heartbreaking to see him sell her out to the Cyber converters and reinforces the cold, calculating image of the Master Missy is now trying to shy away from. Simm’s Master is looking more classic-inspired than ever, now complete with black attire, a penchant for silly disguises and that all-important goatee.

So now we reach a point where the Doctor and the Master are essentially battling as Missy’s conscious, with the Doctor the closest he’s ever been to bringing his oldest friend to the side of good and the Master concerned about the direction his future is heading in. While the Master tackles this in his usual overly theatrical fashion, the Doctors motives are told through some touching flashbacks about how the two originally came to be friends. The cliffhanger ending and next week previews give some brilliant mixed messages about where exactly Missy’s loyalties are going to lie, so there’s still plenty to uncover about just how Gomez’s final turn as the Mistress is going to end.

The Doctor and BillMissy confronts Mr Razer

As previously mentioned the Doctor and Nardole largely take a backseat in this episode, but still play an integral part in unravelling the mysteries of the ship. Time dilation can be an absolutely fantastic sci-fi trope when used properly and here Moffat/Talalay has done a damn good job of it, as we effectively jump between seconds on the upper decks and weeks pass for Bill down below. The Doctor’s limited appearance also works wonders for the shock of the cliffhanger, as it emphasises just how long the Doctor has been away from the companion he told to wait for him. Not to mention all of this happens after the opening presents yet another regeneration tease – only this time it feels a whole lot more genuine. The lack of an official announcement concerning the next Doctor probably means this tease won’t go anywhere, but if the BBC really have managed to pull this whole thing off completely in secret then that’s pretty impressive. It’ll also make up for all the other big reveals spoiled pre-emptively too.

World Enough and Time isn't just a brilliant Doctor Who episode, it's undoubtedly one of the finest stories the show has put out in the last decade. The episode finally gives the Cybermen the appearance they've been crying out for since the series returned to television screens, proving that just because something was designed in 1966 doesn't mean it still can't be absolutely terrifying. Throw in some incredible performances from the cast (Gomez and Mackie especially), some well-played sci-fi and a jaw-dropping cliffhanger and you have the makings of a truly fine episode. It'll be a long seven days to see if finale episode The Doctor Falls can live up to this, but either way this episode confirmed that the season will definitely be going out with a bang.


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