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Doctor Who The Pyramid at the End of the World
Review by Paul Bowler
The Doctor, Bill, and Nardole confront an alien invasion in The Pyramid at the End of the World, but its not like any the Time Lord has ever seen before. There’s a 500 year old pyramid in the middle of a war zone, the Chinese, Russian, and American armies are poised to strike, but the pyramid wasn’t there yesterday… Intrigued by the mystery, the Doctor and his companions must do everything they can to avert the impending disaster, but bizarrely for the conquest of Earth to begin these aliens need the consent of the human race first!
As the seventh episode of series ten, The Pyramid at the End of the World certainly has one of the most intriguing episode titles so far in this new series of Doctor Who, and it reunites the co-writing partnership of Peter Harness and Steven Moffat that brought us The Zygon Inversion! Peter Harness, the writer of Kill The Moon (2014), The Zygon Invasion, and The Zygon Inversion co written with Steven Moffat (2015), now returns with his third story for Doctor Who, The Pyramid at the End of the World, which is also just happens to be directed by The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion director Daniel Nettheim.
Following the startling revelations in Extremis the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole are now forewarned of the Monks elaborate strategic planning and must stand ready to face their invasion in The Pyramid at the End of the World. As the second part of the “Monk Trilogy” gets underway Bill’s love-life suffers another VIP gatecrasher and the blind Doctor takes to strumming lonesome tunes on his electric guitar in the TARDIS, but when an ancient pyramid suddenly appears in Turmezistan causing an international incident between the Chinese, Russian, and American forces, the UN calls on the Doctor (still hiding the weakness of his blindness from Bill) to act in his capacity as the President of Earth and help them confront the menace of the alien Monks.
When every clock in the world suddenly jumps towards a countdown to doomsday, the Monks offer a terrifying proposition to save humanity from disaster (caused by a deadly biohazard that‘s been unwittingly created by scientists at Agrofuel Research Operations, a bacteria so lethal it will wipe out all like on Earth), but in order to avert Armageddon the human race must willingly consent to become slaves to their would-be alien saviours!
The Pyramid at the End of the World shows Peter Capaldi at his best as the 12th incarnation of the Time Lord, with Capaldi turning in a terrific performance as the Doctor gradually becomes increasingly desperate in his attempts to stop the invasion of the Monks. The scenes as the Doctor confronts the Monk outside the pyramid crackles with menace, but the visually impaired Time Lord is unaccustomedly hampered by his aliment, and this time the odds seem impossibly stacked against him as he attempts to save the day. Pearl Mackie also excels as Bill Pott’s, who quickly notices something is wrong with the Doctor in this episode when the Time Lord urges the military leaders to coordinate their attacks on the pyramid. Bill gets to see a darker, more war-like side to the Doctor in The Pyramid at the End of the World, and this really shakes up the dynamic between them. Matt Lucas did seem a little sidelined as Nardole in this episode, but his character does lighten the tone a bit during the bleaker moments as the Earth faces impending doom.
The corpse-like red-robed Monks have chosen this exact moment and place to begin their campaign to invade Earth. Having made their debut in Extremis, where it emerged they’d been using advanced virtual reality projections to study the Earth and assess its vulnerabilities, the Monks quickly evolve into a palpable threat to humanity in The Pyramid at the End of the World. They know of the Doctor, yet even though the Time Lord makes it clear that he is the line in the sand they will face, they nevertheless intend to take this world and its people, but like Vampires they will do so only when invited, and they say they will talk to the Doctor again: “At the end of the Earth.”
Jamie Hill reprises his role as the Monk from Extremis for this episode – he also played the Foretold in Mummy on the Orient Express (2014) and appeared as a Silence in series six – and the eerie rasping voice of the Monks is provided by Tim Bentinck. In this episode we discover the Monks chose their undead form to look like us because this is how they perceive humanity. The Monks must also be invited to save the world, stating: “We must be loved,” because “To rule through fear is inefficient.” – which seems to indicate a somewhat unusual conflict of emotion and logic… These mysterious blue skinned creatures are chillingly realized. With their cadaverous bodies and the sinister way they speak with their mouths agape, they cast an extremely powerful presence whenever they appear, and are easily one of the creepiest monsters that we’ve seen so far in series ten.
Along with the strong performances of the three leads, The Pyramid at the End of the World features an impressive supporting cast, which includes Togo Igawa (Secretary General of the UN), Nigel Hastings (The Commander), Eben Young (Colonel Don Barbbit), Rachel Denning (Erica), Daphine Cheung (Captain Xiaolian), Tony Gardner (Dogulas), Andrew Bryon (llya), and Ronke Adekoluejo (Penny). Filming for parts of this story also took place in Tenerife in the Canary Islands, a location previously used to represent the Moon (Kill The Moon), Skaro (The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar), and Gallifrey (Hell Bent).
The Pyramid at the End of the World sees the Doctor taking charge as the President of Earth, a role which he originally earned in Death in Heaven (2014), giving him special powers to control Earth’s military forces during an alien invasion, a duty he upheld again during The Zygon Inasion / The Zygon Inversion (2015). The Doctor is working alongside the UN in The Pyramid at the End of the World, but UNIT is mentioned fleetingly when he’s trying to locate the research laboratory the Monks are secretly monitoring. The fictional country of Turkmenistan in this episode also featured in The Zygon Inasion / The Zygon Inversion. The doomsday clock is a real concept designed to represent the increments of cataclysmic man-made disasters, the original setting for the clock in 1947 was seven minutes to midnight – midnight being the point of catastrophe. Pyramids have featured regularly in Doctor Who over the years, but perhaps most notably in this instance when the 1st Doctor (William Hartnell) visited the Great Pyramid of Giza in Part Nine of The Daleks’ Master Plan (1966), where he was also pitted against an adversary known as The Monk (Peter Butterworth)
Having nullified the militaries attacks with ease, the Monks invite the military leaders into they pyramid and use their bizarre future modelling technology to demonstrate Earth’s fate. Needing someone of extreme power to give them formal “consent” and provide the link to invite them to take over the world, the Monks power is revealed when first the UN Secretary General, followed by the three colonels, all fail to offer “pure” consent, and are disintegrated.
While Bill remains at the Pyramid, the Doctor and Nardole use the TARDIS to reach Agrofuel Research Operations, where the Doctor is helped by the scientist Erica (superbly played by Rachel Denning) to contain and destroy the biohazard. A nail biting countdown ensues when the Doctor gets trapped in part of the building that’s about to explode – and with Nardole in the TARDIS suddenly overwhelmed by the affects of the airborne contagion – the Time Lord is forced to confess to Bill that he’s been blind since the events on Chasm Forge. Desperate to save the Doctor at any cost, Bill offers her pure consent to the Monks, pure as she is acting out of love. The Monks restore the Doctor’s sight, enabling him to escape from the room in the laboratory before it explodes, but in return the Monks will now rule the Earth… forever!
Just as they did with The Zygon Inversion, the writing team of Peter Harness and Steven Moffat have crafted an exceptionally good Earth invasion story with The Pyramid at the End of the World. Though the pace of the story is a tad slower than expected, strong themes drive the narrative, and there are distinct hints of Torchwood Children of Earth and the 2016 film Arrival about the episode as well. Peter Capaldi also delivers a great monologue near the start, and later Bill has to make the most important decision since she began her adventures with the Doctor. Daniel Nettheim’s assured direction offers a powerful depiction of the epic scale of events, and delivers some particularly striking visuals featuring the episodes mysterious Pyramid.
One thing’s for sure, the fallout from Bill “executive decision” looks set to cause a major upheaval, especially if that exciting Next Time trailer featuring Missy, Monks, and mass mind control is anything to go by! The Pyramid at the End of the World provides an enthralling and challenging middle segment to the “Monk Trilogy”. The Doctor’s valiant battle to save planet Earth from the fate that’s been so chillingly orchestrated for it by the Monks makes for a tense, edge-of-your-seat adventure, and it skilfully sets everything up for the thrilling conclusion of the trilogy in The Lie of the Land.