Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Rough Middle Act Of "The Pyramid At The End Of The World"


The Good: Good performances, Moments of character
The Bad: Pacing, Very little happens on the plot front
The Basics: "The Pyramid At The End Of The World" brings the promised alien invasion from the monks who experimented upon The Doctor, with a stated benevolence from the alien invasion.


Sometimes, the best surprise a show can do is to truly upend the expectations from what comes before the latest episode. In the case of Doctor Who, the show has an often-formulaic development. As "The Pyramid At The End Of The World" begins, viewers had reason to expect that the next big alien invasion was imminent. In preparing for "The Pyramid At The End Of The World," it occurred to me that arguably the most creative way to approach the threat made by the aliens in "Extremis" would be to have their attempted conquest of Earth already foiled at the outset of the new episode. "The Pyramid At The End Of The World" does not actually do that.

"Extremis" (reviewed here!) led into "The Pyramid At The End Of The World" and it amped up the momentum for both the next alien invasion and the return of Missy. Missy, however, does not make an appearance in "The Pyramid At The End Of The World" (which could be a very unfortunate element that highlights exactly how The Doctor will resolve the problem that is presented at the episode's climax). "The Pyramid At The End Of The World" is the plot macguffin that allows the aliens from "Extremis" to make their move. "Extremis" essentially introduced the monk creatures who want to take over the Earth; "The Pyramid At The End Of The World" is how they execute their plan.

Bill and Penny are out on their date when the Secretary General Of The United Nations arrives, searching for The President. Bill, thus, learns that in times of crisis, The Doctor is the President Of Earth. The Secretary General is alarmed because a 5,000 year-old pyramid has materialized on Earth in Termezistan, in between the Russian, Chinese, and U.S. militaries. While Bill, Nardole, The Doctor and the Secretary General are flown to Termezistan, a scientist for an agrofuel company is headed to work when her glasses get broken. Erica arrives at work and one of her coworkers has to mix the next experimental compound. While that compound is tested, The Doctor and his team investigate the mysterious new pyramid.

The Pyramid is housing the monk aliens who learned all about humanity from their simulation. The monk aliens reset every clock in the world to 11:57, based on the Doomsday Clock. The leader of the aliens tells The Doctor that they will take over and rule the world, with the consent of humanity. After The Doctor and Secretary General get the leaders of the three major armies together, he attempts to make a show of force, which the aliens foil. The military leaders declare peace. Sadly, the clock keeps ramping up toward doomsday, with the Secretary General attempting to consent to the aliens, and being killed in the process. While The Doctor searches for a way out of the predicament, he recognizes that the aliens are involved in misdirection and he, Nardole, and Bill begin to hunt for an alternative to consenting to alien domination.

"The Pyramid At The End Of The World" is a bridge episode between the episode that explains why an alien invasion would be coming and the episode that resolves the invasion. So, essentially, this is yet another Doctor Who "aliens invade the world" episode. This time, the aliens come with our consent and it seems entirely off that none of the characters point out that: 1. the monks are not giving them the ability to make informed consent and 2. No leader of the world has the authority to consent for all of the citizens of the world. As a result, the set-up wherein the aliens demand consent in order to be able to take over the world (in order to save humanity from itself) is inherently problematic. It is an idea that sounds far more clever than it actually is.

The far more clever aspect of "The Pyramid At The End Of The World" is the misdirection aspect of the episode. Initially presented as a random subplot, of course what is going on in the agrofuel lab turns out to be the most important aspect of the episode. The moment Erica's coworker, Douglas, removes his contamination suit hood, it is hard not to see that the episode is pointing toward a blatant issue that will make that b-plot relevant. For sure, director Daniel Nettheim does an excellent job of making the decimal point problem visible long before it is made explicit, but its importance takes exposition to make relevant.

The Doctor has a good character moment late in "The Pyramid At The End Of The World." The Doctor has been blinded and Peter Capaldi plays him as blind fairly well for most of the entire episode. In fact, Capaldi's performance of The Doctor blind helps to characterize Bill as youthfully oblivious. The Doctor is not quite looking at Bill when he removes his glasses and when a bright light comes through the nearby window, Bill squints, but The Doctor barely does. Faced with certain death, The Doctor feels compelled to finally be honest with Bill.

Nardole has a good outing in "The Pyramid At The End Of The World." Nardole correctly deduces what is actually going on and where the end of the world is likely coming from. Strangely, "The Pyramid At The End Of The World" has an utterly nonsensical ending. Bill's final moment makes some sense from a character perspective; how and why the alien monks believe she has the authority to make any form of planetary decision is ridiculous.

Ultimately, "The Pyramid At The End Of The World" is a "necessary evil" episode, one that pays off a promise and seeds the resolution to that major plot event. To execute the plot event, though, the aliens have to make a banal demand and the threat hardly seems as menacing as, for example, the Earth's atmosphere being poisoned by aliens. That makes for one of the more average alien invasion episodes of Doctor Who.

For other works with Andrew Byron, please check out my reviews of:
The Monuments Men
28 Weeks Later

5/10

For other television episode and movie reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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