Last week's episode, Extremis, set up a cliffhanger that we all knew would be difficult to pay off. With the impending threat of an evil monk invasion, and the realization that they have knowledge of future events derived from ridiculously accurate computer simulations, the stage was set for a let down. Historically, Doctor Who has done this a few times (Sound of Drums vs. Last of the Time Lords, Heaven Sent vs. Hell Bent), where part one has created more expectation than part two can live up to. However, with the exception of a couple of minor niggles, The Pyramid at the End of the World has delivered on its predecessor's promise.
Picking up from last week's events, Bill is interrupted on her date by the chief of the UN trying to get in touch with the Doctor. She and the Doctor are then promptly whisked away to a Middle-Eastern country where the Chinese, Russian, and American armies stand at an impasse. A five thousand year old pyramid has suddenly appeared between them. The monks from Extremis are inside. They ask for humans to give them permission to rule the Earth, otherwise they will not prevent a cataclysm that is about to occur. The Doctor and Bill must race against time to find out what the event is, and how they can stop it. Of course, the Doctor still being blind makes this harder to do…
Pyramid at the End of the World presents the Doctor with a seemingly impenetrable puzzle. This is always a good start for an episode of Doctor Who. Over the course of the hour, various attempts are made to resolve it that fail, finally culminating in an "all is lost" moment, followed by a last minute dash to try and save everything. It's screenwriting structure 101, but it is perfectly executed here by Peter Harness and Steven Moffat.
"The creepiness of the Monks, from the way they are filmed, down to the way they use the word 'consent', is spine-tingling"
The monks' evil scheme is refreshingly original, and their aesthetic feels reminiscent of Death to the Daleks, which is pleasing. Seeing the events that may lead to the cataclysm taking place in parallel to the Doctor facing off against the monks gives the story a 'butterfly effect' feel, which is also elative. As a cherry on top, Rachel Denning (a dwarf actor) is cast in a role as a scientist and never has her stature commented on once. So we can add positive representation to the long list of this episode's achievements.
I have to say, however, I'm still not a fan of the Doctor being blind. To call it lazy writing isn't fair, but it's a twist that invites far too many questions. If the Doctor is able to access all of space and time, why doesn't he simply find a future hospital to fix himself up? We know this can be done. We've seen cyborgs in past episodes (A Town Called Mercy, Voyage of the Damned), robots stealing and using human eyes (The Girl in the Fireplace), and, heck, Davros has always had a bionic eye that seems to work pretty well. It is nigh on impossible to believe that the Doctor couldn't find a new pair of eyes somehow. So the fact that his blindness forms a crucial plot twist in this episode is somewhat frustrating.
That said, pointless blindness aside, The Pyramid at the End of the World is an excellent episode of Doctor Who, and promises even better things for next week. Its toying with the scientific concepts of determinism, fate, and choice are fascinating and provide an enriching new strain to Whovian folklore. The creepiness of the Monks, from the way they are filmed, down to the way they use the word 'consent', is spine-tingling. On the face of it, their creature design looks generic, but the way they are shot, played, and written sells it. Can't wait to see how this three parter concludes next week…