Series 10 of Doctor Who is both Peter Capaldi’s last season and arguably best season of his run as the renegade Time Lord. His first two seasons were met with mixed reviews. For me, series 8 was lukewarm. Some episodes were good, one or two were god awful. (I’m sorry Kill the Moon fans, I just can’t.) The good episodes were just that. None of them really stood out as potential classics. Series 9 was much better. With Missy being the companion for an adventure fighting Daleks, the tense Zygon Invasion/Inversion, the immortal Me, and the end of Clara’s story there was a definite improvement over series 8.
The latest series has already taken its place as my favorite of Capaldi’s run. The feel of series 10’s first few episodes really reminded me of the tenth season of the classic series. Back then, Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, along with bubbly scream machine, Jo Grant traveled through time and space.
The Twelfth Doctor’s new companion Bill Potts doesn’t scream like the damsels in distress of yesteryear but is as inquisitive, intelligent, and courageous as any companion before her. Pearl Mackie’s portrayal of the tough Londoner is absolutely wonderful as she brings a fresh spirit to the show. She doesn’t want to snog the Doctor, she is interested in another, but she feels a call to go with him and try to make a difference in the world. With not even a hint of romance between the two, the Doctor and Bill develop the classic teacher/student relationship that harkens back to the early days of the show. Bill is the embodiment of the spirit of adventure, and she desperately wants to show the Doctor just how much ass she can kick.
Her journey through these next three episodes has pushed her to her limits. When she discovers the truth behind what is happening in this trilogy, she is dragged to the brink of sanity and made to teeter on the edge.
I will be reviewing episodes 6, 7 and 8 of series 10 in detail. There will be more spoilers than you can shake a sonic screwdriver at. So as they say, there is no place better to begin than the beginning…
With the Doctor still blind, he uses the sonic sunglasses for partial, computer enhanced sight. When the episode opens, however, we are taken back to a time before the Doctor had lost his sight. Missy has been sentenced for a crime we are not told about, and has been handed over to an order of monks who describe themselves as ‘Executioners to every living thing.’ These executioners-for-hire have sought out the Doctor because, as custom demands, a Time Lord must be executed by another Time Lord. This actually marks the second time the Doctor has attended the Master’s execution. (The first time being at the beginning of the 1996 TV movie.)
When Missy is brought outside to the ‘execution platform,’ she seems surprised to see the Doctor as the Time Lord chosen to do her in. She thought the Doctor was still on the planet Darillium with River Song, at least that’s what the Daleks told her. (Those gossiping pepperpots!)
I have to explain that there is a lot of jumping between timelines in this episode. Fortunately, it doesn’t get too complicated. In the next scene, the blind Doctor is down at the mysterious vault under the university that he has been tinkering with all season long. Turns out that Missy has been the one locked in the vault. We all kind of had a feeling, didn’t we? Suddenly, the Doctor gets a message on his sunglasses: EXTREMIS.
Cut to another section of the timeline where we find the blind Doctor in quiet contemplation at his podium in a darkened lecture hall. One feature of the sonic sunglasses is that he can see other people as represented by charts of vital information instead of the outline of people. When the room begins to fill with people, he can see they are alive, but cannot identify them. Nardole arrives on the scene to ‘translate’ for the Doctor. He reveals that the Doctor has suddenly received an audience of the Pope with an entourage of bishops and other clergymen. The Pope and his head bishop tell the Doctor of a secret document called Veritas. Even though it is only a few pages long, it has the unfortunate effect of making whoever reads it commit suicide. It is written in a language that is now almost lost to history because whoever translates it ends up killing themselves.
In hopes of finding a solution to the problem of the cursed document, The Pope asks the Doctor if he will read the Veritas. The Doctor agrees and we switch to Bill’s flat. She comes home with her date, Penny, and they settle in the kitchen to have a chat when they hear the sound of the TARDIS. Before Bill gets to chew out the Doctor for ruining her date, the Pope runs out of the TARDIS and gives up a bit of comic relief. He’s yelling in Italian and is presumably losing his mind over having traveled through space and time. I don’t know how to say “It’s bigger on the inside” in Italian, but I’m going to find out.
Flashback (or forwards or sideways, at this point, we’re not sure) to Missy’s execution where, once again, Nardole appears out of nowhere. Played by Matt Lucas, best known for his many outrageous characters on the sketch comedy Little Britain, I was worried that he might be too silly for the role, but I think he gets it just right. His goofiness has mellowed out since his first appearance in The Husbands of River Song, and here he comes off as the Doctor’s equal instead of just another tin dog. He already knows how to pilot the TARDIS, and has been on his own adventures without the Doctor. The character also seems to be looking after the Doctor, playing Alfred to the Doctor’s Batman. He crashes Missy’s execution in order to deliver a message from the Doctor’s wife, the late River Song. Nardole also informs the Doctor that River has given him full authority to ‘kick the Doctor’s arse’ if he doesn’t pay heed. Then they argue about why the Doctor doesn’t want to tell Bill he’s blind.
Back in the other timeline, the Doctor takes the Pope and his TARDIS-load of bishops back to the Vatican. Where deep underneath the Doctor and the gang are brought to a place called the Hereticum. A labyrinthine library where all the heretical and forbidden texts from around the world are hidden away, never to be seen by mortal eyes.
Meanwhile, back at the execution, Missy, in the middle of an existential crisis, breaks down begging for her life. ‘Show me how to be good,’ she asks the Doctor. The Doctor tells her that the only way to be truly good is ‘Without hope, without witness, without reward.’ Missy promises to change. The Doctor doesn’t accept her request and he throws the switch. Missy is electrocuted and falls down dead. (Or so the Executing Monks think!)
In the Hereticum, the Doctor and Co. are walking down an aisle when they see a portal which conveniently closes when the Doctor attempts to inspect it. The Veritas is kept on an ancient desk with an ancient chair inside a locked cage. Inside is a priest who lets Doctor and the gang know that he ‘sent it,’ just before running off to go commit suicide down a dark aisle without telling anybody what he sent and who he sent it to. But thanks to the priest leaving his laptop on the table with needed evidence conveniently displayed on the screen, it doesn’t take long for the Doctor to discover that the priest had translated the Veritas and has emailed it all over the world. By this point, the Doctor needs to know what the Veritas says and has rigged up a little machine that will temporarily restore his eyesight at the cost of time off of his lifespan. He’s over two millennia old, what’s a few weeks here and there? Bill and Nardole argue while getting lost in the Hereticum and discover another portal. They step through it and discover the source of the portals. A small room where a machine is projecting computer simulations of various locations around the world. As we later find out, the machine is, in fact, projecting an entire copy of Earth, Time Lords included.
With Missy about to be executed, her last words are ‘Without hope, without witness, without reward. I am your friend.’ Almost the same as River’s message to the Doctor. As the Doctor gives last rites, he mentions the Prydonians. A chapter of the Time Lord Academy first mentioned in the fourth Doctor story, The Deadly Assassin. There is quite a bit of timeline hopping in this episode, and it isn’t made any simpler when Bill and Nardole go portal hopping.
They find themselves stumbling into the cafeteria of the CERN facility, where instead of running the Large Hadron Collider, they discover everyone here is having a mass suicide party. A room full of miserable, crying scientists drowning the last few moments in their life with as much champagne as they can swallow. The head scientist, tells Bill and Nardole to drink up, the world is about to end. Bill demands to know what’s going on. The scientist has Bill choose any number at random. No matter what number she chose, everyone else in the room chants the same number in unison with Bill. There is no doubt that anyone would be freaked out by that, so Bill and Nardole start looking around for a way out. They escape back through the portal just as CERN explodes. In the portal projector room, Nardole makes a horrifying discovery that he is only part of the computer simulation and dissolves into a burst of pixels. Bill flees digital death and jumps through another portal. She ends up in the White House, where the Doctor has waited for her. The President is present, but he has read the Veritas and gone on to the next step. A pretty chilling sight seeing a lone man take his life in a dark room. The Doctor explains to Bill that reality is nothing more than a computer simulation built by ancient alien monks (not the monks that are executing Missy, different alien monks) and they are part of it. The purpose of which is to find humanity’s weakness and invade. The Doctor tells a disturbing tale involving Super Mario. I’ll never look at my Xbox the same again. Bill realizes she is not real and promptly falls apart into a lump of cold machine code.
The digital Doctor accepts his fate that he hasn’t been real all along and is attacked by a monk who wants to kill the Doctor with lightning. But there is one last thing he can do before he is erased, and that is to send a message to the real Doctor who has pretty much been hanging out at Missy’s vault the entire episode. The Doctor gets an email on his Google Sonic Sunglasses. And as a parallel to the movie Tron, the real world is saved thanks to a witty little subroutine.
Peace is temporarily restored while the Doctor warns Bill of something nasty on the horizon. The Doctor is good and scared and begs Missy for help.
In one final twist, it turns out the Doctor rigged the execution machine to only knock Missy unconscious. He promised to watch her body for a thousand years, nothing else, and through that nice legal loophole, he gets out of having to murder Missy.
End of episode, roll credits but keep on reading because I have the next episode cued up and you want the entire ride, so sit back down and hold on.
The Pyramid at the End of the World
With the majority of the events in Extremis taking place with the Monk’s computer simulation, this episode puts us back in the real world where we find Bill on another date with Penny. She talks about the Doctor, and the computer simulation complete with the simulated Pope showing up in her simulated kitchen. We don’t get to find out if Penny actually believes her or not thanks to United Nations soldiers storming her (this time real) kitchen. They introduce the Secretary-General of the UN who asks Bill to take her to the President of the Earth, by which they mean The Doctor. Just as I was hoping Penny would come along as a secondary companion, she nopes on out of there and were left with Bill leaving with the UN in search of the Doctor. They tell Bill of a Pyramid that has appeared out of nowhere in the fictional nation of Turmezistan at the intersection of three territories each occupied by Russia, China, and The USA. Tensions are sky high, and the Doctor is needed to prevent an all-out war.
Meanwhile, the Doctor is in quiet, guitar accompanied, introspection and is giving a monologue about existence. Bill is knocking outside the TARDIS trying to get the Doctor come out. The Doctor hasn’t realized the UN have extracted the TARDIS from his office at the university and have brought it aboard the President of Earth’s private Jet. That must have been one hell of guitar riff the Doctor was practicing for him not to notice the TARDIS being lifted up and moved about.
Here the scene changes to two new characters, Douglas and Erica. They are two scientists working in a biochemical lab. It’s never explained exactly what they are up to, but there is a foreboding sense of doom in the bright, sterile laboratory.
With Bill and Nardole by his side, the Doctor (who is still blind and still hasn’t told Bill about it) stands before a five-thousand-year-old pyramid that has come out of nowhere. As the Doctor investigates, an alien monk exits the pyramid and informs everyone that they are going to take over the world, and humanity is going to want them to do it. Every clock in the world is now set to 11:57 pm, or as the Doctor knows it, three minutes to midnight. All the clocks are now ticking down like the doomsday clock, he announces. The closer they get to midnight, they closer the world gets to complete destruction.
While our two new scientist friends continue toiling in their lab, the Doctor has picked up diplomats from the USA, China, and Russia in the TARDIS and are bringing them to his jet so things can be worked out peacefully. And by ‘peacefully,’ I mean the Doctor tells the diplomats to call home and get ready to attack the Pyramid. Usually, against going to war, the Doctor thinks that a show of Earth’s military strength might get these aliens to back off. The monks show their strength by gently plucking a cargo plane out of the sky and setting it on the ground. Soon it is joined by a submarine taken out of the sea and set down next to the cargo plane. The monks make a show of peace by releasing the crew of both plane and sub unharmed. No one was hurt, but the monks have effectively shown that humanity is no match for the power these monks possess.
Back in the lab, Douglas isn’t feeling so good so he removes the helmet from his hazmat suit. Why doesn’t Erica say anything? This is obviously against all safety regulations. Douglas also has the bad habit of leaving doors open that are supposed to be closed and airtight.
The entire Scooby gang, consisting of the Doctor, Bill, Nardole, the Secretary General, the diplomats and a few soldiers enter the pyramid. They meet the monks and are told that the world is going to be destroyed, and only the monks can stop it. The problem is that in order for the monks to save the world, they have to be given rule over the world, but the only way they can do that is the person asking them to save Earth has to give their full consent. This consent must come from love. Not from hate, fear or anything else. You have to show that your consent is pure. If consent is not pure, then it is an immediate death sentence for the person who asked. THE UN Secretary-General decides to give his consent without talking to anybody about it. The monks determine his consent is impure and reduce the man to a pile of sand.
Meanwhile, in the lab, Douglas seals his own fate exposing himself to deadly microbes because he removed his airtight helmet from his hazmat suit. I wasn’t going to say he ‘accidentally’ exposed himself to the microbes of certain death, it wasn’t an accident at all. Now Erica is an intelligent person who understands safety procedures and what could happen if they were not followed strictly. Douglas, on the other hand, is a dolt who runs around the lab, wearing less than the required amount of safety equipment, grabbing wet handfuls of contaminated dirt and soil, holding it close to his body and running across the lab, leaving an airlock door open as well, without putting it in so much as a coffee cup, let alone actual lab equipment and probably violating enough regulations to make sure he will no longer have a job after today. Although none of this is mentioned, it goes without saying, in real life, Douglas would have been escorted from the building by now.
The Doctor tells everyone on the Jet that something terrible is about to happen somewhere in this world. Something that will cause great catastrophe and kill every living thing on the planet. No one involved wants to go to war so the Chinese, Russian, and American diplomats all swear to a truce, they will not attack each other. They make a play for peace and it is good, but not good enough. The doomsday clocks still click towards midnight. Something else is going to destroy the world.
Back in the lab, the microbes that Erica and Douglas were experimenting on have evolved to the point where they kill any living tissue on contact. Now we see where the two storylines dovetail, the release of deadly microbes is going to do the world in, but how the Doctor arrives at this conclusion is my first disappointment in this trilogy. The problem is given a clumsy answer.
“If we’re not the ones to destroy the world. What else will?” the Doctor asks.
“Bacteria.” Nardole answers.
“That’s it!” The Doctor explains “That must be the answer!”
It must be? Really? I know the show is limited for time, but let’s have a little better attempt at problem-solving. So now that the Doctor seems to have pulled the solution out of thin air, it’s time to find out where that bacteria is coming from. How do they do that? They basically Google it. Sigh. (You know, this is why Doctor Who stories used to run six, seven, eight episodes back in the day. So they could properly develop a plot and resolve it without cheap tricks.) The three diplomats go back to the pyramid, with Bill tagging along and talking to the Doctor on her phone. They will ask the monks for help. The diplomats are ready to give consent if the monks save the Earth from the deadly microbes. Turns out, the monks don’t like their impure consent either and zap the three of them into piles of sand. Bill is the only one left and the monks ask for her consent.
The Doctor and Nardole run back to the TARDIS. Where they figure out just which lab needs help by playing with the cameras. The Doctor lands in just the right part of the right lab and walks on out with Nardole being told to stay inside the TARDIS for his own good. The Doctor meets Erica and the dead Douglas only to learn they have 20 minutes before the venting systems blow the killer microbes all throughout the building. The Doctor rigs a bomb to blow up the lab and kill the bacteria. Right now it looks like everything could work out just fine. The Doctor is going to save the day and Bill won’t have any reason to consent and the monks can pack up their pyramid and buzz off. Yay! Team TARDIS wins again!
The Doctor sets the bomb to blow but can’t get back to the TARDIS because he has to open a combination lock on the door and, still being blind, can’t see the numbers and the sonic sunglasses won’t help. This is where he confesses to Bill over the phone that he is still blind. He’s going to die, and Bill asks the monks for help. She will give them the Earth if they fix the Doctor’s vision. Her consent is pure and she gets to live. The Doctor gets his sight back and he gets to live. And the monks have total control of the Earth.
Roll credits and insert page break…
The Lie of the Land
At this point, we have reached the third episode in the trilogy, and things have gotten pretty bleak. An unknown amount of time has passed since the events of The Pyramid. The alien monks rule the world, freedom no longer exists, and the Doctor now spends his time broadcasting pro-monk propaganda to the world. The episode begins with one of these broadcasts. The Doctor speaking to the camera while the feed is spliced with footage of the monks and the giant statues they build all over the world. They have been here since the dawn of time, guiding us at every step along the way. They’re not evil alien invaders, after all, they are humanity’s protectors. Not only have they been behind every achievement the human race has ever made, they had defended us from the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels and other baddies who would take the Earth for themselves. No, the Monks are here to save you. Believe the madman with the wide smile.
Bill has been living on her own since the monks took over. This world is such a dystopian hellhole, the only recreation Bill can get is sitting at the kitchen table daydreaming. Even then her thoughts are interrupted by images of the monks as if she’s not allowed to have her thoughts stray too much. Somehow she is able to daydream about her mother without interference so much that she can see her sitting at the table with her.
Interrupting this little scene, Nardole arrives and tells Bill he knows where the Doctor is. They hurry up and leave before one of the monk’s police force tries to stop them. Nardole tells Bill where the Doctor is, hiding on a cargo ship in the North Atlantic. When they arrive, they have to get past more guards. They do so a little too easily and are able to find the Doctor’s cabin straight away. This is where intrigue turns to disappointment. The scene opens with tension as Bill and Nardole confront a Doctor who has become a turncoat and serves the monks. Bill loses her cool and shoots the Doctor. The Doctor collapses and begins to regenerate. Then he stops regenerating, goes back to his regular self and starts laughing at Bill and Nardole. It was the old ‘I was fooling you in order to test you’ routine. Come on now, Moffat, give us something better than that. This is the second disappointment of this trilogy. Once again, I understand they only had a certain amount of time to make the episode so we must suspend our disbelief a little deeper than usual, but enough with the ‘it was all just a dream/joke/act’ plot twists. The Doctor even went so far as to replace all live ammo with blanks, including the one Bill shoots him with. Which begs the question, if the Doctor can turn his regeneration on and off like that, he must have some control over what he looks like. Which does call back to previous seasons and why he has the face of a roman he once saved. (As a matter of fact, the Doctor can choose, to some extent, what he looks like when he regenerates. See Episode 10 of The War Games and Episode 1 of Destiny of the Daleks.)
Finally, the Doctor reveals that they’re going to need some help in order to fight the monks. You’ve probably already guessed who it is. Please welcome, our madwoman in a box, Missy! But no reunion would be complete without interference from the bad guys. They leave the Monks wandering around campus while the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole open the vault underneath to go have a word with the ‘trying to turn good’ Lady Master. Who is rather cool and collected for someone who has been locked up for one thousand years. She knows what’s going on and makes the Doctor talk his way to the solution. The line of thought used to come to this conclusion was a big improvement over when the Doctor talked his way to knowing where a biological meltdown was going to occur in the last episode. Missy can’t leave her prison, but she gives good advice.
Humanity is being oppressed because of Bill’s consenting to the monk. She is the linchpin which makes her part of the brainwashing signal sent out covering the globe and amplified by monk statues built all around the world. Bill knows that it must be she who defeats the monks, and even Missy agrees it’s better for Bill to survive than die.
Missy uses the fact that she just helped to save the world as proof that she is turning good and deserves a life outside the quantum fold box, and even though she can’t live up to the Doctor’s standards of goodness, she has still become good. She tells him that his version of good is not absolute, and if that’s the marker he wants her to reach, she might never reach it.
A plan is now formulated. The Doctor is going to plug his mind into the monk’s propaganda machine. In order to make this work, the Doctor’s along with his squad of deprogrammed guards from the cargo ship invade the pyramid wearing headphones picking up a broadcast of Bill telling them the truth about the monks. This drowns out the constant programming the monks are beaming around the world. One soldier breaks his headset and reverts back to his brainwashed state and threatens to kill the Doctor. Nardole takes care of him with a crippling neck pinch. (Thank you, Mr. Spock.) As the gang finds the main propaganda broadcast room, the Doctor sets down and gets to work. In the center of a room is a comatose monk being used to process all the data being beamed out to all the people in the world. The Doctor simply saunters up to it and by grabbing the almost dead monk by the cranium, he psychically jacks his mind into to the monk’s computer with all the grace of successfully getting into a car by jumping at it as it speeds by. The system fights back and the force sends him to the floor, knocking him out. He wakes up and Bill has tied him up in a hallway away from the central computer. Bill says goodbye and she goes off to confront the computer. She puts herself into the system and almost dies to save the world.
Humanity gets its mind back and kicks the monks off the planet. Unfortunately, everyone forgets about the monks which annoys the Doctor because the human race will never learn from its mistakes. But in the end, he knows they’re still worth fighting for.
At the end, we find the Doctor with Missy in the vault. She is learning what remorse is and is crying for all her past victims. Is she really turning good? Can we trust her? We have yet to see, but with John Simm’s Master coming back at the end of the season, I don’t think her good streak is going to last very long.
Except for the two plot points that I thought were rather weak, I thoroughly enjoyed this three-parter. One of the things I noticed is how this story explores the theme of fascism and how easily freedom can be taken away without getting overly political. It was still a classic alien invasion story with the military (three of them this time!) as the eternal good guys with a nasty alien menace to fight. I might even go so far as to say this story can actually top the Zygon Invasion/Inversion from season 9.