It is often agreed among many writers that the middle chapter of a trilogy is the most difficult. Even filmmakers agree about this. Peter Jackson has often called The Two Towers and The Desolation of Smaug the most difficult entries in his Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. This is often because the middle chapter of a trilogy struggles due to not having a proper beginning or end. The story was already begun in the previous chapter and the story cannot be resolved before the final chapter, leaving the middle chapter having the unfortunate problem of having to progress the story enough but not too much. And The Pyramid at the End of the World is no different. Which isn’t to say it was a bad episode, on the contrary it was an entertaining one, but the episode struggled due to its status as a middle chapter in this three part story.
The episode started out with a rather intriguing concept; the mysterious Monks made their reappearance by placing a large pyramid in the middle of a brewing conflict between three of the world’s largest armies, threatening the end of the world is nigh but they can save it. All humanity has to do, is consent. It’s a rather fascinating idea and the scenes where the Doctor, Bill, Nardole and the world’s military leaders were discussing the implications of consent and what exactly they were consenting to were perhaps the best of the episode. The Doctor’s hypocrisy of demanding that humans should never allow themselves to be ruled by an alien species, in the same moment that he himself is President of the Earth, was a nice touch.
But that said, the episode seemed to breeze past this in favour of the military leaders deciding they didn’t need to heed the Doctor’s advice; without real rhyme or reason for them to have even begun to distrust him. Especially since, at this point in the series, the Doctor has handled two massive crisis as President and handled them very well. The episode never lingered on the things it was doing well in these sequences in favour of rushing things towards the episode’s cliffhanger. Likewise, the Doctor and Nardole deciding bacteria was the cause of the coming apocalypse was a very quick leap. However, due to the recent attacks, lines about terrorism were removed from the episode by BBC so this could be a fault of those edits.
The slower pace this series has clearly been worth it for developing the Doctor and Bill’s relationship. The cliffhanger of this week’s episode would not have been nearly as strong without us having spent so much time with the two. The idea that pure consent can only come from love was an excellent touch and sealed the cliffhanger as being one of the most powerful since Clara’s Death.
But despite this, the episode was incredibly unsatisfying. Falling victim to being a middle chapter, the episode didn’t have a true beginning or a true ending which is perhaps the worst position you can leave the audience. The afore-mentioned The Two Towers and The Desolation of Smaug manage to avert this by making sure there was a suitable “climax” to the story. Previous Doctor Who three parters have also made sure each part was satisfying in its own right. Last series for instance had each part perfectly act as its own self-contained story connected by a larger over-arching story. In fact, the second part of that story Heaven Sent is often regarded as one of the best episodes in the show’s entire run. Even the Series 3 three part story Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords managed to make the second part of the story incredibly satisfying. The Pyramid at the End of the World however struggles to give a sense of satisfaction. Instead it leaves you wanting. While sure, this increases anticipation for the final part in this three part story, next week’s The Lie of the Land, it doesn’t help The Pyramid at the End of the World at all. In fact, this will likely be an episode that won’t individually be classed as great. Perhaps this is a fault of Peter Harness as a writer. His previous multi-part episode, 2015’s The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion suffered from a first part that was incredibly unsatisfying standalone, while still being good.
The episode also struggled with really allowing us to connect with the story and its supporting cast. Being a multi-part story, there’s no doubt at least some of the episode’s cast will make a reappearance in the next episode, but relying on the conclusion of the story to suddenly start developing it’s cast really doesn’t make much sense.
A major niggle of mine with this episode is how much of the episode relies on characters being stupid. Complain about Prometheus all you want, but the scientists in that film have nothing on the scientists here. For one, who designs an airlock that relies on a combination lock that doesn’t have braille numbers?! Or at least the numbers be embossed so one can feel them. It’s hard to believe such an obvious design flaw could be made, especially in the UK. What if the lights weren’t working and/or you had no way of seeing the numbers? Also who even designs an airlock where both doors can be left open at once? It kind of defeats the purpose of an “airlock”. Secondly we have a scientist who, while hungover, is clearly having trouble reading. So does he make absolutely sure his entries are correct before submitting them like any real scientist would do? Nah. It’ll be fine. Just submit them. The same scientist also removes his helmet, which is quite frankly just moronic, among potentially dangerous chemicals. I can understand the Doctor not telling Bill he’s blind (the Doctor’s pride has been focused on many times before) but these scientists really take the cake. “Idiot plot” is a term used for a plot that hangs together only because its characters act stupid for the sake of said plot. The Pyramid at the End of the World is a prime example.
And surely The Doomsday Clock would have been a better title for the episode?
However, the Monks were once again excellently creepy. It may only be just over halfway into the series but they are almost certainly Series 10’s standout monster. That makeup is just horrifying to look at and throw in that chilling voice and it’s the perfect recipe for instant nightmares. If there’s one area the episode exceeded in, it was giving us lots of terrifying moments with them. Hopefully, The Lie of the Land gives us a lot more.
Now I’m not going to say The Pyramid at the End of the World was a bad episode. On the contrary, it’s entertaining and it’s certainly not the worst episode Series 10 has to offer. That said, it suffered from being very unsatisfying and being a huge step down in quality from Extremis. It also suffered from underdeveloped characters, a plot that relied on its characters making incredibly stupid decisions (even when not under stress) as well as rushing a little too quickly to the cliffhanger hampered what could have been a great second part to this story. But an excellent cliffhanger and showing off more of perhaps the creepiest Doctor Who villain this side of the Weeping Angels, The Pyramid at the End of the World proved to be a suitably entertaining addition to Series 10, if not particularly standout.
Trivia and Speculation:
Bill refers to the President of the United States being “orange”, despite the President seen in the simulation not being so. Clearly Donald Trump’s victory was something even the Monks couldn’t foresee.
The Doctor is President of the Earth. The title was bestowed on him back in 2014’s Dark Water/Death in Heaven and the Doctor used his authority as President again in 2015’s The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion.
Due to a filming conflict with Holby City, Jemma Redgrave was unable reprise her role as Kate Stewart in this episode and so the character was removed.
In the Next Time trailer, we see Bill shoot the Doctor. Is this the moment where the Doctor “regenerates” as seen in the trailer? Hint: Look at the picture on the wall.