Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Doctor Who Season 10, Episode 7: The Pyramid At The End Of The World

The Monks return this week on Doctor Who, in the second part of a three episode story arc.

I didn't much care for Extremis (the first part of this arc), as it was basically just setup for Parts 2 and 3. In fact, with just the smallest of tweaks, they could have easily started the arc with this episode, and eliminated Part 1 altogether. I'm assuming they wrote it the way they did to pad out the season a bit.

If the desert setting and alien threat in this episode feels a bit familiar, that's because it was written by Peter Harness and showrunner Steven Moffat, who gave us Season 9's The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion. Those episodes even took place in Turmezistan, the same fictional Middle Eastern nation featured in this episode!

Amazingly, Peter Harness was also the culprit responsible for "writing" Season 8's Kill The Moon (aka The One Where The Moon Is A Giant Space Dragon Egg) which will go down in TV history as the all-time WORST episode ever of Doctor Who. An episode so monumentally bad that I (and other fans as well) have chosen to pretend it doesn't even exist!

It's probably too early to tell yet, but the preview for next week's episode looks very similar to The Sound Of Drums/Last Of The Time Lords, which featured a world which was ruled by the Master. We'll see.

Lastly, a few days before this episode aired there was a horrific terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, in which twenty two fans sadly died. Supposedly the BBC made a small edit to this episode, excising a line in which Bill says the word "terrorism."

Whew! Crisis averted! The BBC came thissss close to broadcasting an unpleasant word over the airwaves!

Jesus Jetskiing Christ! Look, my heart goes out to the friends and families of the victims of this attack. But does anyone really think that hearing the word "terrorism" on TV could possibly make them feel any worse than they already do? 

I thought it was just America that lived in a politically-correct Hellscape full of jittery, delicate snowflakes that collapse on their fainting couches when they're triggered by mean old words, but apparently the phenomenon has spread into Britain as well.


The Plot:
Bill goes on a date with Penny, the woman she met in the virtual world last week. She recklessly tells Penny everything about the Doctor, including the fact that he's an alien. Bill also tells Penny about their simulated date, which was interrupted by the Pope. Just then their real date is interrupted by armed soldiers, as the Secretary-General Of The United Nations bursts in. Penny realizes everything Bill said was true and politely excuses herself.

The Secretary informs Bill that the Doctor's the President Of Earth in times of planetary crisis, and they need her help to contact him.

Cut to a plane, where the Secretary explains to Bill that a five thousand year old pyramid suddenly appeared overnight in the fictional country of Turmezistan, an area disputed by American, Russian and Chinese forces. The Secretary's afraid that if something's not done soon, World War III could break out.

Meanwhile, the Doctor soliloquizes inside the TARDIS. Bill tries to enter, but the door's locked. She yells through the door to the Doctor that the UN urgently needs him in Turmezistan. The Doctor says nothing doing, and Bill says they won't take no for an answer.

The Doctor (who's still blind, but can sort of see with the help of his sonic sunglasses) pokes his head out the door of the TARDIS and "sees" it's inside the Secretary's plane. Somehow the army removed the door of his office and transported the TARDIS into the plane without the Doctor noticing.

Cut to Agrofuel Research Operations, in a seemingly unrelated subplot. Two employees, Erica and Douglas, are working on some kind of genetically modified crops or growth potion or something. Erica broke her glasses earlier that morning, and asks Douglas to conduct the day's experiment. Because he's a drunken idiot, he types "118.9" instead of "11.89," and injects too much of a dangerous enzyme into the experiment. This creates a deadly bacterium or something that liquefies all organic matter. Nice to know the fate of the world depends on a single decimal place.

The Doctor and Co. land in Turmezistan. They gape in awe at the pyramid, which the Doctor assumes is alien in origin. He walks up to it and a door opens, as one of the red-robed Monks from the simulation appears. The Doctor asks what the Monks want, and it states that they intend to conquer the planet and its people. The Doctor says he'll stop them, but the Monk says they'll be "invited," and will be asked to rule. It scuttles back into the pyramid.

Suddenly everyone's watches and phones flash 11: 57. The Doctor notes that this is a signal from the Monks— it's the Doomsday Clock, and the closer it gets to midnight, the bigger the threat of global catastrophe.

The Doctor then uses the TARDIS to kidnap the leaders of the Russian and Chinese armies. He brings them onboard his plane so they, along with the American Colonel, can work together to defeat the Monks. Amazingly, the Doctor suggests they combine their forces and attack the pyramid. Bill's surprised at the Doctor's violent solution, but he says the Monks didn't come in peace, and they need to strike back while they can.

An American bomber flies toward the pyramid, but the Monks catch it in a tractor beam and lower it to the ground, along with a Russian sub (I guess China sat out the attack?). Everyone's clocks move to 11:58.

The Doctor, Bill, Nardole and the Colonels then enter the pyramid to meet with the Monks. They find them in a chamber, "weaving" Earth's future by twisting glowing tendrils hanging from a machine. The Head Monk says they're "modeling the future," whatever that means, and they detect that a catastrophe is coming. The Monk says they can save the Earth, but they have to be asked.

The Monks invites everyone to take hold of a glowing strand to see what's coming. As they do, they see a vision of a dead, lifeless Earth. The Doctor wonders why the Monks have to be asked when they could just save the Earth themselves. Everyone's phones move to 11:59. The Doctor asks again why the Monks have to be invited, and they reply that they must be wanted and loved, as ruling through fear is "inefficient."

The Doctor warns the others against giving consent, as there will surely be conditions and consequences. The Secretary's so rattled by the future vision that he doesn't listen, and gives his consent. The Monk places his hand on the Secretary and disintegrates him into dust, saying he gave consent out of fear instead of love. Everyone runs the hell out of the pyramid.

Back in the plane, the Doctor realizes the pyramid is a decoy, to focus their attention away from something else. He has the others search the internet for biological threats. Nardole finds several labs that are performing bacterial experiments, and the Doctor narrows it down by finding out which one the Monks are watching. It's Agrofuel.

The Doctor and Nardole travel to Agrofuel in the TARDIS, surprising Erica. She and the Doctor discover that Douglas' mistake has created a deadly bacterium capable of liquefying all life (including Douglas!). Erica says that the building's automatic systems will vent the bacterium into the air in twenty minutes, which will cause the catastrophe the Monks foresaw (Yeah, no. That's not how labs work). Erica's safe from the strain, as she's wearing a hazmat suit, and the Doctor's confident he's immune. He tells Nardole, who's not wearing any kind of protection to get back to the TARDIS, unaware that he's already infected.

Meanwhile the Colonels go against the Doctor's orders and head toward the pyramid to surrender to the Monks. Once again the Monks disintegrate them, as they gave their consent out of strategy instead of love.

Back in the lab, the Doctor cobbles together a makeshift bomb to incinerate the bacteria before it can be released into the air. He sets the timer and tries to exit the lab, but finds the airlock door is, um, locked. Erica gives him the combination for the weirdo cylinder lock to the door, but unfortunately he can't see it, being blind and all. He tries to sonic the lock, but since it's a plot-convenient device, it doesn't work on the door. He calls Nardole, but he's passed out inside the TARDIS.

He contacts Bill and finally admits to her that he's blind. When Bill hears this she says she's making an "Executive Decision" and goes to the Monks. She tells them she'll give consent, on the condition they restore the Doctor's sight. They see that her consent comes from love, and agree. 

The Doctor suddenly regains his sight, enters the combination and escapes the labs a second before it explodes. The Monks then tell the Doctor, "Enjoy your sight. Now see OUR world!"

• Last week the simulated Doctor and Bill found themselves in the virtual world's Oval Office.

While there, Bill saw a man slumped dead in a chair and asked if he was the President. I noted that the man clearly had a head of jet black hair, and said I was jealous that the America in the Whoniverse didn't have an petulant orange buffoon for a leader like we do here in the real world.

This week the Secretary-General Of The UN arrives in Bill's flat and says he needs her help contacting the President. Bill thinks he means the U.S. President, and says, "How would I know the President? I wouldn't even have voted for him, he's orange!"

This implies that Donald Trump is indeed the president in the Whoniverse. So who the hell was the dead guy in the chair last week?

• The Doctor was unanimously elected "President Of Earth" back in 2014's Death in Heaven.

• The Doctor exits the TARDIS and sees it's inside the Secretary's plane.

Apparently the UN had to tear out the entire side of the Doctor's university office to remove the TARDIS. Then they SOMEHOW managed to fit it inside a cramped airliner, even though it appears to be taller than the plane's ceiling. Got it.

And how the hell did the Doctor not feel the TARDIS being picked up and transported into the plane? We've seen many times before that outside forces can rock the interior. I guess he was really deep in meditation and didn't notice?

• The interior of the Secretary's command plane has an unusual feature: gigantic air vents that are almost big enough to crawl through! Is that really a thing? I'm gonna bet not.

• Since the Doctor's still blind, he's wearing his sonic sunglasses, which give him rudimentary vision. They also provide him with basic stats of the people around him, such as gender and age.

It's hard to see here, but according to the glasses, Nardole (who's represented by the green box at left) is two hundred thirty seven years old!

• The pyramid plops itself down in the fictional country of Turmezistan. If that location sounds familiar to you, it's because it's appeared on the show before, in 2015's The Zygon Invasion. Maybe the show's trying to be consistent with its fake nations?

• After arriving in Turmezistan, the Doctor's introduced to the leaders of the three armies disputing the area— Colonel Brabbit of America, General Ilya of Russia and General Xiaolian of China. 

Note that Xiaolian is female. Yeah, no. I'm pretty sure the Chinese government would never put a woman in charge of their military.

I don't have a problem with diversity— I really don't. But I can't stand diversity for diversity's sake. It needs to make sense, and not be tossed in just to appease the SJWs in the audience.

• What happened to UNIT? Why aren't they present at this crisis? Isn't protecting Earth from alien invasion kind of their charter?

• After the Doctor speaks with the Monks, everyone's phones and watches flash "11:57." The Doctor notes this is the Doomsday Clock, which he says was created by atomic scientists in 1947 to monitor how close the planet is to global catastrophe.

And he's exactly right! It was started by members of The Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientist's Science And Security Board in 1947. Well done, writers!

• Eh, I dunno... somehow the Monks don't look quite as creepy in the cold light of day. Keep 'em in the shadows, guys!

• The Blue Laser Stabbing Up Into The Sky has been popping up in a LOT of superhero movies and TV shows lately. So it's always nice to see its lesser known cousin, the Yellow Laser Stabbing Up Into The Sky, get a bit of work.

• Apparently the budget must have been a bit stretched this week. We see an American Air Force bomber try to attack the Monk's pyramid, only to be captured by a tractor beam and slowly lowered to the ground.

A few seconds later the Monks capture a Russian sub and plop it into the sand as well. However, instead of actually seeing this happen, we just get a shot of all the characters WATCHING this happen. Those CGI effects ain't cheap!

• Apparently the Monks are big fans of Avatar, and reeeeeally liked the Tree Of Souls in that film.

• I'm a bit fuzzy on the Monks' plan here. Obviously they want to rule a living world and not a dead one, or else they'd just sit back and wait for the bacterium to wipe out the planet. But they won't save our world unless we ask them nicely, because a race that consents to subjugation is less likely to rebel than one that's conquered.

OK, that makes sense I guess. 

The problem I have with their plan is the whole "consent" thing. What if no one gave consent. Would the Monks then stand by and watch while the world they studied for so long just up and died? Would they really not lift a finger to save us if we didn't ask?

• When we first meet Erica, she props open the door to her flat with her purse so she won't be locked out while carrying in bags of groceries. This causes the door to smash her glasses inside her purse, which starts a chain of events resulting in the end of all life on Earth (!).

Um... why the hell does Erica prop open the door in the first place? She's clearly holding her keys in her hand as she walks out to her car. If the door closes, so what? She can't be locked out, as she's got the keys with her. Set the bags down, unlock the door and go on with her life.

• It's amazing how one misplaced decimal point (118.9 instead of 11.89) could potentially destroy the entire world. Too bad Agrofuel didn't spring for some kind of override system to prevent an obvious and fatal error like this. You'd think they'd at least have a "Are You Sure You Want To Inject This Amount?" screen pop up.

• The Agrofuel scenes in this episode are a goldmine of stupidity and unrealism. The "scientists" do everything wrong at every possible juncture, just so the bacterium can escape and the plot can happen.

The Agrofuel experiments are contained behind two airlock doors, which is good. But then Erica says the lab automatically vents the air from the lab into the atmosphere without sterilizing it first! And if that wasn't enough, it's an automatic process that can't be shut down! WRONG! If there's no way to neutralize outgoing air, then they might as well not bother with the airlocks in the first place!

Douglas also removes the hood of his biohazard suit inside the lab (!), because he didn't want to throw up in it. Yeah, no one would ever do that either, no matter how sick they were. Is it any wonder he was liquefied?

Erica's not much better, as she grabs a sample of the bacterium and takes it through the first airlock to examine it. This contaminates the area between the first and second airlocks, which ain't good. Later the Doctor and Nardole go through the second airlock and enter the lab with Erica, sans hazmat suits. Nardole then goes back to the TARDIS without decontaminating himself, meaning he just released the bacterium into the air! Thanks a lot, Nardole!

• By the way, someone did their homework in this episode. It's hard to see, but in the image above, the canister on the right is labeled "R. planticola." 

That's actually a real bacterial substance! Back in the 1990s, Raoutella planticola was the subject of a genetic engineering experiment, to try and find a substance that could break down plant matter into ethanol. When tested inside a lab, it was discovered that R. planticola caused mass plant death from excessive ethanol production 

Some scientists speculated that if the bacterium had escaped the lab, it could have caused worldwide plant death!

So the writers didn't just pull a fictionathreat out of their asses, they based the episode on actual science. Well done!

• So the Doctor is President Of Earth, but the three army leaders willfully ignore his orders and do whatever the hell they want, including surrendering the planet to the Monks. Does that sound right?

• If Agrofuel had used a lock with a normal, everyday keypad like a normal, everyday human company, then the Doctor would have been able to operate it by touch, and Bill wouldn't have had to make a deal with the devil, er, Monks and subjugate Earth.

Instead they used this clunky, cartoonish prop from The Price Is Right to secure their doors and ensure the Doctor wouldn't be able to operate it.

This is what's called a "plot contrivance," kids!

• At the end of the episode, Bill gives consent to the Monks to save the Doctor. She's not atomized because her consent "comes from love."

The Monks clearly state earlier in the episode that they must be loved before they'll save the planet. Her love is obviously for the Doctor here, not them. So why do they give her a pass and not disintegrate her?

• The Monks have run numerous simulations in their perfect replica of our world, and presumably know every possible outcome. So why the hell would they give the Doctor his sight back, and make it easier for him to defeat them?

This Week's Best Lines:
Secretary: (to Bill) "I have flown here today to speak to the President. I am told you might be able to help."
Bill: "I don't know the President. How would I know the President? I wouldn't even have voted for him, he's orange!"

The Doctor: (discovering his TARDIS is now in the Secretary's plane) "How did they get it out of my office? The windows aren't big enough."
Colonel: "Oh... they are now."

The Doctor: "Last I heard, you were on a date with Penny. What happened?"

Bill: "The United Nations Secretary-General."
The Doctor: "Awesome."
Bill: "No, that wasn't a metaphor."
The Doctor: "Good, because I really wasn't following it."

The Doctor: "So what it's doing, Colonel, is sending us a message."
Colonel: "What message?"

The Doctor: "Bring it."
(Is this a reference to George W. Bush's 2003 taunt to Iraqi insurgents, in which he famously said, "Bring it on?")

Monk: "We know you."
The Doctor: "Then you'll know that there is a line in the sand, and I'm the man on the other side of it. You want to keep me that way."

Monk: "We will take this planet and its people."
The Doctor: "You will be prevented. You will be fought."
Monk: "We will be invited. We will take this world. We will rule its people. But only when we're asked. We will talk again."

The Doctor: "When?"
Monk: "At the end of the Earth."

The Doctor: (after kidnapping the Russian General) "Now, this is the Secretary-General of the UN. I am the President of the world. And this is Xiaolian, she's in charge of the Chinese army. Say hi to each other. Now, we've been having a bit of chat. The thing is, World War Three what do you think? Basically, we're against it."
(That is definitely the Fourth Doctor speaking right there! I can just hear that line being said by Tom Baker!)

Bill: "I mean, this is a trap, right?"

The Doctor: "Possibly. Probably."
Bill: "And we're just walking into it."
The Doctor: "Well, every trap you walk into is a chance to learn about your enemies."

Monk: "We can detect when a catastrophe is about to occur."
The Doctor: "And?"

Monk: "Stop it from occurring."
Colonel: "You don't look much like guardian angels."
Monk: "We have chosen this form to look like you."
Colonel: "You look like corpses."
Monk: "You are corpses to us. Your world is ending."

The Doctor: (to the Monks) "Planet Earth does not consent to your help, your presence, or your conquest. Thank you for playing the big pyramid game, bye-bye, see you again next week, hopefully not."

Monk: "Without our help, Planet Earth is doomed."
The Doctor: "Yes, well, it's been doomed before. Guess what happened? Me!"

Erica: "Oh, my God!"

The Doctor: "No, I'm the Doctor, but it's an easy mistake to make. The eyebrows."

The Doctor: "Back to the TARDIS, this place is toxic."
Nardole: "I'm not human."
The Doctor: "You're human enough. I got your lungs cheap."

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