Science Enough and Horror

Review of World Enough and Time
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

I have got to learn to stop watching the "Next Time" trailers.

I don't know who is in charge of deciding what parts of any given episode get put into those trailers, but they come across as if the party responsible has become drunk with power. "Look at all the cool shit that happens this time 'round," I imagine this person crowing. "Put a little of THAT in there, and watch them come running!"

The trouble is, all that cool shit is the stuff that brings tension to the story—specifically, not knowing that it's coming is the source of tension. So despite having had publicity about both appearances well before the series started, reminding us in that trailer that we had yet to see either the promised Mondasian Cybermen or Simm Master really ruined the mystery of the episode.

That said, there was a different, truly horrifying sense of tension if one remembered even only the former was involved. And, to be fair, the script telegraphed it pretty hard for anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Cybermen of any era. (I'll be interested to see what my daughters make of it, when they see it. I refuse to subject them to this without its conclusion at the ready, though.)

For those with a deeper familiarity, other things stand out. All series long we've seen parallels to old episodes. This time, I was strongly reminded of Earthshock—not for the plot, but for the fact that the Cybermen are indirectly responsible for the death of someone close to the Doctor (of course, this time the death is a bit more drawn out...). Given that the Fifth Doctor rather glossed over that death, it will be interesting to see how he copes with this one.

For that matter, I'm not sure how I'll cope. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The first several minutes of World Enough and Time (WEaT) sent me on quite the roller coaster, starting with the apparent regeneration that began in the pre-credits sequence. I am far from ready for Capaldi to leave, but if the regeneration actually does happen at the end of this series instead of at Christmas, and they've pulled off a surprise casting, I will be over the moon.

They've done a good job this series on the casting news front already, not saying one way or the other whether Pearl Mackie will return as Bill. That added to our sense of uncertainty here in a way we didn't experience in Hell Bent, or even in Face the Raven. Of course, I think we're all assuming she's on her way out (no one has ever come back from what she's gone through), so despite our desperate hope, we're left with one thing: utter horror.

There are so many other things to talk about in WEaT, but they all paled by comparison to Bill's fate. It was the overwhelming emotional through line of the episode. And it was AWFUL. Not only was it terrible because it happened because the Doctor failed her (because he values his potential renewed friendship with Missy more highly than anything else—not, I believe, because he wants her "to be good" as Bill suggested, but because if she—more like the Doctor than anyone he's ever met—can be turned to good, the Doctor is not himself irredeemable), but it was also terrible because we could see it coming from miles away.

Veteran viewers know exactly what "conversion" means, and to what Bill was thereby doomed. Giving us most of an episode to anticipate the logical conclusion of her situation—while she herself remained oblivious—only made it more appalling. Moffat made sure that newbs, too, would understand in the end, showing the constant pain and despair of the experimental patients. (What a stark commentary on society's treatment of the disabled the Out ward was, literally silencing the patients rather than endure their suffering!). I had thought that the way Donna's journey ended was bad (and it was!), but even that was easier to bear than this.

After the opening credits, when the TARDIS landed on a ship trying valiantly to escape a black hole's gravity well, my astronomer's brain cringed; I couldn't help it. The visuals on the black hole were completely wrong for how such things actually work, and I steeled myself for Truly Bad Science™. Once gravitational time dilation was revealed as the main conceit of the episode, though, I forgave the rest. Even if the math was iffy, it didn't matter for the purposes of the story.

However, I noticed we were only shown the top and the bottom of the ship. Something fishy has got to be going on in the middle. On Floor 0000, the surviving crewmember said that after the new lifeforms appeared, the "creatures" arrived to take the remaining human crew. Down on Floor 1056, Mr. Razor told Bill, "Many years ago, there was an expedition to Floor 507, the largest of the solar farms. ... They never came back." So if people were disappearing from both ends of the ship, what happened in between?

And of course Razor himself is a plot point—one that panned out better than I dared hope. I've been fairly "meh" about the prospect of Simm's return; perhaps that contributed to the fact that I wasn't on the lookout for him, and thus didn't cotton on until Razor came to talk to Missy. (I have to say I was delighted by the Delgado throwback of using a huge rubber mask.)

Most importantly, though, we got not only a multi-Master story (a first, I believe) but an actual plausible resolution to this whole Missy-tries-to-go-legit plot arc. The audience had to know that this would not be an ultimately successful endeavor; what's the point of having the Master on the same "side" as the Doctor? What would turn her back around, though? If she was faking it all this time, as I was fairly certain was the case, it would be simple. But the end of The Eaters of Light made me believe her, and I was at a loss to figure out what would change her mind again.

Enter herself. "He'll never forgive you, you know." All it took was six words. (Ha! Another parallel—this time to The Christmas Invasion.) Whether Missy and the Master really understand the Doctor or not—Would he forgive her? He seemed poised to forgive a heckuva lot already—even the suggestion that she will have lost his confidence is enough to set her back down the easy path.

Thus they team up to show the Doctor the Genesis of the Cybermen. (You just know Moffat's been dying to add that title to the televised canon, and this was his compromise with himself. Too bad I already used it myself for a review of a different story...) Despite all the buildup, despite my utter certainty of the identity of the body inside those boots in the closet, those moments of hoping against hope and awaiting confirmation became the two most horrific minutes of my Doctor Who-viewing life.

It was brilliantly played, and successfully made me feel all the ghastly things I was meant to, but as someone who deliberately avoids horror both on screen and in print, I found it just about too much. I adore Bill; watching her suffer such a cruel fate—even right at the top of the show (I might just have shouted, "No they fucking didn't!" when she got shot)—came as a serious emotional blow.

I did manage to avoid this final "Next Time" trailer, so I honestly don't know what to expect, other than what narrative conventions and fifty-plus years of the show's history demand: the Doctor will do something that sends him towards regeneration. Missy and the Master will be evil together but the Doctor will find a way to thwart them. Bill's death will teach the Doctor some key lesson...

I kind of hope Heather-of-the-puddle returns, and that they find some way to give Bill a less gruesome sendoff, but I'm not holding my breath. If history has taught me anything, it's that Moffat can write a cracker of a penultimate episode, but the finale inevitably leaves me unsatisfied. I just want desperately to be able to look back on Bill's time in the TARDIS with Twelve without weeping.

One last favor, Mr Moffat. Please?

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Comments

There were elements of this episode that I liked, like the speed of time at different ends of the ship, and the Bill outcome was certainly horrifying and dramatic. I'd prefer NO 'deus ex machina' though I will miss Bill. Too soon! Far too soon! The Simm character (pre-unmasking) reminded me too much of Zathras from Babylon 5. The thing that lost me is that the Master spends years hanging out with Bill and doing menial chores around the hospital for THIS? The rubber mask part also just felt ridiculous. I don't know what I was supposed to be feeling at that moment but it probably wasn't the Scooby-doo cartoon type humor I associate with that level of unmasking.

By Matt Cohen (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

I totally associated the unmasking with the Delgado Master; didn't even think of Scooby-doo until you mentioned it. Having not seen B5, I can't comment on the character similarities there.

As for timing, Bill was only down there for a little over a year, by my reckoning. The first time we see the comparative clocks, Floor 1056 is at Day 365,034 (these people have been there a thousand years!). The second time—right before Bill looks pensively out the window and asks, "How much longer, Doctor? How many more years?" the clock is at Day 365,433. That's 399 days Bill has been there, just over a year. It's hard to tell how long after that she gets tricked into the Conversion Theatre or how long it is between that moment and the Doctor's arrival, but it can't have been too many months.

I've no idea what the Master's plan was in this whole thing, other than really pissing off the Doctor. Maybe we'll find out next time. But why was he there before the TARDIS arrived (and where's his TARDIS)? It doesn't make sense, at least not yet (and I'm skeptical it will get resolved well), but the Master often makes no sense, so... ~shrug~

By mrfranklin

Having seen the last episode, The Master claims Bill was down there for 10 years and The Doctor missed her by 2 hours. Of course, The Master waited until The Doctor was on his way to convert her to increase The Doctor's pain.

By Kara S (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Yeah, I noticed that, too. I have some issues with the timing in these episodes, but I've mostly chosen to ignore them. ;)

By mrfranklin

No comments on the doctor's name section? I thought that was a pretty big retcon but I don't think it breaks anything...

By Adrian (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

I assumed Missy was just trolling. :)

By mrfranklin

Yeah, on second viewing that makes more sense

By Adrian (not verified)

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