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Doctor Who: The Pyramid At The End Of The World Review

In which Peter Harness and Steven Moffat ask why good people make bad decisions for the best of reasons.

By Matthew KresalPublished 6 years ago 4 min read
A publicity episode for the episode featuring (from left to right) Pearl Mackie as Bill, Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, and Matt Lucas as Nardole.

Warning: Potential spoilers ahead for the episode.

Science Fiction often is a way for us to see our world through different eyes. As classics like The Twilight Zone or the original series of Star Trek have shown, there is something about the genre that allows us to remove ourselves slightly and see the world we live in in a different context. Doctor Who has also shown itself capable of this both in its original run and with its current 21st century incarnation. The Pyramid At The End Of The World, aired on the 27th of May, was to prove that once again with an episode that combined the genre and the show's most recent story arcs with the world we live in now.

That shouldn't come as too much of a surprise though. After all, the episode was co-written by Peter Harness who is the writer who gave us the two-parter The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion in Series Nine back in 2015 in a similarly topical way. What Harness and show-runner Steven Moffat do with this most recent episode is to apply that to the world we live in that is Post-Brexit on one side of the Pond and Post-Trump on the other. In the aftermath of both of those events and the votes that saw them come to pass, many of those who stood in opposition have asked how it could have happened. Harness and Moffat explore that question here as humanity faces a similar dilemma having been told by the Monks (introduced in the previous episode Extremis) that humanity and all life on Earth will face certain destruction unless they are given consent to help. The episode then becomes a struggle as humanity's representatives (the UN Secretary General representing politicians, military leaders from the three biggest countries on the planet, and companion Bill giving representation to the public at large) must decide what to do.

It is here that the episode gets into its most interesting territory. It explores not who is making those decisions but the why. The Monks demand consent but will only accept it done for what they deem to be the 'right' reasons. To get to that point, they reveal why several of the characters might be offering their consent through the usual base but powerful motives including fear and the hope of being able to further manipulate the outcome. When the episode does reach its conclusion, it reveals what the Monks will accept in a powerful moment that makes the entire point that the episode has spent forty odd minutes trying to make: that people, when faced with a decision that looks as if it could do more harm than good despite having an alternative, will make said bad decision based on the best of intentions. In doing so, Harness and Moffat create a metaphor with science fiction for how we have gotten ourselves into our current situations which makes the cliffhanger ending all the more appropriate.

To bring this to life requires more than just a script though. Like the current run of episodes, Doctor Who has been blessed by a strong cast. Peter Capaldi's Doctor continues to shine and in these most recent episodes one has really come to feel that he has settled in at last, finding the right balance from moments of utter seriousness to lighter moments of comedy. Pearl Mackie's Bill continues to shine as well with this episode being something of a culmination of a sub-plot running through the last couple of episodes and which finds Bill facing the consequences of those events while also setting the stage for what is to come. Matt Lucas' Nardole still has the least to do of the three regulars but his presence oddly feels important all the same with his inclusion adding a nice dynamic to the typical Doctor and a single companion relationship we've had the last couple of seasons. The supporting cast is solid though not flashy with Rachel Denning's Erica and Togo Igawa's UN Secretary General standing out among the cast.

The episode's production values are likewise as solid, though perhaps not as flashy as in the last couple of weeks. The production designers and costumers deserve a large amount of praise for their creation of a potential war zone in a fictional Middle Eastern country (the same one that Harness used in the aforementioned Zygon two-parter) as well as the interior of the titular pyramid. Indeed, the Pyramid itself is a convincing piece of work as are many of the effects used in the episode including a memorable sequence where the military solution is called into play. All the having been said, the direction of Daniel Nettheim feels very workmanlike throughout with little effort being made to do anything beyond just what the script requires which feels like a shame given his previous work on the series. On the whole though there isn't much to complain about and perhaps Nettheim simply decided that the story didn't require the kind of flourishes he brought to previous episode's.

The Pyramid At The End Of The World feels like another triumph for Doctor Who this season. It creates a compelling genre metaphor and does so within a story-line that is equally as compelling, exploring why it is that when faced with making a bad decision for good reasons we do so anyway in spite of knowing the consequences. To do so, it puts cast and crew alike to strong use allowing its leads to shine. Now the only question is if it can live up to that cliffhanger ending or not...

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About the Creator

Matthew Kresal

Matthew Kresal was born and raised in North Alabama though he never developed a Southern accent. His essays have been featured in numerous books and his first novel Our Man on the Hill was published by Sea Lion Press in 2021.

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