This Post Contains Spoilers
Still reeling from reliving the report he received from his recreation, the real doctor must resist the red-cloaked Monks.
‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’ is the third story written by Peter Harness and his second in collaboration with Steven Moffat. Harness previously gave us excellent ‘The Zygon Invasion’ two-parter with Moffat. This time the two bring on world peril with a whacking great pyramid that has planted itself midst of three opposing armies. The President of Earth is called to make contact with the Monks.
For those wondering, ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’ is not the longest title of a Doctor Who story. That honour still rests with ‘The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve’. But this is a close second.
Now, I’m no expert at the dating game. But even I know you shouldn’t talk about your weird dreams on a first date. You certainly shouldn’t talk about your professor’s weird dream. And you definitely should not talk about your alien professor’s dream on a first date. But it works for Bill, and serves as an effective recap, right up until an army bursts into her flat.
The military leaders are used very well to put across the global nature of the threat. Harness and Moffat have steered clear of any cultural stereotyping and they all come across as realistic people in a dangerous situation.
Of course, they all meet grisly ends, but it would have been easy to just write them as meat-headed sabre rattlers. This approach makes for a much more exciting story as even sensible strategy gets punished.
My Parents Are Doom Bringers
While this is going on, we meet Erica and Douglas – a pair of bored chemical researchers who are about to make a discovery. A discovery that the Monks seem very interested in.
Though both characters are a bit sidelined, Rachel Denning gets some great moments to shine as Erica. Daniel Nettheim deserves a lot of praise as director for visually establishing their mundane lives in order to pay off the contrast later on.
Tony Gardner (who millennial viewers will recognise from ‘My Parents Are Aliens‘) has great chemistry with Denning. The minimal dialogue allows the visuals to reinforce their working relationship and serves as a welcome tonic to the exposition-heavy pyramid scenes.
After the Monks present the Doctor and his cohorts with a horrifying vision of the future, they lay out their plan. The Earth is doomed, but they can save it. All they require is eager consent and global subjugation to their will. It’s a very Machiavellian scheme and a brilliant twist on the alien invasion story. Though I’m not sure Bill acting out of love for the Doctor exactly means she’s not scared of the Monks. Desperation isn’t far off from fear.
Pearl Mackie gives her best performance of the series in her conversation with the Doctor. This goes a long way to selling the idea that Bill is desperate enough to risk the Earth for him. We’ve seen her prioritise emotion over logic several times before, so for her to make this choice seems very natural. Allowing the companion to make mistakes and not be perfect all the time is a real breath of fresh air for the role.
Breaking the Silence
Whereas ‘Extremis‘ established the Monks as calculating and spooky, ‘Pyramid’ turns them into a bonafide threat. Though last week I thought their form was a bit predictable, when bathed in eerie blue pyramid light they had a much creepier vibe.
Their voice, provided by Tim Bentinck – a prolific actor best known for his role as David Archer, helps them sound distinct. Bentinck finds a good middle-ground between sinister but also just trustworthy enough to give their offer serious thought. It’s a nice contrast to the Silence.
The rotting corpse face, when given the right lighting, really sets off the design. In retrospect, having them skulk in the shadows last week did the Monks a huge disservice. Though a bit hammy, their comment on why they chose that form works as psychological manipulation. They’re trying to paint themselves as humanity’s saviour by reflecting how weak we are.
The final ten minutes is such a rush of things happening that it’s a bit hard to keep up. As the mid-point of a trilogy, it makes sense there would be rising action going into the cliffhanger. However, shifting most of the plot to the lab suddenly accelerates the pace and the change is somewhat jarring.
Moffat and Harness seem to have been a perfect partnership. A synthesis of their styles has done wonders for the script. It scales down their tropes but drips with wit and ideas and all the things we love about them.
So the Doctor’s sight is restored but at what cost? Will the Monks be feared or loved? How did they get those statues up so quickly? All will be revealed when the Monk trilogy concludes.