Halfway through any Doctor Who series, we might have a pretty good grasp on what the main mystery and maybe even who the main villain is, and yet, coming off of “Extremis,” we might know that Missy is in the Vault, but I’m still no closer to guessing how anything will shake out, and with a very immediate threat like the Monks for the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole to deal with, anything else gets pushed aside. Here we are, at episode 7 and a major problem has set itself in front of us. Who knows what the next episode will hold, much less the final four?
“The Pyramid at the End of the World” is co-written by Steven Moffat and the reliably thoughtful Peter Harness, whose Zygon two-parter in Series 9 was a highlight for many fans. It set up an endpoint–a moment that would necessitate the surrender of the world to the Monks–and took its time showing us how exactly we got there. As the Doctor said at one point, the entire episode was about misdirection. A pyramid suddenly appears in a war-torn part of the world, so naturally everybody assumes nuclear war is the moment that will trigger Doomsday. But instead, it all comes from a pair of broken glasses and a night of too many drinks.
But everything about the Monks is a misdirect. They look like corpses because “you are all corpses,” so we don’t even know what they actually look like. This just seems like a baller move to disorient people. “We’re gonna look like dead humans and then tell them that’s what they all are.” Next, they’re “monks,” and have robes sort of reminiscent of Shaolin monks, but they cruise around in an Egyptian pyramid. They also demand pure “love” related consent, meaning they want to be adored and power given over “willingly.” The UN Secretary General acted out of fear, the army generals acted out of strategy, but Bill acted out of “love.” Now, this isn’t love of the Monks, but to them it doesn’t really matter. Loopholes work just fine.
The misdirection in “The Pyramid at the End of the World” is not limited to the Monks, however; the whole episode is full of misdirections, both in plot and in execution. The biggest example is, of course, the misdirect of thinking the Doctor had won, but his blindness–conveniently–makes it so he would have to sacrifice himself, leading then to Bill’s consenting to give them the world. But there are also little things, like the Doctor believing his TARDIS was still in his office, then finding out it had been moved to where it needed to be; or Nardole asphyxiating on the toxic gas only for that–we assume–to be negating, though nobody knew he died but us. Even something as relatively minor as showing the simulation of the Pope barging in on Bill and Penny’s date only for their real date to then be interrupted by the UN soldiers is in itself a misdirect.
But that got me thinking about the series in general thus far and how it all has been a misdirect. Each episode has felt like meat-and-potatoes Doctor Who, as in the textbook example of what a Doctor Who episode is, but then it’s turned into something else. You think you’re just watching an episode about the Doctor and Bill going to old-timey London where there’s a monster fish and it’s actually a story about racism; you think you’re watching an episode about ghosts in a house but it’s actually about loneliness and being unable to let go; you think you’re watching an episode about zombies on a space station when it’s actually a condemnation of capitalism.
Even the MacGuffin of the year–Missy in the Vault–seems like it’s destined to be yet another sleight of hand trick. The Vault wasn’t featured in this episode at all, but we know Missy will be in next week’s. However, are we sure what we think we see is what we’re seeing? A big huge revelation like this can’t simply come in the middle of the series, can it? And with Peter Capaldi’s earlier statements about his regeneration happening differently than we have ever seen in the past, I’m guessing there are a lot more surprises to come, and the first batch of episodes were merely there to get us thinking a particular way. Mark me.
“The Pyramid at the End of the World” is a perfectly fine episode, but I think it represents a lot more thematically than we initially might have guessed. Next week, the Monk trilogy culminates with “The Lie of the Land” by Toby Whithouse. The Monks have seemingly rewritten the world’s history and only Bill knows it’s not right. And, judging by the backgrounds and the fact that the next-time teaser shows Bill shooting the Doctor, this is the episode where we’ll see the regeneration shots from the premiere trailer. We’ll find out when “The Lie of the Land” airs, Saturday June 3 at 9/8c on BBC America.
What do you think? Are we bound to be fooled like the best magic tricks, or is it more wheel-spinning? Let us know in the comments below!
Images: BBC America
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor and the resident Whovian for Nerdist. Follow him on Twitter!