Doctor Who: 10-11 “World Enough & Time” Review
Reviewed by Ryan Monty.
(This review continues spoilers. Read on if that doesn’t bother you!)
Well. Where to even begin with this one? After two weeks of more traditional adventuring, Doctor Who Series 10 begins its last two-parter. The expectation for this opening instalment, World Enough and Time, has reached such high levels over recent weeks that it seemed almost impossible it would live up to them (although there’s still next weeks The Doctor Falls to come!), however the episode doesn’t let up from the word go, with breathless highlight reel moments from the pre-titles sequence onwards- although there remains breathing room to enjoy the story built around these shocking revelations, and many of the series’ most prevalent themes are built upon.
World Enough and Time doesn’t bother with a set-up scene for the story, instead casually throwing out a regeneration tease as a marker. As Capaldi struggles to stand amongst the frozen tundra, billowing hair blowing free we see the seeming beginnings of his regeneration before the cruel cut to titles. As a stunning moment, you won’t find more in recent Who, yet it isn’t returned to throughout the rest of the episode. Something for The Doctor Falls to deal with, then, or Christmas itself? Also, is it really time almost for Peter Capaldi to leave? I don’t think I’m prepared! From this electric opening gambit follows another stellar scene finding ourselves aboard a monstrously sized colony ship, 400 miles long and 100 miles wide, pulling away from a black hole. It’s a fantastic visual to lead us into the main set for the story, with blockbuster worthy effects work. Missy has been tasked with being The Doctor, so he can see if a leopard really can change its spots, as she steps out of the TARDIS will Bill and Nardole in response to a distress call. However, the skeleton crew of the ship are nowhere to be found, except for Oliver Lansley’s Jorj, the last survivor, multiple lifeforms having appeared out of nowhere in the days prior and taken the human crew.
The first act of the episode spends plenty of time with Missy pretending to be The Doctor, as she saunters around the ship calling herself “Doctor Who” and dancing to the beat of an alarm as if it were a dance tune. Moffat so clearly here takes one of the last chances he’ll get to express his quirks before his departure with both hands, deconstructing the show’s entire formula. Referring to Bill and Nardole as “comic relief” and “exposition” is just pure distilled Moffat meta, and the level of fun he has with the initial moments aboard the ship are a blast, Michelle Gomez sparkling with Missy trying her best to be The Doc’. Let’s face it, Moffat was never going to win any fans over this late in the game, and there’s few people who could pull off the numerous meta gags in these opening moments better than Moffat and Gomez.
Of course, events take a downward turn rather fast as Jorj shoots Bill, blasting a hole right through her chest. For all the playfulness proceeding, the tonal shift the episode takes on from just before Bill is shot to after is superlative. We’re lulled into a false sense of comfort by The Doctor, who strides out of the TARDIS attempting to calm Jorj down, waxing lyrical with the typical Doctor sayings. Except it doesn’t work, and Bill is shot. It’s a rather graphic moment (contextual) for the show, in an episode that pushes the boat out in terms of what it can get away with. The tonal shift from the light-hearted meta gags to the meat of World Enough and Time is deftly handled so that it keeps in fitting with one of the previous themes of the series, namely The Doctor’s over confidence, such as in Oxygen, and immediately the stakes for the episode are known. After this packed opening few minutes, World Enough and Time slows down events to consider its story and characters for a while, wanting to explore the world in the lower decks of the shop in enough time.
Bill’s scenes down in the lower floors of the ship are bittersweet to think about considering her seeming eventual fate, given her undying faith in The Doctor and bright attitude in the face of the horrors she sees. She becomes another “Girl Who Waited”, like Amy before her, remaining in the lower decks of the ship for years while the TARDIS team on the top floor pass minutes in their time. Such is the concept of the episode- with the ship pulling away from the black hole, time is passing far slower on the lower floors than on the top floor, meaning minutes for The Doctor and co up above translates to years for Bill and the horror hospital. And oh, what a horror it is- director Rachel Talalay has become one of the show’s greatest directors over her time on the show, with personal highlights including Dark Water and Heaven Sent, but her work on World Enough and Time easily rivals those. The hospital Bill stays in is full of macabre, seemingly never ending areas of decay, flickering lights and camera dollies building an acute sense of dread like a classic horror film of some sort, experimental and very special indeed.
What this episode gets away with is quite surprising. Away from Bill’s “death”, her experiences in the hospital are incredibly chilling. Murray Gold’s ethereal score helps create a great sense of unease in the situation, with the repeated cries of “pain” and the bone saw noises in the background resulting in a uniquely unsettling experience. For this episode is really a new genesis for the Cybermen themselves, and it creates for them a more horrific story than maybe any other Cybermen story has done before on television. The agony of conversion is on full display, and we don’t shy away from that, to the great credit of those involved. The top knotted patients who litter the rooms of the hospital are unnerving to the highest level, and the revelation of their muted wails when Bill discovers their “volume” dial rivals the “don’t cremate me” saga in Series 8’s Dark Water for sheer terror. The Mondasian Cybermen themselves, when finally, they (well, Bill- *sniff*) are revealed are just as creepy as their original appearance in the First Doctor’s regeneration story The Tenth Planet in 1966, with their clothed faces and sing-song voices, allaying fears that they wouldn’t translate well from another era of the show.
Away from the Cybermen though, World Enough and Time is really a tale of two Masters. John Simm makes his long-awaited return at last, appearing in disguise initially as the darkly funny Razor (The Master always was a sucker for a disguise, from the elaborate to the, ah, less so). Simm clearly revels in the chance to play with this “new” character, forming a bond with Bill that results in the cruel twist of fate with his spine-tingling reveal at episode close and his betrayal of Bill. Playing such a long game to spite The Doctor is masterful villainy, and sets him up perfectly even for those who jumped on board the show with Series 10. Certainly, though for all the brilliance and breath-taking moments this episode has, it shines greatest in its quieter moments too. The flashback scenes with The Doctor and Bill after Bill has been shot are beautiful to watch- quiet moments, with The Doctor’s explanation of his friendship with Missy and simply eating takeaway with Bill. It’s instantly reminiscent of the scene with Martha and Jack in The Sound of Drums back in Series 3, and it’s just as powerful, with Murray Gold’s re-working of one of his greatest pieces This is Gallifrey laced throughout- what a score this is by Murray as well, from his unsettling pieces in the hospital scenes through to the understated return of the drums in the episode’s climax.
One of this series most explored themes has been revolving around faith, and The Doctor’s growing faith in Missy’s ability to change for good has been woven superbly through the series- seeing it explored as a focus in World Enough and Time works wonderfully, topped off with the delicious shattering irony as Bill asks that The Doctor just doesn’t get her killed- before the deadpan cut to her standing on the ship in the present, hole in her chest. It’s not just about exploring The Doctor’s overconfidence, it’s also a return to The Doctor as an idiot, the major theme of Series 8, himself admitting as such here. His faith in the goodness of Missy, and the ability of people to change simply because she was The Doctor’s oldest friend, ultimately costing Bill her life seemingly. This story is bursting with a wealth of directions to go in, and with The Master back in the picture, quite literally anything is possible. John Simm’s few moments sans-disguise are fantastic, his glorious Master throwback beard almost jumping out of the screen. His presence is more keenly felt than ever.
Naturally after World Enough and Time spends plenty of time exploring its world and building suspense and tension within, the story pace ramps itself back up again with not one, but a series of glorious cliff-hangers, any one of which could’ve been fit to close the episode. Yes, we knew John Simm was coming back, so perhaps his reveal as being Razor may have not had the Utopia cliff-hanger level effect on some- I feel that way- but I still got shivers from it, not least because of how the episode’s denouement deals its hand and ramps up the devastation slowly, with the eventual triple gut-punch to The Doctor of Bill being a Cyberman, Missy seemingly turning again and The Master returning. I can only imagine how those who didn’t know about Simm’s return felt! Regardless of prior knowledge, I felt the episode’s closing moments were still incredibly effective, with Bill’s cry of “I waited” and the single tear providing ourselves with a chance to reel, after what we witnessed in the hospital.
Ultimately, this is still a part-one of a two-parter, and there is a lot we can’t really discuss until the story completes in next week’s The Doctor Falls. But as it stands, World Enough and Time is an ambitious, revelatory and genuinely gob-smacking episode at times, playing our emotions as an audience like a fiddle. So many questions, so many things left un-resolved, and one hell of a situation- if The Doctor Falls can live up to the brilliance this episode set up, this may be one of the greatest two-parters in the show’s history.