Previously on Doctor Who, “The Eaters of Light”
A: Steven Moffat’s in charge, for two more episodes anyway, and he wants you to know that he can still roll out the big guns, dredge up references galore, bust out a genesis story and the first multiple Master episode, then leave you hanging in agony. Calling out Tom Baker’s Doctor “Genesis of the Daleks,” “World Enough and Time” finally gives us the in-universe genesis of the Cybermen, a Gothic tale of Earth’s twin planet Mondas, which drifted out of the solar system further and further from light, until its people had to search for a new planet. Their massive 400-mile-by-100-mile ship is manned by a skeleton crew of 50 to make way for the colonists, but is caught in a black hole’s event horizon where time creates an enemy of humanity out of humanity itself.
First, let me say that I absolutely adored this episode, written by Steven Moffat and directed by veteran Rachel Talalay. It pulls so many threads from Moffat and Capaldi’s tenure that it’s a veritable afghan of thematic evolution. In “The Magician’s Apprentice,” thanks to an adventure with Missy, the Doctor inspires the genesis of the Daleks by abandoning little Davros on the battlefield, and must eventually atone by befriending him to earn a bit of grace in the future. In “World Enough and Time,” the Doctor and his coy Mistress stumble across the genesis of the Cybermen with the Master at its heart, tying them even more deeply together. Striking forth into the universe like Isaac and Ishmael, these two promising sons of Gallifrey have created their own worst nightmares.
Speaking of “The Magician’s Apprentice,” we questioned then whether Clara or Missy was the Magician Doctor’s apprentice. A flashback shows the Doctor talking Bill into allowing Good Missy a trial run with her and Nardole to supervise. They both protest, but at the Doctor’s hopeful, starry-eyed reminiscence of the Master being his academy “man crush,” Bill relents after extracting his joking promise that he’ll keep her from dying “within reason.” Moffat then lures us into the tragedy with comedy as Missy interns as the Doctor on assignment, mimicking and evolving his techniques to the point of shortening the “Question” down to announcing she’s Doctor Who with her assistants, Exposition and Comic Relief, quipping that they aren’t stereotypes but genders. Considering the roles of past female and male companions, how true. She even takes on his appearance cluelessness, positing that she imagines the janitor Jorj is supposed to be handsome. But check out her hat: a giant black-feathered wing (Ravens! Crows!). The first clue that things were about to go drastically south.
The blue-skinned janitor explains that as the ship drifted into the event horizon, 20 engineers descended to the engine decks to reverse course and never returned, leaving him alone on the bridge. Now every time a human life sign appears on the bridge, creepy medically-wrapped Patients ascend and take the human away. He panics and pulls a gun on Bill, and the Doctor leaps into action, plodding through his usual Trust Me With Your Life spiel, but this time, it doesn’t work: when the lifts arrive with a ding, Jorj blows a giant hole in Bill’s chest, stunning everyone, and the Patients cart her away for “repair,” as the Doctor shouts to her subconscious, “Wait for me!” It is clear that the Cybermen are involved, but the brilliantly dark story is sadder than that. Because the bridge is closer to the event horizon than the 400-miles-away engines, time dilates, meaning it is veritably crawling by on the bridge as years tick away on the other side. The 49 crewmembers that disappeared over time have produced cities of people, filling the pristine colony ship beyond capacity with their sickly, struggling descendants who cannot ascend through the ravages of the event horizon to take back the bridge without cybernetic augmentation. Echoing “Smile,” instead of making peace with the robots, these colonists have to make peace with becoming robots.
The Doctor’s companions, it seems, are prone to heart problems. Clara’s heart was frozen in time by the Doctor’s trick to save her from the Raven’s death sentence, and now Bill is entirely missing one, along with several other organs. She wakes in the hospital with a contraption strapped to her chest and befriends the comical Razor, a generically foreign Gimli-type caretaker who has a TV set to monitor the bridge. In the previous episode, Bill and Nardole urge the Doctor not to step through a temporal rift to guard against the Eaters of Light, because there were other Doors, other portals, for him to guard. Now brushing the edge of an ultimate light eater, a black hole, the Doctor, Missy, and Nardole work out the problem in another temporal rift, minutes for them compared to months for Bill, who is slowly converted unawares into another eater of light threatening the entire universe, a Cyberman.
During her convalescence, Bill is disarmed by Razor and his terrible tea, indulgence of her admiration for the Doctor, and his seeming empathy for the colonists, but she continually runs into Patients, which she begins to realize are humans trapped in the agonizing conversion process. The body horror reaches maximum levels when she believes the nurse is relieving one of the Patients’ monotonous, endless cries of pain, but discovers that all she did was turn down the volume. The surgeon reassures Bill that their new invention, the erstwhile Cyberman halo, will at least keep them from caring about the never ending pain. Great. Even with the colonists hitting a desperate level, however, a tickle at the back of your brain keeps asking who is behind the Mengele-like surgeon corrupting his own people.
At one point, Razor affectionately comments that he loves Bill as a “mother,” an awkward comment she brushes off but is more true than she realizes. As Missy discovers the ship’s origin, Razor shockingly removes his mask and reveals himself to her: it’s himself, the Master, in a past life. While Missy was interning as a good person upstairs, the Master gestated his evil nature by secretly manipulating the Cybermen conversion and personally overseeing Bill’s turn, delivering her to the conversion theatre only moments before the Doctor, Missy, and Nardole finally arrive, letting sink in the perfectly stomach-churning evil of the Master cultivating a relationship with Bill for years while watching the Doctor’s face on the television and ripping his, and her, hope away at the last possible second. Of note, there is nothing particularly suspicious about Missy not recalling this event, as most multi-Doctor stories rely on this amnesia-lite, excused by their time streams crossing. At last the Doctor and Nardole find the surgical room and demand that a Cyberman tell them where Bill is. The creature thinks, determining that it is Bill Potts.
“I waited for you,” it intones, a tear slipping from its mask.
In a season so lightly sprinkled with true cost, “World Enough and Time” has more than enough to go around. It brutally contrasts the Doctor’s blithe joke about humans’ fragility with Bill gaping at the hole in her torso and his aggrieved face. It slams the hopeful idea of a colonizing ship with the terror of its desperate, inbred descendants choking out its carefully-engineered capabilities, unable to save themselves or the remaining Mondasians as the black hole swallows their remaining time. It counters the bravery of humans swallowing the dire cost of their last hope with a crazed surgeon leering from the darkness. It lures you into the normalcy of Bill’s days, whether cooking at the university or swabbing floors in the Hospital, only to reveal the deed has long been done. It jokes that Bill’s bacon sandwich had a mummy and daddy, then ends with the Master veritably devouring the horror of Bill’s conversion on the Doctor’s face. And I haven’t even mentioned how the episode starts: the Doctor stumbles out of the TARDIS, screaming in protest against his own regeneration like the Second Doctor, “killed” by the Time Lords for not following their Prime Directive.
For my money, the Cybermen are the most horrifying of all Who villains, even moreso now with their tragic beginnings which turned a cheesy, budget costume into a terrifying revelation. This tale of beginnings and endings is easily the best of the season thus far. Besides the references already mentioned, there are even more tidbits of interest woven fantastically into the story. To work out the problem, the Doctor pulls apart his sonic screwdriver to reveal an erasable marker, cementing this Doctor’s professorial role as integral to his persona, not just a by-product of his commitment to saving Missy. The Master jokes about his own penchant for disguises with a terribly hokey burglar mask moments before the big reveal. Even the title is deliciously ironic. In the poem it’s borrowed from, the speaker complains that if only he and his lady had time, he would love her across the eons, but otherwise being coy is a waste. The Doctor and Master have in fact loved each other across all of time and space, wasting centuries in menial lives as mayors, janitors, and prime ministers to play out their long game; but in this, their closest life, time is finally running short.
Ahh, when literary and scifi geekdoms collide.
What will it cost these two this time to save Bill? Will it cost Missy’s goodness? Will it cost the Doctor’s life? Will he abandon the colonists as long as Bill Potts survives? Will the season end with regeneration, or will we be left hanging until the Christmas special? As for Bill, I’m relatively confident that this will not end with permanent conversion. Even though last season dallied with killing a companion for the first time in ages and ultimately pulled its punch, Clara’s own hubris led her to that state. It is doubtful the universe is scolding the Doctor for relying too heavily on speechifying in a show with speechifying at its very heart; if that were really a problem deserving of a karmic wallop, every one of 10’s companions should’ve been toast. Aherm.
Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
Excerpts of “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell, 1681
Quotes, Theories, & Facts
- The Time Lords rely on the Eye of Harmony, a created black hole, for time travel. The TARDIS’s source can be seen in the Doctor Who movie and “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.”
- The Doctor and Rose visited a planet orbiting a black hole in “The Impossible Planet” (2006).
- Black holes were used as a travel method in “The Three Doctors” and “The Horns of Nimon.”
- The second Doctor called himself “Doctor von Wer” (Doctor Who) in “The Highlanders.”
- Venusian aikido/karate was used by Jon Pertwee’s Doctor in “Inferno,” “The Mind of Evil,” “Frontier in Space,” and “The Green Death.” This Doctor revived it in “Robot of Sherwood.”
- Nardole now claims that he was once blue, not just that his friends are blue (“Oxygen”).
- The Doctor used to be credited as Doctor Who, but David Tennant requested it be clarified.
- Bill joins Madame du Pompadour in waiting for the Doctor until she died.
- The Cybermen’s earthly origins in “The Rise of the Cybermen”/”The Age of Steel” were in a parallel universe.
- The Doctor not being able to judge looks is borrowed from Tom Baker’s Doctor who first told Countess Scarlioni in “City of Death” that she was “a beautiful woman, probably.”
- “Are you human?”
“Don’t be a bitch.”
- “Companions? Pets? Schnacks?”
- “You’re probably handsome, aren’t you? Well, congratulations on your relative symmetry.”
- Nardole is so thrilled the Doctor is experiencing an emotion, he asks for a selfie.
- Missy calls the Doctor “honey.”
- “I’m the Master, and I’m very worried about my future. Give us a kiss.”
Doctor Who S10E11
"World Enough and Time"
Starring: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas, Nicholas Briggs, Paul Brightwell, Michelle Gomez, Oliver Lansley, Alison Lintott, John Simm, Kevin Hudson