The Pyramid at the End of the World

TARDISSee me belabouring for some kind of pithy pay-off. And getting nowhere near to that.

My last one from DWM #513.

Looking for a mandate from the people, the monks have parked up at a busy junction. “We must be wanted,” they tell us from their battle bus. “We must be loved. To rule through fear is inefficient.”

You can see what I’m doing here, but it’s rather thrilling that Peter Harness and Steven Moffat’s story aired in the final fortnight of a General Election campaign. Unless they’re also modelling the future, we can safely assert neither had any reason to think this would be the case when they were collaborating on the script. Nor even when the story went into production. It means any lampooning we think we can identify within is absolutely inadvertent. Even the way those freaky friars are foisting a snap decision upon the populace, namely, “Do you consent?”

Besides, The Pyramid at the End of the World doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be a satire, it feels like it’s trying to be a political thriller. This is a return to the world delineated in The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion, the Middle Eastern-proxy that is Turmezistan, and to the idea that, when the chips are down, the Doctor is President of the Earth. The series just about got away with that notion last time, because it landed like a gag, but it’s a mistake to give it another airing. The idea superpowers would come to a consensus and assign responsibility to a singular individual is insane. It’s a similar kind of thinking that has the Doctor lift a Russian, an American and a Chinese military leader from the field, and then act as if he is now in de facto communication with each state.

This is the global situation as seen in the video for Two Tribes, a simplicity that works against the complexity and messiness that should drive a truly compelling political narrative. I remained resistant to the scenes in that Turmezistani bunker. Llya, Colonel Don Brabbit and Xiaolian come to a resolution they’re not going to fight each other… but what does that even mean? How could this singular decision be communicated back to, and gain consent from, each individual’s country? Although the story appears to make important strides at this point, the territory it gains is so easily ceded as to be worthless.

It’s a shame, because, the notion we’re in our final days is tremendously thrilling. The lure of apocalyptic drama, I think, is two-fold. There’s the perverse pleasure to be had in seeing everything at its worst, but it also appeals to our vanity, that we’re the ones who are going to be there for the conclusion. “The end of your life has already begun,” says the Doctor in soliloquy, which is a heady notion. Better yet, we see that the root of a globe-shifting event is in a poorly resourced lab in Yorkshire. It’s the operatic versus the ordinary – something Doctor Who’s does singularly well. We’ve got monastic extra-terrestrials in their pyramid spaceship vs the Earth’s combined superpowers, but what it comes down to is the highly pedestrian chain of events which begins with Erica’s reading glasses getting squished. This wing of the plot really lives, with its cups of coffee and the matey in-jokes between Douglas and her (“Well, it would be rude not to”). Even if the security protocols seem a bit wonky, this is the veracity that goes AWOL whenever we cut back to the UN Secretary and his new pals.

Meanwhile, now we’re getting to know them, the monks are turning into quite a delicious foe. They are not so much the purveyors, as the surveyors, of doom. In the same way no one wants to discover a police officer on their doorstep, the mere arrival of these creatures is an accompaniment to calamitous news – even though it’s news yet to come to pass. “You are corpses to us,” says one. Their insistence upon consent is a further curious twist. A cruel one, perhaps. “We must be loved,” they say, before they will intercede, and isn’t that a little like the Doctor himself in this episode? He, who tells Erica, “You’ll develop a pretty intense crush on me…”

Much as The Pyramid at the End of the World has flitted between the global and the parochial, the baddies also reveal a domestic aspect when one comes to the front door of his Pyramid to put a flea in the Time Lord’s ear. I thought of the Mark Gatiss incarnation of the Doctor in The Web of Caves, opening the TARDIS to David Walliams. I longed for the robed cadaver to also momentarily snap at someone unseen in the innards, “It’s for me!”

It’s true, I didn’t fall in love with this week’s adventure. But I’m happy to pledge my devotion to those guys.

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