World Enough and Time, the penultimate episode in this series of Doctor Who, is all about playing with expectation. It still provides the traditional mix of sci-fi scares and light horror but, really, this is 45-minutes with everything feeling a teensy-weensy bit out of place. And, despite a slow middle, it delivers a rousing (near) send-off to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, while giving us more than ample motivation to tune in for next week’s finale.
The episode opens… by killing off the Doctor. Although we don’t see the (clearly much older) Doctor meet his ultimate fate in this episode, it’s an instant hook that propels even the slowest moments of the episode. Where is he? What happened? How can I get that haircut? None of these questions are answered. Yet. Sure, it’s a bit of a cheap tactic but, hey, it works.
The real opening is arguably much more interesting. Missy has stepped into the lead Time Lord’s shoes as a test of sorts, involving a spaceship hurtling towards a black hole – which ends up getting explained through flashbacks – and it’s no surprise to see Missy dazzle and chew the scenery at every possible moment. Doctor Who has worked without its main man before, think: ‘Blink’, but a surrogate Doctor is even more intriguing, and it paints a picture of the various avenues the show could explore next series under Broadchurch creator (and new showrunner) Chris Chibnall. It’s a glorious look into Doctor Who’s possible future: firstly, the show can – and will – survive without Peter Capaldi but, more thrillingly, it should quieten the naysayers who proclaim that a female Doctor can’t work because, guess what? Missy is every bit the lead Time Lord we’ve come to expect from Doctor Who and, whisper it, she’s better than Capaldi in some places. I’d be so down for a Missy spin-off.
This subversion continues by killing off Bill Potts. Okay, okay it’s not a ‘real’ death (this is sci-fi we’re talking about) but it’s so utterly devastating to see the Doctor fail, especially as the hole through Bill’s chest is so uncompromising, that even her inevitable revival carries some emotional weight, which should be applauded.
Unfortunately, the first quarter seems to mostly use up the episode’s entertainment quota. The sections with Bill in the hospital and the pre-Cybermen converts are utterly fantastic in terms of pure sci-fi, with the scares bordering on unwatchable for young children (even some adults will probably make excuses to go into the other room) but it’s just too slow and filled with exposition. Peter Capaldi has just an hour left on our screens at this point – slowing the action to a crawl isn’t the way to punctuate his swansong. Sure, the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest vibe is cool (complete with its own Nurse Ratchet) but it is ultimately is there to provide a gateway to the show’s fantastic ending sequence.
So, the ending. Yes, we knew John Simm was returning. No matter how obvious Razor’s reveal and shift from hospital helper to Time Lord (and former Prime Minister, lest we forget), it was still entertaining fare. It’s all a bit silly when thinking about Razor’s ridiculous accent and prosthetics but it’s still a nice bait-and-switch rather than having the Master show up completely unannounced. It’s a shame, then, that though we didn’t know it at the time, the dynamics of one of the Doctor’s companions living for years with another Time Lord weren’t explored in some detail. Maybe they’ll save that for next week. And speaking of next week, Bill’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it little tear hints at (another) revival for Bill. Surely two revivals in two weeks is a bit much? Call me a masochist, but having the Doctor really suffer by having Bill’s transformation into a Cyberman permanent is much more enticing as a story.
Missy not having remembered this moment points to a Doctor victory – with possible memory wipe for Missy? – but this marks the moment that the Doctor completely and utterly failed. What began as an episode (if you ignore the regeneration) about how the Doctor isn’t needed and can be replaced, ends with the shattering realisation that the Doctor has, in one fell swoop, been replaced. The Masters (and the Mondasian Cyberman from old-school Who!) rule the day and, if Peter Capaldi indeed does bow out next week, he’s got a hell of a job on his hands turning this around, and it’ll almost definitely cost him his life in the process. And I for one cannot wait to see what happens.