The monks are here and they’re... not doing what I expected. No giant spaceship casting a shadow over capital city of your choosing, no disguising themselves as powerful politicians. Instead in this week’s episode, The Pyramid at the End of the World, they’ve done the equivalent of putting a flashing neon sign above their hideout: suddenly summoning a giant pyramid slap-bang in between China and Russia. The very fact that they’re not coming in laser-guns blazing is incredibly suspicious. Precisely what on earth are they up to?
It takes us a while to find out, as they’re pretty sneaky when it comes to the whole take-over-the-world scenario. The recap from the previous episode blends in with the beginning to this one, with Bill and her ‘friend’ Penny sauntering through the streets breaking up the flashback. Bill’s narrating what went on in the alternate reality too, and I really wish more episodes adopted this technique. Such a seamless introduction to this story ends up being a comparison in some ways too: seeing where Bill’s date went wrong in the simulation and what’s going better this time. When you watch it you can see how the monks have really gone about the conquering idea well, because now you’re doing the same cause-and-effect analysis. Acknowledging that gives me the creeps, but it’s true.
Even though the Doctor playing his bloody guitar makes me feel like he’s edging into being a bit too contemplative, a bit too theatrical, the things he says over it shows that he’s not making the same mistake I already have. He’s not underestimating the monks. He knows that the world doesn’t have to be taken over with a weapon of mass destruction. In his own words, ‘the end of the world is a tiny billion moments. And it’s already begun’. This I like. A lot. What’s funny is that after studying us for god knows how long via their simulation, the monks have discovered that the best way to get us to call to them for help is to simply let us screw up on our own. It’s our fault the world ends. And that’s the way it should be - us taking responsibility for something we’ve messed up. It makes me strangely proud. Proud because sometimes in Doctor Who humans are there to be saved and patted on the head by the Doctor. It’s rare for us to come together as a species and take charge. Individuals do, yes, but not humanity as a whole. Having us ready to own up to our mistakes and seek help for them is a reassertion that humanity still has some agency in Doctor Who. If only there weren’t aliens waiting to take advantage of it.
The intrigue about the giant pyramid is somewhat jostled when an odd faded shot of the monks appears superimposed onto its rugged stone surface. It looks like something out of an '80s portrait studio and I’m not quite sure what its purpose is. Mind you, these corpse-like aliens look incredible. A shoddy bit of CGI earlier in the episode makes it clear that practical effects are still king in Doctor Who, with their bulbous yet decomposing skin looking like you could reach out and touch it. Negotiating with the monks takes an interesting turn when they begin to talk about the fact that humans have to ‘consent’ to being saved from this imminent disaster. You can’t fool them by consenting out of fear or strategy, though - as the monks put it, consent means love. Putting a tricky spin on the rest of the episode, it questions how anyone would want to be saved by these aliens. You don’t know what you’re signing up for, so what could make it worthwhile? This concept could have been dragged out a lot more, although the different types of consent were explored, making it feel like the monks knew humans that little bit too well. The fact that they’re not trying to trick consent out of Bill - the only human left in the pyramid to give it - means you feel this sense of growing dread, because they don’t need to trick us. They know we’ll give in eventually. Having an enemy know you that well is worse than any gun.
Saving someone. That’s what makes the surrender of Earth worth it. With Bill speaking on behalf of humanity, her choice to save the Doctor from a deadly explosion changes everything. At first it’s easy to be furious at Bill for choosing the Doctor over the human population, as we have no idea what’s going to happen once we let the aliens save us from whatever disaster is about to sweep the planet. But her reasoning is tight - if she saves him, he can then stop the aliens and save the world. Hopefully. That vault is still firmly shut, though - I think it’s time to give whoever’s inside (cough Missy) the chance to stretch their legs and help.