Doctor Who season 10 episode 7 review: “The Pyramid at the End of the World”


Doctor Who Season 10 continues as the Doctor and Bill must investigate the appearance of an ancient pyramid, and the possible end of the world.

Doctor Who brought back the three-part story for the saga of the Monks and their invasion of Earth. And so far, it hasn’t entirely seemed worth it. “The Pyramid at the End of the World” is the middle installment in a trilogy, and it feels like it. Even though, ostensibly, it shouldn’t, since the first episode basically erased itself at the end. Yet most of this hour feels like a holding pattern. At times, it feels like it’s dancing around some sort of larger political point with its constant references to power and the consent of the governed. But given that these platitudes about how consent can only come from love and not fear are coming out of the mouths of the episode’s villains, it’s hard to discover a larger meaning to any of it. Maybe next week.

This week, our story definitely drags in places. We learn little about the Monks themselves, in terms of where they came from, or what they actually want. Basically, we know they’re obsessed with the idea of consent, and that love is their drug of choice when it comes to enslaving other planets. Most of the episode meanders around through fairly pointless scenes with various world leaders, who argue strategy. There’s so little really going on in this episode that we actually have to spend tons of time with the two random scientists who accidentally create a bio-weapon capable of destroying all life.

For the most part, “The Pyramid at the End of the World” is basically what the “shrug” emoji was made for. As an episode, it’s fine. The political stuff is decent. People argue about various courses of action. The Monks make dire pronouncements. A few second-tier characters die. The really interesting bits are the smaller moments. They’re the innocent mistakes people make, the one drink too many, the lies we all tell one another. But the “meh” factor doesn’t really matter that much. Because when this season is over, the only thing you will remember about this episode is its last five minutes. They’re so good they actually almost make up for the fact that the previous forty are pretty much a complete snooze.

"The end of the world is a billion, billion tiny moments. And somewhere unnoticed, in silence or in darkness, it has already begun."

Surprise: The pyramid kind of doesn’t matter

The basic premise of this episode is pretty simple. An ancient pyramid appears out of nowhere in the middle of a warzone. Inside it are the Monks, apparently having decided that now is the time for their long-awaited Earth invasion. They reveal that the Doomsday Clock – the international symbol that counts us all down to global disaster – is inching forward. The quarrelling Americans, Chinese and Russian armies make peace long enough to try and deal with the problem, but are somewhat taken aback when the Monks reveal they want to subjugate the planet. And not only do they want world domination; they want to be asked to enslave the human race

Apparently, the Monks can’t take over the Earth without the consent of the people that live on it. And you must consent with love in your heart. Otherwise you get obliterated. These aliens are mad specific, y’all. They promise that, should humanity bend the knee to them, that they’ll be protected. And somehow the end of the world will be averted.

Of course, the pyramid and the threat of World War III are red herrings. You probably knew that already because this is Doctor Who. The first potential answer is never the right one. Eventually, the Doctor and friends discover that the real danger to the survival of mankind is a pair of rather boring scientists named Erica and Douglas. These two, as it turns out, are not having a great day. Douglas is hungover and Erica broke her glasses. The upshot of all this is that they’re kind of not really paying attention at their jobs, and have accidentally created a strain of super bacteria capable of ending life on Earth. Yikes.

"You can have the world, just give him his sight back. I consent."

Bill’s complicated characterization

It’s easy to forget that this is only Bill’s seventh episode as a companion. It often feels like she’s been around longer, largely because her introductory episodes worked so hard to make her and her relationship with the Doctor relatable. But we’ve also seen that Bill is young, and sometimes foolish, and can make impulsive decisions. Though the Doctor, Nardole and company manage to solve the mystery, Twelve can’t save himself in the end. So Bill has to do it for him, striking a deal with the Monks to rescue the Doctor and restore his eyesight. In exchange, she consents on behalf of the human race to allow the Monks to take over.

On some level, it’s a perfect decision. It’s what the Doctor would do. He would save someone in danger, if he could, and figure the rest out later. But her choice is also incredibly selfish. Because though Twelve would do anything for the chance of saving someone else, he would never do anything just for the chance of saving himself. He’d sell the world out for Bill, if she were in danger, but never, ever for himself. And yet, it’s also a completely understandable decision on her part. After all, who will save the world, if the Doctor is gone? But it’s also so very terrible and not what he wanted. That’s part of the reason the scene is so affecting. Because it’s awful all around.

“The Pyramid at the End of the World” does lean a bit too hard into Bill’s obliviousness, though. Surely, someone as clever as she is – always the first to ask thoughtful questions – would have noticed something’s up by now. She’s smart enough to wonder why Nardole narrates a play by play of everything that’s happening just in front of the Doctor’s face. Yes, the revelation of the Doctor’s blindness was much more dramatic later because Bill didn’t know. But honestly she should have been able to figure it out before then.

"Enjoy your sight, Doctor. Now see our world."

The Doctor’s blindness makes an impact

Ever since the end of “Oxygen”, we’ve all been waiting to see how the Doctor would handle being blind. And you know what? He’s doing pretty great. It isn’t Twelve’s blindness that defeats him in this episode – it’s his own arrogance. Yes, not being able to see causes problems. Nardole must often describe their surroundings. The Doctor wears sunglasses to every occasion (and gets lucky that somehow no one ever actually seems to ask why). But, on the whole, he’s pretty functional.

He even manages to save the world. Well, almost. Because, technically, the Doctor solved the mystery. He tracked down Erica and Douglas and their lab of accidental world-ending biological horror. He figured out how to destroy the stuff before it could end all life as we know it. Twelve managed to beat the Monks at their own game with seconds to spare. And he did it while blind. That seems like an all-time great win, on the surface.

Until the end. “The Pyramid at the End of the World” makes up for its generally lackluster existence by dropping a shocking and emotional ending on us all. The Doctor, who defeated the Monks and saved humanity, can’t get out of lab. He’s locked inside along with the bomb they made to incinerate the bacteria. And he can’t override the lockdown procedures to escape. Why? For the simple reason that he can’t see the lock.

A simple combination mechanism, the lock is so old school that even the sonic screwdriver can’t help. Erica could probably have anticipated the problems if she’d known about his condition, but for whatever reason, he didn’t tell her.

It’s such a seemingly small thing, in this instance. But the Doctor’s pride basically sets up the Monks’ invasion, once Bill decides to make a deal to save his sight and his life. Twelve will see again, but at a horrible, horrible cost. It does make you wonder – what did the Doctor gain by having Bill think he could see? Why was he so afraid to tell her the truth? Is it  simple fear? Or an attempt to spare her in some way, since he lost his vision saving her life? Given the sacrifice Bill made to restore Twelve’s sight, here’s hoping his motivation is something we come back to by the end of this story.

Next: 50 Actors Who Could Play the Next Doctor

Next week, the Monks Trilogy concludes with an episode that seems to rocket us into some sort of dystopian future. Maybe we’ll finally find out what these monsters want?