You can hurl a lot of criticism at departing Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat (and if you check the internet forums, you’ll find plenty being hurled), but you cannot deny he knows how to put together a solid penultimate episode that really ups the ante and defies expectations! World Enough and Time is such an episode.
At times, it almost plays out like a Moffat‘s Greatest Hits album – timey-wimey plot device, back-and-forth narrative, assertions as to the Doctor’s real name, gratuitous fan-service, foreboding regeneration and even the death of a companion! The fact that Moffat weaves this collection of tropes into a rollicking good 45 minutes of TV drama is testament to his strengths as a writer.
It’s an episode that defies expectations, incorporating time itself as an important narrative tool to tell an emotional story that delivers hope and dashes it in a devastating manner. The Doctor’s regeneration and Bill’s death early on in the episode are of course teasing red-herrings (the latter more-so then the former), and set up that we’re in for a dark, nightmarish ride.
The return of the original Mondasian Cybermen from 1966’s The Tenth Planet may have felt gimmicky when first announced, but here the cloth-faced monsters are used to their full, chilling effect – the closer to human they look, the more horrifying they seem, their clunky, visual aesthetic conjuring up unsettling images of surgery and human deformity. The voice work by regular Nicholas Briggs adds to the effect, with the classic Cyberman voice echoing throughout and utilised to not only scare, offering an emotional resonance to these unemotional beings – the repeated use of the word ‘Pain’ by one-such Cyberman chills the blood.
Of course the big talking point is the return of the Master, as played by the superb John Simm. It’s been over 7 years since we last saw this incarnation of the Master, but Simm glides back into the role as if it were only yesterday, his mischievous glee and insane personality shining through his disguise as the enigmatic Mr. Razor. The inevitable meeting of the two incarnations of the Master is everything fans have ever wanted, fleeting as it is. We eagerly await next week for more of Michelle Gomez and John Simm together.
Beyond the fan-pleasing moments though, World Enough and Time functions as solid slice of great sci-fi. Operation Exodus (or Genesis of the Cybermen) is an imaginative new take on the origin of Doctor Who‘s other greatest monster, taking it’s inspiration from the essential audio drama Spare Parts (2002), with Moffat’s signature time paradox storytelling piled on for good measure to ensure an episode that makes you work to keep up, but rewards with amazing drama.
The regular cast are all on top form, with Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie lending a wonderful emotional resonance to their scenes together (the chip-eating scene atop the university roof is a beautiful moment that reveals plenty about the Doctor’s friendship with both the Master and Bill). Amazing music from Murray Gold and the ever-dependable direction from Twelfth Doctor-regular Rachel Talalay also ensures success for this unsettling and stunning tale.
As the credits roll, there’s still plenty of unanswered questions. As we approach the end of the Twelfth Doctor era, we are reminded here just how superb Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat can be – the dark nature of the episode, combined with suggestive body horror, complex storytelling and an emotional twist that will surely come back to haunt our lead characters next week, all coalesce into a revealing and awe-inspiring high stakes thrill ride, one that beautifully sells just how flexible and no-holds-barred Doctor Who stories can be when done right.
Doctor Who Series 10 concludes on BBC One next week. Be sure to read our review after and leave a comment.