Right, so, Doctor Who is the only one left in my lineup, which, I never thought I’d be commenting on anything in July, but it’s suddenly carrying its own weight magnificently now. This week’s episode left a crater in the wake of its impact, absolutely shoving us towards the two-hour finale.
10.11 “World and Time Enough”
This is one of this episodes where, were I generally given to swearing, I might be waxing eloquent right now.
Also, if you have a fear of hospitals, this may not a very good episode for you.
Episode begins: the Doctor staggering out of the Tardis on some world, glowing with regeneration as he cries, “No!”
And we cut back to how he got there.
So, basically, after the events of the last two episodes, the Doctor is getting his hopes up that he can have his friend back. Missy once mentioned something about that, and she went to extreme lengths in a warped attempt to get her friend back. The Doctor actually wants the same.
The two of them go way back. They were two of a kind in school together: quick, smart, a little crazy, thirsty for more, and practically unstoppable. They were the best of friends. They even made an oath together, to visit every star in the universe. But the Master went mad and the Doctor lost the best friend he ever had.
For the chance to have his friend back, he’s willing to do something a little crazy himself: give her a trial run.
Against the advice and fears of Nardole and Bill, the Doctor decides to find a case somewhere in time and space, some crisis to drop her into. She can take on the role the Doctor usually does, as a mysterious, wandering, lunatic of a savior, with Bill and Nardole by her side – another reason they object and another objection he overrules – while he monitors the situation from the Tardis. So, by the Doctor’s unilateral will, off they go.
The Doctor should really know by now, it is physically impossible for him to choose any situation that is anything less than universally apocalyptic.
Two thousand years in, at least, and he still hasn’t figured that out.
So, the case he picks seems straightforward enough, if also unique. There is a ship, a massive colony ship, that is on the brink of falling into a black hole. It’s managing to edge away from certain death, but very slowly. It shouldn’t have anyone in it except a skeleton crew, but the lone survivor of said crew, a blue-skinned janitor, is terrified of these human-like creatures that suddenly popped up inside out of nowhere. A bit irrational, perhaps, considering the creatures were only interested in his human crew mates, but, well, he did just see them take all of said human crew mates away, too strong to be stopped, and right after horror like that, his fear makes a good deal of sense.
Small detail: as the creatures are interested in humans, and Bill is a human, they’re coming up to the bridge from the far end of the ship to take her. Right now.
The janitor is so terrified that, even as the Doctor emerges to reassure him and get Bill safely into the Tardis, he shoots her straight through the heart with a laser gun. She falls over, in her final moments, and the creatures arrive.
If the patients of a trauma ward were its operators, that would be a starting point to describe these things. They shamble in, bandaged head to toe, take Bill for “repairs,” saying they’ll never bring her back, and leave.
The Doctor has just a few precious seconds to act, sending a message into her subconscious, just three words: wait for me.
Which, considering how he’d just figured out what had happened, was very stupid of him. It might not have made any difference, in the end, but we’ll get to that in a moment. In the short-term, it was stupid.
What the Doctor has realized is that, being so close to a black hole, the ship is experiencing a dilation of time. Because the ship is so massive, and one extreme end is four hundred miles closer to it than the other, time is passing very slowly up front, and more quickly, more in sync with the rest of the universe, at the rear. Ten minutes pass while he explains this as quickly and effectively as he can, but back at the rear, it’s far longer.
There, at the back, where the crew went to fix something with the engines, something prevented their return, and so they settled down and bred into an entire civilization. Then, as over a thousand year passed within the two or three days that passed up front, the ship became ancient and began to fall apart. They mounted an expedition into the forward portion of the ship, but, again, something prevented them. Something is there, and they don’t know how to get past it. So, growing desperate, they began “conversion.” The converted are still humans, but now with mechanical parts, so they can be “stronger” and survive the trip forward.
A lot of this, the Doctor puts together, but the rest is learned by Bill at the rear. With her heart replaced by something mechanical, she is confined to the hospital and made to work. She waits and waits and waits for the Doctor to come for her, for years. She tried to leave, tried to find a way, but that subconscious compulsion to wait for him held her prisoner, more strongly than anything or anyone else. That really was a stupid move on his part, I think, when he knows time is of the essence, and she will have more to work with than he will. He just had to come and save her, without giving her a chance to save herself.
It’s not all bad for her, though. Actually, it’s even worse. Because the only friend she makes is two-faced and treacherous. That was clear enough the moment he claimed that she saw through a lie of his. She comes to trust him as he watches over her, so very carefully, just waiting for the day to betray her. When the Doctor finally makes it into the elevator – another mistake, he should have skipped the explanation and just gone straight down after her immediately – she convinces her strange little friend to help her find the elevator so she’ll be ready when he arrives. Instead, he delivers her into the Conversion Theater.
When the Doctor finally arrives, it’s too little, too late. And it turns out, even if he’d done everything right, he still would have been too late. Bill’s traitorous “friend” is actually someone very familiar to the Doctor and his audience, and he waited all this time just to make sure Bill’s conversion was brand new, shiny, and state of the art.
Most disturbing: for the constant pain the converted are in, there is a rectangular antenna put in to stop them caring about it.
Thus shall be the fate of all the surviving humans on the ship: to be converted into metal men, always in pain, but unable to care.
In fact, the truly original Cybermen of classic Doctor Who lore, from planet Mondas. We saw, in this iteration, one group of Cybermen from another dimension, but these are genuine Cybermen from the Doctor’s own universe. This is their beginning.
The classic Doctor Who showed us the genesis of the Daleks. This is the genesis of the Cybermen.
And, as it turns out, they are the creation of one of the Doctor’s most singular greatest enemy… and his greatest friend.
Missy commandeered them once before under Capaldi’s time as the Doctor, but it turns out there’s a connection between her and them more direct than even she knows, or remembers.
As the Doctor goes with Nardole to find Bill, and is faced with the horror of her conversion, his worst nightmare come to life, Missy is surprised by her own encounter. Bill’s “friend,” and the Doctor’s adversary, the unseen puppeteer behind the Cybermen, comes to her as she is going through the ship’s computer. He taunts her, angers her, and then reveals himself. He relishes in how she will never be forgiven by the Doctor, not after this, not after what he has done to Bill, because it’s something she has already done.
We’ve seen multiple Doctors on the screen more than once. At least twice in the classic run, and once in the modern run. He’s not the only Time Lord who can do that.
Missy comes face to face with her nightmare, her demon, her past: her previous self, the Master.
The Master delights in ruining Missy’s chance at happiness with the Doctor, her hope of redemption. And, really, she is a long-recovering addict, now faced with a full-fledged user, intent on breaking her.
We don’t see the Doctor faced with regeneration yet. We do see that he’s in one of the worst crises he’s ever been in. Bill, who trusted him and waited for him, has been turned into one of the first Cybermen in history, flanked by both Missy and the Master, and the ship he’s on, hovering at the edge of a black hole, is filled with murderous Cybermen. Oh, and whatever is blocking the way up, that only the Cybermen can pass through, has yet to be revealed. The odds are decidedly stacked against him, and all he has is his wits, his screwdriver, and Nardole.
And all Bill can do is weep.
…so, yeah. A very heavy episode that left me reeling.