Doctor Who – Series 10, Episode 7: The Pyramid at the End of the World – Reviewed

"Aliens have invaded, things are tense
between the US and Russia, it's dark,
and we're wearing sunglasses."
Coming off of last week's reality-bending Gothic nightmare, Extremis, The Pyramid at the End of the World is both a sequel of sorts and something totally different. While that episode was a grim, horror-tinged mood piece that took a turn towards Black Mirror-ish surrealness, this follow-up is still pretty tense, but as a tightly confined political thriller. While obviously an otherworldly threat is the catalyst (this is Doctor Who, after all), the plot essentially boils down to a tense round of political negotiations between American, Chinese, and Russian military leaders, with The Doctor attempting to moderate and an invasion – or possibly global war – hanging in the balance. The results are quite strong and compelling, not to mention rather frighteningly relevant.

Last season's The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion was a pretty clear political commentary on current military tensions in the Middle East, and the ways in which military violence only fuels the fires of extremism, but it masked this reflection of our current political strife behind an alien plot. This time, though, the negotiations aren't between humans and aliens, but between real-life world powers whose current political relationships are rocky at best. Yes, the scenario uses invasion for a “what if,” but unlike that Zygon double-feature, this episode doesn't even attempt to hide its story in allegory; it is directly commenting on the state of the world right now. What makes this so unnerving (and frighteningly effective) is that it plays out almost exactly like a pre-1990s Cold War scenario, underscoring the fact that our precarious geopolitical situation is very close to turning back into another Cold War right now. The threat is not so much from the aliens, but from ourselves, and that thought is as scary as it is plausible. The episode also gets in a dig or two at Donald Trump, and unashamedy shows what a negative view the UK has of us politically, but that should be no real surprise; it's not like we haven't earned that scorn, and it is probably good for us to see what a laughing stock we are in other countries' pop-culture.

"Twizzler Pull N Peel, Doctor?"

This sort of very direct, based-on-real-life political tension is not something that Doctor Who does very often, but it does it quite well here. It roots the suspense of the episode in just how easy it would be for an invading force to turn us against ourselves and let us do the hard work of our own destruction. What also makes this episode so unusual is that this premise is handled in an almost strictly character-based way, dealing with the crisis through conversations in tightly confined environments, rather than action set-pieces. The result isn't the most well-done claustrophobic character-based tension that the show has ever pulled off – that would probably have to be series four's Midnight – but it is still a very interesting experiment, and the narrative relevance of the plot goes a long way to give it some added punch. It certainly helps that the alien invasion plot is quite excellent too. The mystery of their plan works quite well, and they make a very creepy threat, both in concept and in art design. This and Extremis clearly add up to parts of a larger arc taking shape in the background of this season, and I am very excited to see where it might go from here: they certainly are formidable foes for Peter Capaldi's final year on the show.

"Hey, these aren't Twizzlers at all -
they're Sour Punch Straws! I knew these
aliens couldn't be trusted..."
Capaldi does an excellent job with the material. As with last week's, this episode forces him to play his Doctor under certain restrictions within the plot, which really test both the character and his abilities to play the role. He handles these restrictions excellently – if you need any more proof that he makes a very strong, versatile Doctor, surely this is it. Particularly given that his first season was so divisive thanks to the abrasiveness of his early performance (I love it, but I know quite a few who really didn't), I still am very sad that he will be departing at the end of this season, and not sticking around for a fourth year.

The Pyramid at the End of the World isn't without its flaws. The suspense and plotting isn't always as tight as it should be, and its political commentary (while very good, and very admirable, in concept) could have been a bit more fleshed-out. But it is at the very least a very good episode, and it is always great to see the show do something a bit different, such as stepping back from allegory and addressing political and social issues head-on. Plus, it absolutely elaborates on last week's Extremis in a very compelling way, and seems to be setting up some fantastic things for later this season. It's quite good, but seems like it's going to end up being part of something much better.


- Christopher S. Jordan

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