The Pyramid at the End of the World is deeply frustrating. For every well executed scene or effective moment there is something that counteracts it by being nonsensical or outright lazy.
The opening is an amusing riff on the previous episode with Bill telling the story of how her simulated date was interrupted by the Pope only for her actual date to be interrupted by the Secretary General of the United Nations who is looking for the Doctor. A pyramid has appeared out of nowhere and the Doctor has been re-appointed President of the World.
The, still blind, Doctor makes first contact with the monks who say that they aren’t there to invade. They expect to be invited to take over. This is such an intriguing idea, that they have to be not just accepted but loved because that is a more effective way to maintain control. They set a doomsday clock and tell the assembled political and military leaders that they have run the simulations and found the moment that the world will end. They will prevent doomsday in return control of the earth. So far, so interesting.
Where it falls apart is when the Secretary General gives his consent and the monks kill him because he’s giving it out of fear. If they don’t want people to consent out of fear then maybe they shouldn’t turn up out of the blue in sinister pyramids, deliberately choose the form of corpses and start telling everyone the world is about to end. If they want people to consent out of love why don’t they all look taking the form of Hello Kitty and promising free ice cream and hugs?
There is this wonderful idea that the event that the monks have tracked that will destroy the world isn’t a war but the combination of a clumsy husband breaking some reading glasses and a hangover. Two small incidents which set into motion a chain of events that produce a typing error in a laboratory. The ability to see where the small events will lead to big ones is very Fringe which I appreciated. Where that falls apart is when the hungover scientist makes a litany of incompetent blunders that anyone could see were idiotic. He leaves biosecurity doors wide open, takes his protective helmet off for no reason and takes a jar of black goo out of the restricted area without knowing if it is toxic. We’ve all had bad days on a hangover but no one had dropped that many IQ points. It undercuts the idea of seemingly random chance causing the disaster when one of the people involved is apparently the Norman Wisdom of the scientific community.
I loved the way that the Doctor worked out which lab the accident was happening in. Turn every camera feed off and just wait to see which one the monks switch on again. Simple, elegant and ingenious, allowing him to avert the catastrophe and undermine the monks plan. His instant rapport with Erica is a delightful thing to watch and I’m sure there will be many people hoping it’s not the last we see of her. I’d happily see her as a regular addition to the show.
The linchpin of the climax is the Doctor being trapped in a room that is about to explode because he can’t see the numbers on the combination door lock. Bill finds herself in an impossible position. In order to save the Doctor she has to give consent to the monks. It’s a moment really well played by Mackie as Bill agonises over the decision.
Unfortunately this moment is totally undermined by the fact that in order for the Doctor not be able to open the door the combination is input on something that looks like a giant bicycle lock. Keypads are designed so the blind and partially sighted can use them. If the door had a keypad, which it would, the Doctor would have escaped and thus Bill wouldn’t never have had to give consent. Normally this is something I’d let go but when the entire climax depend on something everyday not being there that’s just bad writing and replacing the everyday thing with something that would never be used in order to make it work is lazy. The only way it could be more stupid is if the Doctor discovered that the door had a pizza instead of a handle.
It’s infuriating as there is so much that the episode does well. The setting, tone and cast are all excellent. The monks are creepy and effective antagonists and at the centre of it all is a regular cast on top form. Unfortunately the plot drops the ball once too often so despite all the good things in it I came away feeling that The Pyramid at the End of the World is the first duff episode this series.