The Secretary-General of the United Nations comes to Bill’s flat (just another day for a companion of The Doctor), and tells her they have to meet the Doctor. At times of extreme crisis, the Doctor is considered President of Earth!
They travel to Turmezistan, a disputed area where three of the world’s superpowers have armies stationed there, from China, the USA and Russia. In the centre is a 5,000 year old Pyramid…. which wasn’t at the location yesterday!
The Doctor, Bill, Nardole and the U.N general (Togo Igawa) arrive at the pyramid. Armies and press are gathered there. Bill quickly figures out the explanation for the pyramid being there. It’s an alien spaceship.
The Doctor goes towards the pyramid. A door opens, and a Monk comes out. The Monk says that they will take over Earth and will rule over the people there. Not only that, but the people will ASK them to!
The Monk goes back inside the pyramid, and all clocks and phones then read the time as 11.57 PM. That is three minutes to midnight. It is the Doomsday Clock, showing how close the planet is to apocalypse. The Doctor says this isn’t a threat, it’s worse. It’s a warning.
The Doctor gets the three commanders of the three armies together in the TARDIS. Colonel Don Brabbit (Eben Young) from the US army, Xiaolian (Daphne Cheung) from the Chinese army and Ilya (Andrew Byron) from the Russian army. The Doctor’s proposal to them is “World War Three, what do you think? Basically, we’re against it”. He says the Monks must have chosen this exact place and time for a reason, and suggests the three armies put up a united front.
However, the Monks are easily able to catch an American plane and a Russian submarine missile and their crews. The Monks let them go, but the message is clear. They are too powerful to be defeated with military weapons. The Monks invite humans into the pyramid to negotiate.
In the pyramid, the Monks say that humans will end all life on Earth, but the Monks will save them, as long as they ask. Then they will protect humans forever. In other words, their help comes at the price of freedom. The Monks show them what is ahead just one year into the future – the Earth is a dead planet, with no life on there at all.
The Monks say they “need to be loved” as “to rule through fear is inefficient”. The Doctor says this is the Monks wanting to make their conquest absolutely secure. “Fear is temporary, love is slavery”.
The U.N. Secretary-General says he consents to the Monk’s help right away. But the Monks tell him that if his consent is “impure”, they will kill him. They say he has acted out of fear, which isn’t consent, and they seem to internally burn the poor U.N Secretary-General until he is nothing but ash.
Going back to the TARDIS, everyone wonders if it is indeed World War Three that brings the end of the world. The three army commanders agree that they will not fight each other, even if that means disobeying their country’s leaders. But the Doctor now thinks that it is not war that is going to bring about the end. The Monks deliberately chose this area as a distraction. Something is happening elsewhere.
Indeed, while all this has been going on, we also see events at a science lab. They are working on biochemicals. One of the scientists, Erica (Rachel Denning) broke her reading glasses as she left for work this morning. Another, Douglas (Tony Gardner) is hung over from work drinks the night before.
Erica is supposed to authorise the exact mix of chemicals into the solution they are experimenting on. As she has broken her reading glasses, and it has to be carefully and exactly measured, she asks Douglas to do it. Douglas however, being hungover, misses a decimal point. He puts in Enzyme EC31 as 118.9 rather than 11.89. This means the mixture is far too strong. All the plants that are being experimented on in the laboratory start to decay rapidly. It’s killing the whole plant, not just breaking it down like it’s supposed to. Erica says they can’t allow this to get out into the atmosphere, and seals the laboratory off.
Douglas however has become infected by the biochemical bacteria, and he dies, then melts!
The Doctor manages to narrow down the threat to biochemical, and by switching off the CCTV of all the biochemical laboratories, the Doctor can pinpoint the exact one where the danger is, as the Monks will have to switch the CCTV of it back on so they can watch. However, the three army leaders have decided to surrender to the Monks. They aren’t afraid, they just see it as the most intelligent course of action. This doesn’t work though. The Monks say they are acting out of strategy, that is not consent, and they disintegrate the three army leaders into dust.
They turn to Bill. She says she has no power or authority, she’s just an ordinary person, but the Monks tell her she is a representative of the Doctor, so that counts as power to them.
The Doctor arrives at the lab. With Erica, he works out a way to destroy the bacteria. It’s the way it is normally destroyed, by sterilisation, which can be done by boiling water or putting it into a flame. So, he’s going to blow the lab up. However, the Doctor cannot get out of the lab before it is destroyed, as he needs to put in a combination to unlock the door, and he is still blind. Erica gives him the code, but she is outside the lab now and cannot read it for him. Nardole is unconscious in the TARDIS, his lungs have become infected with the bacteria. The Doctor is trapped. Bill calls him to tell him about what has happened with the Monks, and the Doctor finally confesses to her that he is blind, and that he is about to die.
Bill runs back to the Monks, and asks them if they can give the Doctor his sight back. They say that yes, they are able to do that, as long as she gives consent for them to take over Earth. She says they can have the planet if they restore the Doctor’s sight. The Monks say she is acting out of love, so that is consent.
The Doctor gets his eyesight back, puts the code in, the lab and the bacteria are destroyed. But now, the Monks have Earth.
The title has a double meaning. “The end of the world” can refer to both the location of the pyramid and the time, as the pyrimid is there at the countdown to the end of the world.
There are more similarities between the Monks and Jasmine in Angel in this episode. Jasmine’s reason for taking over Earth was she had seen a vision of its future, and said Earth was “doomed to drown in its own blood”. The Monk wearing a red cape coming out of a pyramid made me think of one of the all-time great cartoon villains, Mumm-Ra from Thundercats.
There are reports of doctors in the past who only agreed to cure people from life threatening illness if those desperate people agreed to become their slaves, which is similar to the deal the Monks offer. While they say they are helping, they are essentially asking people to choose between death or enslavement.
The Doctor’s line “Fear is temporary, love is slavery” was interesting. There is truth to this on a simple chemical and biological level, as there is a limit to anxiety, there is only so far it can go before it has to come down, but as the saying goes, love is blind, people have been known to forgive so much if it’s someone they love or for someone they love, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
The episode also discussed the various ways in which the world could end. A reference to terrorism was cut as the episode was broadcast less than a week after the recent tragic events of the terrorist attack in Manchester. Given how many terrorist attacks have occurred in the UK alone this year in such a short time and the current political climate across the world generally, the times we are living in often make you feel we could indeed be close to the end of the world.
Once again, Pearl Mackie gave a great performance as Bill in the closing moments of the episode, where she goes to the Monks pleading for them to save the Doctor’s life, and risking her own to do that.
There were a lot of dark elements to ‘The Pyramid At The End Of The World’. The deaths of some of the guest characters were disturbing, the way the Monks made their victims crumble into dust, and Douglas after being infected by the bacteria just melted and evaporated. Not just the gruesome way they died, that there was nothing left of them at all.
There was some lighter parts too:
In the computer simulation in ‘Extremis’ Bill’s date with Penny was interrupted by the Pope. In reality, it turned out to be interrupted by the Secretary General of the U.N.!
I’ll always remember Tony Gardner from My Parents Are Aliens.
I really liked Erica as a character, she’d make a good companion, it would be nice for her to appear again, though I suspect she won’t.
The science laboratory looked good, and made for an interesting setting. I three army commanders were very compelling too talking about their strategies and it’s a credit to the actors that those characters seemed quite fully rounded despite the relative lack of screentime.
Overall, ‘The Pyramid At The End Of The World’ was an excellent episode, it was very thoughtful and epic.