In this suspenseful and exhilarating episode, the TARDIS team faces time distortions, shocking injuries and the return of old enemies.
If you think of the most terrifying creatures in Doctor Who, your first instinct will go to those who do the worst damage. The Daleks are unrelenting, unstoppable, single-minded weapons of mass destruction. The Weeping Angels move with lightning speed when no one is looking at them. If you even take time to blink, they will strand you back in time and use up your life force. The Silence are enemies that are automatically forgotten as soon as you look away from them. But the most horrifying monsters are those who lock themselves in emotionless shells to survive: the Cybermen.
Writers have struggled to use the Cybermen as anything other than a powerful foe for The Doctor to defeat. You’d have to go to 2006 to find an episode that touched on the terror of a person losing everything that makes them human in exchange for a cold cybernetic upgrade. But “World Enough and Time” doesn’t look back only 10 years. No, the first-part of Series 10’s conclusion goes much further back in time.
The TARDIS arrives on a distressed, 400-mile long colony ship, trying to get away from a black hole. And out steps….Missy, Bill and Nardole. As part of The Doctor’s test to see if she’s reformed, he’s dropped them into a scenario to see how she does. The start has the makings of a hilarious odd-couple type of adventure, with Michelle Gomez at her comedic peak. But the fun comes to a stop when the pilot threatens to kill the only human in the room, Bill. The creatures on the other end of the ship are only interested in humans. The Doctor tries to intervene, with his standard heroic speech. But the pilot’s nervous trigger finger slips and Bill ends up with a giant hole in her chest. The creatures arrive anyway, in masks and hospital gowns. They grab her to repair her and go down the lift. And that’s just in the first 15 minutes.
Where did these beings come from? In one of the best plots showrunner Steven Moffat has ever written, the black hole is causing a time dilation on the long ship. Time moves significantly faster at the ship’s lower levels than at the bridge. In the ten minutes it takes for The Doctor to explain this to Missy and Nardole, years have passed for Bill. She’s had time to be healed with a cybernetic chestpiece and befriend a hospital employee named Razor. Outside the hospital, there’s a whole city that’s dying. Crew members went to activate reverse thrusters on the lower levels two days ago. From their perspective, decades have passed and generations of offspring have been born. But the descendents are stuck in a polluted world. Their only hope lies in the hospital, with “Operation Exodus.”
But these upgrades save lives in exchange for a hellish existence. In a frightening scene, Bill discovers that those in the hospital gowns can only speak through a computer system. The volume on their speakers muted to mask their constant robotic calls of “Pain” and “Kill Me.” Your skin will crawl throughout that sequence. These are the early Incarnations on the Mondasian Cybermen. The monsters are back on screen for the first time since 1966, where they caused the First Doctor’s regeneration.
When The Doctor, Missy and Nardole finally arrive, Missy works the computers while the other two search for Bill. In an absolutely jaw-dropping sequence, flawlessly directed by Rachel Talalay, Razor confronts Missy and a Cyberman approaches The Doctor. As the scene flips back and forth, the terrible truth comes out. That Cyberman is a converted Bill. Despite her trust in him, The Doctor was too late. And Razor is actually a previous version of Missy AKA The Master. With a returning appearance from John Simm, it looks like the Time Lord will work to undo all the progress The Doctor made with Missy. As the episode ends, a single tear rolls out of Bill’s cybernetic eye as The Master declares this as the “genesis of the Cybermen.”
With that line, Moffat calls back to “Genesis of the Daleks,” widely-considered one of the greatest stories of Doctor Who. Whether this two-parter stands up to that benchmark will be determined next week. But no matter what happens, this will remain a masterful thriller that restores the Cybermen to their tragic, abominable roots. And it brings us two widely-different versions of The Master to face off with The Doctor as well. “World Enough and Time” is a flawless set-up that sets the imagination on fire. It’s a cliffhanger unlike any this show has had in many, many years. I can’t wait to see how it ends.
– I have no issues with this episode. I do have a bone to pick with the BBC’s marketing department for spoiling the two big reveals of this episode. I can understand showing the Mondasian Cybermen, but why give away Simm’s return? That would have a been an unbelievable, overwhelming moment if we didn’t know about it six months ago. Let’s keep some surprises in store!
– Oh, then there’s that opening scene! The Doctor, kneeling in the snow, screams as he starts to regenerate. Another fake-out or a preview for the Christmas special? I’m guessing the latter.
– Murray Gold’s score was on-point as well, especially during the last sequence as he works in The Master’s drumbeat theme to the swelling music.
– The design of the Mondasian Cybermen remains virtually unchanged since 1966. It definitely works. Even back then, they were creepy! Plus, the weird, sing-song voices add to the corrupted, inhuman impact.
– The Doctor brings back his Venusian aikido skills for a quick attack too. This episode is filled to the brim with blasts from the past. But they add to the story for the most part.