If next week’s episode is as good as “World Enough and Time,” then the two-part finale of Doctor Who: Series 10 could end up being Steven Moffat’s best writing in his tenure on the show. The penultimate episode of Series 10 was brilliantly terrifying and suspenseful.
Moffat told one of the top Doctor Who stories that I have waited to see: the genesis of the Cybermen. Now, people may point out that we saw the origins of the Cybermen in “Rise of the Cybermen” and “The Age of Steel” during the David Tennant era; however, they are Cybermen from an alternate reality—not the real Cybermen. The Cybermen made their first appearance in “The Tenth Planet,” the last serial in the William Hartnell era. In those four episodes, it is stated that the Cybermen’s home planet is Mondas, which was Earth’s twin until it was knocked out of orbit. The only way for the Mondasians to survive the harshness of space was to upgrade themselves with mechanical suits. While “World Enough and Time” does not take place on Mondas, the TARDIS lands on a Mondasian colony ship that is headed to their home planet to pick up passengers, so it can be assumed that the planet has already been hurled into space and their original plan for survival was evacuation. This was potentially confirmed by the episode’s prologue, which is a flash-forward to the Twelfth Doctor trying to stop regenerating on an icy planet (presumably Mondas).
Personally, I have always found the Cybermen to be Doctor Who’s second greatest villains, just behind the Time Lords (Sorry, Daleks, you are in third place). What makes the Cybermen so terrifying is that the worst the Daleks can do is kill you, the Cybermen turn you into one of them and force you into a life of eternal torture. That is far worse than dying.
In addition to the original Cybermen, this episode also reintroduced John Simm’s iteration of the Doctor’s arch nemesis—the Master. Simm first appeared in my favorite Doctor Who story: the three-parter “Utopia,” “The Sound of Drums,” and “Last of the Time Lords.” The current Master, who now goes by Missy and is played by Michelle Gomez, is also in the episode. This is a major milestone for the show, as it is the first time we have seen two versions of the same Time Lord onscreen together besides the Doctor. Simm showcased his phenomenal acting skills in this episode by remaining in disguise for most of it and not revealing he was the Master until the end. To be honest, if his return had not been publicized then I would not have guessed it was him.
So often in sci-fi, black holes are used as plot devices that do not actually resemble their real-life counterparts. Thankfully, “World Enough and Time” gave one of the more accurate depictions of black holes and relativistic physics. While heading to Mondas, the 400-mile-long colony ship nearly fell into a black hole. The TARDIS crew arrive as the ships engines are reversed and they are slowly backing away. According to relativity, gravity warps time and a massive source of gravity (such as a black hole) can severely distort time. To quote Neil deGrasse Tyson, “Do you realize that if you fall into a black hole, you will see the entire future of the universe unfold in front of you in a matter of moments, and you will emerge into another space-time created by the singularity of the black hole you just fell into?” The crew are able to prevent this fate for themselves; however, they are still close enough for time distortions.
The TARDIS lands at the top of the ship, which is closer to the black hole and means that time is moving slower there. The opposite end of the ship is farther away from the black hole, so time moves faster there. At the beginning of the episode, the top of the ship has spent two days traveling away from the black hole, but the bottom of the ship has spent a thousand years. The half of the crew that were at the bottom died long ago and their descendants have spent generations just trying to survive. The earlier attempts at survival look more like patients than cybernetic killing machines. The descendants (clad in hospital gowns, face bandages, and pushing an IV) attempt to save more of the crew by going to the top of the ship and abducting them.
When the TARDIS lands on the ship, these proto-Cybermen take Bill to the bottom. She is the only human at the top, which means that she is the only one compatible with their upgrades. In the minutes the Doctor spends at the top formulating a plan to rescue her, she has spent years waiting for him at the bottom where she befriends a scraggly looking man named Razor (Simm as the Master in disguise). When the Doctor finally arrives, he discovers that she was fully converted into a Cyberman. I hope that Moffat writes a way for the Doctor to undo this transformation next episode, because I do not want such a tragic end for a great companion. I hope she continues on the show with the yet unnamed Thirteenth Doctor.
Amidst the terror and action, Moffat managed to work in some interesting social commentary in this episode. Series 10 has focused on the Doctor putting Missy on the path to redemption. She is his oldest friend and the only person in the universe he can truly relate to. He wants her to be good for her own sake and also so he can prove to himself that he is not evil. Throughout his life, he has made many difficult decisions and gone on to question his motives behind them. If he can prove that despite Missy’s flaws she is still a good person, then the same will be true for him.
There was also quite a bit to say this week about the LGBTQ community. Seeing as there were two Masters (but both have different genders), the issue of gender identity came up. One of the more recent additions to the Doctor Who mythos is the confirmation that when a Time Lord regenerates, he or she can switch genders, as in the case of the Master. Doctor Who has always been a show striving for inclusion and acceptance of others. (In its half-century run, it has not always done the best job with it, but the attempt was always there.) As the Doctor tells Bill, “We’re the most civilized civilization in the universe. We’re billions of years beyond your petty human obsession with gender and its associated stereotypes.”
It is interesting to bring up this discussion in an episode that explores the origins of villains whose goal is a warped view of equality. The Daleks are a metaphor for the Nazis, who destroy anything different. The Cybermen, on the other hand, represent the Soviets—providing the bleak, Orwellian view of forcing everyone into the same mold. The Cybermen are a genderless society (but in one of those outdated failed attempts at equality they are still called “Cybermen,” as opposed to a gender-neutral term) whose goal is to unite the universe by removing all dividing lines.