The monks are back in this episode that borrows its naming convention from Douglas Adams. I started taking notes in the beginning, but about halfway through I became too wrapped up in the plot to think about it as it was happening, partly because it was engaging, but also partly because I was trying to figure it all out and it wasn’t going well. If you don’t like this plot or these monks, too bad, because we appear to be gearing up to deal with them for the whole of the back half of the season for another Moffat-y story arc. Even though this episode is a self-contained story, there seems to be a lot of setup for a longer game here, some of it adding to ideas that we’ve already been seeing this season, some introduced here. So, here we go.
The opening narration, “The end of your life has already started…” felt pretty telling to me. Of course it applied to the story at hand, but it could also apply to the larger theme of the end of 12’s life. It lends more credence to my theory that 12 is dying a slow death over the course of the season, so I’m going to take that as the intentional subtext. Bill doesn’t know about regeneration, so you can’t necessarily blame her for wanting to save the Doctor from the explosion, but it doesn’t make her final decision any less facepalm-inducing. As Geekade’s editor-in-chief (and my husband) said to me right after the episode ended “I may have just started to like Bill a lot less.” I couldn’t agree more.
Speaking of Bill, what is going on with her and Penny? It seemed a little weird, not to mention tiresome, to repeat the interrupted date gag from the previous episode. If this is meant to show us Bill can’t have a life outside the TARDIS and that’s her reason for leaving, fine, but that point has been made time and again on Doctor Who, this isn’t adding anything new. I don’t really know or care about Penny. She hasn’t been presented as anything more special than “a girl Bill just met and likes” so I’m not really invested in that relationship and it’s kind of wasting my time. As much as Bill’s decision at the end of the episode bugged me, I do still like her and want her to be happy, so either give me a reason to care about Penny or move it along to someone else better. Bill and Penny both deserve that much.
I am, tenuously, still hanging in there with this monk plot. I had forgotten all about the Doctor being President of Earth, so it was nice to see that brought back and taken seriously, instead of it just being a title that was made up out of convenience for one episode last season. There were lots of things about this plot in general that I liked: the parallel development of the human reaction to the monks and the events leading to the crisis that was supposed to end the world, the ticking on the soundtrack as a subtle reminder of the Doomsday clock, and the actress who played Erica. But the plot itself is kind of a Seurrat painting: look too closely and it’s just a bunch of unconnected dots. Hat tip to my friend Andy who poked holes in the simulation plot from last week, and those problems continued apace here.
The main issue I have is one I have with many stories, both within Doctor Who and outside of it: Why do characters take visions of any future presented as irrevocable truth? I mean the show is basically founded on the idea that you can always change the future, that our hero always thinks of a way out of an impossible situation that no one else could have thought of. And maybe the Doctor still does think there’s a way out of this. He was the only one hell bent on the humans not accepting enslavement, but that seemed to me to be more out of a feeling that slavery would be worse than death than that he didn’t believe that the future would come to pass without the monks’ intervention. I for one think the monks have manufactured this whole thing to get the humans to accept their mastery. And I still believe the Doctor will think his way out of it and save everyone, at the cost of regeneration. But I’ll be darned if this plot isn’t giving me a headache in the meantime.
The Next Time trailer presents us with a world in which the monks have always been there, another link in the chain of this half-season-long plot. As a fan, I’m prepared to sit back, relax, and watch this play out, but as a critic, I’ll just try to think too hard about it, I suppose. Missy is making her debut and the Doctor appears to have joined the monks, so that ought to provide enough fun for viewers while the plot takes its time sorting itself out. See you all next week!