So I had to leave some processing time between initial watch and the rewatch of this episode and the finale to be able to review. Though I wouldn’t go as far as the Radio Times, who labelled World Enough and Time as the best episode of New Who, I can see how it came close. I wish the BBC hadn’t spoiled the return of the Mondasian cybermen and John Simm Master, because this episode would have been Earthshock level of drama bomb, without those pre-episode spoilers. Still, I’m pretty confident when I say this is the best episode of the series to date and the first 10/10 episode since last year’s Heaven Sent (also last year’s penultimate episode interestingly).
This week we have the full blown return of Missy with The Doctor testing Missy’s redemption arc by asking her to fill his role in the story (much like Clara did in the series 8 finale) with Bill and Nardole as her reluctant companions. She seems true to her word. The trio land on a ship getting sucked into a blackhole after The TARDIS intercepts a distress call and Missy, albeit with some sly digs, does try to get to the bottom of the problem. And then things go horribly wrong…
The End is My Beginning (and vice versa)
Surprisingly for me, the shock start to this episode was one of its least interesting aspects. The Doctor begins regeneration in a winter wonderland and then before we know it we’re into the opening credits and the story goes back in time. Presumably, it will be the Christmas special which sheds light on this opening sequence so little can be judged about it or its place in the story arc till then.
Two Good Friends
I am one of those people who didn’t like Capaldi till the end of series 8. He was too extreme in his curmudgeonly nature, a little too harsh and cold and cruel to poor Clara. For me, it was the clash of belief systems in The Doctor and Missy in the series 8 finale which sold me Twelve. It was in Dark Water where he told Clara, ‘did you think I’d care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?’ and when he said to Missy in the Death in Heaven, ‘Thank you. Thank you for reminding me…’ speech that Capaldi became The Doctor to me. For me, then, Missy is key to Twelve and her stories with Twelve and the stories of Twelve which she impacts upon (such as the series 9 finale two parter) are the most interesting. They cut to the heart of the difference between The Master and The Doctor.
This Doctor yearns with all of his two hearts to have his friend back. Why? Not because he likes and cares for his human and other species companions any less (lest we forget that they remind him why he needs more than the Time Lords to fulfil the promise implied in his name), but because The Master was one of his oldest friends.
The Doctor: She’s the only person I’ve ever met who’s even remotely like me… she was my first friend. From my first day at the academy…
They are almost the same, but for one key difference which Capaldi told Clara in the series 8 finale and he repeats it again to Bill in this episode:
The Doctor: We had a pact, me and him. Every star in the universe. We were going to see them all… she never saw them. Too busy burning them…’
But like The Doctor and Missy called and responded to each other in Extremis (I upped my star rating on that one to 9/10 it got that much better with a re-watch), ‘without hope, without witness, without reward,’ The Doctor believes that Missy can change. She can learn to be a true friend.
Bill is afraid of Missy and with good reason and she cannot possibly understand why The Doctor would want to give Missy more chances. Just as Clara didn’t understand. The Doctor tries to argue that morality and ethics aren’t so simple. That the pig who made the bacon on Bill’s sandwich might see her eating that bacon as murder. That the ethics and morals of Time Lord actions are somehow relative and different. ‘Different how?’ Bill demands and The Doctor cannot answer her.
But we as viewers already know the answer gifted to us via River Song:
River’s Diary: Only in darkness are we revealed. […] Goodness is not goodness that seeks advantage. Good is good in the final hour, in the deepest pit, without hope, without witness, without reward. Virtue is only virtue in extremis.
More on this next week…
Capaldi has had quite a few complex and dark episodes which would have confused and terrified me if I had been viewing them through a child’s eyes. World Enough and Time is no different. It is genuinely one of the most alarming stories New Who has ever done. The Doctor admits, as he sits on the rooftop with Bill, that he can’t make promises about her safety, that he can merely keep her safe within reason. Travel with The Doctor is wonderful and glorious and life changing, but it is mortally dangerous too. Rose is separated from The Doctor in a parallel universe, Martha is psychologically scarred by her encounters with The Master and the impact he had on her family, Donna forgets everything of her travels. Only Amy and Rory and Clara live happily ever after, and Clara only because she has lost all normal earth ties.
I suspected something terrible would happen to Bill. I didn’t suspect that she would be shot in the chest by an ally in the opening fifteen minutes. But deaths are meaningless in drama without consequence. So Moffat showed us the world Bill inhabited whilst, like Amy, she waited (the blackhole explanation for the difference in time between above and below made perfect sense too which was a nice change for a show which often does a lot of hand waving to get emotional beats to work). The combination of ‘asylum’ stereotypes in Matron and Razor as well as the body horror of the bandaged people was both Gaimanesque and genuinely unsettling. Indeed, the echoes of the people beneath the bandages was the most unsettling and upsetting thing Doctor Who has done since ‘don’t cremate me’ in Dark Water (another story about The Master, cybermen and contorting humanity, but then again with Moffat, my end is my beginning). The cliff hanger ending is truly heart breaking as a cyberman says to The Doctor, ‘I waited… I waited… I waited for you.’ Would Doctor Who really turn such a beloved companion into a cyberman and then follow through by showing the consequences of that conversion in the series finale episode? It certainly seemed that way.
Surprisingly, I didn’t recognise John Simm’s voice as Razor under all of the prosthetics. I was deeply upset by his interactions with Bill. I knew there was something horribly wrong about him as a character, but it wasn’t till episode’s end in his show down with Missy that I realised who Razor was. But then… The Master did so love disguises in classic Who.
This version of The Master especially, doesn’t understand how to ‘do’ human companions right. He got it wrong with Lucy Saxon, and he gets it wrong a second time with Bill.
Razor: You are dear to me. You are dearest person. Like a mother. When you hug me, it hurts my heart.
Bill: Aww sweet.
Razor: No. Your chest. It digs right in.
This version of The Master only knows how to self-destruct, bringing down everyone else in his wake. He only knows how to hurt and frighten and to act the callous wolf in sheep’s clothing. He wins Bill’s trust over years and then leads her to the upgrade chamber to ensure she will stop caring about pain because Bill is loved by The Doctor. This Master thinks that converting a companion into a cyberman will see The Doctor wallow in self-pity Ten style. He thinks that his success in fooling Bill is a form of oneupmanship. But he doesn’t know just how much the rules between him and The Doctor have changed through Amy and Rory, through River, through Clara, and finally through Missy. Hence:
The Master: Hello Missy. I’m very worried about my future.
Though the literal meaning of this episode’s title is about the difference in time between those closest to the black hole on the ship and those furthest away, it is really an application of the poem ‘To his coy mistress’ by Andrew Marvell:
Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
By episode’s end, the poem refers to more than simply Bill waiting for The Doctor. It is a terrible tragedy not just about Bill or about The Doctor strangely, but also first and foremost about The Master. The Master does not have world enough and time to decide how he wants to express his relationship with The Doctor. His coy acts of teasing The Doctor with false hope cannot go on forever, and eventually you have to choose what you really want and what ideals you really believe in. But can a villain ever really change his or her spots? Should we believe it’s possible and why does it matter to believe? Next week’s finale held the show runner’s answers in the strongest finale since series 5…
World Enough and Time: 10/10 inky stars