Editor’s note: This article contains spoilers.
This year’s Doctor Who managed to start averagely and then build up a steady downward moment, flirting between being dull, badly cliched, openly insulting to all non-Marxists and giving Matt Lucas all the best lines.
This was the season where the villain of the week for one episode was literally Capitalism. Not a corporation or a corrupt CEO, but Capitalism.
This was the season that passed off an entire episode as a VR Dungeon.
Okay, having the Pope suddenly come out of Bill’s bedroom while she was sitting at the dining table trying to impress her date was pretty funny, but this is the high tech version of ‘and it was all a dream’ and so cliched that for many years some science fiction submissions editors actually stated ‘No VR Dungeons!’ within their guidelines.
This was also the season that had whatever bollocks Mark Gatiss spewed up, but after 9 previous years of consistent shite from Steven Moffet’s best bud, your XYZ writer didn’t even bother with that one.
Also strangely, for all the shame of personal success, white privilege and empire the show has been openly encouraging, the programme is quite happy to actively encourage military dictatorships as valid alternative forms of government. We have an episode where local military commanders from Russia, China and the United States decide that the best way to avoid problems with a powerful and threatening alien force is for all three to mutually declare peace on each other. Stranger still, they are all then surprised when that doesn’t actually work, despite the minor fact that none of the three are remotely high ranking enough to command their nation’s entire armies, and the major fact that none of the three nations are actually run by their generals.
Then again this is the universe where the Secretary General of the United Nations likes to announce his surprise visit using men with assault rifles and UNIT, a military organisation apparently outside of the control of the British government, exercises the ability to view the surveillance cameras of any research establishment they take a fancy to.
What they then do with this power is however anyone’s guess, as they certainly don’t do so to prevent drunk employees turning up to work and being a danger to themselves, their workmates and the entire continued existence of the human race. Probably a bit hard to have a working OH&S policy when you are busy secretly controlling the world, but as long as no one is making a profit for personal improvement or showing pride in historical national achievements, everything is rosy.
Anyway, that was earlier in the season and as cynical, hypocritical TV reviewers we must all move with the times, and to be honest the most recently shown episode turned out to be rather enjoyable.
This episode, World Enough and Time, is the penultimate for the season and is pleasingly filled with interesting concepts, fun fourth wall leaning banter and some shocking emotional beats. The premise is that a 400 mile long colony ship en-route to collect it’s passengers has become trapped on the edge of a black hole. Due to the massive gravity effects and SCIENCE! time at the front of the ship is now moving significantly slower than 400 miles away at the rear. While only two days have gone by on the bridge, over a thousand years have passed for the work crew of 20 odd that travelled down to the engine decks and now their descendants are evolving into Cybermen. Genetically inbred Cybermen considering the small DNA pool they had to start with, but let’s not be judgemental.
Also the Master, which like the reveal of the Cybermen, would have been a jaw dropping moment if the BBC had decided to name drop John Simm for months alongside their Mondas themed publicity photos. Spoilers people, spoilers.
The plot is also not without a few logic flaws. The sole survivor of the bridge tells our TARDIS buddies that ‘things’ started coming up from the lower decks if they detected any humans, and that these ‘things’ had taken the rest of the crew. Our survivor is a blue skinned humanoid alien, and how the ‘things’ concluded he wasn’t human from the grainy black and white monitors we see later is a question best left un-pondered. The problem starts to arrive when you remember that time is moving at different speeds in the different parts of the ship. 1000 years at the bottom, two days at the top. So if we assume that the ‘things’ (spoilers, they are Cybermen) came up to grab the rest of the bridge crew about 12 hours before the Doctor arrive then this would have happened about 250 years before from the point of view of the lower deck. Or, to put it another way, the lower deck started converting themselves into Cybermen about 250 years ago and if they really truly intend to one day convert their entire population into a silver clad master race, then they are taking their sweet time about it.
Still it was good to see the Cybermen returned to their 1960’s Hartnell roots. In more recent years they had become a sort of hive mind, self replicating zombie robot apocalypse and/or whatever the hell Neil Gaiman was trying to do in 2013, and it became difficult to remember that inside the suits and under the modifications were actual humans. Here we have an alternate yet still plausibly canon origin story, complete with 1966-styled cybernetics that both promotes a sense of unease, and strange hope they might break into an a-Capella version of I Drive A Truck followed by Morrison Hostel.
Or Saturday Night Palsy. Google it, music fans.
The humans here on our time distorted space ship are dying, stuck in a closed system too limited to provide for their continued existence after 1000 years of growth. The conversion of their dying bodies, far from being driven by a blind sense of expansion, is does reluctantly but willingly as the only viable method of continuing the existence of their bottle civilisation. This is a tragic race, not the mindless silver nightmares, and returns us to the original moral question between survival at any cost and clinging to dignity and humanity.
And in this single and never formally asked question, this season of Doctor Who has finally managed to put forward intelligent and thoughtful debate. It avoids all the ham fisted social justice from the rest of the season about the evils of Capitalism, the shame of empire, discussions about gender politics and if the UN should have more guns, and asks you to consider if you would give up your humanity in order to ensure a future for your children.
A credible question, but unfortunately, to be reminding us that Cybermen were once and in some ways still are human does bring up some awkwardness from the recent past. In the 2013 Christmas special and Matt Smith finale, the Doctor has collected the head of a Cyberman that he refers to as Handles. With normal companion Clara off elsewhere, the Doctor and Handles now travel together having jolly adventures, awesome japes and somewhat one sided conversations.
Except this is the head of a Cyberman, one that contains the skull of someone who was once human and still, presumably, contains the remains of an independent intelligence.
A human head.
The Doctor, for shits, giggles and a bit of conversation, is carrying around a severed human head.
Which, if we are all honest with ourselves here, sort of makes him a dick.
Season Ten of Doctor Who concludes July 2nd.
Photo by smaedli