So, I says to the husband, I says… “He looks familiar, but I can’t quite place him.”
At this point, during any of the last five weeks, I’d probably have picked up the laptop and googled the cast list, checked them out on IMDB and said ‘Oh, we know him from . . .” but I didn’t because frankly, this was absolutely riveting stuff and I didn’t want to miss a second of it. And, of course, it would have completely spoiled the ending.
Then I says, “That title? It’s only one of the godawful metaphysical poets, isn’t?” I hate the metaphysical poets. I had to study them for English Literature and called them ‘the most masturbatory of all the poets’ to the teacher who just happened to be a massive fan and the president of some Metaphysical Poetry Society or another. I was thrown out of the class and not allowed back until I apologised for the terrible slur on their names. I couldn’t apologise and thus, my English Literature A-Level went Bye-Bye.
So… a quote from ‘Ode To a Coy Mistress’, eh? What on earth can that mean, as if we couldn’t guess?
So, after a long opening shot that wasn’t sure where it was homagin the opening to “Trial of a Time Lord” or “Red Dwarf” and with no trumpeting, no real reason and with a matter of fact delivery, Bill is shot, leaving a gaping hole through her chest. ‘I doubt she’ll recover from that’ I thought, but then three familiar looking patients arrive in an inertia damping lift and claim she can be cured. Bearing in mind her chest, heart and lungs have been vapourised, this seems like a long shot but she is put on a gurney and wheeled away, the Doctor naturally suspicious of their motives is unable to change the situation and promises he’ll come and get her.
There’s just one problem – wait two problems….hold on… three major problems.
First, they are on a spaceship so large that time runs different on one end to the other – well, they are trying to escape a black hole and it is 400 miles long.
Second, the ‘cure’ involves some deeply unethical surgery
Third, the inhabitants are Mondasian.
Oh, and four Missy, is given a task that backfires spectacularly to everyone’s detriment but hers. And His. We have a classic Master ruse here involving beards (not Lucy Saxon), masks and playing a long, perverted game.
This episode is full of nastiness and twisted horrors. If the existential bleakness of the people at CERN earlier in the series wasn’t twisted enough, then then this episode is for you! There is bleak inevitability, body horror and shocks throughout. None worse than the nurse who comes to the call of a patient that communicates through a keyboard via a fuzzy speaker as is only able to say “Pain. Pain. Pain”. The nurse fiddles with the machinery and the patient quiets down only for Bill to discover that all she has done is turn the volume on the speaker down.
The dialogue is sparky, hilarious and sinister in equal measure.
But what is particularly unpleasant is the mundane, domestic horror of a Doctor just going about his business. All bland smiles and ‘your best interests at heart’. No one seeing or caring about the appalling damage he is inflicting on his patients. Worse yet is when you realise that these horrors are Bill’s. This is probably why she’s only contracted for one series…
The scenes between Mister Razor and Bill are funny and, in places, quite touching. Their relationship is beautifully realised which makes the betrayal all the more poignant. The discussions about watching Doctor Who on an old Black and White Screen while viewing a ‘telesnap’ is something that will make the fan boys squee, but luckily not one that will alienate casual viewers. There were a number of post-modern references that I normally find intrusive, but here there was either an elegance to them, such as the above or an in your face-ness to them that was refreshing. Of the latter, the conversation with Missy about being called “Doctor Who” and calling Bill and Nardole ‘“my plucky expendables, my pets, my snacks” and then introducing them as “Exposition and Comic Relief”, was great fun.
What’s particularly nice is that we can now see the Mondasian Cybermen as ‘prototypes’ rather than ‘shonky 60’s design’, for although the original Cybermen were terrifying, they did look a bit naff with their cotton sack heads and marigold gloves (lovingly recreated here, by the way). I always found the Cybermen to be far scarier than the Daleks. Squawking Nazis, genetically mutated to a squishy form is a little bit more removed than lopping off legs or arms or hearts and replacing it with machinery. I mean it’s bad enough when you absolutely ‘have’ to take on parts (usually because of trauma) but to have it done needless and forcibly, then removing your humanity at the same time? Ugh! Shivers!
I think the major downfall, or the closest this episode gets to one, is that we all knew that the Cybermen were coming. The revelation of the new cyberman at the end of the episode wasn’t as much of a shock – if a shock at all – as it should have been. Bills fate, although terrible, would have been much more shocking had we not already know what the end result of the experimentation was going to be. The master’s return was an inevitability, although I was surprised that he was Mr Razor. Told you I recognised him.
All of this leaves some of my previous musings in disarray. In particular, the one where Bill turned out to be Susan. She isn’t I was really hoping she would be and frankly, I’m a little disappointed. There’s hope for some of the others, though.
But the upshot of all this is that we had 45 minutes of gold standard TV (9 carat rather than 24, but still Gold Standard) ending with a reprise of Yvonne Hartmans ‘tear in the cyber eye’ shot. I haven’t been this thrilled by Doctor Who in a long, long time.
Now for God’s sake don’t blow it all on the second part. If I see another static ending in a graveyard, I’m going to scream!