“World Enough and Time” is Doctor Who at its darkest and most chilling. It’s arguably one of the show’s scariest episodes, and has definite tonal similarities with “Dark Water”, the first-part of the Series 8 finale that also featured Missy and the Cybermen. But more than that, “World Enough and Time” is a haunting and poetic culmination of the ideas Steven Moffat has been building throughout the season.
Unfortunately, the BBC were so fast and loose with their spoilers that the dramatic tension of “World Enough and Time” was partly ruined, especially with the John Simm reveal and Bill’s ‘death’ which were revealed/all but confirmed by this season’s poorly made trailers. “World Enough and Time” would be a wonderful episode to go into blind, and I imagine those viewers would have had an experience far different – and likely superior to my own.
That being said, even with the foreknowledge, “World Enough and Time” manages to be impressively suspenseful. The episode opens with Moffat hinting at Capaldi’s regeneration scene – therefore we knew something big is coming. Following the titles, we join the story seemingly in medias res, and our lack of knowledge only unsettles us further. And then…
Bill gets shot.
This wasn’t too surprising; the BBC’s episode synopsis implied it, after all. And also unsurprisingly, Bill isn’t done there. What follows for her is a meeting with Mr Razor, a vaguely rat-like man who works as some sort of lab technician for some psychiatric horror-film nurse. Pearl Mackie’s acting in this episode is some of her finest for the series. All this is aided by the morose direction of Rachel Talalay, arguably the biggest proponent for this episode’s success. The elements of horror are all there: a chilly colour palate; pools of bright, almost steampunky lighting, a grey stillness in the human characters that makes them seem inhuman. The hospital is clean, crisp, and unlived in – like Bill, it presents only the appearance of life. There is nothing underneath but coldness and pain, pain, pain.
This is the prevailing image of the episode: the Cybermen saying “pain, pain, pain” in a voice that retains just a touch of humanity. “Die me”, they say, as they march through the hospital, before being silenced by turning off their speakers, hiding the human emotion within. The revelation of this below-the-surface horror, and the slightly creaky movement of the actors, is ultimately what makes the Mondasian Cybermen so frightening, far moreso than their metal-plated cousins.
Though the horror of “World Enough and Time” is its finest element, credit is due to the performances of its principal actors. Peter Capaldi and Matt Lucas were underutilised this week (but out of necessity rather than anything else). The focus – as previously mentioned – is on Pearl Mackie’s Bill, and on both portrayals of the Master.
Michelle Gomez and John Simm’s good chemistry is apparent from the final scene of this episode, but it would be more appropriate to look at them separately. Simm spends much of this episode in an elaborate disguise, so there’s not much to say on this front, but Gomez is even better than usual. She brings life into the lines, and her physical stage presence – the wide Mary-Poppins-esque flourishes in her movement – is fantastic. Her ‘klaxon dancing’ certainly elicited a snort from me, and she demonstrates an uncanny ability to break the fourth-wall, making a mockery of uptight fans by repeating “My name’s Doctor Who” to the point of hamminess.
But Missy in “World Enough and Time” is much more than comic relief. The ending of the episode delves beneath the surface persona she has been presenting for the last few weeks. Personally, I don’t think Missy will turn on the Doctor – or at the least, her betrayal will not be permanent. But it’s certainly intriguing to see her wrestling with the dilemma of old and new, bad and good. Is her line equating evil with ‘cleverness’ merely an offhand comment, or does it reflect her true ideology?
The Doctor himself was quite passive this week, playing the role of a dramatic foil to Bill and Missy; indeed, his contribution to this week’s episode really amounted to nothing more than getting into a lift. But we’ll have to wait until next week, and the extended series finale, “The Doctor Falls”, to see what that is.