With The Pyramid at the End of the World the tenth series of Doctor Who finally hit its stride. No qualifiers, no caveats. The series' seventh episode got it right. There was a clear threat. There were interesting ideas and impressive visuals. The Doctor got to be the hero and save the day by being clever while people with guns were shown to be wrong (a bit on the nose but it's what the show's been doing for a while now, and there are far worse messages to send). There were significant roles for supporting characters1. Really, the only complaint to be made is that this is a story that should have been used for the Silence, who always seemed a bit directionless despite clearly being Steven Moffat's idea of a recurring Ultimate Threat™.
The obvious thing to point to as to why this episode worked is the importance placed on Bill. The enslaving of humanity to the monks was entirely her fault. But it was something she chose, a decision she made for a clear, understandable reason: she didn't want to see her friend die. Despite knowing the consequences she opted to give up Earth and its inhabitants to save the Doctor, having absolute faith in him being able to win them back. We're often told about what a strong friendship Doctor X and Companion Y have but it's rare to actually see evidence of it on screen outside of hollow, throwaway comments that mean nothing in the grand scheme of the show. It's great to see an episode that makes the friendship between the Doctor and his companion such a significant and crucial aspect.
Peal Mackie is the main reason this worked as well as it did. Not to diminish Peter Capaldi's contribution because he was very good with what he got to do, but what he got to do was the sort of thing his Doctor has been doing since 2013. It was a tweaked take on established material given to him because the writers knew what they'd get from him. The idea was not for him to be the star of this episode, and that's fine. I'll also take a Doctor who solves problems by thinking and acting (albeit in a technobabble way) over one who resorts to the Matt Smith tough guy "look me up" routine.
Bill, for the second week in a row, was given a wide variety of things to do and Pearl Mackie excelled at all of them. She was endearing and a little awkward on her date, a combination of perplexed and naive when confronting the Doctor on his utter refusal to accept the monks' offer, and vulnerable in her final scene, saving her best friend (plus a load of other stuff I'm forgetting - the point is she was really good). She even managed to work in the gags she was given in a natural manner. Her performance over the last two episodes makes me think she'd have been a better choice for Capaldi's replacement than Capaldi's last companion2.
I wasn't impressed by Peter Harness's previous Who work (The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion episodes in 2015) but he won me over here. Perhaps Moffat had a greater hand in this script. Or maybe not having two episodes to play with encouraged more focus. Or maybe it's that Pearl Mackie is a more capable actor than Jenna Coleman, who was given a fair bit to do in Invasion and Inversion. Whatever the reason, he's someone who warrants being on Chris Chibnall's "invite back" list3.
I hope series ten can sustain this quality across its final five episodes, and that the Doctor can be given some weightier scenes along the way. Peter Capaldi deserves to have a good run of dramatic episodes to bring his time on the show to a close.
Perhaps best illustrated by humanity nearly being wiped out by Tony Shales off Fresh Meat.
2 Yeah, I know David Bradley's been rumoured as the co-star in Capaldi's swansong but he'd be playing the First Doctor. Thinking of another Doctor as a companion seems utterly facetious. Though not as facetious as casting someone as another Doctor and promoting them as the companion.
3 I wonder if such a list actually exists, and if it does whether Pip Baker is on it.