In the seventh episode of the tenth series of Doctor Who, the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole deal with the Monks, who have arrived on Earth to warn of the coming end. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
Trigger Warning: For extensive discussion of the concept of consent and ableism
Holy shit, what is this season, y’all? This whole batch of episodes has been relentlessly intense. The Monks are too much??? The tension here is unbearable at times? what the fuck is HAPPENING.
Let’s talk, friends.
I’m glad that this follows the events of “Extremis,” and while this isn’t as surreal or experimental as the previous episode, I still found it creepy and deeply interesting. The Monks are a very strange species, and I’m curious if they do this to other civilizations. How many others have they run through their simulations in order to find out their weakest point? Why are they obsessed with consent? If they believe that consent given during fear does not equal real consent, why do they do such terrifying things? Seriously, the countdown isn’t helping! You are making the people of Earth terrified every time you bring that countdown closer to zero!
But as a device to create suspense? Oh, it’s pretty damn effective. And it’s not until the end of the episode that this whole notion of consent and love finally made sense. And what if that was what the Monks were aiming for the entire time? Despite running a simulation of humanity that comprised the entire history of Earth, the Monks still underestimated humans and the Doctor. But they also never saw the timeline in which Bill made her choice, did they? They didn’t anticipate that at all!
There’s a lot left unsaid here, and assuming that the next episode deals with the ramifications of Bill’s choice, I’m guessing that’s where some of this will be explained. Why do the Monks need to be loved? Why must consent be pure? If they’re really here to dominate humanity, why must they be asked? It seems like such a bizarre contradiction, you know? They care so deeply about consent, but they’re here to take over the world??? I don’t get it! What’s the “link” they spoke of to Bill? WHAT’S HAPPENING.
Hanging over this episode is the choice that the Monks lay before humanity: if humans consent—and that consent must be “pure” and from a place love for the Monks—the Monks will “save” Earth by manipulating the timeline. The cost of that choice is… something? It’s left deliberately vague, which, as we see in the Doctor’s reaction, is REALLY FUCKING UNCOMFORTABLE. Why won’t the Monks explain what the cost is? It has to be really, really bad, right?
What I enjoyed about this episode was its exploration of consent. It seemed simple enough: a person had to have power and consent to allowing the Monks to help out. But as we’re shown, consent is not that cut-and-dry, and a person’s choice can be affected by any number of factors. The first person to be killed by the Monks, the Secretary-General of the UN, was deemed impure. Why? Because he chose out of fear, not out of love. Which, again: that should have been expected? WHO WOULDN’T BE AFRAID OF THE MONKS IF THEY SHOWED UP ON THEIR WORLD.
The three world leaders who each represent the US, China, and Russia, are all exterminated by the Monks, too, even though it seemed clear to me that they had finally agreed not to give the Doctor time to save the world on his own. They were a unified force. They realized it was too risky to hope the Doctor could stop the spread of the bacteria that would end all life on Earth. I realize now, as I type that, exactly what went wrong. That is a strategic reason. It’s not born of love, and it’s certainly not one made where these people want the Monks.
Which leads us to Bill. I’m writing this week’s episodes in advance, obviously, so I can’t incorporate any conversation had about the Doctor’s blindness here. (And to avoid spoilers, I’m not Googling conversations about it, either.) There’s an emotional component here that makes his blindness to be both an element of the plot—Bill needs a reason to feel compelled to reach out to the Monks—and something that is negative. The Doctor’s willingness to lie to his companions is represented through this blindness. We know that he didn’t want to be fussed over, but this is the end result of it.
I will say this: from an emotional standpoint, it creates a situation that is believable, in the sense that as Bill stands before the Monks, I believed that she truly wanted to trade Earth for the Doctor’s eyesight. And the logic of it makes sense: after all her adventures with him, she finally realizes that she would rather give the Earth over to the Monks if the Doctor was still alive. A world without the Doctor would always be worse for her and for humanity. So, in a strange roundabout way, I don’t really question her choice. It’s a powerful, devastating moment, and that final scene had to sell this to the audience. Could it have been about something other than blindness? Certainly, and I am looking forward to a discussion of this specific issue.
But I also gotta say: it is real bold of this show to not give us even the tiniest glimpse of what the world of the Monks will look like. Not knowing the cost makes this so much more upsetting.
The video for “The Pyramid at the End of the World” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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