‘Doctor Who’ recap: ‘World Enough and Time’ possibly hints at new Doctor, plus an ‘Interstellar’ time twist

It’s the beginning of the end of season 10 of “Doctor Who,” and it’s ending with a two-part adventure. Episode 11, “World Enough and Time,” appears to be setting the stage for Peter Capaldi‘s exit at the end of the year — in fact, the episode begins with what appears to be the Doctor’s regeneration. But Capaldi will be sticking around not only through these last two episodes but also the Christmas special at the end of the year, so it’s still anyone’s guess how Capaldi will bid farewell to the series.

Written by showrunner Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay, “World Enough and Time” premiered on June 24. Read our recap below for the top five takeaways from the new episode.

The Psychopath Test

This season the Doctor has been holding his fellow Time Lord and frequent nemesis Missy (Michelle Gomez) captive in a vault according to a solemn vow he took when he saved her from execution. But he no longer wants her as his prisoner — or perhaps he never did. He hopes to reform her, to make her into a do-gooder just like he is, and how better to do that than to drop her into a life-or-death crisis along with companions Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas)? No wait, come to think of it that sounds like a terrible idea.

This storyline reminds me of “Jessica Jones,” where for a brief time the title character attempted to reform her tormentor Kilgrave (David Tennant, coincidentally Capaldi’s “Doctor Who” predecessor). If she could convince him to use his considerable power for good, then perhaps her suffering would save others’ lives in the long run. That didn’t work out too well for Jessica, and I wonder if it will turn out any better for the Doctor and Missy.

However, in this case the Doctor isn’t just trying to prove Missy’s goodness. “She’s the only person I’ve ever met who’s even remotely like me,” the Doctor explains. “So more than anything you want her to be good,” Bill replies. The Doctor has lived for thousands of years and sometimes feels detached from a universe full of mortals. That detachment has resulted in a lack of basic empathy for Missy — she’s a sociopath. If the Doctor can prove she’s capable of goodness, perhaps he can reaffirm it in himself.

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Time and Relative Dimension in a Space Station

Of all the life-or-death scenarios for the Doctor to test Missy with, he picked a doozy. A 400-mile-long space station is hurtling towards a black hole, so the skeleton crew on-board tried to reverse course before it was too late. Here’s another problem: there were originally only 50 crew members on the station, and now there are thousands. But the ship hasn’t been boarded. So how to explain the additional life signs?

I’ll admit I got ahead of the Doctor’s explanation here. As a fan of Christopher Nolan‘s 2014 film “Interstellar,” I know a gravitational time dilation when I see one. In that film, a mission to find a new home for the human race leads to a planet with such a strong gravitational pull that time moves differently on the surface than it does in the orbiting spacecraft. What amounts to just a few minutes for Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway is experienced as decades by the crewman left aboard the ship.

So that is what’s happening here: one end of the 400-mile-long space station experiences the passage of time much differently than the other, so those new life signs are actually generations worth of descendants for those missing crew members. On the top floor of the ship two days have passed, but on the 1056th floor 365,036 days have passed — more than a thousand years. You’ll have to check with Neil deGrasse Tyson to see how well the math checks out, but the problem becomes decidedly more complicated to solve after Bill becomes separated from the rest of the group.

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Pain, Pain, Pain

Bill is shot by a frightened crew member on the top floor, and she seems to be dead, but she is taken all the way downstairs where they repair her heart with a mechanical implant — it’s not quite as elegant as the arc reactor in Tony Stark’s chest, but it’ll do. Unfortunately, Bill still has to wait for the Doctor, and in the few minutes it takes the Doctor to explain the crisis on the top floor, more than a year passes for Bill on the lower level.

The passengers down there are in dire straits. The aging ship is emitting deadly fumes, and the passengers need biomechanical enhancements in order to survive — similar to Bill’s chest implant, but far more drastic. One such patient keeps pressing a medical alert that says, “Pain, pain, pain,” over and over again. Another patient begs, “Kill me, kill me.” If these patients are dying, it seems their treatment is a fate worse than death.

During her year on the 1056th floor of the facility Bill befriends a mysterious caretaker named Razor. When at long last Bill discovers that the Doctor has boarded the elevator to come rescue her she asks Razor to take her to the elevator to meet him, but he betrays her. Instead, he brings her to an operating room to complete her horrific transformation.

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Servant of Two Masters

Given the time dilation, how long does it take for the Doctor, Missy and Nardole to arrive at the bottom floor? Even the Doctor doesn’t know for sure. They split up, leaving Missy alone to search the computer for more information about the space station. Nardole realizes this is a terrible idea, and I would be inclined to agree if I were the Doctor’s companion, but the Doctor insists.

After he and Nardole leave to search for Bill, Missy encounters Razor, who seems to recognize her. “He’ll never forgive you. He’ll never set you free,” Razor tells Missy, “not when he discovers what you did to his little friend.” Razor removes his disguise and reveals himself to be the Master (John Simm), who was Missy’s previous form before she regenerated — they’re one and the same person. It’s unknown how far back in Missy’s past this is. It’s strange that she can’t remember living for so long aboard this space station and betraying the Doctor’s companion, but perhaps there’s another reason for her lapse in memory that will be revealed in due time.

The scene of Missy meeting her past self is tensely intercut with the Doctor and Nardole encountering the end result of the biomechanical treatments. A creature walks through a door to greet them, and it’s a Mondasian Cyberman, which the Doctor first encountered in 1966 and which evolved into the advanced race of Cybermen the Doctor has been fighting off and on ever since. The Doctor asks this Cyberman to help him locate Bill, but of course we discover that this Cyberman is Bill, and now we know that the Master — now Missy — is the one responsible for turning her into this cyborg creature. The episode ends on that note as Cyber-Bill sheds a single tear from within her mechanical prison.

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A Drastically Different Doctor Next Season?

This is a show about time travel, so it’s fitting to end this recap by discussing the episode’s opening scene. In it we see the Doctor beginning the regenerate. We don’t know how far into the future this takes place, or what has caused it, but we know already that we’ll be getting a new Doctor at the end of the year, and I wonder if the show might be suggesting a dramatically different casting choice for the 13th Doctor.

Missy is a Time Lord whose previous incarnation was male. When the Doctor explains his history with Missy, Bill wonders, “Time Lords are a bit flexible with the whole man-woman thing then?” And the Doctor answers, “We’re the most civilized civilization in the universe. We’re billions of years beyond your petty human obsession with gender and its associated stereotypes.”

But every Doctor in the history of the series to date has been portrayed as a white man, and there has been growing discussion about whether it’s time for a change of pace — a woman or person of color, or both. Steven Moffat may not be involved in telling the stories of the next Doctor, but it would be a hell of a tease for the show to reference gender identity like this without following through in the casting of Capaldi’s replacement. After 54 years of “Doctor Who,” perhaps it’s time.

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