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Warning: Potential spoilers ahead for the episode.
“All good things must end,” as the old expression says. That is true for seasons of our favorite TV series and the tenth season of the BBC's regenerated Doctor Who is no exception. In what seems like the blink of an eye, the final season for both Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor and Steven Moffat's tenure as showrunner has come to the first half of a two part finale. World Enough And Time sets the ball rolling and does so in style.
Of course, we've known for awhile now about two of the big reveals thanks to BBC announcements with at least one of those having been due to press leaks. Perhaps that will dampen the enjoyment of some but there are times when the journey is just as important (if not more so) than the destination. Knowing what's coming won't necessitate a ruining of it for you at all because there is plenty along the way to enjoy. So keep in mind the spoiler warning above if you haven't seen the episode.
I say that because World Enough And Time is a quintessential piece of Doctor Who. It is a meshing together of three different eras of the TV series for starters. There is the current TARDIS crew and Missy (played by the brilliantly bonkers Michelle Gomez) who are representing the Moffat era. The episode's opening minutes deliver on the season long build-up involving Missy in the vault and the Doctor's attempt to reform his oldest friend into a proverbial “good guy” and it goes about as well as you might expect. The episode also delves into one of Moffat's favorite tropes of things going “timey-wimey” from the jaw-dropping opening minutes of the episode to the very setting of the episode itself though the later is at least down to a scientifically plausible explanation (and one that viewers of the 2014 film Interstellar will instantly recognize).
Added to the mix are two very different blasts from the past, both of which announced well ahead of time. The first is the return of John Simm as the Master from the Russell T Davies era who appeared first a decade ago and the two-part finale to Davies (and Tenth Doctor David Tennant) era in 2009-10. Simm's Master is thankfully toned down a bit here from the manic, nigh-on self-parody of the character presented a decade ago though there is still a playful quality to the character but also a quite menace to boot. The episode also gives us, in another first, giving us two different Master's on-screen together with Gomez and Simm bouncing off of each other rather nicely which ties together the two quite different eras of New Who.
The other blast from the past comes is definitely an old one, dating back to the show's original run. The biggest result of that is the return of the original design for the Mondasian Cybermen, first introduced in the 1966 story The Tenth Planet and reappearing for the first time on screen since then. That original design is at once both iconic for fans and perhaps laughable to 21st century eyes which made some (this writer included) nervous about their reappearance in the series. Those fears were unfounded as the fifty year old designs look amazing having been given sympathetic and subtle alterations that preserve the look in all of its glory. Even the voices are there, brought to life by Nicholas Briggs (who had previously voiced the same Cybermen in the Big Finish range of Doctor Who audio dramas including the classic Spare Parts). Even the handling of the reveal of Simm's Master echoes so many of the Master's appearances in the original series, something that even the dialogue highlights. In the space of forty-five minutes, the series brings together its past and present (and even its immediate future) into one place.
Doing so doesn't automatically make this a great episode, as stories from the past like Attack Of The Cybermen prove. Having so much from the past can potentially alienate viewers and when making a show as long running as Doctor Who, there is a fine line to be tread. This episode is most definitely a case of getting that balance right as long term fans and even those who have merely watched the trailers from this season will know what is coming while those around them slowly catch on. It is an episode that rewards both the dedicated fan as well as the casual one who only tunes in occasionally albeit for different reasons. That is also down in large part to how Moffat's script and the production take all of these elements and build them up into a larger whole, slowly and sometimes with genuine creepiness, pushing characters and viewers alike down the path to the episode's cliffhanger ending. It's a strong piece of genre television with the series once again showing just what its capable of.
It is for all those reasons that World Enough And Time stands out as a highlight not just of this season but of New Who in general. It is that rare episode that takes elements from all across the show's long history and puts them together into a solidly entertaining package. It does so not just by proverbial “fan service” but also by telling a genuinely compelling story along the way that builds tension up rather well.
The only question now is if the next episode can deliver on this ones promise? Perhaps this Doctor said it best with one of his lines last season (one that he also shares with Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor). “Time will tell; it always does.”