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Doctor Who: World Enough and Time (Review)

The Moffat era will likely be remembered for its “wibbly wobbly, timey wimey” plotting, so perhaps World Enough and Time is an appropriate end point.

World Enough and Time begins what will be Steven Moffat’s last season finale, and what will be his last run as both writer and showrunner on Doctor Who. It is the beginning of the end. It is in some ways a less dramatic farewell than that overseen by his predecessor, with a year of specials meaning that Russell T. Davies was credited on the last nine episodes of his tenure. Instead, World Enough and Time is the first of Steven Moffat’s last three scripts for Doctor Who.


World Enough and Time is bookended by these references, reminding the audience that time is running out for the Doctor. The teaser suggests an inevitable regeneration, as the Doctor stumbles out of the TARDIS burning with energy. The closing shot of the “Next Time” trailer at the end of the episode is the Doctor digging his hand into the soil as the energy flows through his body. There is a definite sense that the Twelfth Doctor is (a lot) closer to his end than two his beginning.

Indeed, even the inclusion of the Cybermen in World Enough and Time plays into this idea. The Daleks have arguably always functioned as the death drive within Doctor Who, the Last Great Time War serving as a metaphor for the traumatic cancellation. The Cybermen provide an interesting inversion. They represent the continuation of life through grotesque means. The Cybermen are monsters that sacrificed their humanity to survive. While the only answer to the Daleks is life, the only answer to the Cybermen is death. Death comes to time.

No time for Missy-ing.

There are several interesting aspects of World Enough and Time, from the decision to build the two-parter around the Cybermen rather than the Daleks through to the decision to include two versions of the Master. However, the most strikingly “Moffat-y” aspect of the episode is how it approaches the question of time itself. The central hook of World Enough and Time is a colony ship where time has been dialated by a black hole, but that is not the most interesting “timey wimey” element of the series.

Instead, World Enough and Time is notable as a surprisingly nostalgic indulgence. It is an episode seems to bring the show back to its earliest days, from the Master’s campy disguise to his rubbish beard to the quite pointedly “Mondasian Cybermen” to the time spent watching a black-and-white show waiting a week to see what would happen next. World Enough and Time is a surreal curiousity, rather than a bombastic event. There is something very surreal in that.

Doctor Who watches Doctor Who.

In hindsight, one of the more interesting aspects of the Moffat era has been its engagement with the classic series. His approach has been quite different to that of his director predecessor. To be clear, it is not that Russell T. Davies was adverse to continuity references or shout outs; after all, the Macra made an appearance in Gridlock. However, Davies was very much dedicated to updating the trappings of the show and bringing its concepts into the twenty-first century, more eager to rework and to reinvent.

Dalek was an entire episode dedicated to make the Daleks scary again, right down emphasising their ability to climb stares. The Cybermen got a new and more grounded origin in Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel, moving their story from twin planet to a parallel universe. When the Master returned in Utopia, The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords, he got an upgrade. He scrapped the beard, worked with sidekicks much lower down the pecking order, posed as Tony Blair, and got a whole heap of gritty mental anguish.

Speaking of Attack of the Cybermen

To be fair, this approach to Doctor Who made a great deal of sense. After the fannish excesses of the Nathan-Turner era, in which stories like Attack of the Cybermen were constructed to answer perceived plot holes that nobody cared about. More than that, The Movie had made a big deal of its continuity bona fides by offering an extended prologue featuring the Seventh Doctor, only to kill the character off. Such dense continuity referencing was not attractive to new fans. So it made sense for Davies to start with a relatively blank slate and to gradually reintroduce older elements.

Moffat built upon the framework provided by Davies to build a stronger connection to the show’s history. Victory of the Daleks brushed aside the contemporary redesign of the Daleks in favour of something more in keeping with Doctor Who and the Daleks, and positioned them as a fairly standard antagonist as they had been for most of the classic series rather than as a world-threatening big-bad. All of a sudden, stories focusing on recurring aliens like the Daleks and the Cybermen were no longer just big “event” stories. They were just part of the show’s texture.

Bolt from the blue guy.

As time went on, more elements of the classic series began to creep in around the edges. The Night of the Doctor was able to finally offer Paul McGann his regeneration scene. The Day of the Doctor allowed itself a cameo from Tom Baker. The Time of the Doctor allowed Moffat to recruit an older lead actor in Peter Capaldi. Moffat’s penultimate season was comprised of multi-episode stories, in the retro style. The last story of the Moffat era not to be written by Moffat himself was The Eaters of Light, written by Rona Munro; a writer who had worked on the classic series.

With that in mind, it makes sense that Moffat’s final season finale should be written as such a joyous ode to the classic series. World Enough and Time is nowhere near as inaccessible and obtuse as the fannish continuity preferred by Eric Saward. Instead, the episode is written in the style of pastiche. It is a story that is clearly building upon elements of the classic mythology, but reworking them slightly for modern sensibilities. Nobody watching World Enough and Time needs to have seen The Tenth Planet, even as Moffat gleefully plays with some of its bigger ideas.

“Do I know you? You look familiar.”

World Enough and Time is packed to the brim with ridiculous concepts. The Mondasians are twinned with humanity in the style of The Tenth Planet, embracing the idea of Mondas as a grotesque twin of Earth without couching it in the pseudo-rational explanation of making it a parallel planet. Over the course of the episode. he Mondassians are repeatedly classified as human, to the point that their identity remains ambiguous until the climax of the episode. As Missy deduces their planet of origin, she notes that their home is “very Earthlike, if planets had twins.”

In many ways, the Mondasian Cybermen are a ridiculous fannish indulgence. After all, the Cybermen are already an existing part of the revived Doctor Who mythology. During his tenure as showrunner, Moffat has made a subtle point of slowly transitioning away from the old “Cybus Industries” design for the monsters, first replacing the logo on their chest and then altering the design over later appearances. There is very little reason or justification for resurrecting the Mondasian Cybermen beyond a desire to reference the past, to acknowledge the show’s history.

“Okay, maybe rubbish was too far…”

To be fair, the inclusion of the Mondasian Cybermen in World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls was intended as a gift from parting executive producer Steven Moffat to parting star Peter Capaldi, who has named the creatures as his favourite monsters. Nevertheless, there is something surreal in offering what is at least the third official origin of the Cybermen within Doctor Who, following on from The Tenth Planet, Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel. This discounts non-canon origin stories like Spare Parts or The World Shapers.

At the same time, there is something strangely compelling in the idea that the Cybermen are ultimately something more than just a distinct race with a unique history. Instead, the Cybermen are an idea that manifest themselves across time and space. The Cybermen do not have to originate on Mondas, they could begin on a parallel Earth or the Voordian homeworld or on Telos or on a colony ship trapped in orbit of a black hole.

Well, Cybermen are allergic to gold.

To be fair, this idea was suggested at the climax of Rise of the Cybermen, when the Tenth Doctor gasped, “It’s happening again.” However, World Enough and Time renders this reading explicit. The Cybermen are a concept, a hypothetical evolutionary path that can be conjured from the darkness out of nothing. They are an idea calling out from the darkness to anybody who might listen, infecting the universe (and the multiverse) like a disease.

In some ways, the Cybermen are an inversion of the Daleks. The revival of Doctor Who suggests that the Daleks always literally survive their genocide, that there is always some remnant of the Dalek fleet hiding in the void; the Dalek god-emperor in Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways, the Cult of Skaro in Army of Ghosts and Doomsday, Davos pulled from the howling wilderness of the Time War in The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End. There is a chain of continuity there, in ideological purity that remains unbroken. In contrast, the Cybermen exist a idea haunting eternity.

“Because teaming up with a more advanced alien species has never backfired on us.”

Perhaps this explains why Moffat season finales have tended to focus on the Cybermen over the Daleks. The Daleks were the big end-of-year baddies for three of the four season finales of the Davies era, fitting with his approach to the show. The Daleks were a blockbuster antagonist, perhaps the most iconic baddies within the framework of Doctor Who. They were also a fairly straightforward concept, existing as pseudo-Nazis that screeched “EXTERMINATE!” as they plotted to enslave or destroy the world.

Moffat largely shied away from the idea of Daleks as season finale villains. When they did appear in his big event stories, like The Big Bang or The Day of the Doctor or The Time of the Doctor, they generally felt incidental. The Dalek-centric stories of the Moffat-era tended to come early in the season, as appetisers rather than the main course; Victory of the Daleks, Asylum of the Daleks, Into the Dalek, The Magician’s Apprentice, The Witch’s Familiar.

What’s up, Doc?

In contrast, Moffat tended to position his big Cybermen stories towards the end of the season, even with lighter fare like Closing Time or Nightmare in Silver. More to the point, two of the three season finales of the Moffat era are built around the Cybermen as primary antagonists. In some ways, this reflects the differences between the Moffat era and the Davies era; the Cybermen are less bombastic than the Daleks, less iconic, weirder, more difficult to get right.

More than that, the reveal that the Cybermen are an idea manifesting across time and space quite pointedly turns them into a Steven Moffat monster. Like the Weeping Angels in The Time of the Angels, Flesh and Stone and The Angels Take Manhattan, the Cybermen are presented as a monstrous thought summoned into reality. They are monstrous metafiction, a sentient and malevelant story that can be told any number of ways on any number of worlds. This fits with the general nostalgic tone of World Enough and Time, old stories being retold.

“Well, could be worse. Could be the Slitheen.”

More than that, a large portion of World Enough and Time seems to exist for the express purpose of constructing a “classic” Master story around John Simm in the style of old Roger Delgado or Anthony Ainley tales. Most obviously, the “rubbish beard” is back, a fixture of the character dating back to his debut in Terror of the Autons. Indeed, when the Master makes his big reveal to taunt the Doctor at the end of the episode, he is wearing the sort of all-black suit associated with earlier incarnations.

Indeed, the Master spends a large portion of World Enough and Time in disguise among the Mondasians. He struggles to win Bill’s trust in an overly elaborate long con that serve no real purpose beyond putting John Simm in heavy latex and allowing him to use a funny accent. World Enough and Time only offers the thinnest of justifications for this plotting decision. The chief surgeon suggests, “It’s better to get people in here without them knowing why.” The Master offers a more honest appraisal. “I love disguises,” he tells Missy. “Do you still like disguises?”

A whole new rubbish beard.

The absurdity of the set-up is repeatedly lampooned. Indeed, two of the big three reveals at the end of World Enough and Time were spoiled as early as the “Coming Soon” trailer at the start of the year that teased the reveal of both the Mondasian Cybermen and John Simm. More than that, Simm’s return to the show had been leaked, in a canny bit of timing, during the Masters golfing tournament. As a result, any canny viewer who had noticed the absence of John Simm and the Mondasian Cybermen would have known that they would be making an appearance in the finale.

Even beyond that, the “Next Time” trailer at the end of The Eaters of Light had revealed both of these plot twists, featuring several major reveals from the final act like the monitor flashing “Mondas”, the Doctor saying the words “Mondasian Cybermen” and the Master teasing “give us a kiss.” As such, the decision to put John Simm under prosthetics for most of the episode seems completely ridiculous to the point of self-parody.

Fitting the Bill.

At one point, he sneaks around wearing a domino mask over his absurd prosthetics. “It is my burglaring mask,” he explains Bill. When he reveals his identity to Missy, he explains that he has to wear a disguise. “Of course, they happen to be sort of necessary when you happen to be someone’s former prime minister,” he remarks. Which raises all manner of questions about how long the Master has been undercover and why he is so fixated on stripping Bill of her humanity.

The reality is that this is just an elaborate extended homage to the classic iterations of the Master, a campy pantomime villain who has long enjoyed playing dress-up for little reason or logic beyond providing a dramatic reveal at the climax. The Delgado version of the Master was very fond of aliases, like Emil Keller in the Mind of Evil, Mister Magister in The Dæmons or Adjudicator Martin Jurgens in Colony in Space. The Ainley version of the Master would take things further, with the use of prosthetics in Castrovalva or Time-Flight.

Even the mention of Time-Flight causes the Doctor to burn up inside.

Indeed, World Enough and Time even makes a point to repeatedly reference the sensation of watching classic Doctor Who. The first act after the credits finds the Doctor sitting in the TARDIS eating crisps while watching Missy play the role of Doctor through a monitor. Missy and the Doctor both make repeated reference to the fact that the Doctor’s name might actually be “Doctor Who”, acknowledging that the first four actors to play the role (and the first actor cast in the revival) were credited as “Doctor Who.”

More than that, it is quite pointedly a reference to watching the earlier incarnations of the show. At another point, Bill finds herself trapped in a rather mundane working-class world staring at pixellated black-and-white footage of the Doctor’s adventures. These adventures move at a glacial pace, unfolding primarily on a single standing set, and leave the audience waiting a week for any resolution. In short, it plays like an attempt to capture the feeling of watching Doctor Who growing up in the sixties and seventies, translating that through the prism of the revived series.

Although, let’s face it, a Doctor/Missy/Nardole/cyber!Bill TARDIS team sounds like a world beater.

After all, World Enough and Time does not completely abandon the revival series. There are several overt references to the Davies era as well. The closing shot of a lone tear rolling down cyber!Bill’s face evokes the fate of Yvonne Hartman in Doomsday. The Master explicitly acknowledges his time as Harold Saxon, suggesting that his tenure was not swallowed by the crack from The Big Bang like all those Dalek invasions. Moffat has never been about taking Doctor Who back to the classic series, instead seeking to incorporate and reconcile these attributes of itself.

There is even careful symmetry within the Moffat era. World Enough and Time is consciously structured to hark back to the Twelfth Doctor’s first season in the role. Once again, harking back to Dark Water and Death in Heaven, there is a season finale involving the Cybermen aligned with the Master, with a close acquaintance of the Doctor converted against their will. Just like the climax of The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar, the Master attempts to orchestrate the death of a companion to hurt the Doctor.

Missy-ing the point.

More than that, the Doctor’s attempts to redeem Missy are consciously structured as the logical end point of his character arc that played out beginning with Deep Breath. When Bill asks why it is so important that the Doctor save Missy, he explains, “She’s the only person I’ve ever met who is remotely like me.” Bill immediately understands, “So you really want her to be good?” The implication is that the redemption of Missy is in some ways a validation of the redemption of the Doctor. The end and the beginning are tied together.

This symmetry is suggested in the closing scene of the episode, as the Master’s plan comes into focus. World Enough and Time suggests that Doctor Who is ultimately an ouroboros, a narrative in which endings and beginnings are intertwined. Missy comments on the Mondasian “Operation: Exodus”, reflecting, “Wrong name, for a start. This is not an exodus. More of a beginning.” The Master clarifies, “I call it a genesis. Specifically, the Genesis of the Cybermen.”

“Okay, that’s been done. How about Resurrection of the Cybermen? Remembrance of the Cybermen?”

It is at once an end and a beginning, an exodus and a genesis. It is narratives intertwined, time repeating itself. World Enough and Time is at least the third origin story for the Cybermen, each retroactive reinvention effectively an end to the version that came before. It is a process of reinvention and reinvigouration. In many ways, it feels like the perfect theme for the story that is quite consciously and quite overtly leading into a regeneration and a change in showrunner. What is such a transition for Doctor Who but an exodus and a genesis?

The tension inherent in the set-up is reflected through the dynamic between Missy and the Master. Missy is trying to reinvent herself, trying to start over. Missy wants to effectively become a new person, to break with who she had been to this point. However, the Master clearly does not want this. “I am very concerned about my future,” the Master taunts her after revealing his true identity. His big ruse with Bill seems to be making sure that the Doctor could never forgive Missy for what he has done, and this preventing any genuine change that might be possible as a result.

Cyber attacks are incredibly dangerous.

It is an interesting dynamic, using an earlier incarnation of the Master as the embodiment of the pull towards the safe and the familiar. The Master is the voice of the status quo, the conservative voice afraid of change and anxious about reinvention. It is no surprise that the Master has set up his base of operations in orbit of a black hole where time dilation slows things down to a crawl. The Master wants things to remain the same forever.

To be fair, this engagement with the early years of the classic series is really the culmination of a theme that has been building across the season. The Pilot featured a photograph of Susan, a rare acknowledgement of the series’ first (and perhaps most inexplicable) companion. When the Monks were introduced in Extremis, they seemed designed to evoke the Mondasian cybermen with their decaying flesh, their promise to convert humanity, and even their ability to speak without moving their lips.

Oh Lord, can it be complicated.

Even the teaser to World Enough and Time hints at this idea of intersection between the past and the present. The Doctor stumbles out of the TARDIS on to the ice to regenerate, recalling the regeneration of the First Doctor in Antarctica in The Tenth Planet. There is an endearing symmetry in this. The Time of the Doctor revealed that the Doctor had cycled through his thirteen regenerations over the first fifty years of the show, granted a new set of regenerations by the Time Lords in return for his faithful service.

As a result, the Twelfth Doctor is the first Doctor in a new line of regenerations. This is something new, but also something old at the same time. The connections back to the Hartnell era in general, and to the tenth planet in particular, feel strangely appropriate. The past is not prologue, it is present. As much as this is an ending, it is also a beginning. It is something new and exciting, but also something that Doctor Who has been doing for more than a half a century at this point.


Although this fannish indulgence overshadows the episode, there are interesting ideas at play in the background. Most notably, World Enough and Time makes great use of the Cyberman as a piece of social commentary. World Enough and Time feels like a very timely episode, arriving on the same weekend that Trumpcare threatens to rob millions of Americans of access to potentially life-saving healthcare.

World Enough and Time focuses on a truly monstrous healthcare system, one that drowns out the pain of people held together by bandages and sticky tape is to drown out their suffering. Again, any number of allegorical parallels suggest themselves. More specifically, the way that lawmakers have insulated themselves from constituents opposed to plans to strip down healthcare. More generally, the striking imagery of leaders who insist on distancing themselves from the people they are supposed to represent. A process that moves slower at the top than on the ground.

“I am the Master.”

Bill is taken down to the bowls of the ship for surgery, to have her heart literally replaced by a machine. However, there is a ridiculous cost to this healthcare service. Bill effectively finds herself sold into indentured servitude in return for her life-saving organ. “This is your heart now,” she is warned. “But outside this hospital, it will stop working.” Bill has no choice but to spend her life mopping floors as a result of the life-saving surgery conducted upon her. It evokes stories about those people who would spend their lives paying off medical debts were it not for insurance.

Even the Mondasian approach to pain management feels like a commentary on contemporary concerns. The chief surgeon is not concerned about reducing pain or about treating its causes. “This won’t stop you feeling pain, but it will stop you caring about it,” he informs Bill. It evokes the use of prescription pain killers within the United States, drugs designed to stop people responding to pain without engaging with the underlying causes. It was an approach that led to untold harm and destruction.

Hear her out.

In some ways, this is a perfect for the Mondasian Cybermen. The aesthetic suggested in The Tenth Planet was always closer to reanimated corpses wrapped in surgical gauze and speaking in melodic sing-song voices. The Cybermen created in World Enough and Time reflect a nightmare of the more healthcare service, where the response to pain is to simply turn down the volume on a patient’s agony and where an individual’s personhood is eroded by wrapping their face up so that nobody need look at the suffering in their eyes.

However applicable the metaphor might be to specific policies and issues, World Enough and Time seems constructed as a more general allegory about the modern world. Although the story unfolds on a giant colony ship, the reality of life on the ship is clearly intended to evoke contemporary urban environments. The Master walks Bill down alleyways past shuttered shops, in the shadow of giant skyscrapers.


It is very much intended as a class commentary, perhaps reflecting Moffat’s renewed engagement with the core social concerns of the Davies era. Since The Pilot, Moffat has made a point to reengage Doctor Who with issues of social class and structure. Explaining their social standing to Bill, the Master uses the colony ship as a metaphor. “You were at the top of the ship, but now you are at the bottom.” It is very clearly intended as a class hierarchy.

Over the course of the episode, it becomes clear that the Mondasians have built a world actively hostile to the lower classes, an observation that feels particularly pointed coming a week after the Grenfell Tower fire. That horrible incident was in many terrifying ways a commentary on how little the safety of working class lives meant to the political establishment. Some of the highly flammable panelling that was responsible for the spread of the fire was chosen to appease the rich neighbours of that tower block.

Oh Missy, you’re so fine.

Of course, that is a specific example that happened long after the episode was put through post production. Instead, the class commentary of World Enough and Time is broader. The Mondasians live in a world that is being suffocated by toxic fumes from the engines, trapped in indentured servitude on the literal lowest levels of society. It reflects the plight of a population that will be affected by brutal cuts to social services and by the abolition of environmental regulation.

The well-being of these people is irrelevant. Characters in World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls repeatedly reference the fact that the world is not built to serve Mondasians. As the surgeon general assures Bill in World Enough and Time, “I’m rebuilding you for a world not made for flesh.” Missy is even more to the point in The Doctor Falls, when she explain, “This whole city is a machine to turn people into Cybermen.”

The Doctor has finally met his math.

World Enough and Time imagines a world with no room for humanity, a world that has been transformed and warped so as to be actively hostile to human existence. It is something truly monstrous, but something that feels very timely and very relevant. As with Oxygen, Extremis and The Pyramid at the End of the World, it feels like World Enough and Time is an episode trying to make sense of a chaotic world.

In some ways, this is an appropriate conclusion to the Moffat era. It is the past and the future, colliding to create something surreal and uncanny. It is the revival series throwing on some prosthetics and indulging in some of the zaniness associated with the classic iterations of the show; twin planets, stupid disguises, campy performances. However, there is something endearing in this, proof that Doctor Who is sturdy enough that it can tell these sorts of stories, that “classic Doctor Who” is an aesthetic within its bailiwick.

2 Responses

  1. You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, GO!!

    – wholock fans 2017

    • Ah, to be fair, he’s leaving anyway and this was a postscript season. (Although it’s weird how fan reaction to it has been so positive. I think it’s clearly Capaldi’s weakest season by some distance, but I’m in the minority.)

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