Imagine a complete stranger walked up to you and asked “do you love me?” You’d probably quickly answer no and think they were crazy. Now imagine that stranger held a knife to your throat and asked the same question, “do you love me?” Your answer just might be different.
Such is the conundrum we are faced with in this episode. The monks in the pyramid remain a mystery to us, yet they have displayed a significant power. We should fear them, right? But that’s not what they want. They want consent through pure love. All I can say to that is thank goodness for Peter Harness. He wrote the episode and was responsible for the 2-part Zygon Invasion episodes last season, which included the powerful Doctor “War Speech.” I’m happy we get to explore his interesting ruminations on humanity again.
This episode isn’t as tight or as pertinent as the Zygon invasion, but it’s the most interesting thematic exploration of this season. For instance, I don’t know why they kept referring to the pyramid as “5000 years old” because if it appeared overnight, what makes it that way? The look of it? Aside from overlooks like that, the focus on consequence is excellent and is what Who does best. Every character, both major and minor, was firmly entrenched in this battle against their own choices and several lost their lives for it. It’s a fascinating culmination of what we’ve seen this season.
The Doctor: “I lied.”
It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Doctor acknowledge rule number one: the Doctor lies. Lately it seems he just lies, without consequence, and moves on. I wish the Doctor’s blindness meant a little more on the grand scale (and maybe it will) but if it exists just to add some repercussion to a show straying further from gravity each season I am okay with that. I loved that he nearly lost his life for his white lie. And I love Bill’s naïve bravery in her decision to save him.
The Doctor: You could take this planet in a heartbeat. Why do you need consent?
The Monk: We must be wanted. We must be loved. To rule through fear is inefficient.
The Doctor: Of course. Fear is temporary. Love is slavery.
It’s no coincidence these alien beings look like religious figures. I think this scenario echoes some of the ugliness of religion. Don’t take that to mean belief, but rather, organized rules made up by men that a group of people should follow. This scene illustrates that the power of love can be manipulated, controlled, and can even enslave you. This is a potent view of what can occur if we let our love for something temporal define us eternally. It gets even worse when we lord that over others.
It feels like the fatal flaw in our villain should be their misunderstanding that love through coercion is still fear. Fear would then be conquered and the consent destroyed. I’m not convinced the 3rd act will provide a convincing conclusion but this episode sure made a compelling argument. If modern religion shows us any example, this kind of rule ultimately leads to desertion of not just the bad things of religion, but the truth of the belief it is based in.
“Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.” – Matthew 5:8
I’ve seen this ugliness ruin people’s lives firsthand. That knife to the throat can only either surrender or cut deep. The tools of this ruin are usually things like “reason,” or “morality,” or “doctrine.” All these things can be good, but they can also be manipulated. There’s something to the idea of pure consent the episode plays around with. Jesus’s words illustrate the importance of a pure heart. He illustrated in this sermon and throughout his ministry that purity of heart and perfect love go hand in hand. Together they outright destroy false morals, self-righteous doctrines and manipulative reason.
This brings me back to Bills’ naïve bravery. Her purity of heart saved the Doctor, and as we can surmise, will likely save the world. She loved the Doctor enough to put herself at risk and sacrifice her planet. Greater love has no man than this. The monks have a lesson to learn on the true power of love and its ability to overcome all. I wonder if Twelve needs to learn a similar lesson. He’s been pretty self-centered in his heroism lately, and he’s seeing consequences. His run is coming to an end, after all, and it is self-sacrifice that has led to many and most of his past regenerations.
Next Time on Who-ology:
Is this it? Our preview ends with the Doctor being shot. The regeneration sequence has been said to be different from any other. Don’t be surprised to see it happen mid-season. Especially if… none of what we have seen so far is real…
… that’s right. Bill, Nardole, the entire season may be a misdirect. Cue Doctor Who theme song.