So we follow an episode that evokes The Edge of Destruction with one that evokes The Keys of Marinus. This goes about how you’d expect. It’s not that this is an episode devoid of interesting moments. And indeed, as I guessed it might be last week, it’s unusually light on genre cliches to hold the whole thing together. The problem is that it’s also lacking, in a forty-five minute framework, any space to allow the barrage of concepts to breathe and register. The result is that a series of reasonably clever ideas of the sort that previous episodes were painfully lacking in just sort of flash by without particularly registering. Which turns out to be far worse than the previous problem the show was having.
Let’s start with the biggest and most staggering problem in this regard: Quill angrily and furiously confronting the god she doesn’t believe in. This is possibly the best moment of drama of the entire series. Conceptually, it’s the equal of anything Moffat has ever done. And Ballon’s response to her, even if it is lightly ripped off from that Joan Osborne song, is also phenomenal stuff. But it’s wasted in a scene towards the middle of the episode that’s basically just the third fast-paced Macguffin acquisition sequence in a row. There’s no weight to it - the show doesn’t unpack any of the implications of Quill facing down her god, and the entire incident is basically forgotten by the time we cut to the next big set piece. It’s infuriating - at long last the show delivers something amazing and brilliant and new, and it doesn’t even seem to notice, instead barreling on to the next idea.
But then, what do you expect from an episode that wastes an idea like the Metaphysical Engine on something as fundamentally banal as cobbling together a pseudo-TARDIS, complete with an interior that literally looks like it was bolted together from remnants of the current TARDIS set? “All of the mythologies of every species ever are real” is a jaw-dropper of a concept that deserves to actually be explored and interrogated instead of being used as the technobabble to explain why we’re cycling through a complete litany of the default alien planets that BBC Cymru Wales can do. I mean, maybe this will get sorted out in the finale - certainly Dorothea seems to leave it as a massive hanging plot thread - but frankly, “shoved in as one thread of a forty-five minute season finale” doesn’t exactly sound like a sufficient platform for that idea either.
Meanwhile, in amidst all the whirl of underdeveloped concepts are a bunch of sub-par character moments. Ballon never gets built into anything enough for us to give a shit about the final fight with Quill, not least because we’ve already seen the outcome. His backstory never gets past a vague account, and the fight seems to mainly exist because apparently they don’t want to keep the character around, which rather raises the question of why he’s even in this episode in the first place. I mean, the answer is “so there’s someone other than Quill or Dorothea,” but that just wraps in circles, in that it forces us to ask why we’re doing this episode in the first place. Certainly it’s not “because it puts Quill in a more interesting light” - stripped of her tension with Charlie she becomes a generic Doctor Who take on the notion of a soldier, lacking in nuance or creativity.
And then there’s the ending, which is… the same ending as last week’s. Which is to say, a complete failure to advance the plot of the series. We get forty-five minutes that serve to give us a lumpy and undercooked explanation for last week’s cliffhanger without actually moving forward at all. The result is that there’s literally no payoff to the episode whatsoever. Quill attains the state we knew she’d attain, the one-off character is removed from the board, and Dorothea remains a largely cryptic and mysterious figure with no real explanation. What a complete and utter waste. Who knew I could be made to miss the Brains of Morphoton.