As I said before, I’m all for sacrificing plot for theme. The problem is, the theme has to be worthwhile, and you absolutely cannot sacrifice character for plot and think you are doing the same thing. That…doesn’t work.
I just don’t see the Doctor as someone to lie about a disability or injury or whatever. It’s very fanfic. Let me say, it’s very bad fanfic. I certainly see him downplaying it. Or even maybe lying about it briefly right after Nardole attempted his help, as he just needed to get back to the office as it were, before coming clean (which he does, just not to Bill). The Doctor doesn’t run away from stuff like that, he takes the punch and keeps being brilliant. He leads by example, and that’s also how he convinces himself that things will be okay—fake it ’till you make it. “Can you imagine how unbearable I’ll be when I pull this off?” is much more in character. And a few lines here and there, “Saving the world with my eyes closed,” etc. Because he’s a bit of a show-off, and he’s happy when people are impressed, and he can certainly still impress when blind. Plus, he is responsible for Bill’s safety and well being, and not letting her know that he’s not at top capacity is not giving her full information. It’s a crappy thing to do to someone.
The whole conceit made plots way more difficult (why was he talking to Cardinal Angelo in that reading scene in Extremis?) and asked us to suspend our disbelief in the observational powers of his associates quite a bit. Seriously, Bill did not figure this out? With the sunglasses and the narration and the not actually seeing any details? *sigh* And as the kicker, the Doctor is shit at lying about this since he manages to let the cat out of the bag to, oh, everyone. Except Bill. Catholic priests? Check. Nardole? Check. Missy? Check. Monks? Check! Bill? Nope nope nope nope nope. Then we go through 2 aborted attempts at him telling her in Pyramid, so that it can all come to a head in a scene that takes place in an alternate reality where designers of safety and security systems are not subject to OSHA or disability access laws. (Just tell me there would not be Braille labels on those numbers.)
One might argue that he’d be afraid to tell people because they would treat him differently, and he would hate that. That’s a valid point but again, I say it’s not his style. The Doctor is not one to let others dictate how he is treated in any situation. He makes a point just last episode that whatever disadvantage you may see (alone, unarmed, etc), he's still got more danger in his pinky finger than anyone. He’s in control even when he’s tied up and about to be executed.
And moreover, it’s not the interesting story in terms of the character. It paints him as way too human. I mean, this is (obviously) just my own head canon, but he’s an alien with a lot of extrasensory perceptions tied to telepathy, the TARDIS and time. He relies on sight like a human, sure, but I say, even without the sonic sunglasses, he is less disabled without it than a human would be. Which is a double edged sword, I know, that I also have thought about very much with my WIP, as an abled person writing a disabled character. I get an ‘out’, because this character is a super-advanced alien with access to advanced technology, with a brain that can read a 400 page book in 3 seconds (when his eyes are working), and who can analyze and synthesize and think faster than any human could. This character can do things that a human can’t, so it is natural to assume that if blinded, this character can do things a blind human probably can’t. I feel I have to make that point of view especially clear when I am writing, because otherwise it is completely insensitive to real blind persons. It’s a weird line; I don’t want to appropriate a disabled person’s real world experiences but I don’t want to completely discount them either in telling the story about this blind person (who if you are splitting hairs is actually a sighted person who cannot see), who has some similarities but also some very important differences. Changing the Doctor’s characterization so radically just because he lost his sight, to set up a technicality that he just can't do because of it, that’s basically deciding to tell the wrong story.
At least they also had Erica in this story. Who was the absolute best thing about this story, no two ways about it. I do love the Doctor and the guitar though, but Erica also trumps the Doctor and the guitar. I loved: “Before then, I wanted to be a bus driver, because I liked how they waved to other bus drivers.” When I was little I wanted to be a teacher because they got to use a pointer stick. She is really the only character in this story who gets to be more than a cut-out.
I almost don’t want to bring it up, because the episode doesn’t, and it shouldn’t matter, but it kind of does. Dwarfism is recognized as a disability by the ADA here in the U.S. but I gather the reality is that it’s a bit more nuanced than that; being short is not a disability, but dwarfism can also come with other complications, and opinions within the community also differ. So I don’t know if the actress Rachel Denning considers herself disabled or not. But it’s also being different, and it’s nothing that the actress or the character could hide. It’s a completely different experience to the Doctor’s disability but it’s a good foil. In that, I would love to see Erica the scientist lay in to the Doctor about his life choices when she finally figures out what the hell is going on, but next week we are going straight to Truth Monk Dystopia so I fear we will never see Erica again.
So. Not only did they tell the wrong story with the Doctor, they did not tell it very well. This was a middle or set-up episode and it showed—mainly, I am thinking that it must have been like 3 hours of script and material that they had to absolutely butcher to make it into 48 minutes. The UN Secretary General doesn’t even get a name. The Doctor has a small monologue about the monks in the meditation at the beginning—“Think what they could do”—and I can see what they are trying to do in the script but it is not nearly enough to motivate his frankly bizarre decisions in this. The attack is out of left field. There is an aborted conversation with Bill about fear that I can’t figure out what the Doctor is trying to tell her; he’s afraid for his future without sight so he’s being rash? He knows this so it’s okay? Something else? The whole WWIII as a red herring thing was useless, the figuring out the bacteria angle was rushed, Doug the scientist was a complete idiot, the military personnel were basically cardboard cutout plot devices in uniform with utterly generic lines who all died anyhow. And, there were waaaay too many “walk around in circles” scenes which for this season seem to be a very lazy short-hand way of having some kind of activity in a scene which otherwise would just be two heads expositing a bunch of plot points at each other.
Shutting off the cameras was clever. It was about the only clever thing in the whole plot.
So yeah, this one was just way too contrived, and utterly convoluted, to set up about 30 seconds where Bill has to give herself to the monks to save the Doctor’s life by way of getting them to restore his sight. I mean, I get it. I’ve done this before. I write point A, and I write point C, and I have a few milepost ideas about point B and have to get from A to C through B. I am not writing by committee for television in a fast paced world under the constraints of “it has to be under budget and film-able.” But I’m also not getting paid to do this as my job. At some point after you've twisted things around to unrecognizable in an attempt to get to point C, you have to stop and reconsider whether point C is the right thing to try and get to.
Little things were just sloppy. Erica says the expulsion system runs every 30 minutes, and the Doctor must not be listening. Why is he so surprised at her saying 20 minutes left as though it’s a new complication from left field? That’s… actually good, under the circumstances where the possible numbers range from 0 to 30. He’s certainly saved the world before with 20 minutes and a (shut) post office. That bit tells me that this script or scene was basically hacked to pieces and the editors weren’t on the ball to have it make sense after they stitched it back together into a groaning, shambling simulacrum.
Not to mention the whole "every clock is counting down" thing. Which is well, patently false. Because if every clock in the world suddenly started acting bizarrely like that, then you would think the scientists would notice and suspend their normal operations until they could figure out what the fuck was wrong with the clocks. Actually what seems to have happened is that the monks affected clocks in about a 2 mile radius of their pyramid, and everyone else just jumped to the conclusion that it was every clock in the world. For no reason.
And the ending. That’s’ what trips them up? A combination lock? Give me a break. 3 ideas off the top of my head:
1) Find a shiny surface and reflect it so Erica can see the numbers.
2) Get someone other than Nardole in the lab to look at a camera.
3) Take a picture with his phone (the one in his pocket, that he used to call Bill at the end of last episode), send it to Bill’s phone, have her tell him the numbers as they are currently set, and then use that to enter the combination since the dials are decagonal and not circular. Or show the picture to Erica through the glass. And don’t tell me he wouldn’t be able to work a touch screen to get a picture. He worked a keyboard blind in the last episode. He set the timer in this episode. He has a very good spatial memory.
Bill’s consent isn’t exactly pure either. She’s ready to consent but she wants the Doctor to get the world back. Not exactly love for the Monks. I do want to know a bit more about the monks themselves, who they are, why they want the earth, what “the link” is, what’s this whole idea about consent, etc. How exactly do the monks restore his sight so easily? They predict the future, kind of like the Fates, and they did learn from the simulation that Time Lords could borrow from their futures. So maybe they did something like what the little radio box thing did last episode. I don’t have much faith that the next episode will answer these things, but I guess we’ll find out next week.