GeekPlanetOnline's resident Doctor Who Correspondent Martin Thompson takes a deeper look at the adventures of a mad man in a box, along with his friends, foes and fandom. With over fifty years of rubber monsters, changing faces, dented police boxes, exterminations and pointed goatees to look at, he has more than a few things to say on the subject...
For me, World Enough and Time reopened the debate on spoilers. Now, normally spoilers don’t bother me too much. I’ve been spoiled before either by accident or by my own curiosity and thirst for knowledge, which we all know will inevitably place me in a cave opposite a giant spider. But no, it feels different this time.
Going into this episode I already knew two of its big surprises namely the return of the Mondasian Cybermen and that of John Simm's Master, and watching it on transmission gave me the distinct feeling that I was seeing a repeat. The day after a friend pointed out to me, quite rightly, that I hadn’t had the whole plot spoiled for me. Indeed, although I was aware of the basic story featuring a spaceship trying to flee a black hole in which time moves differently at different ends, I had no idea of the fate of poor Bill. However, once that shot was fired, it didn’t take much to work out that she would end up slated for cyber-conversion. The Doctor was never going to be able to take her home in one piece this time and that chest unit couldn’t really be covered by a nice chunky jumper and statement necklace. I will also add that overall the episode received positive reviews and many didn’t have the same problem as I did.
These plot details were not something I discovered in that spider spoiler cave though - this was BBC sanctioned. Photographs of Peter Capaldi had already been published with the Cybermen, and both them and the Simm Master had appeared in the next time trailer following The Eaters of Light, effectively shooting a big hole through the chest of the element of surprise the script so carefully weaves in. The official line was that these images were released because of outdoor filming; all had been seen and thus the secret didn’t stand any chance of not being spoiled. They have a point, as even though Simm hadn’t been spotted in his guise as Zathras - sorry, Razor - taking Bill into the city, they were all out roaming the verdant landscape of Floor 507 in The Doctor Falls. To my recollection though, no pictures of the other Cybermen emerged but by the time the finale filmed the secret was out.
Is this just fan entitlement though? Had I spoiled myself by actively seeking the information then I would be fine with it, more fool me, but the BBC itself had released these images when it didn’t really need to. Of course, I also understand the need for promotion and I note that the ratings did go up for this episode. Back in the early days, spoilers weren’t such an ongoing concern. An episode was only going to be shown once and the show needed to bring in the ratings; many ...of the Daleks titles confirm the fact that the BBC loved to publicise when the popular pepper pots were returning. As a contrast, the Cybermen have only four ...of the Cybermen titles to their name (one of which being post-2005). Both are monsters the show loves to surprise us with. Two of the most lauded cliffhangers of the classic series were the surprise reveal of the Daleks at the end of Frontier in Space and the Cybermen in Earthshock. Just 10 years ago similar issues emerged when, with the public knowing that the Daleks were back in Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks, the Radio Times spoiled the reveal of the human Dalek by placing it on the cover a week early. Also in the same season, despite the BBC denying the rumours, it got out that the Master was back.
Looking back, I think that I just didn’t find enough in World Enough and Time beyond those two surprises and it felt like a case of waiting for them to show themselves. The Doctor and Bill were split up in different sections of the ship for most of the runtime, with the latter simply waiting on the former who really didn’t do very much. The Doctor spent most of his time delivering what should have been a 10-minute exposition speech while Bill just knocked around the hospital. Had the Cybermen rather than the surgeons emerged from the lift to collect Bill then I may have a different opinion. Plus, once you had clocked Razor was the Master in disguise it was just a matter of time before he revealed who he was, despite John Simm's wonderful performance.
So let’s turn the clock back a bit to the last two series' penultimate episodes. Dark Water shared both its villains with World Enough and Time, but I felt that there was more meat to it. You had the death of Danny Pink, Clara’s grief and further investigation and the ongoing mystery of Heaven to boot. Sure, I knew that the Cybermen were coming back as a publicity shot of the new models recreating the iconic image of them descending the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in The Invasion had been doing the rounds, but their reveal and how it tied in with the ongoing plot arc was well done and there was, of course, that brilliant set of double doors which must have been such a treat if you didn’t know they were coming. There was also the ongoing Missy-tery and thankfully her identity (although guessable) wasn’t spoiled. The less said about those ‘is Clara the Doctor?’ scenes, however, the better.
The following year it was Heaven Sent with the big reveal being that the Time Lords were the ones that trapped the Doctor in his confession dial and that the sandy landscape he fought his way through the crystal wall to was, in fact, Gallifrey. Now, I did find out beforehand that the Time Lords were returning but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story. Both Heaven Sent and Hell Bent were very much their own entities, and I didn’t know how the Time Lords would factor into the finale. Doctor Who Magazine also published a photograph of Clara as a waitress in an American diner and I was fascinated to see how this would fit into the completed story.
This is not to say though that World Enough and Time wasn’t enjoyable with good performances from all of the leads; a great situation and an eerie atmosphere especially in the scenes in which Bill is wandering through the hospital. With the two big reveals gone though it was just a matter of killing time until the characters caught up and the plot could move on. No-one expects the BBC publicity machine to not make a noise about one of its most popular properties, but a little more decorum may have helped. A misdirection featuring the newer Cybermen perhaps?
The situation reminds me a little of that bête noire of The Black Dog Podcast: the Alien prequel, Prometheus. Once it was the most secret project you can imagine, but by the time it was due to open 20 minutes were being broadcast at prime time on Channel 4. Similarly, Steven Moffat once said that the broadcast of The Eleventh Hour, his first story as showrunner, felt like the biggest security breach ever, and yet look at where we are as he’s departing. During his tenure, the BBC also managed to leak the finale of season seven when the DVDs were released in America before the broadcast, and scripts for the first few episodes of series eight hit the internet the following year. It seems the BBC should look at keeping a tighter lid on its secrets.