Over the years Doctor Who has regularly come back to the idea that the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) has a rather peculiar relationship with humanity, one that drives him to continue to save the hapless human race over and over and over again. There have been theories, over the years, to explain this special relationship beyond the obvious, real world reasons, but in the end, it's really quite simple: what lengths wouldn't we go to in order to protect the people we love?
Both the Doctor and Bill (Pearl Mackie) have made major decisions in the heat of the moment this season in order save the other's life, decisions that have resulted in pretty drastic consequences. But while the Doctor's decision only directly affected himself and Bill, Bill's decision affects the fate of the entire planet. She doesn't yet know about the Doctor's ability to regenerate and believes the explosion in the lab will be the true end of his life, so she makes a deal with the robed monks to restore the Doctor's eyesight so he can escape the lab. As a result of her actions, the human race will be saved but enslaved, though we don't yet know what that means.
Ordinarily the argument for saving one person versus saving billions of lives should be a fairly easy one to settle — and the Doctor tells Bill not to make the deal — but in the context of "The Pyramid at the End of the World," when that one life belongs to the Doctor, does the same still hold true? What should be a relatively uncomplicated question about the lengths someone will go to protect a loved one becomes increasingly messy in this context, because where would the Earth be without the Doctor? Would there still be an Earth without him?
Part of the issue here is the Doctor's penchant for keeping things from his friends until he decides they need to know the truth. Would Bill have made the same choice if she knew the Doctor might be able to regenerate? Does it even matter? Humans are emotional, selfish creatures by nature, and the fear of losing the Doctor and the fear of what Earth would look like without him pushes us — and therefore Bill — to indulge ourselves in our most basic instincts. It's hard to say whether or not we would make the same choice were we in Bill's shoes, but we're privy to information that the Doctor and Bill are not; we know that the end is coming for Twelve. This adds tension to scenes where there ordinarily wouldn't be any, and so it complicates our feelings about both the Doctor's and Bill's actions this season.
Any other year we'd simply expect the Doctor to save the day at the last minute like he always does, but every story has a beginning, middle and end. Even without the Doctor's somewhat heavy-handed monologuing in this week's episode ("The end of your life has already begun. There is a last place you will ever go, a last door you will ever walk through, a last sight you will ever see, and every step you ever take is moving you closer"), the threat of danger would still feel very real because of what we know. The Doomsday Clock has been ticking closer to midnight for us for weeks. Sometimes I wish I didn't know what was coming. Sometimes I'm happy to have time to prepare for it. I can't decide which is worse.
But there's also something deeper at work in "The Pyramid at the End of the World" than just Bill's decision and the Doctor's potential death. The politics present within the overall narrative, which deals with ruling over people, are increasingly relevant to the world in which we're actually living. With references to the Oval Office last week and Donald Trump this week, with references to ruling through fear and strategy rather than love, it's impossible to ignore the political themes running through this season.
On one hand, television should absolutely be a reflection of our world, especially science fiction. But on the other, more weary hand, there's an argument for taking a break from the real world right now. Where you fall will ultimately depend on if you've reached your personal limit.
Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9/8c on BBC America.