There is a good effort to mark the passage of time since The Plague: the statue, just a giant plinth and feet last time, is now complete, and the floor of the jungle is covered in autumn leaves. The Ark is nearly at Refusis Two.
But things have not entirely changed for the better: the Guardians are now the servants of the Monoids, whose recent revolution has made them the masters. And they have created voice synthesisers that allow them to talk to one another. Or more like gossip indiscreetly, because they have a charming habit of being unable to keep even the most important secrets – as Dodo learns when Monoid Two spills the beans about the evil plot to exterminate the Guardians rather than transport them down to the surface of the new planet.
One great thing about The Return is the way the Doctor’s original visit has passed into legend – once again, the TARDIS crew have become myth makers, stories passed from generation to generation in a very Moffatish way. Dodo’s delighted to realise her offhand reference to Noah’s Ark centuries before has given the spaceship its current name. And the Monoids watch a copy of the last episode (I wonder if Philip Morris has spoken to them?) This all ties in to an emerging theme this season of the Doctor’s fame preceding him – both the Toymaker, the Elders and WOTAN know who he is. He’s no longer an anonymous wanderer, even if his companions are as dismissive as ever of his abilities:
MONOID ONE: Why have you come back?
STEVEN: The TARDIS made the decision.
Perhaps the TARDIS made the decision because the current situation on the Ark is a direct consequence of its original visit. It’s clear that the Doctor is partly responsible for the fall of the Guardians – while he cured the immediate impact of Dodo’s virus, a mutated form sapped the strength of the Guardians and enabled the Monoid takeover at this critical moment in human history. As we’re reminded, the Earth is gone, and the Monoids threaten ‘the end of all human existence.’ The stakes really couldn’t be higher.
This makes the location of this reckoning all the more disappointing. After the effort that has gone in to making the Ark feel like a vast, real place, Refusis Two has a corresponding lack of scale and imagination. The invisible Refusians (a ‘galaxy accident’ has turned them into a planet of ghosts) have daisy vases and flowery curtains on the doors in their castle. It looks more like an old folks’ home than the final destination of humanity.
That’s fitting for an episode that largely takes place in a kitchen and a reception room: the sense of the inspiration running out, even as the stakes are raised.
Next episode: The Bomb