This review contains spoilers. Our spoiler free review is here.
10.8 The Lie Of The Land
“It’s me! Nardy!”
I’m filing this with ‘episodes I wished I liked more’, I’m afraid. Rounding off what we’re calling – even if nobody else is – the ‘Monk’ trilogy of stories, The Lie Of The Land kicked off promisingly, with flavours of The Last Of The Time Lords and The Stolen Earth. For, just past the half way point of the series, we’ve had the kind of ambitious story that once would have ended a run. I was half expecting a teaser for the Christmas special at the end.
It picks up in the aftermath of last week’s installment. We learn then, through the power of promotional video and a soothing Peter Capaldi voiceover, that the Monks not only have taken over the Earth, but they’ve been rewriting history. Presumably remembering to deleted any contradictory Tweets as they do so. In a matter of a few months, they’ve woven themselves deeply into the history of the Earth, with the vast majority believing they’re responsible for pretty much anything major and good. Oh, and there are statues of them all over the planet.
It’s Bill who – in conversation with her long dead mother (and we’re coming to her) – tells us that the Monks have now been on Earth for six months. A brainwashed population have taken fake rhetoric to heart, and accepted it as fact, aligning themselves with the present ruling faction. It’s a welcome respite from what’s going on in the real world.
“So relax! Do as you’re told! The future is taken care of…”
And I really like The Lie Of The Land, from the pen of Toby Whithouse, up to the fake regeneration. Up until then, there’s certainly lots to enjoy. Peter Capaldi’s quite creepy, different take on the Doctor, when we’re given the impression that he’s been brainwashed by the Monks is a lot of fun. We get less Nardole, although not for the first time, Matt Lucas wrings plenty out of the little screen time he gets. And with skillful direction from Wayne Yip – moving across from Class – a pervading sense of doom is built.
We also get the best Pearl Mackie performance yet. Bill isn’t the wide-eyed, chip-cooking new-to-it-all character of the first few weeks, and here, Mackie conveys fright, bewilderment and sorrow in a very, very rounded piece of acting work. When Doctor Who goes through its inevitable changes courtesy of its upcoming personnel shuffle, I dearly hope there’s still room for Mackie in the TARDIS, and a story arc for her to explore.
But then there’s that fake regeneration, the moment when things changed. There was a very brief fragment of a second where I wondered if a genuine rug pull was happening as Peter Capaldi outstretched his arms and assumed the position. But once the ruse was revealed, The Lie Of The Land gave itself just over 20 minutes to sort out an ending of sorts. Things began to unravel.
The problem? After two and half episodes of building the Monks up as a massive threat, foes willing to do a full, successful simulation before even attempting to invade the Earth, they were toppled really rather easily. In this case, they were toppled easily thanks to memories of Bill’s mum. The same mum Bill had no pictures of until the Doctor snapped a few for her in The Pilot. Come the crucial battle, the Doctor’s brain strength alone can’t overcome the Monks’ power. Plug Bill into the mix though, and it’s job done in precious little screen time. The Monks pack up in their pyramid, and off they pop, without even paying their bill. Remember that in the build up to this moment, there’s the clear stated threat that Bill will effectively be left brain dead as one option, that her role as ‘consenter’ in the Monk’s invasion will have doomed her, such was the threat they posted. Not so (appreciating a different strategy was used). She seemed quite dandy by the time the credits rolled.
It’s not quite as clean and simple as that, though. There’s no memory reset switch here, and the Monks have left the world behind with their impact upon it still fresh. I wonder, then, if we’ll pick up with a population reacting to being under their control for six months in some way, because those are crumbs I’d be intrigued to see the show following.
But still: this three-part story has been really successful at building up some huge stakes, and huge challenges, but less successful at satisfyingly resolving them.
After all, The Pyramid At The End Of The World, we saw the Doctor and Nardole speedily discovering exactly what was going to trigger the end of the world, even though it had been established it could be anything on the planet (and the scientists from last week were nowhere to be seen this, as an aside). This time, the Monks are added to the list of foes that seem really easy to defeat in the end. Even the Daleks could take them, and nobody’s been beaten more times than the Daleks..
One potentially crucial caveat to the defeat of the Monks, though, and some further crumbs: this many not be the last we’ve seen of them, and already, there’s been fan chunter suggesting they may be Cybermen or something else in disguise. We know, after all, that the Monks as we’ve seen them aren’t in their true form. So what is their true form? Furthermore, who is pulling the strings behind them? Who’s really directing the invasion? Room has been left to explore their story further, and there may be ramifications further down the line.
But I can only really write about what I’ve seen, and I found The Lie Of The Land a slightly disappointing trilogy closer. I was quite excited when I first heard that a three-part story would be sitting in the middle of Doctor Who series 10, but in hindsight, I can’t help but think it’s taken away a little of the momentum that the show had been confidently building up. That these three episodes – whilst each with real merits – have also not quite matched the five that came before.
“I am going to beat the sh-“
They have left Missy in an interesting place, though. She seems remorseful at the end, tears streaming down her face, with the sinister edges of her character seemingly blunted. Missy hasn’t felt like a potent threat this series, but she might just get under the skin again at this rate. You’d have to assume there’s a plan at work here, but also when she talked about other adventures she’d had, I was happy to start letter-writing for a spin-off series, with Michelle Gomez absolutely at the heart of it. Might even write 3000 words on it.
One final sizeable note: I wanted to touch on something quite huge in the scheme of things, that it’s easy to overlook in the midst of the fake regeneration sequence: that Bill not only made the decision to shoot the Doctor, she actually did it. And did it fairly quickly, making the decision and executing it. She went further than the Doctor would, and it affirms that here’s a companion who isn’t slavishly loyal to him if it’s a choice between him and the fate of the world. It’s a harsh thing Bill’s willing to do – not least because she’s not aware of regenerations yet – and she just does it. The trust isn’t perfect there, and it’s part of what’s made the character dynamic so interesting.
There are plenty of things like that to take from The Lie Of The Land, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s a slightly frustrating episode this, one that didn’t quite pay off for me. I do still think it’s got some really strong stuff in it, and do appreciate I’ve probably come across miserable and grumbly. But in hindsight, I’m not really sure the three-parter fully gelled.
Next week, Mark Gatiss is back on Doctor Who duties, with Empress Of Mars. It’ll be interesting to see how standalone that episode turns out to be…
Our review of last week’s episode, The Pyramid At The End Of The World, is here…