Monday 5 June 2017

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who 10x08 - The Lie of the Land

Doctor Who 10x08 - The Lie of the Land

With Bill having bargained with the Monks for the Doctor's sight at the end of The Pyramid at the End of the World, Earth is now theirs for the taking as the Monks Trilogy reaches its thrilling conclusion in The Lie of the Land. This part of the story takes on a new writer yet again, having been penned by Toby Whithouse in his first (and only) series ten episode. He's certainly no stranger to Doctor Who though, with the likes of School Reunion, The Vampires of Venice, The God Complex, A Town Called Mercy and Under the Lake/Before the Flood among his writing credits.

The Monks' StatuesThe Doctor

The Monks are, and always have been the rulers of Earth. They've guided human development, they've saved us from the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Weeping Angels. They're here to help us, and all they ask for in return is obedience. But in reality they've only been here for six months, feeding their version of the "truth" to humanity and imprisoning anyone who remembers otherwise for thought crimes.

With her knowledge of the truth still intact thanks to the memories she's created of her mother, Bill hopes that the Doctor, who has spent this time issuing propaganda messages for the Monks, is secretly planning a way to defeat them. After reuniting with Nardole the pair are able to find where the Doctor is being held, but it doesn't look like he's been complying with them against his will. Is the Doctor testing Bill? And what is the the source of the Monks' brainwashing method? To find out, the Doctor will need help from the one person almost as clever as him...

Bill PottsMissy

It was almost a given that The Temple at the End of the World would have an edge of political commentary to it given the writer, but that angle is taken to the extreme in this episode as the Doctor delivers fake news to a brainwashed world, when freewill has been crushed and any outspoken views are put to rest with a speedy transfer to the nearest labour camp. This dystopian world has flavours of the ones previously seen in the likes of Turn Left or The Last of the Time Lords, and much like those stories it's the companion that plays the biggest part in the story. The development Bill has already had throughout these eight episodes comes into fine use here, and even when the Doctor is back in the picture she firmly remains the true star of the episode.

The Monks are also at their finest here, and their elaborate invasion plans begin to make sense with the revelation that there’s only actually a handful of them on Earth. Everything they do revolves around trickery, from the illusion of the being more of them to the brilliantly-visualised subliminal messaging they’re pouring into the masses. While we might not see much of their Earth apart from some statues and a few people being carted off to camps, the Doctor’s opening monologue set to them inserted throughout history and the brief flashes of brainwashing are incredibly effective. What’s more interesting though is that when they’re defeated, they just head off and chalk it up to experience. Does that mean they could come back another day with a more effective plan?

Pyramid in the centre of LondonThe Monks

It's just a shame that one of the episode's strongest moments is nothing more than a clever ruse, ultimately building towards a fake-out regeneration scene which only feels like it was there to give the series trailers one big hook. The Doctor's talking down to Bill and lamentation that humanity is heading to destruction without the Monks' help is another strong Capaldi delivery, and his argument is so persuasive that it almost comes off as disappointment when it turns out to just be an elaborate lie. Once this scene is over and done with the episode disappointingly feels like standard Doctor Who fare, as the Doctor makes an implausibly grand return to mainland Britain and does a typical bit of sneaking about. There’s barely any interaction with the Monks themselves, and the one they do end up getting up close and personal with only engages with them in a battle of the minds. After the slow pace of The Pyramid at the End of the World, this episode feels like it’s rushing through the story and could have easily benefitted from a bit more running time. Perhaps not a whole other episode because that would mean four episodes dedicated solely to this arc, but it certainly feels like a lot of the finer details have been cut short.

Also giving a strong delivery on the speech front is Missy, who we see for the first time in present day during her sentence inside the vault. She may be going cold turkey on causing death and destruction (and if the ending is anything to be believed it may actually be working), but that doesn't mean she's come round to the Doctor's way of thinking just yet. Whereas the Doctor's methods will always be about saving everyone and making himself look clever in the process, Missy is still all about the quickest and most effective route. The exchange of ideas felt very reminiscent of what went down in Torchwood’s Children of Earth, where Jack made a similarly cold decision to end things swiftly rather than hold out for a less extreme alternative. Just as the Doctor’s earlier talking down to Bill served as one of the episode’s main highlights, the same came be said here for Missy’s talking down of the Doctor. With the psychotic Mary Poppins routine toned down Gomez is really beginning to sell herself as the Master, but there’s still plenty of room to still throw in a few of her now-classic one-liners. Personally I hope building a gun out of leaves is something she’ll do again before this series is over and done with.

The Monks control the worldBill takes back the planet

However it’s the end that may prove the most contested moment among fans, as the series rolls out another fairly basic “love conquers all” ending that resolves everything fairly neatly with little lasting consequence for the human race. Admittedly it’s far from the worst ending like this Doctor Who has pulled, but it doesn’t really do enough differently to make it truly stand out. It only works thanks to the fantastic development Bill has had over the series so far, with her stand against the Monks making great use of the Doctor’s seemingly random act of kindness of providing her with photos of her mother. It’s a shame that despite the world not having been literally reset no one will really remember the Monks’ rule, but the bigger question is does the whole human race now have Bill’s mum implanted in their memories?

Although rough around the edges and ultimately lacking when it comes to resolution, The Lie of the Land is a decent finale for the Monks Trilogy and at the very least cements the Monks as a threat that could definitely have life in Doctor Who beyond these episodes. While the subsequent parts never came close to the heights of Extremis, The Lie of the Land is a comfortable addition to the show’s growing repertoire of dystopian companion-centric action. Next week there's Victorian explorers on Mars and that can only mean one thing - Mark Gatiss is bringing the Ice Warriors back once more in Empress of Mars!


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