Well that was underwhelming.
Despite this Monk trilogy having got off to a flying start, the three part storyline ended with a whimper rather than a bang and left more questions than it did answers. Despite a promising start, The Lie of the Land quickly petered out into a cliché filled climax that managed to wrap up the storyline without actually resolving anything at all. And in a very unsatisfying way at that.
For the Monks, the villains of this three part tale, are still just as mysterious as they were back in Extremis (still the best episode of this trilogy). We have no idea who they are, what their goals are, why they chose Earth and what exactly they were trying to accomplish apart from the fact they have invaded multiple planets before. Infuriatingly, The Lie of the Land did not take any time at all to explain who the Monks actually are leaving them the most vague and ill-defined Doctor Who villains of recent memory. While it’s possible the Monks could return later in the series, a common fan theory is that the Monks are Cybermen without their armour, it’s still poor form to not even attempt to define exactly who the villains of the last three episodes even are. We had a much firmer grasp of the Silence at the end of their debut story despite there still being a lot of unanswered questions there. Not even attempting to answer a single question about the Monks makes this storyline seem almost pointless and certainly not worth devoting three entire episodes to a villain that is going to end up being just a vague threat rather than a developed villain. This may be forgivable if the Monks make a reappearance in the Series 10 finale, but as it stands they’re a wonderful concept for and beautifully designed villain, but are ultimately vague and forgettable antagonists.
Now this could have been forgiven if The Lie of the Land had delivered elsewhere. Sad to say then that the episode was utterly unimaginative and dull despite getting off to a great start. The opening few scenes seeing Bill navigate a world where the Monks have seemingly been in control forever, despite only being there a few months, were excellent. A sort of dystopia, a world where people welcome their oppression with open arms. The episode seemed to be making a political point about the current rise of fascism in the world, despite us all having evidence that never turns out well. Indeed, scenes where the public cheered the Monks executing those who would question them certainly calls to mind people cheering on Donald Trump wanting to throw political rival Hilary Clinton in prison and people celebrating the Daily Mail’s headline proclaiming British Judges ensuring the Brexit process is done legally to be “enemies of the people”. The attempts to quieten any dissatisfaction also called to mind Donald Trump’s attempts to dismiss anyone who criticises him as “fake news” or liars. In fact, the Monks broadcasting “fake history” seemed to even be a comment on “fake news”, that despite those in power decrying those who oppose them as “fake news”, they are the biggest makers of it in the first place.
The Doctor actively helping the Monks was also a great touch, following on from the implication they’d brainwashed him when restoring his sight at the end of The Pyramid at the End of the World. The Doctor’s broadcasts were eerily similar to broadcasts seen in 1984 and The Hunger Games, promising all is well and feeding the populace lies to keep them placated and under control. A common tactic by many fascist regimes is to use the media to make the public love them so that was a nice touch. All this promised what looked set to be a killer of an episode. What a shame then it was all undone less than 20 minutes into the episode. Perhaps BBC has a mandate against the Doctor being evil for an extended period of time? Maybe they think there won’t be as many action figure sales…
The scene where Bill and Nardole confronted the “evil” Doctor was the best of the episode however. Pearl Mackie delivered perhaps her best performance yet as Bill, with a very passionate and emotion filled performance as Bill had to face the “reality” that her closest friend had betrayed her. Capaldi also matched her by playing the Doctor colder and harsher than he has done before. The acting between these two was magnificent and the scene kept building and building until the emotion climaxed in Bill shooting the Doctor, causing him to regenerate.
And then it was all a lie. In perhaps the biggest tease in Doctor Who history, the Doctor revealed it was all a trick just to make sure Bill wasn’t brainwashed by the Monks. The bullets were blanked and the Doctor was faking his regeneration. Which does call into question why the Doctor would fake his regeneration since Bill has no idea what regeneration is…
While sure, the Doctor was never going to regenerate midway through the series (we know for a fact Capaldi won’t be leaving the show until the Christmas Special), but it does call into question exactly what the point of the “evil Doctor” and the fake regeneration actually was… APART from having something to put in the trailers. The Doctor’s trickery doesn’t even place a strain on his and Bill’s friendship. Previous trickery by the Twelfth Doctor put massive strain on his friendship with Clara which took most of Series 8 to repair. Instead Bill just takes it. She doesn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with the Doctor deceiving her in such an emotionally manipulative way.
Now, I love Toby Whithouse as a writer. Being Human is one of my favourite TV shows and three of Whithouse’s prior Doctor Who scripts; School Reunion, The God Complex and A Town Called Mercy are three of my favourite episodes of the show. But the writing is where The Lie of the Land fell apart. Every fault with the episode can be traced back to the script. From the Monks being ill-defined antagonists, the “evil Doctor” plotline being pointless and having no consequences in the Doctor and Bill’s relationship to other things not quite working; one of the soldiers having their “truth audio” cut out and turn against the Doctor seemed to only happen to set up a Nardole joke. There are rumours Steven Moffat didn’t do any rewrites on this episode due to personal reasons, but I’d be incredibly surprised if Whithouse needed heavy rewrites on his scripts. So perhaps the fault lies in the story itself. Perhaps the Monk storyline just wasn’t strong enough to support three full episodes? Maybe splitting the story across three writers led to a lack of focus? The latter would certainly explain why the abilities of the Monks is so inconsistent across the three episodes and why its conclusion felt so familiar. The Doctor and his companions hijacking the airwaves to inspire humanity into driving an occupying alien species off the planet. Sound familiar? I’ll take your Silence as an agreement.
Speaking of the episode’s conclusion, I have nothing against Bill’s love for her mother saving the day. It’s heart-warming and would be a perfect moment for Bill’s character… if again this wasn’t something we had seen before in Doctor Who. Which seems to be the ultimate problem with The Lie of the Land, everything it does well was done better by episodes before it and everything it doesn’t do well was also done better by other episodes before it. It’s a hodgepodge of ideas that never quite gel together, leaving the episode an uncomfortable mess.
The episode scored points however by featuring the return of Missy, however brief as it may have been. Michelle Gomez was on fire this episode, proving once again why she is certainly the best Master since Roger Delgado. Perhaps the episode could have benefitted from a little more Missy, especially since Extremis implied the Doctor was actually going to release her from the Vault to seek her aid. Since Michelle Gomez has implied she may not return to play the Master once Capaldi and Moffat leave, it seems a shame the show isn’t taking full advantage of her when it can. As it stands, the scene with Missy might just be the episode’s second best scene (following the Bill/Doctor faceoff).
The Lie of the Land was an underwhelming conclusion that started out so well. Extremis was clearly the peak of this three part trilogy, enough to make me wonder if it would have been better served as a standalone episode so it could be enjoyed in the future by not being attached to The Pyramid at the End of the World and The Lie of the Land. Instead, Extremis will be forever shacked to these two underwhelming episodes leaving a trilogy that probably showcased exactly why other people probably shouldn’t play with Steven Moffat’s toys once he departs, since he seems to be the only one to make magic out of them. The Lie of the Land wastes a truly unique Doctor Who villain in a messy and uncoordinated plot that has too many Doctor Who clichés and pointless plot threads for it to truly standout.
Trivia and Speculation:
The Doctor shows images from invasion attempts by the Daleks, Cybermen and Weeping Angels that the Monks stopped. Of the clips used, only one is actually on Earth – the clip of the Weeping Angels from Blink. The clips of the Daleks and Cybermen are pulled from Into The Dalek and Nightmare in Silver, episodes that did not take place on Earth.
Missy is seen with a piano: the same piano she was playing at the end of Knock Knock.
If Missy is committed to becoming good and this isn’t a trick, could the finale in fact be Missy working with the Doctor to stop her prior incarnation that is John Simm’s Master?