Here at TGT, we love the monks. They’ve been around for years and helped us all throughout history. However, this week their story came to an end in Toby Withouse’s The Lie of the Land. What did our team make of the episode an the Monk Trilogy in general? Let’s find out…
Ben (Assistant Editor)
What an anticlimax! After weeks of speculation over the Doctor’s regeneration and how he would defeat the monks, The Lie Of The Land felt like a disappointing end to a promising trilogy. Though visually a stunner, there were a number of things that niggled me.
Let’s start with the Doctor’s supposed regeneration. After setting the rumour mill to full capacity when it appeared in the trailer, the Twelfth Doctor’s regeneration was such a talking point this year, especially knowing that Capaldi was leaving. Whilst faking his death to fool Bill made sense with the narrative, Bill has never seen regeneration before, so going to that extent was unnecessary. The fact that there was no explanation for how he conjured up the regeneration energy and Bill’s reaction was quickly brushed to one side made this potentially thrilling twist a bit of a pointless endeavour that only really served to make the trailer look cool. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I’d hoped Moffat would be cleverer than that.
Then came the monk’s defeat. Again, Bill sacrificing herself was a touching moment, but this was weakened by the standard ‘remember something happy’ moment that has become a predictable solution in recent years. Back in 2007, the world all thought the word ‘Doctor’ to restore him in The Last of the Time Lords and Amy remembers the Doctor to bring him back into existence in 2010’s The Big Bang. While the power of thoughts is a nice idea, it always seems a little too implausible and overly sentimental for Doctor Who.
The ‘Monk trilogy’ has brought politics to the forefront of Doctor Who, with parallels being drawn to real life events and comments being made on current issues affecting our lives. Doctor Who can be a good platform for making younger people aware of political issues and usuall this is done with a fair amount of subtlety – with more of a generic statement on war in general – or working it into the story’s narrative, such as the subject of racial discrimination in Thin Ice. However, The Lie Of The Land seems to make its intent very clear, with images of Donald Trump and references to ‘fake news’ making it just a little too obvious.
After the tediously predictable reveal of Missy being the ‘creature’ in the vault, we were treated to a trip inside to see her in action. The idea of Missy having dealt with the monks before was a nice touch and her ‘My whole life doesn’t revolve around you’ line immediately sets the imagination into hyperdrive thinking about Missy/the Master’s adventures away from the Doctor. Later on we see a new side of Missy, with her beginning to show remorse for those she’s killed. Although it’s good to explore the deeper thoughts of characters and it makes sense that she’s had time to think, I do worry that Moffat is trying to make the character more ‘human’ and he may spoil the view we have of the Master/Missy being this insane person who does these evil deeds for pure enjoyment.
I know I’ve ranted a bit too much about this episode, but I should point out that I did mostly enjoy it at the time. Nardole was again on top form and Bill is quickly becoming a strong, capable companion who is now at the point where she’s willing to sacrifice herself for the Doctor. Overall, the ‘Monk trilogy’ has been a great addition to the series and has generally been a well thought out, engaging storyline. I hope we get more of these three-parters in future series.
Unlike the first two episodes of the ‘Monk trilogy’, The Lie of the Land’s big twist comes at its beginning. The revelation that the Monks have not only taken over, but have manipulated humanity’s memory of its entire history, is instantly compelling, as are the glimpses we get of Earth’s resulting Orwellian dystopia. So, too, is the Doctor’s new role as chief propagandist for the Monks, and his seemingly utter betrayal of humans in general – and Bill in particular – makes for gripping viewing.
Disappointingly, however, The Lie of the Land doesn’t commit to its promising opening, discarding its huge potential in favour of more standard Doctor Who fare. The turning point comes with the Doctor’s fake regeneration – an exciting moment for the series trailer, perhaps, but its insignificance within the plot of the episode only serves to cheapen it. The ‘regeneration’ – and the events which lead up to it – are unconvincingly skipped over, leaving what should be the massive ramifications of Bill’s shocking decision to shoot the Doctor strangely unexplored.
With the intriguing concept of a brainwashed Doctor sadly dispensed with, The Lie of the Land loses its momentum, although there are still flashes of brilliance. A notable high point is Michelle Gomez’s captivating turn as Missy, effortlessly swinging from childish petulance, to playfulness, to the callousness of her suggestion that Bill, as the lynchpin, should sacrifice herself. Missy’s apparent distress at the end of the episode is ambiguous enough to leave viewers wondering whether her attempts to turn good are genuine, and it feels like The Lie of the Land is sowing the seeds for a fascinating character arc that will no doubt be returned to later this series.
Although Missy pours scorn on the Doctor’s definition of ‘good’, it’s precisely the latter’s brand of sentimentality which saves the day. Luckily, Bill’s established backstory helps to save the resolution from descending into full-blown mawkishness. Bill’s attachment to the idea of her mum has been explored throughout the series, and this plus her touching narration throughout The Lie of the Land goes some way to ensuring that Bill’s ‘memory’ of her mum is ultimately satisfying as a resolution, even if the all-too-easy capitulation of the Monks somewhat detracts from it. It’s also fitting that Bill saves the day in an episode which sees her character shine with some of Pearl Mackie’s best work to date, as well as providing a pleasing parallel with The Pyramid at the End of the World – although Bill’s love sells the world to the Monks, it is also her love that saves it.
While The Lie of the Land might be an underwhelming end to this Monk three-parter, it nevertheless stands up on its own as a perfectly engaging and enjoyable episode of Doctor Who. Even if specific elements of the ‘Monk trilogy’ may not quite hit the mark, overall it provides a satisfactory contrast to the standalone stories of earlier in the series, and is to be praised for a level of ambition which Doctor Who should undeniably always strive to meet.