Doctor Who: 10-08 “The Lie of the Land” Review
Reviewed by Ryan Monty.
(This review continues spoilers. Read on if that doesn’t bother you!)
So then. Planet Earth has been subjugated. The Doctor has been imprisoned, and his companion is wandering amongst the new dystopia. People are murdered for not falling in line with the new status quo, and there’s an air of general misery hanging over this bleak world. The only thing is, this isn’t Last of the Time Lords, and The Doctor isn’t just imprisoned- he’s in league with The Monks, after their takeover of the world following Bill’s crushing decision at the end of last week’s The Pyramid at the End of the World.
I noted last week how this episode in the next time teaser seemed to resemble the Series 3 finale quite a bit and in truth, it does, but it’s disquietingly a lot closer to home, with the dystopia presented in The Lie of The Land not a reign of a ruthless Time Lord and his Toclafane monsters, rather a world where life seems to carry on as normal, just under new management. The skies are grey, gigantic Monk statues pepper landmarks and cities, and the populace are downbeat and brainwashed to the Monk’s ways. But life is carrying on as normal, lest you dare to question the new “truth” of the world and are taken away by new police force at-large, the Truth Police, with the population not fighting back at all in the main, rather cheering the deaths of those fighting back in The Doctor’s broadcast. Instead of simply conquering the Earth, the Monks have rewritten our major history, summed up superbly with a spine-tingling pre-titles sequence as The Doctor narrates how the Monks have watched over us as we took our first steps all the way up to inventing the Internet- and that it’s a good thing, because the Monks are such kind benefactors.
Bill’s life in this world is still the same, still serving chips. She’s developed a coping mechanism in her loneliness without The Doctor and Nardole, talking to her mum, who we see in the flesh for the first time in her initial chat. In fact, this is a narrative device we see throughout the whole episode, as Bill narrates the events of the episode as they transpire to her mum, with Bill’s mum herself becoming a vital character as the episode ends. While the themes of truth and the un-real are most prescient, this week continues to have a large focus on faith, with Bill’s continued faith in The Doctor put to the test, and more pressingly the faith in her mum and the memory of her. This episode sees the focus pressed squarely on Pearl Mackie, with Bill on a quest of her own like Martha in Last of the Time Lords. And while Martha’s journey was spreading faith of The Doctor, Bill’s journey is of her hanging on to her own faith in him. This is brought to the boiling point when Nardole turns up on her doorstep, recovered from his brush with the deadly bacteria, with a location of The Doctor.
Bill finally gets her chance to confront him once she and Nardole board the boat The Doctor is kept, and of course, he’s in league with The Monks. This is the height of the episode’s drama, with Peter Capaldi given one of his greatest tasks in the role so far, playing a Doctor who is so viscerally fed-up with humanity, and has passed his duty of care to the first race who would who wouldn’t destroy them, no matter how grim the reality. Capaldi plays this so beautifully that you buy completely into Bill’s slow loss of sanity in the face of this new Doctor- a Doctor who makes genuinely good points on humanity that sell you on his betrayal. Bill is driven then to shoot The Doctor, but this turns out to be another classic Who regeneration fake-out- a lie in the middle of an episode full of lies. I can understand why some feel this is a cheap trailer moment, or cruel on The Doctor to drive Bill to this action, but I feel that action this extreme is certainly a solid and necessary way to break Bill’s faith in The Doctor, so he could see that she hadn’t fallen to The Monk’s influence. Writer Toby Whithouse has form with Who characters and faith, non-more so in Series 6’ The God Complex, and this mid-episode flashpoint is beautifully built, Pearl Mackie’s creeping desperation and Peter Capaldi’s sudden antagonism melding perfectly.
The world of The Lie of The Land, while not as downright apocalyptic as other dystopian Earths seen in Doctor Who, is still one presented with great struggle, and most unnervingly close to home. There’s echoes of the classic George Orwell novel 1984 (and the film version starring the late War Doctor himself, John Hurt), from the concept of the “Truth” to The Doctor’s “Big Brother”-esque broadcasts to the brainwashed population. It’s certainly one of the most topical episodes of the show in recent years and maybe ever, with The Doctor talking about “fake news” and Donald Trump himself appearing briefly on screen in The Monk’s broadcast room. The world of this episode is built in a way that buys you into the misery that mankind is suffering, with new to Who director Wayne Yip and his production team crafting a depressing suburban world with seemingly no hope, full of people shuffling about their business resignedly. Seem familiar? That’s what makes the world this episode establishes so disturbing- is it really too dissimilar from reality? With untrustworthy news sources abound across the world, who knows if the “Truth” of our world is any different from the “Truth” of The Monks?
While you are divulged more information on The Monks themselves this week, their machinations aren’t fully revealed, and a large amount of information is either left hanging or ambiguous. And I suppose that does add to their mysterious aura for possible returns, but they seem to lack a sense of agency in this episode, with their dark reign keenly felt throughout, however not a whole lot of action from The Monks themselves, which disappointed me. Someone who did get plenty of screen time this week is Michelle Gomez, with the Vault finally opened with Missy and her piano. Michelle Gomez’ performance this week and in Extremis have been fascinating- clearly the intention for her and The Doctor this season is The Doctor’s quest to bring her back to the light, which many will find irritating given The Master’s usual penchant for deception, but Gomez beautifully understated, toned down yet still dangerous performance adds new depth to her character that makes you believe it is possible, no less in the closing scene of the episode when she begins to weep at the deaths she has caused over her life. Yet, there’s still a heavy sense that both sides are playing each other, both wary of the other’s true intentions. This is almost certainly a power play with a lot at stake.
Mid-episode Missy is asked for her help regarding The Monks, but it is ultimately Bill herself who defeats them. In events which have been seen before in the show, with The Doctor refusing to act on Missy’s suggestion that only Bill dying can break the link The Monks have on Earth, but after trying himself is tied up with Bill herself resigned to her fate, tying The Doctor up ala Forest of The Dead and River Song. It’s here where I feel Murray Gold’s score can be appreciated most, with his score for The Lie of The Land being his absolute greatest of this series so far, with the score playing over Bill’s desperate plea to The Doctor to just let her save the world pitch perfect in its emotion. The score throughout the episode provides it with a superlative sense of scope and there’s any number of instantly memorable musical moments- whether it’s the wonderful This is Gallifrey re-working, the attack on The Monk’s pyramid, or here as Bill goes to her fate.
It’s here in the ending where a lot of people may sour on this episode, ultimately. “The Power of Love” is a trope that the show has used before, and to some this may be a cheap resolution to not just the episode but the trilogy. And while I was let-down by the lack of agency of The Monks themselves as these events transpired, it did allow for a more personal ending, sentimental but not unearned in the slightest, as Bill’s memory is what resolves The Monks reign, the one memory left that hasn’t been corrupted by them. I love how they’ve used Bill’s mother this series, and the resolution to this episode ties in the two most notable moments involving her- The Doctor bringing Bill photos of her, and Bill “talking” to her- tying them in a way that is heartbreakingly emotional, and certainly moved me as Bill’s love for her mother breaking The Monks at last. While as stated, some may find this cheap, I feel it was an almost-perfect resolution- that in the end, it isn’t Bill’s faith in The Doctor that saves the day- it’s her faith in her mum. It’s beautifully played.
Looking back on “The Monk trilogy” now at its completion, I feel highly satisfied with how it has played out, with three distinct stories in Extremis, The Pyramid at the End of The World and The Lie of The Land, that all tie together in one connective narrative dealing with complex themes as faith and truth of reality, Extremis being the highlight for me. But what excites me most is what the series promises next- the main plotline of the Vault seems to have resolved now, and the shift has moved to Missy and The Doctor, alongside who knows what else. We may have a lot of answers, but there’s so many more questions being posed!