August 15: "The Lie of the Land"

The Monks are in control, having convinced the population of the planet that they've always been there (because "however bad a situation is, if people think that's how it's always been, they'll put up with it," as Nardole points out), and the Doctor is apparently their figurehead, broadcasting to the world how good the Monks are (despite the fact that they have Memory Police who arrest and kill people who remember that the Monks have only been around six months or who own comic books (i.e., proof the Monks weren't always here)).  Bill is one of the people who remembers the old days, although she has to fight every day to keep it that way (mainly by talking to an imaginary version of her mother), and once Nardole gives her the chance to rescue the Doctor she takes it.

The third part of this story is by Toby Whithouse, who's usually a fairly solid writer.  So that's why it's a bit disappointing to find that "The Lie of the Land" is rather unfortunately mediocre.  I'm wondering if that's because he's essentially been brought in to wrap up this three-parter (and it really does feel like a three-parter, despite what the production team said), rather than conceiving of a complete story from scratch.

Honestly, the production team on this show continues to be so good at what they do that even lesser efforts like this can still boast of solid production values and interesting direction.  (The way the Monks' reality keeps threatening to break through the characters' resolve, with the symbol and the word TRUTH flashing up every so often, is a particularly nice touch.  And there's that homage to the McGann movie, with the Master's eyes superimposed over another image.)  So it definitely helps that the whole thing looks great.  It's just a bit of a shame that the storyline is so standard-issue.  Having rebels break into a secret base to locate a figurehead just isn't that exciting, and while they do a good job with it, it suffers from that feeling of familiarity.

The best part of the episode, though, is Bill's confrontation with the Doctor.  Her growing disillusionment is pitched perfectly, and Capaldi makes us initially believe that he really does want to help the Monks -- no knowing winks or sly smiles or anything that might give the game away.  "What about free will?" Bill demands.  "Yes, well, I mean, you had free will, and look at what you did with it," the Doctor replies.  "Worse than that, you had history.  History was saying to you, look, I've got some examples of fascism here for you to look at.  No?  Fundamentalism?  No?  Oh, okay, you carry on.  I had to stop you, or at least not stand in the way of someone else who wanted to, because the guns were getting bigger, the stakes were getting higher, and any minute now it was going to be goodnight, Vienna. ... All I can say is that we are lucky it was a benevolent race like the Monks, not the Daleks.  Yes, I know the Monks are ruthless.  I get that.  Yes, they play with history and I'm not exactly thrilled about that.  But they bring peace and order."  Capaldi makes it seem like he agrees with the Monks, like he's tired of having to save humanity from itself, in such a way that even we the audience aren't certain if he's really on their side, and if Bill is going to have find a way to stop the Doctor as well as the Monks.  And honestly, that might have made for a far more interesting back half -- perhaps with Bill and Nardole having to go to Missy to get her help to stop the Doctor.

The Doctor seemingly regenerates. ("The Lie of the Land") ©BBC
But that's not what we get.  Instead we're told this was all an elaborate set up to verify that Bill wasn't a Monk plant (complete with the Doctor faking a regeneration, most likely so they could include bits of it in the series trailers (the more cynical side of me says)) and then it's more business as usual, with the freedom fighters infiltrating the Monks' base to shut off their broadcast.  Even the appearance of Missy, telling the Doctor that the easiest way to break the Monks' control would be to kill Bill (since she's the one who invited them in in the first place), doesn't do too much to liven things up.  The best bits are Missy being snarky to the Doctor: "I've had adventures too," she tells the Doctor in one instance, after he asks if she's met the Monks before.  "My whole life doesn't revolve around you, you know."  (And they do explain a couple of the questions I posed last time after all -- though not the "why are they here at all?" one -- so that's a good thing at least.)  But no, most of this is, in many ways, just Who by numbers, right down to the final solution to the Monk problem being love (in this case, Bill's pure love for her mother).  Ho, as they say, hum.

So as I said, the production values are excellent, and that goes a long way in making this palatable.  But as a story, "The Lie of the Land" feels just a bit tired, almost going through the motions rather than trying to push the envelope.  Considering we started this three-parter with "Extremis", it's perhaps inevitable that the wrap-up wouldn't be as exciting as the beginning.  But nevertheless it's unfortunate that a storyline that started so adventurously ended by playing it so safe, but that's how "The Lie of the Land" feels: safe.  And in some regards safe is fine; it's not the worst sin to shoot for that, but it does mean that it's all too easy to feel let down by the result.