Doctor Who – Season 10 Episode 8
“The Lie of the Land”
I’ve been very vocal about how weak the previous two episodes have been. Despite some strong ideas and excellent acting the overall premise has been fairly badly executed to the point that a miracle would be needed to stick the landing on this particular story.
The episode starts off promisingly enough with an alternate history narrated by the Doctor. He talks about the Monks leading humanity throughout history and serving as a benevolent protector always steering the species in the right direction. This is backed up by imagery showing them present in things like famous photographs to establish how absolute their deception is.
It seems fairly obvious that the global deception is a bad thing because humanity are being lied to about their own history and have been conditioned to look to a group of Aliens for help and support in whatever they do. It’s really nefarious because it makes an entire species dependent on another without any level of ambition or self reliance to inspire progress.
There’s an argument that the episode barely has about the role of free will in society. The Monks have engineered the deception so that humanity are completely subservient to them but there’s very little evidence that the world created is a “bad” one. From what we see it appears to be fairly similar to the world before the Monks changed everything with the exception of society looking to them for answers. The argument that isn’t detailed is whether a world controlled by an Alien force is necessarily a bad thing considering life seems to be reasonably content for a large number of people. Everything is built on a lie but is the lie actually benefiting people? I certainly don’t have the answers to this question but I would have liked to see it explored.
Another angle to look at is the role of the Doctor in all of this. The Doctor has been travelling throughout time and space for pretty much his entire life and many of his adventures have involved him playing a direct role in shaping the course of human history in one way or another. He inspires some of Shakespeare’s famous lines in “The Shakespeare Code” for example. There are numerous episodes where his actions have caused a massive change in society to happen. The Christopher Eccleston episode “The Long Game” had the Doctor begin a course of events that would inevitably result in the Daleks taking control and harvesting human beings to create more Daleks.
My point is that the Doctor isn’t entirely innocent in all of this and it’s a pity that the opportunity wasn’t taken to hold the Monks up as a mirror to him to point out that his interference has been at best positively influential and at worst destructive. The implied key difference is that Doctor’s intentions are good where the Monks are the opposite but even that isn’t made clear.
The episode fails on other fundamental levels as well. There’s a tendency for this show to lack in any real consequences due to its broadly episodic nature. For the most part things need to be largely reset at the end of a given story so that the Doctor and his companion can continue travelling. This means that stories with large stakes typically have a contrived resolution that allows the world the show inhabits to continue on largely unchanged. The characters may change and develop in some way but there’s a base level of normality that the show will always return to.
It makes sense on a narrative level as Doctor Who delivers social commentary in a science fiction skin. In order to do that present day Earth has to be fairly close to the world we live in or any attempt to make a point will simply fall flat but the trade-off is that large stories like this come off feeling empty.
This is especially apparent in the reset button ending that happens. Bill taking it upon herself to take responsibility for what is going on by accepting that she has to die in order to put things right is a solid emotional beat. I also like the fact that the false image she has created of her own mother is what allows her to solve the problem. The episode established two things about her. One of which was she believed that the Doctor would be the one to save the world and the second was that the image of her mother was something that comforted her. Those two things were her main source of strength and inspired her to resist the world created by the Monks.
Considering how important the false image of her mother was the episode should have spent more time building that up. It’s unclear how that creation helps her and where it fits into her life other than it simply being something that she holds onto. The moment she uses it is somewhat clumsily handled as the emotional beat is undercut by the Doctor explaining everything. It wasn’t really that necessary for him to deliver a running commentary on what Bill was doing as the visual of every lie the Monks had set up being replaced by the image of Bill’s mother was perfectly clear.
Credit should definitely be given to Pearl Mackie who nails her performance in this episode. She does a great job of selling emotional moments that don’t have enough depth in the story to back them up. Bill’s self sacrifice is a particularly noteworthy example of just how good Pearl Mackie is. I fully believed that Bill had accepted responsibility and was prepared to die to solve a problem that she created but there was something missing underneath that making the self sacrifice not quite work on a story level.
This particular ending is a shining example of how stories in this show tend to be resolved without consequences. It is established earlier in the episode that Bill is the only one who can solve the problem and in order to do that she has to willingly sacrifice herself. It’s a good way to outline the stakes and present a choice for Bill as a character but she comes away from her sacrifice completely unharmed. The Monks are defeated and she suffers no ill effects whatsoever.
Another issue is that the human race don’t remember anything that has happened which means that humanity can’t learn from allowing themselves to be controlled by a race of Aliens. The episode even addresses that it’s another example of humanity failing to learn from mistakes. The Doctor tells Bill that it’s irritating and I’m inclined to agree with him. This did lead to Bill asking the Doctor why he puts up with humans and he tells her that there’s a chance that one of them will be someone like her. It’s a very earnest, honest and heartfelt reply that is brilliantly delivered by Peter Capaldi and it’s entirely consistent with the Doctor’s underlying hopeful attitude.
The episode had other frustrations such as the scene where Bill finds the Doctor and he appears to have joined the Monks. This is actually a great scene on the surface as the Doctor makes so many valid points as to why he might join the Monks. He points out that the human race is stagnating and refuses to learn from past mistakes. Arguably the Monks are good for humanity as they lead the species in a given direction and remove all the self created problems. He even makes the argument that the people being killed are an acceptable price to pay for what essentially amounts to World Peace. Every point the Doctor makes seems genuine and Peter Capaldi delivers the entire thing with such raw honesty that I almost believed it.
Pearl Mackie certainly puts across that Bill believes what the Doctor is saying and the disgust in her voice as she calls him out on the fact that he is just giving up is brilliantly done. The scene builds to the point where Bill decides that the Doctor is a danger to humanity and shoots him thanks to her performance and she definitely embodies the audience perspective in this instance since we are supposed to be convinced as she is.
Following this is where it gets disappointing. Of course the Doctor is lying in order to test Bill’s loyalty because the show can’t have the Doctor side with an invading Alien force. It doesn’t take away from the emotional heft that precedes the reveal but it does feel like a massive cop out. The Doctor being at a point where Bill’s decision had made him think that the human race deserves the world they have created for themselves is a really interesting prospect and it could have empowered Bill to take action without him. As I said above the episode fails to lean into the similarities between the Doctor and the monks which means that the story feels undercooked but in a better episode then it would have made a lot of sense for the Doctor to join the Monks because he doesn’t see them as a malicious force. Of course he does and the whole thing was a trick but the alternative was far more interesting.
I also found the Doctor going to Missy for help to be somewhat underwhelming. As with all of the major scenes in this episode the acting was outstanding. Having the Doctor go to Missy for help is something that was inevitable as she is the only other being in the universe who is as intelligent as he is so having her to bounce ideas off is a no brainer as far as storytelling is concerned.
The issue with the scene itself is that Missy didn’t seem to deliver any insight that the Doctor couldn’t have figured out himself. I enjoyed the back and forth between them especially when she pointed out that she had adventures outside of him. Her main purpose is to tell the Doctor that Bill would have to sacrifice herself to solve the problem which is definitely something that Missy would say. She’s cold and practical which offsets the Doctor’s compassionate nature. The conversation does help him arrive at the conclusion but bouncing ideas off Nardole could have accomplished the same thing and he could easily have delivered the same insight that Missy does. If Missy is going to be deployed in such a way then it should be something unique to her. I was really impressed that the episode ended on Missy feeling guilty about everyone she had ever killed. It suggests a redemptive arc for the character at some point which could work if done right.
A frustrating episode that has some good ideas and excellent acting throughout but doesn’t manage to explore any of the ideas in any meaningful way. The idea of humanity accepting control from an Alien species is an interesting one but the episode never fully leans into the idea that life under the rule of the Monks might not be so bad after all. It also fails to address the obvious parallels between the Doctor and the Monks. Bill defeating them by projecting an image of her mother over the lies that they have spread works on an emotional level but falls flat because the episode fails to do the groundwork on it. The Doctor narrating it as it happens doesn’t really work either and Bill suffers no consequences for sacrificing herself either. Nobody on Earth remembers the Monks after they have been defeated either so this story is more or less bereft of consequences.
The Doctor appearing to join the Monks is also an interesting idea as the argument he makes for why he does so is really convincing. Every point he makes is valid and it was at the point where I almost believed it. Pearl Mackie effectively sold Bill’s anger and disgust that the Doctor would apparently turn against humanity like that. Having it be a test of Bill’s loyalty was a really poor idea since it robs the episode of any real consequences once again. The scene where the Doctor goes to Missy for help was another source of frustration as it was really well acted but Missy brought no more insight than Nardole would have.
- excellent acting throughout
- interesting ideas
- strong emotional beats
- failure to explore the interesting ideas
- the lack of consequences for the story or the characters
- a clumsy resolution to the story
- Missy not contributing anything that other characters couldn’t
User Review( votes)
We’d love to know your thoughts on this episode and anything else you might want to talk about. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up.
If you want to chat to me directly then I’m on Twitter as well.