Despite a fantastic set-up, Doctor Who fails to deliver a satisfying conclusion to the Monks arc. Instead, it falls back on overused tropes.
The first 15 minutes of “The Lie of the Land” have the makings of an all-time classic. The Monks have conquered the planet, making the populace think that they have ruled humanity forever. In reality, the episode takes place six months after “The Pyramid at the End of the World.” By using a mass brainwashing, everyone gives the Monks free reign. The authorities slam down on any free thought or rebellion instantly whilst onlookers cheer. It’s terrifying stuff. Even Bill has trouble holding onto what’s real, using a mental image of her mother to keep focus. That and the hope that The Doctor will come to the rescue.
From outside appearances, it seems that The Doctor is working for the Monks, spreading fake news on the airwaves. But Bill is convinced that it must be part of a plan. With the help of Nardole, she breaks into The Doctor’s hidden location, only for him to immediately call security. Peter Capaldi goes into a blistering speech, the type The Doctor usually gives in defense of humanity. But in this warped world, he says that humanity can’t be trusted with its own future. It repeatedly ignores examples of fascism and fundamentalism from history. Instead of trying to guide them down a better path, he’s decided to save humanity from itself by helping the Monks. He berates Bill as well for making the deal that led to this hellish world, despite him telling her not to do so.
This scene should be the crux of the entire episode, a world so controlled by the Monks that even The Doctor has turned on his companion. It’s new ground for the show and one of the biggest challenges a companion has faced yet. In heartbroken desperation, Bill steals a handgun and shoots The Doctor. He starts to regenerate and…surprise! It’s all a ruse. The Doctor needed to know that Bill wasn’t under the Monks’ influence, so he set up this whole scenario. Instead, The Doctor is same as always, trying to find a way to save everyone.
This reveal causes the bottom to fall out of “The Lie of the Land.” The fake-out reverts us to a typical alien invasion scenario. After asking Missy for help, the team breaks into the pyramid and find the mind control device. The Doctor tries to use his brainwaves to interrupt the signal and bring back the true version of history. He fails, but Bill steps up to the plate. How does her mind cope with something The Doctor couldn’t handle? The power of love! Yes, we are back to showrunner Steven Moffat’s favorite deus ex machina. By focusing on her mother, Bill gives the world an incorruptible image that breaks the spell.
Given how heavily they played into the previous episodes, the Monks are almost non-existent here. They never interact with The Doctor or Bill. The episode doesn’t explore their endgame or motive. As soon as the brainwashing fails and humanity starts to resist their oppression, the Monks leave the planet without a fight. In 30 minutes, the aliens went from an intriguing new villain to among the show’s lamest.
Doctor Who should stop trying to assemble three-part stories. The other closing chapters in trilogies, like last year’s “Hell Bent” and 2007’s “Last of the Time Lords,” had similar issues in wrapping up the arcs in a rewarding manner. It’s a shame that the potential here was wasted. Hopefully next week’s excursion to Mars will get the season back on track.
– The only other noteworthy part of “The Lie of the Land” was Missy’s appearance. The Time Lady, who’s going cold turkey from being evil, says that since Bill created the link with the Monks, her brain death could break it. The Doctor refuses to follow that path, but Missy sees herself as doing good, though it’s a utilitarian version. At the end of the episode, she appears to break down a bit from guilt over all the people she killed. Whether she’s actually regretful or tricking The Doctor, her story remains a highlight.
– In the aftermath of the invasion, the Monks erase themselves from humanity’s collective memory. I get that this tried to tie up any loose ends. But what about all the people that they killed in that six-month span?
– When The Doctor decides to plug his brain into the transmitter, he says he may take care of some of bits of history too, like racism and …..people who talk in cinemas. That’s casting a wide net!
– Nardole had an imaginary friend who left him for someone else. Poor Nardole.
– Nardole also knows how to do a Tarovian neck pinch. Then he says, “let’s trek on.” Hmmm….