The Orwellian gymnastics of “The Lie of the Land” give ‘Doctor Who’ a hernia
Series Ten, Episode Eight – “The Lie of the Land”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. Despite the excellent build up in “Extremis” and fair-to-middling exposition in “The Pyramid at the End of the World,” “The Lie of the Land” managed to wrap up the entire Monks trilogy with a messy, noncommittal stinker of an episode.
The Monks themselves turned out to be ineffectual and downright lame villains. Sarah Parish’ completely over-the-top Empress of the Racnoss struck more fear into the hearts of Whovians than the staid features of the Monks. Which might be why we barely even saw them (outside of their ubiquitous projections, that is). It would seem that Toby Whithouse chose to write around them as much as possible.
The Earth has found itself in dire straights, with The Monks having thoroughly inserted themselves into the humans’ consciousness in a matter of six months. We see their statues towering over places of religion and learning, their projections rewiring people’s memories of the creatures. Humanity now recalls their presence in ancient cave drawings, renaissance artwork, the first moon walk and… with Abba? All the most important bits of history, anyways.
“The Lie of the Land” is another crack at a hugely relevant issue. Much like “Extremis” half-arsedly tackled consent, this week’s object lesson lay in the Monk’s massive propaganda factory; the “fake news central” as The Doctor spelled out for us.
The thing is, if you choose to preach or snark at current events, you’d better take a stab at a solution before your 45 minutes is up. In this case, combating Orwellian propaganda and mind control with Bill’s equally made-up mental gymnastics seemed to dodge the point entirely. I guess there was an undercurrent of “the power of love” on which we were supposed to focus, but that played out as an odd thing to hone in on, rather than “the truth.”
Pearl Mackie’s performance as Bill anchored down the craziness on the prison ship, but I can’t help but feel she’s been dealt some unfair scripts lately. She’s the only companion I can recall who’s on a trajectory towards “less clever” as the season wears on. Despite The Doctor’s grand “civilization at the hand of the sword” speech, I wasn’t convinced Bill could shrug off shooting someone she just endangered an entire planet to save. Never has an emotional Tilt-a-Whirl been so dissonantly glossed over, to say nothing of how easily she accepted the regeneration fake-out.
The most enjoyable parts of “The Lie of the Land” were when the ball landed in Missy’s court. Sadly, we only saw her locked away for a few moments, when The Doctor sought her advice on how to take down the Monks. But Michelle Gomez knows how to make every minute count, calling The Doctor out on his naïve optimism, teasing a solution out of Bill and revving up those crocodile tears for effect. We are just going to have to take Nardole’s comment about Missy going off being bad “cold turkey” with a grain of salt. Whether there is some sincerity in her repentance or not, as soon as she tastes freedom again, we’ll be in for some chaos. With Steven Moffat wrapping up the last few episodes of the season later this month, you can bet Capaldi and Gomez will go out with a bang.
“It’s not a trick, it’s not a plan, I have joined the monks… I’m saving you from yourselves.” – The Doctor.
“It’s… it’s just a woman.” – Bill, grossly underestimating Missy.
“Nice people generally don’t haggle over the fate of a planet.” – The Doctor, to Missy’s bizarre requests.
“Your version of ‘good’ is not absolute. It’s vain, arrogant, sentimental.” – Missy, to The Doctor.
BEST MOMENT: All of Missy’s moments. Michelle Gomez is absolutely perfect in this role, eating everyone else alive. She’s getting awfully bored in there, though, which will only amp up the drama once she’s out.
EPISODE’S MVP: Missy provided the only real voice of reason in “The Lie of the Land.” While “reason” is not necessarily the basis for Doctor Who, it was certainly required of an episode about fake news and propaganda.
– The ship captain’s son was sent to a labor camp for 10 years for possession of a box of comics. *GASP!*
– I realize this is really splitting hairs, but Bill’s voiceover throughout the episode struck me as a poor narrative choice. If she’s telling her mom what happened the entire time, we know it’s all going to work out, which really takes the wind out of the sails in a few scenes, no?
– I like how Missy meditates by tinkering around on the piano, much like The Doctor does with his guitar. Must be a Time Lord thing.
– Bill and The Doctor share some truly tender and heartwarming moments. I will miss the Capaldi/Mackie dynamic next year.
5 out of 10
Next: “Empress of Mars”, in one week.
Before: “The Pyramid at the End of the World”, here.