Doctor Who season 10 episode 8 review: ‘The Lie of the Land’


Doctor Who season 10’s three-part Monks Trilogy ends not with a bang, but a whimper. And not even Pearl Mackie’s exceptional performance can save its uneven and unsatisfying ending.

The fact that Doctor Who Season 10 would include a three-part story again was big news when it was announced. So many stories in the Steven Moffat era of the show suffered similar problems with pacing – rushed endings, nonsensical plot twists, or not enough time for the story to breathe. A three-part saga seemed like the perfect solution to these issues. But, unfortunately, this “Monks Trilogy” let us all down. “Extremis” and “The Pyramid at the End of the World” each have their own strengths and problems, and “The Lie of the Land” is no different. But, overall, the biggest issue here is that the episodes just don’t work as part of a larger saga. In fact, by the end of the trilogy, you’ll probably wonder why we spent so much time on this story at all.

Part of the reason that season 10 has been so good is that it’s gone back to the basics of what makes Doctor Who great. It chose simpler stories and generally highlighted character work over plot twists. But the Monks trilogy rejects all of that in favor of an overly complicated series of episodes that rely much too much on flash over substance. For example, despite spending three separate installments on this story, by the time the Monks are vanquished, we still had never found out what they wanted. Why were they so desperate to conquer Earth? How were they defeated so easily, after all that hype? And why did Doctor Who give their story so much space within the season, when the show basically never told it?

Though “The Lie of the Land” is extremely uneven, it has a few shining moments. Peter Capaldi’s performance as a Doctor-gone-potentially-evil was fantastic, and fascinating. (Take a moment and imagine a multi-part saga in which the Doctor is our enemy for most of it.) The return of Michelle Gomez and Missy was both welcome and an episode highlight. And Pearl Mackie is a wonder the entire way through, perfectly portraying Bill’s emotional anguish at the prospect of Twelve’s betrayal, and her willingness to sacrifice herself to save the day at the end.

But in the end, the Monks Trilogy basically ground this season of Doctor Who to a screeching halt. And next week’s going to have to be a pretty stunning episode to get this season back on track.

"However bad a situation is, if people think that’s how it’s always been, they put up with it."

Fake news and fake outs

When our episode opens, six months have passed since the Monks invaded Earth. Humanity is now living in what amounts to a dystopian slave state. Statues of the Monks are everywhere.  And no one – save a select handful of resisters – remembers what life was like before they came. Bill is one of those who remembers a Monk-free planet. And she’s busy searching for the Doctor. She’s convinced that he can still save the day, despite the fact that he’s busy doing regular public broadcasts which reiterate the monsters’ false history.

Unfortunately, when Bill finally finds the Doctor, he seems just as brainwashed as everyone else. He spouts some nonsense about humanity stagnating and forgetting the lessons of its own history. He even threatens to turn Bill and Nardole into the Monks. Bill’s so convinced by the Doctor’s charade  that she shoots him, rather than accept it. She shoots him multiple times. This leads to a fake regeneration, which is ostensibly some kind of massive test for Bill. But what it really feels like is the writers trolling Doctor Who fans anxious over Peter Capaldi’s impending regeneration. It all seems exceptionally cruel, especially when the explanation for these events makes little sense.

Who was the Doctor’s performance – and the fake regeneration – even for? He claims he was trying to get the Monks to trust him, but with everyone in the room except Bill in on his charade, it’s hard to believe that. And if it was all really a test – to make sure Bill wasn’t somehow under Monk control – it seems as though it’s a step too far. Particularly when the rest of the episode never once attempts to reckon with the fact that Bill shot her best friend, and what that kind of decision means for her. Honestly, much of this sequence just feels like they wanted to create some buzzy shots for season 10 promotional materials, as much as anything else.

"“Your version of good is not absolute. It’s vain, arrogant, sentimental. And if you’re waiting for me to become all that, I’m going to be here for a long time yet.”"

The Missy sequence is the episode’s highlight

In order to defeat the Monks, the Doctor turns to his greatest adversary – and potentially greatest weapon. And that’s how we finally see Missy in the present day timeline, as the Doctor and Bill enter the vault to question her about what she knows. The time crunch involved here means that Bill’s introduction to Missy – as well as her reaction to her general existence – gets less screentime than we otherwise might want. Which is such a shame, as in their brief exchanges together the two have an intriguing dynamic. Watching the two of them face off for more than three minutes at a stretch would be fascinating.

Anyway, of course, Missy’s encountered the Monks before. And though she seems equally unaware of what their ultimate goals might be, she at least knows how their world-conquering mental telepathy works. The “linchpin” – a.k.a the person who invited them to invade – is the key to their success. And as long that person survives, the Monks’ psychic link to the conquered remains in place. In order to defeat the monsters, that “linchpin” must die. Or, at the very least, become a brain dead husk incapable of helping them maintain their control over the population. Yikes. The Doctor, as one might expect, is distinctly not a fan of this plan. But it’s Missy who, in a bizarre reversal, who asks whether the life of one person, when placed against the whole of humanity, is worth it. Of course the Doctor doesn’t think so, and never would.

Gomez and Capaldi have such great chemistry together that it’s hard to not be a little bit resentful that their interactions this season have been so limited. The story of Missy’s apparent attempt to live on the straight and narrow is fascinating. (Even though we all know it will likely never stick for any real amount of time.) But her declaration that Twelve has a very limited view of what “good” means is the kind of debate I want to see in this show. And even if her motives are almost entirely selfish – she wants out of the vault, after all – at least we know what her goals are. And after this Monks saga, that feels kind of nice.

"Bill’s mum, you just went viral."

The power of love to the rescue once more

As for “The Lie of the Land”, in the end, love saves the day – and humanity – once more. Bill, as we all probably predicted as soon as the “solution” presented itself, attempts to sacrifice herself to save the world. On some level, this is actually a nice bit of symmetry. After all, it’s Bill’s fault that the Monks took over in the first place. She’s the one who let them in, even if the alternative was horrible complete species extinction by bioweapon. (Which, incidentally, we never heard of again. Did the Monks erase that too?)

But Bill’s pure, emotional memories of her dead mother are apparently strong enough to defeat the Monk’s brainwashing. Yes, despite the fact that her memories of her mother are pretty much entirely fabricated from some photos the Doctor nipped back in time to get during the season premiere. Maybe try not to think about that so much, because it’s kind of infuriating. After all, aren’t Bill’s memories of her mother just a different sort of the same fake news the Monks create? I expect we could argue that the difference here is that the sentiment behind Bill’s memories is legitimate. After all, surely she loves her mother, even though she never met her. But it’s an uncomfortable and messy solution to the events at hand.

This is, of course, no knock on Mackie’s performance, which is tremendous from beginning to end. However, it feels like Doctor Who has been to this particular story well many times in recent seasons. And, as a conclusion to this “Monks Trilogy”, it feels particularly lazy. These monsters spent presumably years running digital simulations to figure out how to best invade and conquer Earth. But in all their projections they didn’t account for this particular massive weakness in their operating system? Perhaps its more a flaw of this particular story set-up than the villains themselves. But it’s hard not to think that the Monks really don’t live up to their own hype. And the rather poor execution of their story is an awkward, screeching pause in what had otherwise been an extremely strong season.

Next: 50 Actors Who Could Play the Next Doctor

Next week, Doctor Who looks like it might be back to season 10 form, with a creepy installment involving classic monsters the Ice Warriors. Here’s hoping, at any rate.