Doctor Who wrapped up its three-part Monks trilogy with a rather disappointing episode, but it still left us with questions. Here’s what we’re thinking about after “The Lie of the Land”.
As three-part Doctor Who stories go, the Monks’ trilogy left a lot to be desired. It featured main villains that didn’t have much in the way of motivation. The best section of its story erased itself at the end. And its resolution felt rushed and unsatisfying. (Bill saved the day with her own version of fake news, after all.) In short: It wasn’t what we wanted it to be. But it did feature some fantastic character moments. Which, in turn raised some interesting questions about where the series goes from here.
Here’s what we’re thinking about after “The Lie of the Land”:
The Missy Situation
Let’s be real: One of the best things about the Monks Trilogy was that Michelle Gomez popped up in two out of its three episodes. Now, sure, one of those appearances was a flashback, but one wasn’t. Missy’s brief appearance in “The Lie of the Land” not only confirmed her presence in the vault, but also her necessity to the back half of the season. The Doctor’s attempt to rehabilitate her seems like an important piece of all that. Twelve’s desire to “save” Missy makes sense. The two have a complicated relationship that goes back through many years and multiple forms. The Doctor has always thought better of the Master than he or she likely deserved. No matter which versions of them we’re talking about.
The key question with Missy’s story here, of course, is whether her desire to learn how to be good is genuine. You could certainly argue that her initial promise of self-improvement, with the threat of death hanging over her head, happened under duress. But after 70 years in the vault, her attitude does seem more sincere. Or, at the very least, like someone who has done some wrestling with the concepts of good and evil. Which at least may make things interesting whenever she gets free. Or is inevitably tempted back toward the dark side. (Which we all know is coming.)
Another wild card factor? We all know that former Master John Simm will return in the season finale for some sort of multiple-Master story. Will that version of the character somehow serve as a catalyst for Missy’s return to her previous supervillain ways? Or is he some kind of response to her attempt to embrace a new way of living? It seems like it all must be connected in some way, but how?
The Regeneration Question
In “The Lie of the Land,” the Doctor orchestrates a massively complicated test meant to prove Bill isn’t under the Monks’ control. Bill eventually becomes so upset by all of this that she shoots the Doctor about five times in the chest. Leaving that sudden explosion of violence aside for a moment – though it’s the sort of offhanded moral backtracking that deserves a closer examination of its own at some point – can we talk about the fact that the Doctor faked the start of a regeneration as part of this charade?
To put it bluntly: I have many questions.
First, there are the logistics. How did Twelve manage to do this? We’ve never seen regeneration energy used as a tool by the Doctor in this way before. So what are the rules of regeneration now? We know that Time Lords have some control over regeneration, but how far does it go? Can the Doctor just kick one off whenever he or she likes? And what was the purpose of this fake-out? In “Knock Knock”, Twelve dodged the issue of regeneration with Bill entirely. And, as far as we know, he never explained it to her at all. If she doesn’t know what it means, how is it a test for her? What was the point of this part of the story, besides creating some buzzy clips for season 10 promotional reels?
The Doctor’s Darkness
The cold open of “The Lie of the Land”, which sets up the Doctor as a collaborator of sorts with the invading Monks, was terrifying. Obviously, none of us wanted to believe the Doctor’s betrayal was real. But deep down on some level we all knew it could be.
The Doctor has always had a dark side. We’ve seen it multiple times over the years. He’s attacked his own companions, threatened the order of time itself, and punished various enemies in painfully creative ways. (Looking at you, “Family of Blood”.) And, of course, one version of himself killed most of his own people. (Though a different version later undid that choice.) The Doctor is capable of wondrous things, for certain. But he can also be a monster, and we sometimes forget that, I think.
Honestly, there’s something fascinating – and possibly even appealing – about imagining an episode where the Doctor is our adversary. It could happen. Look at “The Waters of Mars”. It came pretty close. There’s a dictator inside the Doctor sometimes, and all it would take would be the right circumstances to set it free. The Monks, as it turns out, were not the right circumstances. But what might be? And as we tick down to Twelve’s regeneration, might we get closer to finding out?
Doctor Who season 10 continues Saturday, June 10 on BBC One and BBC America.