[Editor’s Note: The following review of “Doctor Who” Season 10, Episode 8, “The Lie of the Land,” contains spoilers.]
“Doctor Who” wades into political territory this week by painting the ruling Monks as fascist overlords who control the media, establish martial law and punish all opponents. It’s not much of a stretch to take this as commentary about the current state of the Western world on both sides of the Pond.
When the situation seems hopeless, a typically Whovian solution is found in a way that only makes sense on this show, but is consistent with goodness and purity of intent winning. In short, love saves the day… again.
Here Be Monsters
Simon Ridgway/BBC America
The Monks have underwhelmed for this entire three-episode arc, and the best thing they brought with them is the propaganda video the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) narrates at the beginning, doing his best Scottish David Attenborough. You know, the one that mentions how the Monks “shepherded humanity through its formative years” while an image of a chipper mudskipper walks out of a puddle to the feet of a waiting Monk. While an alien race rewriting history — or at least our memories of what history is — is a horrific and dastardly violation of human rights, the video’s over-the-top tone is hilarious and addictive. It’s the first clue that the Doctor does not take them seriously, or at least he doesn’t consider them omnipotent.
Their immediate departure after Bill defeats them, though, is anticlimactic and suspicious. The only way the show can redeem wasting three episodes on these guys is if perhaps they’re the precursors for some other legitimately fearsome threat. With four episodes left to the end of the season proper, it’s a good reminder that we haven’t yet seen those original Mondasian Cybermen with the white faces. Now those guys are creepy.
The Companion Who Smiled
Simon Ridgway/BBC America
Unlike the Monks, Bill still does not disappoint. Although her sunshine-y self has gone into hiding for the time being (authoritarian dictatorships will do that to you), her optimism and integrity never waver, despite being sorely tested. Her faith in the Doctor is unshakeable until, with his own words, he admits that he sides with the Monks. At that point, she proves yet again that goodness prevails. Instead of weeping over losing her friend, she takes action and shoots the Doctor.
It’s such a defining moment for Bill, even more so than the imagined relationship with her dead mother as the key to saving the day. (That better not be the last of her mother’s storyline this season though.) Bill has been put on the spot twice in life-or-death situations, and has the ability to weigh moral arguments without blinking and then acts. She is the one who you want to have your back, whether you’re a regenerating Timelord or not. Pearl Mackie’s performance also cannot be praised enough. Her earnestness shines even in the quiet moments, and that means in the bigger scenes of pathos, glee or anger, she is devastating.
The Spin Doctor
In an episode that emphasizes the evil of mind control and fake news, it makes sense that this is where we get that hint of regeneration we had seen in the trailers. After Bill shoots the Doctor, his limbs get wavy, he bursts into fiery light and… fake out. It’s all a test to see if Bill will make the right choice, which she does because she’s a boss. It appears that Twelve will remain intact midseason after all, which is a relief since his and Bill’s relationship has been such a joy, and we only have them together for a few more episodes.
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As for his other big secret, yes, it is indeed Missy (Michelle Gomez) who is locked in the vault, as had been alluded to two episodes ago when he commuted her death sentence to one of 1,000 years imprisonment instead. As the only other living TimeLord, she is more than a match for him, even when she is the one being punished.
Missy is one of those villains who brings fun to every scene, which she does here with that saucy piano perching, but she can be absolutely cold-hearted and frightening too, such as when she challenges the Doctor: “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 a long time yet.”
Besides giving Bill and the Doctor a solution to defeat the Monks, we’re assuming she still has a much more significant role to play in the season’s remaining episodes.
Straight From the Two Hearts
Everyone loves Bill, especially the Doctor when he explains why he always tries to save Earth, even when humans can be pretty horrible. “Amongst 7 billion, there’s someone like you,” he says. “That’s why I put up with the rest of them.” Tears.
Speaking of, part of Missy’s punishment is actually remembering — names and all — every person she’s ever killed. Her pain at the end doesn’t exactly make up for all of those deaths, but her distress appears genuine. Her redemption will be fascinating to witness.
Traditional time travel doesn’t get any play this week as the TARDIS isn’t even seen, but the episode does play with the concept of how victors write the histories. Bill wonders why the Monks, with their infinite power, don’t just rule straight out, and instead exert mind control with the false narrative that they’ve been on Earth all along, side by side with humanity. Nardole (Matt Lucas) offers a perceptive observation: “However bad a situation is, if people think that’s how it’s always been, they put up with it.”
But what is reality if one is convinced otherwise? In the episode’s penultimate scene, Bill hopes that now humanity will have learned its lesson and defeat future dictators by banding together. But the Doctor points out that the Monks removed their memories of having ever existed. Ergo, mankind will be ripe for the plucking whenever the next conquering alien race comes along.
The Monks’ rule gives whiffs of “1984,” except instead of “thought crimes,” the show refers to “memory crimes,” which is essentially being able to resist the brainwashing and remember Earth’s real history. Sadly, when the Doctor enters the Monks’ room where images of their false history plays out on the screen and declares it “Fake News Central,” the reference crosses over to real life.
Eagle-eyed fans may have spotted the store where brainwashed people gather outside of is Magpie Electricals. This is the same store that the original Doctor played by William Hartnell patronized when he needed parts to fix the TARDIS. The name has been seen on various gadgets throughout the series, including an amp that Twelve plays. The shop had a significant role in the Tenth Doctor’s run in the episode, “The Idiot’s Lantern” also.
Nardole: “I used to have an imaginary friend till he left me for someone else.”
Doctor: “Regeneration a bit too much?”
Bill: “Wait a sec, why have you got a woman locked in a vault? Because even I think that’s weird and I’ve been attacked by a puddle.”
Missy listing her demands: “New boots, some toys like a particle accelerator, a 3D printer and a pony;
Doctor: ”Bill’s mum, you just went viral.”
Watch a sneak peek of next week’s episode below:
— Doctor Who Official (@bbcdoctorwho) June 3, 2017
“Doctor Who” airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on BBC America.