So… six months have elapsed since the end of the last episode and as the Doctor’s clumsily unconvincing hagiography of the Monks’ occupation eludes to they feel like they’ve been there forever. Well, we’ve all had guests like that, haven’t we?
Britain is in the grip of a totalitarian regime, with any thought, word or deed against the Monks punished with internment camps and re-education. The arrests may take place under the Memory Crimes Act (1975) but things feel very “1984” in old Blighty. At least Bill remembers the way things were, even if the Doctor seems to be shilling for the enemy. It’s all part of his plan, though, isn’t it?
Well, that was a disappointment. For a three part story which spent two parts simply setting things up and raising the stakes, “The Lie Of The Land” is downhill all the way. From the disappointingly straightforward ‘rescue’ of the Doctor to the cynical regeneration fake-out (which doesn’t make sense in selling the deception to Bill because she wouldn’t know what a regeneration is) things just happen one after the other with little rhyme or reason.
It’ll also go down in the show’s history as the one where the Doctor was clueless in how to defeat the enemy. Remember the wonderful discussion of why the Doctor always wins between Clara and Missy in “The Witch’s Familiar”? Well, this episode says otherwise. In the end, all the Doctor does is do what Spock did with Spock Prime in “Star Trek Into Darkness”. Only this time, it’s the Doctor copying Missy’s homework. Tut tut.
Speaking of Missy, once again she’s wasted in this story although of course she manages to nab all the best lines, particularly ‘Awkward’ and her crack about “Celebrity Love Island”. Her tip is to eliminate ‘the link’ between humanity and the Monks. It’s a stupid vulnerability for the Monks to have and the story has to work really, really hard to force events towards the required conclusion. You can tell how shaky the whole idea is by how much time is devoted to exploring alternatives and closing them down, e.g. can we kill Bill, no it would take too long, etc. Despite this being their third and possibly hopefully last appearance, we learn nothing more about their motivations or agenda. They’re not even particularly ferocious in action when they do appear. They’re all mouth and no trousers as Doctor Who monsters (or at least all wizened skull and no robes) and they deserve to be consigned to the ample ‘one and done’ villains bin. If nothing else, Bill’s televised ‘Martha moment’ surely deals a significant blow to the Bill as Susan fan theories.
Thematically, it’s all a bit of a mess which is a real missed opportunity because the ingredients are there to make a searingly topical commentary on just how many freedoms we would be willing to give up in exchange for [the illusion of] safety and security. Sure, the Doctor takes pot shots at fascism and fundamentalism and there’s an arch attempt to hang the Monks’ distortion of history on the buzzwordyness of ‘fake news’ but it just feels like lazy lip service, making “The Lie Of The Land” one of the weakest and most muddled allegorical stories in Doctor Who’s history.
Production-wise, we’re watching through the blue filter this week which was no doubt intended to make things look serious and gritty but just makes it look pale and tired. The sense of a global threat feels far outside the episode’s grasp and, after so much build-up in the past two weeks, the payoff is crushingly anti-climactic. If it weren’t for the strength of Pearl Mackie’s performance single-handedly keeping the whole episode together, this could have been a total waste of time.