Toby Whithouse has been one of Doctor Who’s most reliable writers. His work has always been never less than solidly entertaining and in School Reunion he has a stone cold classic on his CV. With all this in mind it is even more disappointing that the most original and interesting thing about The Lie of the Land is the title.
This feels like such a grab bag of ideas from other episodes with not enough original to set it apart. It’s been 6 months since The Pyramid at the End of the World and the Monks are firmly in charge of Earth thanks to a signal that convinces humanity that they have always been there. These signals are reinforced by regular broadcasts by the Doctor who is encouraging humanity to comply. With the passing of time between episodes, muted colour palette of conquered Earth, teams of oppressive police and giant statues of the Monks everywhere it’s very reminiscent of Last of the Time Lords. While that story is 10 years old now (Blimey!) so comparisons may be a bit unfair it would be nice if they could have found a different way of depicting the same idea.
There is a lovely reunion between Bill and Nardole. There’s just the right combination of humour and drama as they catch up on where each has been and discuss rescuing the Doctor. This leads to some tense moments as they sneak aboard the ship that the Doctor is held prisoner on and a very emotional confrontation with the Doctor who claims that he’s willingly helping the Monks because humanity has lost it’s way. This is a very intense scene and Pearl Mackie absolutely hits it out of the park. Her anger at the Doctor isn’t just at him betraying her but betraying the principles and values he has instilled in her. Like the Doctor has done in the past she gives him one chance but when he states categorically that he is helping the Monks with no subterfuge she takes a gun and shoots him. A regeneration begins but then it all turns out to be a ruse by the Doctor to see if Bill under the influence of the Monks. I hated this. The Doctor laughs like it is all a jolly jape and shows no concern for Bill’s emotional well being having just put her through hell. This combined with Capaldi’s very out of character mugging grin just made him look like a grade A arsehole. The regeneration fake out seemed to just be there for the trailer and the whole scene ended up feeling hollow. The only person who came out of it with any dignity is Pearl Mackie.
This wouldn’t be the last time this would happen either. After a tedious scene with Missy in the vault (I would be quite happy to never see the imprisoned villain helping the protagonist trope ever again.) enlivened only by Gomez’s performance we learn that Bill is the key to defeating the Monks. She’s the telepathic channel through which Monks broadcast their signal and the statues are the amplifiers. It is a nice touch that the statues are there for more than purposes of vanity. Missy says that Bill needs to be sacrificed to save humanity which the Doctor is unwilling to consider. After breaking into the Monk’s pyramid (Now handily located on the South bank.) the Doctor fails to overwrite the Monks signal with his own mind and Bill takes the decision to do what the Doctor won’t. It’s another emotionally charged scene and again Pearl Mackie is amazing. This time the moment is undermined by Bill being saved by the mental image of her Mother.
Now, I have no problem with the idea of showing love triumphant over hate and evil. I know many fans find it twee but I think that,especially given the times in which we live, it is an important message to send to the children watching. While I support concept I take issue with the execution. The idea that Bill talks to an imaginary version of her mum is a sweet idea and the episode having Bill’s inner discussion with her is a nice method of narrating the episode. What annoys me is that it is a character trait introduced in this episode for the purposes of the climax. This would have been a nice character trait to give Bill from the beginning and would have made its use here much more satisfying and unexpected. As it is the moment teeters close to being a case of ‘mater ex machina’ and another well played moment from Mackie is left feeling hollow.
Then we get to the end of the episode and, say it with me, no one remembers what happened. I would like to make a personal plea to all future writers of Doctor Who. Please don’t do a global invasion of contemporary Earth if you can’t resolve it without using some sort of reset button. Every fan watching was dreading this happening and was desperately hoping that there would be a more clever way wrapping it up. There are so many unanswered questions. What about all the people who were killed by the Monks? Are you seriously telling me that in those six months no one took any photos or video footage of the Monks occupation? There was no news? Just having everyone forget and have the Doctor tutting “Humanity eh?” is not in any way a satisfying resolution and left me feeling like I had wasted my time.
Indeed, by the end I was left wondering what the point of any of this was. While Extremis is a great episode the two that followed it have been sub par and the fault is lies squarely with the writing. Pearl Mackie has proven again and again that she can give an incredible performance and Peter Capaldi just completely inhabits the Doctor now. It is because these scenes have been acted so well that I am so annoyed that the script took away any long term dramatic weight through cheap fake outs and lazy hand waving. It was like watching a compilation of the worst bits every Russell T Davies season finale. If anything it goes to show how Doctor Who has progressed over the years that this feels like such an unwelcome throwback. If you enjoyed this then I am sorry you have had to read me being so negative. I’m glad you enjoyed it, if anything I am envious because I want to enjoy Doctor Who every time I sit down to watch a new episode. Sadly I hated this and I hate that I hated this.
Since writing this it has been brought to my attention that Bill talking to the imaginary version of her mother was in fact established in The Pilot. I had forgotten about this so I withdraw my criticism of the episode’s climax. Indeed knowing that has improved my opinion of the episode’s ending. Thanks to the splendid Verity podcast for mentioning it.