The concluding chapter of the three-part monks story is thankfully the best as the Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas) tackle the most extreme form of fake news.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t have high hopes going into this episode following the mid-season slump set by its two preceding chapters – with Episodes 6 and 7 offering an irritating “simulation” ex machina and a quite frankly muddled plot respectively. Needless to say, I don’t think the Monks will be going down in Who history as the Doctor’s greatest foes (even if they do look darn creepy), although this week’s concluding chapter in their story redeemed their status somewhat. You can still feel showrunner Steven Moffat’s creeping influence of convolution at times throughout, but on the whole writer Toby Whithouse does a good job with ‘The Lie of the Land’ to bring the Monks’ story, and hopefully Series 10’s mid-season slump, to an end.
Following Bill’s (Pearl Mackie) decision last week to give the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) his sight back, allowing him to escape the exploding lab in exchange for giving the Monks consent to conquer Earth, the collective memory of the human race has been rewritten to imply that the Monks have always and will always be humanity’s rulers. Bill still has some memory of life before the Monks, but with the Doctor seemingly a prisoner of – or even in league with – the enemy, it’s down to her and Nardole (Matt Lucas) to rescue him and save the world. Cue typical Who escapades, clever plot twists, and even some help from Missy (Michelle Gomez) along the way in 45 minutes of thoroughly enjoyable, if sometimes frustrating or predictable, Saturday night entertainment.
First the good. Gomez is once again in fine form as Missy, even if she’s not on-screen for as long as we’d like. She spars with the Doctor, helping him work out how to defeat the Monks and restore the memories of 7 billion people, delivering some zinging lines along the way (“I’ve had adventures too! My whole life doesn’t resolve around you, you know”). We see a glimmer of repentance towards the end of her scene – could the Mistress be having a change of heart after spending nearly a thousand years locked in the Vault? There’s also a terrific scene close to the climax as we are put into the shoes of a foot-soldier taking on the monks – I can’t really explain the context much more than that for fear of spoilers, but trust me when I say it makes for truly tense viewing. Bill’s confrontation with the Doctor in his apparent prison cell towards the start of the episode is powerful through its emotional play-off between Bill and the Doctor, whilst the scene’s earlier suspense is skillfully switched up with its later lightheartedness. Finally, the bumbling Nardole continues to be a source of both brilliant comedic timing and immense irritation – though fortunately this week he lands just slightly on the side of the former, I still can’t wait to see him go.
Which leads us onto the bad. As mentioned, Missy is unfortunately underused, and what impact she does have on the story could probably have been caused without her, which is a shame because it’s great fun to watch the dynamic between her and the Doctor as they (perhaps grudgingly) work together for their respective own ends. The monks regrettably fail to put their hauntingly terrifying appearances to good use and refuse to be remotely threatening, with the “memory police” set up by humanity probably the scarier evil. It’s a deeply interesting theme that’s explored this week – that of the propaganda machine, fake news, and oppressive regimes – so it is a bit of a shame that Whithouse had humanity committing the worst atrocities (at least from what is shown), with the Monks simply setting up the situation for this to happen rather than being the true terror themselves. That said, even if parts are predictable and there are one or two contrived moments along the way, this week’s story is still far more engaging than those of the opening two chapters of this story.
So not bad, but not perfect either for this week’s installment of Doctor Who. Moffat has taken a fascinating topic and dissected it through the use of memory-controlling aliens, life-like simulations and whatever they deem “consent” to be, even if he took a roundabout route of limiting Whithouse to the meat & potatoes of it all by planning a convoluted three-part story. Still, this week we do get some terrific scenes and an actual sense of threat from the Monks, even if not flawlessly pulled off. ‘The Lie of the Land’ provides some solid Saturday night TV and seemingly signals the end of a disappointing mid-season slump, but is by no means the best Doctor Who has to offer. Here’s hoping that Series 10 picks back up for a tremendous final four episodes!
Doctor Who continues next Saturday at 7:15 on BBC One. Check out our series guide for what’s still to come!