Doctor Who: 10.08 The Lie Of The Land
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Love it or hate it, you can't deny that Steven Moffat has constantly strived to keep Doctor Who fresh each series, from mostly single episode stories in series seven and eight to the two-part tales of series nine. And this year, he's flipped things on its head with an almost 2005-retro feel in the first few stories before launching a three part trilogy of episodes featuring the horrifying monks. But even then, the three episodes haven't followed the standard alien invasion formula. Extremis was Doctor Who's take on The Matrix as we learned of the monks plans to study humanity pre-invasion, while last week's The Pyramid At The End Of The World turned a classic invading force on its head with a surprise left-field apocalypse in the form of a deadly virus outbreak and the monks arriving as the saviours to stop the human race from being wiped out.
Which is where The Lie Of The Land comes in, this year's script from Toby Whitehouse who delivered scares aplenty in series nine's two parter Under The Lake and Before The Flood. I don't believe this episode is as good as that entry but it was the best of the monk trilogy and again, it didn't deliver the standard human resistance to an alien invaders storyline. Because with this invasion, time had been changed and the monks had always been here. It's a great moral tale of our times; if it's always been this way, what is there to change?
As I mentioned in my spoiler-free preview, there are definite shades here of season three's The Last Of The Time Lords in a world conquered and one heroine trying to save the day with the truth; six months ago, Earth had never heard of the Monks. Bill certainly bears some resemblance to Martha's journey to fight the Master, dressed all in black, a somber figure than we have seen before, trying to survive an enemy that is everywhere. While I don't believe the role Pearl Mackie is given is quite as meaty as Freema Agyeman's, she certainly gets plenty of moments to shine and demonstrate she has the acting chops to be more than the inquisitive traveller we first fell in love with a few weeks ago.
Unlike the The Last Of The Time Lords, it's not just a solo adventure for the companion and the Doctor gets plenty of great stuff to do too, with an added Nardole in the mix who did get infected with the virus but survived (just what kind of alien he is has never been defined, we just know he's not human). Starting as the man delivering the propaganda messages to screens across the world, he is found by Bill on a cargo ship off the coast of Scotland. With the new world order established through Bill's eyes - thought police, statues of monks standing oppressive in every city and a humanity subdued - this is where things get really interesting.
Series 10 has been teasing the Twelfth Doctor's regeneration ever since the first trailers before The Pilot aired; here we get the rug pulled over the audience's eyes as Bill confronts the Doctor and discovers that he is in league with the very monks he fought against. Mackie astounds in this scene, building from relief and joy at finding her friend to unleashed rage at the betrayal. The show has done a very clever job of building up their connection over the seven weeks and her sense of loss is hugely felt in the moment she turns a gun of the Doctor and shoots.
Is the double bluff - it being a ploy to deceive the Monks and ensure that Bill is free of their influence - a satisfying one? Maybe. It does smack of playing with the audiences' expectations, though it's nicely followed by the comical moment the Doctor assures Bill that the guns were replaced with rubber bullets, except for one confused soldier who didn't.
There are three brilliant scenes during the episode; the first Bill turning on the Doctor and the second the Doctor bringing Bill into the vault to converse with Missy. I'm rather loving this more subdued, introspective version of Missy; Michelle Gomez continues to balance the character's menace and manic nature, but having her trapped in the vault for what might be centuries has certainly allowed her to show a different side to the villain. The debate between the Doctor and Missy as to how to deal with the Monks was delightful to watch, a game of cat and mouse - or in Bill's case two cats and a mouse - as the realisation dawned that only by Bill dying could Earth be freed of this invading force's grip on humanity. Again, Mackie shone as Bill's grim fate slowly dawned on her.
Taking the fight back to the streets of London and the pyramid at its heart, The Lie of Land delivers the climax of the trilogy. Realising that the statues across the globe are transmitting a suppression signal complete with an altered history of the world, it really is a race to change the narrative and drive the monks out. Sadly we don't get any UNIT (who see to be completely absent this year), but the redshirts do their job well as the Monks clue into what they are doing and stalk the corridors of the pyramid, shooting lightning to vaporise their enemy. Yes, this tale also has a touch of the Silence about the monks, from their gruesome look to the their ability to kill and their manipulation of humanity. In fact, replace the Monks with Madam Kovarian's renegade band of Silence and the story would largely have remained the same. But at the same time, this alien menace has proved itself in the show's pantheon of villains.
I like how Bill hasn't had the same arc-heavy storyline of Amy or Clara, but if there was any climax to her story, it was in the scene where she and Doctor encountered the wizened old Monk in the chair, transmitting the altered history to the masses. With the Doctor's attempts to take over the mind of the Monk (his bravado being his undoing once again), Bill grabbed her destiny and took over, wrestling her mind with the Monk's to break the signal. It was, for me, her greatest moment yet. We've seen some bad cases of 'love winning the day before' (the Doctor in the aforementioned The Last Of The Time Lords or Craig's anti-Cyber conversion in Closing Time) but Bill using her thoughts of her mother was a lovely moment, allowing her to follow the path of many great companions before her and save the planet.
The Lie of Land was certainly the best of the Monk trilogy, though not the best of the series (Oxygen still holds that top spot). It continued to subvert the standard alien invasion formula; Monk's version of George Orwell's 1984 delivered a bleak world for our heroes to escape. Peter Capaldi continued to impress, Michelle Gomez delivered a surprisingly nuanced version of the Missy and Pearl Mackie really showcased Bill at her very best. Because as great as the Monks were (even if their story never really delivered on the promise of Extremis), this week it was all about the character moments, and on that front The Lie of Land delivered...