Aired 03 June 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW
Toby Whithouse’s ‘The Lie of the Land’ is tasked with rounding out the loosely-linked Monks trilogy, one that has so far seen a virtual invasion dry run and the heartbreaking events leading up to humanity unknowingly accepting a world in which the Monks have always benevolently guided them. Six months into this changed dystopian version of events with the Doctor seemingly acting as the chief propagandist for the Monks and their cause, Bill finds herself guided by her belief in the Doctor and the mother she never knew as she continues to question the facts before her.
As Bill and Nardole quite easily find and gain entry to the hub of the Doctor’s communications, it’s worth noting just how strong the argument is that he makes in the Monks’ favour given his usual abhorrence to any such stratagem or outcome. Sprinkling in plenty of not-so-subtle allusions to present-day affairs, Capaldi shines as he emotionally decrees that humans continue to make the same mistakes time and time again and that history is littered with warnings against fascism. Unfortunately, after an equally-brilliant counterargument from Bill that the Doctor’s foundation has always been built upon individual freedom, the story veers away from the inherently intriguing notion of the Doctor truly not being in his right mind under the Monks’ control. Whereas ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’ was willing to let Capaldi’s Time Lord finally have to face the repercussions of his prideful concealment of his blindness, ‘The Lie of the Land’ is unwilling to let Capaldi truly explore the Doctor in a position of fragility. Instead, the Doctor reveals his argument to be a ruse to ensure that Bill is not an agent of the Monks, culminating in a fake regeneration after Bill shoots him for good measure, but this scripting decision frankly undermines the strong drama that preceded it and never allows the ramifications of this action on either of the characters involved to be explored.
Unfortunately, the story never really regains its strong opening momentum after this return to a more traditional format. While it is quite fascinating that the Monks retain control through deception and propaganda despite minimal numbers, this also means that the physical threat they pose is minimal. Having a more psychological threat certainly has its merits, and even the Doctor is unable to bring down the regime as easily as he anticipates, but the fact that there’s no meaningful conversation between heroes and foes together with the rather straightforward entry to the Monks’ centre of mental control seem like further opportunities to instill greater drama in the second half that were not taken. Nonetheless, Pearl Mackie again shines as Bill when she is thrust into the role of unlikely hero at the climax, Bill’s love for and belief in the mother she never knew proving to be the one anchor the Monks’ influence cannot overcome and firmly proving that Bill is not reliant on the Doctor as she seemed to think at the beginning of the episode.
‘The Lie of the Land’ is ultimately a story that will be better remembered for its core performances than for the story itself, and Michelle Gomez’s brief interlude as Missy continues to try to be good while providing a practical solution for the invasion that goes against the Doctor’s belief that every single life matters is enthralling. While her scenes are ultimately somewhat disjointed from the story as a whole, even these brief snippets shed a new light on a character perhaps finally starting to truly appreciate her past actions and ramifications, potentially setting up meaningful storylines for the future. In total, though, ‘The Lie of the Land’ is very much a story brimming with interesting ideas that somewhat loses its way and never manages to achieve its full dramatic potential. It’s a perfectly serviceable conclusion to this fascinating trilogy and features excellent performances, direction, and effects, but it simply fails to build on the tension and drama that had been built up before it.