Doctor Who S10 E8: The Lie of the Land
Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas
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The strange, off-kilter Monk saga comes to an end this week.
Six months after giving the Monks permission to invade the Earth, Bill (Pearl Mackie) lives in a dystopian society where the Monks rule supreme and the human race appear to believe they have ruled over the planet for the whole of human history. Reunited with Nardole (Matt Lucas), she sets out to rescue the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) from the Monks’ clutches – but whose side is the Doctor really on?
The strange, off-kilter Monk saga comes to an end this week. It has been a particularly weird storyline, spending an entire episode to set up a premise, another whole episode to get the mysterious Monks to invade the Earth, and then everything else is pressed awkwardly into this single episode: the occupation, the resistance and the entire conclusion. That creates odd pacing issues that are a little difficult to pin down. This episode, for example, does boast a proper three-act structure and a relatively satisfying narrative, but there is this vague sense that there was probably a better way to tell this particular story.
To his credit, director Wayne Yip gives the episode a very filmic aesthetic and style, with a couple of exceptional sequences making a huge impression. One action scene sees a firefight between human resistance fighters and the Monks, with the sound dominated by the audio recordings to which the fighters are listening and the gunfire, and lightning-like alien beams playing out in near silence. It is tremendously effective. Bill and Nardole’s infiltration of a prison ship in search of the Doctor works almost as well.
Now that the series has revealed the occupant of the Doctor’s mysterious vault – Missy (Michelle Gomez) – it is free to actually bring her into the series properly this season. A strategy session between Missy, the Doctor and Bill on how to overthrow the Monks is a great showcase for Gomez’s comic talents, although a later one-on-one between Missy and the Doctor is not as convincing. The episode attempts to convince the viewer that Missy (aka the Master) is changing her ways. Four and a half decades of the Master strongly suggest otherwise.
Asides from the slightly cramped running time, and a story that echoes perhaps a little too strongly the Season 3 finale “The Last of the Time Lords”, the only real drawback of the episode is its climax – and it is a significant drawback indeed. 21st century Doctor Who has a recurrent problem in resolving its plots with vague, hand-waving ‘the power of love’ solutions. They have never been convincing, and “The Lie of the Land” does little to change it. After some great and atmospheric work building up the episode it seems a particularly severe let-down. It is not enough by any stretch to ruin the whole episode, but it does to a degree dent its other achievements.
It will be interesting to see if the series brings back the Monks in future seasons. They have a solid design, but even after three episodes – a full quarter of the season – precious little has been revealed about them. Whether that is a good or bad thing I am yet to decide. There’s certainly potential for them, but also the risk that having their civilization explained may destroy their current creepy mystique.