Doctor Who is notorious for fake outs. It’s the bread and butter for the series and for the most part can lead to some very enjoyable twists and turns. In this week’s episode, “The Lie of the Land,” these fake outs turn into cop outs and it feels like Steven Moffat is trolling us as much as possible before he finishes his reign as showrunner.
Picking up roughly six months after last week’s episode, we’re introduced to the new status quo by Bill and The Doctor. Through a propaganda video, The Doctor informs us that not only are the monks here and protecting us from all sorts of nasty monsters and dangers in the universe, they’ve done so for as long as most can remember. The world being shown as a fascist society where a certain few remember what history was really like, though why they retain these memories is never truly addressed. The sequence showing a woman arrested for “memory crimes” was well done and appropriately creepy though. I also liked the flashes throughout the episode, the flash frames of programming that crept in now and then.
Bill happens to be one of the people who remembers (how convenient!) and she is our eyes and ears through the bulk of this week’s events. The first big middle finger and also foreshadowing is when we see Bill talking to her mom. But wait, she’s dead, right? Maybe history has been altered, maybe the monks gave her mom back or cloned her to satiate Bill … or maybe we saw a projection of the imaginary construct she talks to to ease her mind, a habit we’ve never seen or alluded to before. Then we get a very funny reunion with Nardole, explaining he got corrupted, not killed, in the events from last episode (another cop out), and after recovering for six weeks spent the other four and a half months searching for The Doctor. While we later get a semi reason why he would leave Bill alone all that time, this again was just slipshod writing.
The whole Doctor-on-a-boat rescue mission felt like a fun turn. Bill’s narration gave it that heist movie feel, her planning the infiltration while we see the acts play out. I would have loved more of this but unfortunately it went by fairly quickly and we got to The Doctor with a full regiment of guards. After a long speech about how he joined the monks because humanity has become stagnant and at least now there is peace and order, Bill smartly tries to pass him a coded message, a way so she knows he’s tricking them. Surprisingly The Doctor outs her plan and seems to be actually on the monks’ side. This drives Bill to grab a revolver and shoot The Doctor, starting his regeneration that has been heavily shown through trailers for this season.
That’s when the writers didn’t just slap us, they downright cold-cocked us in the most blatantly cheap twist. Blanks. The gun she grabbed has blanks, the whole thing was a test for Bill. Now the best thing to come out of this scene was the gag that one of his soldiers screwed up and forgot to switch to blanks, meaning if Bill had been by him she actually could have killed The Doctor. Funny gag, I laughed, good job. But why the elaborate ruse? Why wait so long to come to Bill? Didn’t the Monks’ prediction machine have the power to show every possible future? So they should have seen his treachery coming. And most of all the fake regeneration bit? I don’t believe Bill has even gone over that bit of Timelord trivia and certainly wouldn’t know what it looks like. The only reason that part exists was to put it in the promos and misdirect us on when and how Capaldi exits this season.
So the next scene was another of my favorite moments from this week: Missy! Yup, we finally open the vault and of course find Missy, inside the biggest cliché of so many films and shows since Silence of the Lambs, a glass prison. This is inside of the already bigger prison and later she’s shown with The Doctor out of it, so it is basically pointless but whatever. Missy we find is in rehab, from being evil. Going cold turkey and trying to help, and while cold at first, later we see some humanity in her. Though her help here, while deliciously delivered, is that killing Bill or more accurately making her brain dead, is the solution to everything.
Of course The Doctor says no, blah blah blah, they end up infiltrating the Monks’ citadel, very easily, and using headphones to block their brainwashing. The action here with Bill’s voice on tape drowning out the sounds of gunfire was very well staged. Of course we all expected at least one person to lose their headphones and succumb to the brainwashing just as it does happen, but has very little effect other than to show Nardole neck pinch them into submission (more foreshadowing?).
The Doctor fails at severing the mental link the Monks have and awakes to being tied up with Bill saying goodbye, ready to sacrifice herself to save humanity. What a touching and brave way to send her off … except it turns out the Monks’ technology can’t handle her imaginary friend/Mom, somehow overloading and setting people’s minds free? Ugh. Double ugh. Oh and did I forget The Doctor’s referencing the programming as “fake news”? Great, like we needed more cliché to this outing. Oh and everyone’s memories of the events are slowly fading, The Monks wipe away those since they failed, whatever!
I’m still going to say I actually liked more than disliked this episode but, and it’s a big ol’ but, it wasn’t the plot that did it. The characters, The Doctor, Bill, Nardole, Missy, even a couple extras with throwaway lines made this tolerable and sometimes even a little bit fun. Not great, not even very memorable, but nowhere near the worst this show has to offer. The biggest crime was the number of giant teases, stuff not only teased from last week but elements like the regeneration that have been teased for the entire season, used here to slap us in the face and say ”uh uh uh, not yet!” In a better episode it would be forgivable but here these stick out because the story didn’t earn it.
Missy’s setup was the best thing to come from “The Lie of the Land.” Let’s hope that it delivers something worthwhile in the end.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Share your thoughts in the comments section!