Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Lie of the Land written by Toby Whithouse and directed by Wayne Yip

What’s it about:
Thanks to Bill, the Monks have managed to conquer the Earth. Let’s take a look at the consequences…

Indefinable: There is something distinctly off about the Doctor throughout this story. I don’t think he has been this mis-characterised since Hell bent where Moffat tried to turn him into some kind of reckless avenging angel. The 12th Doctor has been exceptionally handled this season and Capaldi has delivered some of his finest work (I thought Tennant was at his zenith during his third year too…mind you I thought Matt Smith was at his weakest at the same time in his tenure, as if he had forgotten all the things that made his Doctor work) so why is he suddenly being written as an unconvincing villain who has sided with the Monks? For an audience that is already struggling to like this Doctor (and the lowest overnight in the shows history reflects that), should they really even be suggesting that he has gone over to the other side? It was a similarly stupid act when they did it with Colin Baker’s Doctor in Mindwarp, just as the audience might have started to warm to him suddenly he is misbehaving in an unjustifiable fashion again. It’s not Capaldi’s fault and I would have thought that he would have played the nasty guy well but there is too much of a maniacal twinkle in his eye for it to convince. After his attempt to play bad and his disgusting trick on Bill (no Doctor has ever put a companion through something as torturous as convincing them to kill him), we then see him clinging to the front of the ship and laughing like a lunatic. This combination of behaviour just makes him seem unhinged and unlikable. And none of it is defensible in the script, it’s the Doctor acting like a lunatic simply because he wants to. Boo hiss. When the Doctor grins out of the screen in the pre-credits sequence he looks positively evil. 

Groovy Chick: Thank goodness Pearl Mackie is as good as she is because this episode (and Pyramid) have done some serious damage to the character. Somehow, she manages to salvage some the loathsome characterisation that Bill receives. Not only did Bill (for whatever reason) choose to hand over the world to the Monks, a decision so exceptionally stupid she should probably be sectioned but in this episode they trump that by having her shoot the Doctor! Actually pump lead into him! For a moment I thought that the whole Bill finding the Doctor on the boat had to be a set up that they were all in on, that the only way this could possibly make sense would be to have her in on the ruse and be firing blanks. To discover that it was a ruse but at Bill’s expense makes this the dumbest scene to feature in NuWho to date, and that is against some stiff competition. Let’s take a second to consider this for a moment. The Doctor’s companion attempts to murder him. That’s a phenomenally dramatic act and one that would have severe repercussions for both her and their relationship. How can she go from wanting him dead to accepting that the whole thing was a con? How can he ever trust her again? How can she not feel the deepest shock and remorse? It’s appallingly handled the way they skip over the act because the plot has to keep on moving. It’s unforgivable mischaracterisation and a scene I simply cannot get out of my mind. The story hasn’t shown us enough of Bill suffering under this new regime to act in such a homicidal way and the Doctor hasn’t done anything that inexcusable that he deserves to be pumped full of lead. So the act is not justified by the story…and then the consequences are not dealt with in the story. So what was the point of it except to create a moment of false high drama? Mackie struggles gamely during this (but not as much as Capaldi, who even at his level of acting skill cannot make the Doctor’s actions make sense) and is very sincere, but she is let-down totally by a script that betrays what the relationship between the Doctor and companion is about. I’ve found Bill’s faith in her mother one of the most winning aspects of her character this season, it’s something that has been alluded to in practically every episode as has begun to define her as a person. When she thought she was going to die in Oxygen, Bill cried out to her mother like a lost child. It was very touching. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so optimistic had I know it would lead to an episode where she has imaginary conversations with her mother and, worse, another love saves the day climax where her passion for her mother is enough to drive the Monks away from the Earth. It’s overplayed here, it feels like there is little to Bill aside from her paternal love. To have a companion miss a loved one is poignant and allows us closer to them, to have her explaining the plot to their deceased parent throughout the story is bizarre and pushes them further away again. 

Faithful Sidekick: I found the scenes between Bill and Nardole very sweet again. They are a very watchable pair. Until I realised that he was the one who had lead her to the Doctor and his horrid scheme and then I questioned whether this was a friendship after all.

The Good:
· The pre-titles sequence is tricky because it fools you in to thinking you are going to get a certain kind of episode, a much better one than The Lie of the land turns out to be. Watch the sequence, it is loaded with creativity and imagination (both visually and verbally). Seeing the Monks in Neil Armstrong’s visor or welcoming the lizards that first crawled out of the ocean on their way to becoming humanity is terrific fun. It sets up a Monk infested world, a world with a shared history and partnership, extremely well (but briefly) and then that harmony is cut through immediately by showing us somebody who is not under the illusion having her home invaded and being arrested. I thought to myself we were well on our way to a brutal dystopian future. Weirdly, in an episode that disappointed me as much as this, it might be one of my favourite pre-titles since the show came back.
· Similarly, the five-minute sequence with Missy in the middle of the episode is so infinitely superior to everything going on around it that you have to wonder why they didn’t let her have a more active role in the story. Is she genuinely repenting for her actions or simply playing along with the Doctor until she can escape? She seems to think she could pop off any time she likes but that has yet to be proven. I rather like the idea of Missy genuinely mending her ways and helping the Doctor in his adventures. That would be a truly novel idea, especially since she would continue to mock, belittle and lash out. You can’t change a leopard’s spots completely. Michelle Gomez seems to relish getting the chance to play something a bit different and the result is a far more interesting take on an already fascinating character.
· There was a beat of emotion just before Bill plugged herself into the Monks machine where the Doctor tries to convince her not to kill herself that felt genuine. It’s the performances that sell it.

The Bad:
· Questions that aren’t answered satisfactorily…
· Why suggest that Nardole is in a deadly situation at the cliff-hanger to the previous episode if he is going to be up and running at the beginning of the next episode? It’s false jeopardy that just makes him look stupid in the first place for not wearing a protective suit when entering the laboratory.
· Why does feel so familiar? Because Bill on a mission to rescue the Doctor in a dystopian future mirrors Martha’s quest in The Last of the Time Lords. The Monks ability to change people’s memories has more than a passing resemblance to the sub-wave network that the Master employs to make people fall in love with him. There are giant statues erected…just like the Master had built. Scenes of people being dragged from their homes by the police…the Jones family suffered a similar fate. In all these cases the material from season three was fresher and more dramatic. The labour camps bring to mind Turn Left, so does taking the Doctor out of the action. But The Lie of the Land could do very little to touch that episode. And the love conquers all ending can also be seen in Night Terrors, Closing Time, In the Forest of the Night and many other loathsome examples. Almost to take the piss The Last of the Time Lords is actually referenced in the script.
· What if things might be better under the veil of the Monks? The Doctor makes a case that the Monks bring about peace and order, albeit through control. We’re in a world where abortion rights are being abolished, labour camps for gay men are being erected and the environment is being made a mockery of by those in the highest positions. Let’s not pretend for one second that our lives aren’t controlled anyway; socially, financially, sexually, creatively. Perhaps a more interesting angle would have been that things were genuinely better off in the Monks control and returning things to how they were, whilst being the right thing to do, would be worse for humanity.
· Who are the Monks and what do they want? What is their motive? Where are they from? What is their history? My previous point is irrelevant because this three-part adventure introduces a spanking new villain and tells us absolutely nothing about them. I think I had through knowledge of the Sontarans in the first episode of The Time Warrior, the Zygons leapt from their debut story visually stunning, with a history and a strong reason for wanting to invade the Earth and even races as obscure as The Eternals were given substance through the people they interacted with and a reason for wanting to play. I understood those villains. The Monks has emerged as one of the weakest Doctor Who bad guys because they are so obscure, so intangible and lacking any kind of backstory. They came just because, they did what they did just because and they left just because. I find it impossible to understand why nobody spotted that this race was so insubstantially handled, especially when it went through three writer’s pairs of hands.
· What was the point of the faux regeneration? It sits in the centre of this episode like an ugly cancer infecting everything around it. It isn’t funny, clever or believable. I think it was included simply to have something enticing to show in the trailer for the season. I know Doctor Who has played some indulgent hands to get people to watch (the human Dalek on the front of the Radio Thames, titles such as The Doctor’s Wife and The Doctor’s Daughter) but this is the most cynical and sell-out example yet. Just as the episode itself makes a mockery of the previous two episode because it makes them count for naught, the reveal that the Doctor was tricking Bill all along makes a mockery of the last ten minutes worth of material.
· Why do we see so little of the world that the Monks have created? After the pre-titles that is your lot as we focus purely on the regulars from the second that the camera swings up the street and lands on Bill. No guest characters to show how bad things are. No overseas glimpses to show us how far things have spread. No faked news reports to show how far into the fabric of society the Monks have sunk. We’re told instead of being shown and that simply isn’t good enough.
· Why does the person who gives consent have to be pure of mind? That is never explained adequately.
· Why does killing the person who made the deal weaken the Monks grip on the world? We’re asked to accept these grand ideas with no evidence, no substance, no rationale.
· Why does the script keep mooting much more interesting versions of this story? The Doctor suggests that if he plugs himself into the Monks wavelength he could completely re-write human history. Imagine if he was tempted to do so? What would that version of humanity look like? When it comes to the moment he only has one thing in mind, saving the planet, but what if the story had included Missy and she was the one who had to plug herself in? It could be the true test of whether she seems redemption or not. It would certainly would be preferable to the love is the greatest force in the universe ending that we get.
· Why alter what little we already know about the Monks at the last minute? Remember when the Doctor took the mickey out of the shows budget limitations in Terror of the Zygons because there were only a handful of Zygons trying to take over the world? The Monk three parter is that idea taken to an extreme but it’s pointless. Doctor Who has the budget to superimpose as many Monks as you like now. So the only reason to suggest this is a small number of protagonists making you believe that they are much larger in numbers through thought manipulation is…because they’re a bit rubbish and frightened of being seen diminished in numbers.
· What was the point of Extremis? If the Monks have mapped out all of human history and examined it to see the most effective way to take over…why are they frightened off by the love one woman has for her mother? Was that eventually not played out? Because they only had to take a look at the events of the past couple of years to know that the power of love conquers has inexplicably seen off many an alien menace. · Is love such a dominating force that it can see off an entire alien invasion? The trouble is that is a good thing that the show is promoting. How can suggesting that the power of love is unstoppable be a bad thing? It’s just as the final solution in a complex plot it comes across as an insultingly easy solution. The next time I’m threatened I’ll just think very hard about somebody I love and hopefully the situation will just go away. Love is worth celebrating but it has to be executed in the right way. I think the best example of this kind of ending comes in The Angels Take Manhattan where the paradox is broken by the long-awaited decision by Amy Pond to choose her husband over the Doctor. It’s very satisfying on a personal level because of the two and half seasons worth of build-up. The worst examples are everybody around the world chanting the Doctor’s name in unison (Davies truly buying into his myth a little too literally) and this episode where they plaster a picture of Bill’s mother looking angelic and reaching out for her daughter with a smile on her face and plant it in the mind of everybody to undo the Monk’s control. It’s so saccharine I think I can feel a toothache coming on. It’s too obvious, it’s too simple and it’s twee. As a momentous conclusion to three episodes worth of material, it’s insulting.
· If this story ends with the human race doomed to never learn from its mistakes…what was the point? Remember when Moffat started shoving some Davies’ extremes such as a Cyberman stomping around on Victorian London down Amy’s crack never to be seen again? Well now he’s doing it with whole invasions, in the episodes they feature in.

Result: It’s a tough competition, for sure. The previous three ‘trilogies’ closed on Last of the Time Lords, Time of the Doctor and Hell Bent, three episodes that haven’t exactly gone down well in Doctor Who history. How does the The Lie of the Land fare against these damp squibs? It fits right in perfectly! Toby Whithouse has proven himself to be a very competent writer but all good sense seems to have abandoned him here and what emerges is his weakest instalment of Doctor Who. I’m not sure where to start with the bad; the Monks fail to make any impression despite appearing in the equivalent of a classic series six parter, their rule of tyranny is barely established before it is ignored in favour of all the (rotten) character work, the Doctor and Bill are mis-characterised to a factor of ten (it is hard to believe that their interaction could be fudged this badly given the excellent ground work in the season to date), the episode is paced inconsistently with nothing truly exciting happening throughout (and a five minute interlude with Missy intruding in the middle) and the ending, which in a long line of ‘love conquers all’ climaxes does fit a pattern in this era of the show but proves to be as unbelievable and annoying as all the others. No more so because it has two episodes of set up to drag down with it. Not to mention how this entire three parter is wiped from humanity’s memory rendering the whole exercise moot. It’s rare for a story to start as strongly as this did with Extremis and haemorrhage continuously until it limps to such a bothersome conclusion. Not to mention this episode plays out like an amalgamation of much better episodes, being a pale retread of the Master three parter in series three and Turn Left. I think Pyramid and Lie both have their emphasis wrong, the middle part should have dealt with the heavy characterisation and the climax should have been a lot heavier on plot, whereas the reverse is true. Especially when the characterisation here is so lacking, with both the Doctor and Bill coming out of the story with plenty of egg on their faces. I wonder why Capaldi didn’t object to the shooting scene. The last thing you should be thinking at the end of a three-part epic is ‘what was the point of that?’ The Pyramid at the End of the World and The Lie of the Land sit like a dead weight in the middle of series 10 and that is a real shame. My points are for the stunning pre-titles sequence (I wish the episode could have been more in that vein), a wonderful five minutes with Missy and for Pearl Mackie’s valiant efforts. She’s one hell of a find. The rest is drivel of the highest order: 4/10


Mr. Jordan said...

I would love to know how much of this story was planned out before the concepts were given to the writers, 'cause there's absolutely no continuity between the 3 parts.

The Monks are: Master strategists, then zealot salesmen, then... lazy fascists? It's all over the place.

Such a shame because this episode looked gorgeous. I really dug the pyramid control room.

Dovid M said...

I completelyy agree with literally everything you say here, and I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought for a second that maybe life under the monks wasn't better, since they never really delve into what life is like under them so it arguably could've been. It's equally sad that they're literally the most forgettable alien to be featured in the new series especially seeing the amount of exposure they get over these three episodes.

With that said, this episode did mention that Missy's off having plenty of adventures of her own (albeit probably exceptionally destructive ones),and I'd honestly love to see an episode that just focuses on her or some other future incarnation just going out and causing chaos somewhere.

Ed Azad said...

"You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go." - Sherlock and Who fans, 2017

Anonymous said...

Surely if this was always meant to be a three part story, the writers must have known that the Monk controlled world was the main point of it? Then why did they waste two episodes and introduce and hastily resolve this in just one episode? Why isn't this episode two parts?

Liam Morrell said...

I think this suffered because it's a series finale type episode in the middle of the series. I think Extremis should have been followed by other standalone adventures whilst The Doctor is trying to prepare for the monks. Then you get the pyramid episode a few weeks later with a better ending. The lie of the land is Very Doctor lite and mainly features Nardole and Bill looking for the Doctor whilst living in a monk controlled earth. They can recruit Missy when they realise they can't get to him. The ending is a stand off between The Doctor and Missy over if the earth really might be better with The Monks in charge.

Sorry for rambling but I don't think I have ever been so disappointed in an episode than this one. There are some great moments but the Monks are so rubbish

David Pirtle said...

Mr Jordan, I think you've hit the nail on the head. This wasn't written as a three parter. It was written as three individual but connected monk stories. It's obvious the three writers had three different ideas about them. It only helps add to the messiness of this arc.

Joe, I love Mindwarp! But then, I love Hell Bent, too. So my taste is questionable. Anyway, I agree with your tastes here. What a disappointing way to end what could have been a great (given Extremis) or at least good (given The Pyramid at the End of the World) storyline.