After three slightly drawn-out episodes, we’ve reached the conclusion of the Monks trilogy, in a finale with great ideas which are let down by their delivery.
It’s six months since we’ve last seen our heroes – the Doctor is making propaganda announcements on behalf of the Monks, and Bill and Nardole resolve to find and rescue him from what they believe is his enslavement. But there’s a twist – the Doctor has joined the Monks. And then there’s another twist – Bill’s anger overwhelms her and she shoots the Doctor, causing him to regenerate. And then, another twist – the regeneration was fake, the Doctor is still on our side, and the whole thing was set up by Nardole to make sure Bill hadn’t been brainwashed. All this in a handful of minutes.
This trilogy of episodes was a thought-provoking run which started out bravely, and took Doctor Who in interesting directions.
Sections of the episode like the above, and Missy’s return – which felt more like a plot device for the episode, and a set-up for her ‘proper’ return in a few episodes – made ‘The Lie of the Land’ feel more like a collection of exciting scenes than something cohesive. It’s as though the trilogy spent so long setting itself up that there wasn’t enough time left to deliver a satisfying resolution.
This was very much the case in the episode’s conclusion: somehow, Bill’s ‘fake memories’ of her mother not only undid the Monk’s damage, but somehow meant that she managed to avoid the damage it was said this would cause to her, with no real reason given for this. Plus, what were the Monks’ motivations? Why did they put so much effort into invading the planet, and give up so quickly?
Having said this, the episode did have some merits. Even if the Missy scenes did feel a bit shoehorned in, it was great to see a more subdued and controlled version of the character we love to hate (or, for some, love to love). It’s definitely made me more excited to see both her and John Simm’s Master in the finale – even if I am a bit worried that two Masters and the Cybermen in a two-parter might lead to an overcrowded finale. But I remain optimistic!
The ‘fake news’ parts of the episode were great, too. Yes, they were pretty surface-level observations, but they nonetheless drew important parallels to contemporary consumption of news and apathy towards regimes which might be less democratic and inclusive than we may think. Nardole’s line about why it made sense that people weren’t complaining about the state of their lives (forgive me for paraphrasing) was particularly resonant.
The generic dystopia of this episode had a lot of potential, which was ultimately sacrificed in favour of a ‘love-overcomes-all’ style of solution. It feels as though the Monks weren’t done justice, and could have been more interestingly deployed and developed as villains. Overall, this trilogy of episodes was a thought-provoking run which started out bravely, and took Doctor Who in interesting directions. I’m glad that they did it – but after ‘The Lie of the Land’, I’m gladder that it’s over.
Next week: Victorians and Ice Warriors on Mars, delivered by the always-romptastic Mark Gatiss!