Is the idea that love will eventually overcome everything cheesy and oftentimes overdone? Yes. But, if done well, it can still be both moving and satisfying. This final part of the “Monk Trilogy” manages to get it right. Written by Toby Whithouse and directed by Wayne Yip, The Lie of the Land concludes the “Monk Trilogy” that was begun with Extremis. In this closing chapter, Earth has been invaded and Bill is living alone, an isolated figure surviving in occupied Britain. The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is imprisoned and appears to be on the side of the enemy, flooding the airwaves with fake news. Bill(Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas) must embark on a deadly mission to rescue the Doctor and lead the resistance against the new regime, whatever the cost. (As always, this review will not be spoiler free, so spoilers are ahead!)
Okay, so, the big question is: is The Lie of the Land as good as the previous two episodes in the Monk trilogy? No, it’s not. But, really, how could it be? The first one (Extremis) was a format breaking episode, and the second one (The Pyramid at the End of the World) had to establish a lot. So, with that in mind, I’m happy to report that even though the episode itself isn’t stellar, it does deliver a mostly satisfying ending to the trilogy. There were definitely some problems, and I’ll get into that, but it would be a mistake to call this a bad episode; it was really pretty good. Not great, but good. What I liked most about it was that it didn’t really go the way I thought it would. I love to read spoilers about shows and films, and it’s really fun to speculate on how future episodes will go, so I’d be lurking around the Doctor Who fandom all week, consuming any and everything that I could. What was really cool is that while a lot of us had predicted certain aspects of the episode, none of us had quite gotten it right.
It’s been six months since the end of The Pyramid at the End of the World when Bill gave the Monks consent to take over the world, and the world has very quickly devolved into a 1984-style dystopia, complete with a “memory crime” police force dedicated to arresting anyone who goes against the “official” history – that the Monks have always been on Earth and have helped humanity evolve into what it’s become. Statues of the Monks have been erected all over the world (mainly because, as we find out later in the episode, they’re actually transmitters that transmit the signal that keeps humanity under their control). The Doctor seems to be working with the Monks, delivering propaganda broadcasts supporting the Monk’s version of history. Bill, hopeless and alone, receives a visit from Nardole, whom she hasn’t seen in six months, saying he’s found the Doctor. The two go off to rescue him, which leads to the first big disappointment of the episode: the regeneration fakeout.
Way back in March, when the full season trailer for this season premiered, they’ve been teasing a scene where the Doctor appears to regenerate. Now, yes, most of us figured it would be some kind of fakeout, but just imagine, for a second, if it hadn’t been. Imagine if somehow they’d actually decided to have him regenerate (even if they were going to do a fakeout like they did with Tennant in Journey’s End). Think about the excitement that would’ve drummed up. And, to a degree, I’m sure it did when the trailer for The Lie of the Land showed Bill shooting the Doctor in a room that looked very similar to the room previous trailers had shown him regenerating in. But the thing is, previous regeneration fakeouts have actually involved some form of true regeneration. Here, the Doctor was totally fine. It was all a trick to make sure Bill wasn’t brainwashed. She shot blanks at him, and he triggered a bit of his regeneration energy because he’s a drama queen. That feels like even more of a copout than the usual “oh he wasn’t injured enough to actually fully regenerate) is. Many fans speculated that this part of the episode was going to be part of a simulation – like Extremis was – and that the Doctor would really regenerate in the simulation, offering a surprise glimpse at the upcoming new Doctor (only for everything to revert back to normal once the simulation was over), which would have been one hell of a way to announce who the new Doctor is. But, ya know. It’s fine. It’s not a major problem. Just kind of a letdown. I knew he wasn’t going to actually regenerate, but I just hoped it would be something better than this after three months of it being teased.
The other big problem I had is that the Monks’ motivation is never really explained. It’s established that they do this to various planets, and sometimes don’t succeed at it, but why do they do it? Are they just power hungry? At least with other alien races, we know why they invade and want power. The Daleks think anything that’s not a Dalek is impure, so best to exterminate them. The Cybermen think they’re the next step in human evolution and want to convert everyone. The Sontarans are war addicts. The Silurians want their planet back. The Weeping Angels feed off of a person’s timeline. You see the pattern. But nothing like any of that was established for the Monks. They just do this thing where they invade and take over a planet. Why? I dunno. They just do it. So, it’s a bit hard to really get invested in their defeat when you don’t know what they really want in the first place.
Now, that being said, I did actually like how they were defeated. Bill ended up having some kind of psychic link to the Monks, which they were using to broadcast their altered history/mind control (from their headquarters, with the help of their transmitters disguised as statues). It’s actually Missy (Michelle Gomez) who gets the Doctor to see this, and Missy says that whoever the link has to be killed. But, the Doctor, being the Doctor, wasn’t about to let that happen. So, they devise a plan to break into the Monks’ headquarters so the Doctor can broadcast his memories of an Earth without the Monks to all of the people. They successfully break into the headquarters and the Doctor psychically links himself to the Monk controlling the broadcast, but his mind ends up not being able to do it. So, ultimately, Bill ends up connecting with the Monk and broadcasting the image of her mother. This works because Bill’s memory of her mother is a memory she created, so it’s untainted by the Monks’ influence. It’s a pure memory of love. So, love saved the day! This isn’t the first time Doctor Who has used the power of love to solve the story, but for some reason, I felt like it worked a lot better this time than it has in the past. Maybe it’s because Bill’s connection to her mother has been built up since her first episode, or since so much of this episode was about the power memories have. I dunno, but I actually was okay with this resolution. It’s not the best way they could’ve gone, for sure, but it was satisfying on an emotional level for me. It let Bill redeem herself after getting everyone into this mess in the first place.
The other really good thing about this episode was all the stuff that involved Missy. The arc they’re putting her through this season is one that involves her trying to learn how to be good. The Doctor is keeping her alive and keeping her inside the Vault as she proves to him that she can be good (and not evil), and that’s a really interesting subplot for the rest of the series to deal with. About halfway through the episode, the Doctor and Bill visit Missy for information about the Monks, as Missy has faced them before, which is where they learn about Bill being the psychic link and her needing to be killed to break the link. Missy is given a really good line when the Doctor tells her that her attitude toward killing Bill, even if it’s to save people, isn’t good. She says something along the lines of the Doctor’s brand of good being arrogant and unrealistic, and if that’s what he’s waiting for her to reach, he’s gonna be waiting a long time. It’s an interesting moment because she has a point. Sometimes it’s not feasible to be able to save everyone. Sacrifices have to be made, and that doesn’t really make anybody bad, it’s just the reality of the situation. And then, at the end of the episode, there’s a beautiful moment where the Doctor is reading to Missy, and she starts to cry because she can’t stop thinking about all the people she’s killed. I don’t trust Missy at all, but I’m impressed at how genuine it felt. I’m 95% sure she’s manipulating the Doctor (especially since the John Simm Master still has to factor into this season somehow, and I have a feeling he and Missy will be working together in some way), but the fact that she was able to believably show remorse was great, and it gave Michelle Gomez an interesting bit of material to play with.
So, yes, the episode is a bit of a mixed bag. What it gets right, it really gets right, but what it gets wrong does drag the episode down. It’s a well directed, edited, acted, and put together episode. The performances by all the actors are strong, but especially those from Pearl Mackie and Michelle Gomez. The two of them just hit it out of the park. Honestly, their performances are probably what elevates this episode from mediocre to good. In terms of writing, it’s just fine. It adequately gets accomplished what it needs to get accomplished, but it doesn’t do a good job at explaining why the Monks are doing what they’re doing. It does, thematically at least, manage to unify all three parts of the trilogy, which is nice. I appreciate that they tried something different with this three-parter of three separate, but connected stories all surrounding one monster. It was neat. It could’ve been executed a bit better, but it was very enjoyable.
I give The Lie at the End of the World 3 and a half out of five wands.
Doctor Who continues next week with The Empress of Mars, airing at 7:15 pm on BBC One and 9 pm on BBC America.