Discussing Doctor Who: The Lie of the Land

Doctor Who The Lie of the Land

Why lie if it’s going to be a disappointment? “The Lie of the Land” ends the midseason Monk trilogy of episodes and Kevin and I have some thoughts.

Kevin Harvey is the author of All You Want to Know About The Bible in Pop Culture and a fellow Whovian who enjoys watching and breaking down the latest adventures of the Doctor. You can follow him on Twitter at @PopCultureKevin.

Previously, we felt fine at “The Pyramids at the End of the World,” went to the extreme in“Extremis,” breathed in “Oxygen,” opened the door of “Knock Knock,” stepped out on “Thin Ice,” emoted about “Smile” and navigated “The Pilot” If you need a refresher on last season, here is our recap of season 9.

“The Lie of the Land” brings to an end the Monk trilogy. Was this the conclusion worthy of the premise?

Kevin: I can’t decide whether I think the plan of the Monks was subtlety genius or vastly underwhelming. In the arguably instant classic first part of this trilogy, “Extremis,” we learn that the Monks have created a sort-of Matrix (or a mainframe for the two or three remaining Agents of SHIELD fans) so that they can study all the ins and outs of the human race in order to find the best way to conquer them.

For who knows how long they killed Doctor after Doctor, leader after leader, as they planned out perfectly their invasion. And finally, upon their invasion, their plan is to … change our memories?

Really? Don’t get me wrong. I think that’s quite clever. As Nardole said, “However bad a situation is, if people think that’s how it’s always been, they put up with it. Ninety percent of the job is already done.”

That’s keen insight into the human race and how we tend to accept just what is and what always has been in favor of making things better. But did the Monks really need all that preparation to come up with Operation: Memory Wipe? Honestly, after the build-up I was expecting more. Or at least an invasion that couldn’t be wrapped up in 40 minutes.

Aaron: I feel like I need to talk about this as if it were two different episodes. Initially, I thought this was one of the best recent stories. The play on words in the title is exceptional.

I loved the overly-happy opening video detailing how the Monks have been with us all along that closed with the Doctor giving what may be the creepiest smile I’ve ever seen. Those background fades with the faces of the Monks and their truth logo carried the dystopian disorienting feel over to the viewer.

The range Peter Capaldi showed in this episode—brilliant. Pearl Mackie carried the show with some deep emotion. Nardole was his usual great self. And Missy was extraordinary as always.

Taken as a whole, the trilogy drew on current culture (fake news), modern movies and TV shows (Matrix, Inception, and yes Agents of SHIELD), classic literature (the climax had so many echoes of A Wrinkle in Time) and previous Doctor Who episodes (a reappearance of Magpie Electric! and the clear parallels of Bill’s look and resistance to Martha Jones in “The Last of the Time Lords”).

But then I started to think about the episode a little more. Why did the Doctor even fake being in league with the Monks? He says to get them to trust him, but what was the purpose of that when they still didn’t trust him afterward? Why go through a whole scene with Bill including a fake regeneration?

As you brought up last week, we have a seemingly omnipotent villain that just flies away like nothing every happened after that encounter one setback (that they didn’t foresee happening in all their simulations)? People have supposedly forgotten all about it, but what about those who were killed during the six-month reign of the Monks and all the other repercussions?

This is an episode that you can really enjoy in the moment, but doesn’t stand up to extended analysis. And as you are fond of saying, that’s better than most shows on TV. We critique Doctor Who because we love it and know how good it can be.

We have fake history, fake news, a fake regeneration, a fake mom and all this after an episode where literally everything was fake. Is anything real in Doctor Who?

Aaron: This is part of the reason why a second viewing and thinking through things after the fact caused me to think less of this episode. We are supposed to reject all the bad fake things (all that the Monks did), but be totally fine with all of the other fake things so long as it helps defeat the Monks.

Meanwhile, you’ve introduced the idea that entire episodes can take place in fictional worlds with fictional characters and keep the audience in the dark. How am I supposed to turn that idea off? When things seem to resolve a bit too easy, as they did this week, why would my mind not immediately jump to the conclusion that this is all a computer simulation?

Skepticism is a dangerous virus to inject into your audience. It doesn’t always stay where you want. It creeps and seeps through everything and you are left with viewers that aren’t sure how much of your show they can trust. That is a precarious position for a show.

Kevin: I think this whole storyline all started out as an incredible, perhaps a little groundbreaking idea in Moffat’s head, but then it all kind of fizzled when he decided for whatever reason to put the bulk of the story in one episode.

We lost six months of time as Bill was struggling to figure out what was real and what wasn’t and the Doctor was pretending to go along with the Monks, to the point of filming propaganda segments for them. But we missed all of that and saw only the final day of the Monks’ invasion.

I look at the nice and tidy wrap-up as just bad storytelling, not a tease that we could still be in the fake world. Honestly, I would’ve preferred a genuine Inception-like ending that left you wondering for a little while. But I think it’s unlikely that we’ll see the Monks again anytime soon, if ever.

Conflicting thoughts on the episode aside, there were some tremendous performances. Bill and the Doctor as leads, Nardole and Missy in supporting roles: Who is your MVP for this episode?

Kevin: I’m gonna have to go with Bill, for having the nerve to actually shoot the Doctor because she felt while the world without the Doctor would have very little chance to survive this invasion and defeat the Monks, it would have no chance whatsoever if the Doctor was alive but working for the Monks.

That entire scene with Pearl Mackie really stretching her acting chops was pretty incredible. She won me over right there and convinced me that she can hang with Capaldi when he is at his best.

I was also happily surprised to get a little more from Missy (who was the one in the vault after all!) and learn that the Doctor is trying to help her become good. Though I hope for our sake she doesn’t lose all of her evil charm, I am excited to possibly see her work through a bit of a redemption story in her own right.

Aaron: I agree with you that Bill absolutely carried this episode. When she’s hearing the Doctor say he really had joined the Monks, her emotions were palpable. But since you’ve went over that, I’ll talk again about how tremendous Peter Capaldi is in this episode (and in general).

David Tennant will probably always be my Doctor. Matt Smith was exceptional in the role. Overall, I may prefer them to Capaldi as the Doctor, but man that guy has an unbelievable range. I don’t think any of the previous Doctors since the reboot could have pulled off the scene where the Doctor lectures Bill on why humanity needs the Monks.

So now that the Monks are seemingly dispatched where are we headed next with the season winding down?

Aaron: Honestly, I hope the Monks somehow return or reveal themselves to be something different. Moffat has said it’s “not really their name,” which has caused some outlandish theories to bubble up.

I need this storyline to be redeemed. It was such a good concept and some great pieces I want the whole thing to be meaningful. If this was another head fake, it will worsen the audience skepticism, but make this stretch of episodes more meaningful. It is a catch-22, but one in which the writers have placed themselves.

We now know for sure Missy is the person in the vault. I was less disappointed than I would’ve been because so many other things were swirling around (and she’s so electric on screen). She’s established she could’ve already gotten out, but she’s committed to the process of becoming good. Something tells me that’s not going to hold for much longer.

Another not so small bit of knowledge we have now, Bill is willing to kill the Doctor if he becomes something other than the Doctor. Could that come into play later on and lead to his actual regeneration?

Kevin: Well, I don’t know if you’ve been watching the Doctor Who spinoff Class. (I don’t really recommend it if you’re not.) But at the very end of the season finale this last week, the Weeping Angels appeared, and there was talk of an “arrival.”

Oh, how I pray this is intended for these last few episodes of Doctor Who, and that my all-time favorite Doctor Who villain won’t be wasted on a below-average spinoff that may not even get a second season.

Both “Blink” and “The Angels Take Manhattan” rank among my top five episodes all-time, and we so badly need them to return once again. Strangely, in Class, they actually killed someone, instead of sending them back in time. Interesting…

Favorite quotes or one-liners?

Kevin: The great thing about Doctor Who is that even in the most urgent times, there are still great comical lines that are delivered flawlessly and don’t feel fake or totally out of context for the situation. This episode had a good bit of those.

“That’s not weird. I used to have an imaginary friend, who left me for someone else.” —Nardole after learning from Bill that she sometimes talks to her dead mom

“But you called the Monks!?” —Bill
“I called the kitchen. Oh…could you pop down and explain it to them? They’re gonna be really confused.” —the Doctor

“Why is it that you have a woman locked in a vault? Cause even I think that’s weird and I’ve been attacked by a puddle.” —Bill

Aaron: I loved Bill’s sometimes irrational anger at Nardole for what the Doctor puts her through. And since you didn’t do any Missy quotes, I’ll just use three from her.

“No one has been to see me in months, not even that bald bloke who looks like an egg.” — Missy

“You’d be a husk. You couldn’t even get on Celebrity Love Island.” — Missy to Bill on how she can defeat the Monks if she becomes brain dead.

“Your version of good is not absolute. It’s vain, arrogant, sentimental, and if you’re waiting for me to become all that, I’m going to be here a long time yet.” — Missy discussing her more pragmatic idea of goodness (kill some if it saves many).

What some spiritual takeaways from this episode?

Aaron: Lies can be so easy to believe, especially when they come with the force of the surrounding culture. Christians should know this better than most. For virtually all of our existence, we have been on the outside of culture looking in. And for good reason, this world will never look like it should until Christ returns. There will always be aspects that run contrary to our faith.

It takes effort to think differently. Bill had to constantly refocus herself to counter the misinformation. As Christians that’s what it means constantly present ourselves as a living sacrifice that can resist being conformed to this age by being transformed by a renewing of our mind (Romans 12).

Kevin: I just want to tack on to that, because the whole lies issue was what stood out to me the most. Bill said, “It would’ve been so easy to give in and believe their lies, but I didn’t.” In John 8:44, Jesus called Satan the “father of lies,” and we really shouldn’t forget that the father of lies will never stop lying to us and trying to deter us from believing the truths of the gospel.

Before someone gives their life to Jesus, Satan fills their heads with the lies that say he or she doesn’t really need Jesus’ forgiveness. And then when someone does come to have a personal relationship with Jesus, the lies actually increase exponentially.

Because though Satan may have lost our soul, he’s going to do all he can to get every false theology possible into our lives and convince us that being a disciple of Christ doesn’t have to actually be that hard.

And like Bill said, it would be so easy to just believe his lies, but we must constantly counterattack Satan’s lies with Jesus’ truth, much like listening to Bill’s voice in the headphones was necessary to counterattack the lies of the Monks as they crept through their base.

3 Comments

  1. Brian roden

    On people thinking the way things are is the way they have always been, or “the natural order of things,” I think about slavery and the civil rights movement. Both blacks and whites were so used to the way things had been for so long that many didn’t even question it, and those who did were see as subversive to a well-ordered society.

    I think it also has some application to Christendom in the West. For centuries, the Christian church was accustomed to having power and political influence, and forgot how to live as strangers and aliens like the early church.

    Very recently, with the publication of Matthew Bates’ “Salvation by Allegiance Alone,” we have seen people accuse him of promoting “works righteousness,” just because his translation of pistis in some passages as “allegiance” (which is within the semantic range of the Greek) doesn’t fit their 500-year-old paradigm of it simply meaning “belief” in an intellectual assent sense. When what he’s really trying to do is get us back to how the first century Jewish Christians like Paul would have understood the term.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.