Even the Kitchen Sink

Review of The Lie of the Land
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

For an episode that wrapped up a three-part arc, The Lie of the Land was awfully short on denouement. In fact, the first time I watched I was shocked by the "resolution." In barely longer than two minutes, the Monks bailed, we cut to the Doctor and Bill on campus cheerfully slipping in back into their tutor/student roles, then to a weeping Missy, and BAM!—it's the "Next Time" trailer. My head spun.

It's not just that it was quick, either. While my internal narrative timer was sent waaaay off kilter by the wrap-up pacing, I also got startled by its onset. I suppose we can put a tick in the positive column as I was clearly involved enough to have lost track of time, such that the conclusion seemed to arrive all of a sudden. However, the fact that I didn't feel like I'd been led to a natural endpoint and was instead quite confused that there wasn't any more to it doesn't strike me as a win for either the writing or the execution.

In fact, I think it's safe to say that the rushed ending really put me off an episode that already had me giving it a bit of side-eye. It's kind of a shame, really, as there were some really nice elements, too—but they suffer by association.

As usual, I have nothing but praise for Pearl Mackie's Bill. Her expressions and reactions to the various extremes of emotion throughout were perfection. My only complaint—which was actually a problem with the writing/editing rather than with either the actor or character—was that after threatening to "beat the sh—" out of Nardole, she let go of that well-deserved anger and sense of betrayal too readily.

In those long months waiting for the Doctor to return, watching the world around her with an all-too-familiar sense of helpless horror, Bill's experiences remind the audience of Martha Jones, just as her choice of hairstyle adds to the World War II ambience of life under the Monks' rule. These parallels are among the episode's strengths.

Where it really falls down is in its attempt to include everything it possibly can—including the kitchen sink. There's allegory (if you can even call it that) for the path of global current events. There's the callbacks to episodes of yore (Martha, a Magpie Electricals storefront, reference to the first humans on the moon (oddly, the Silence are there being forgettable while the Monks are being extra memorable...), the Doctor deliberately breaking his Companion's trust in order to thwart an enemy). There's long-arc development with Missy (about which, more later). There's Bill's relationship with her mum turning into a plot point, and chance for the Doctor to center himself ("All the pictures I gave you! I thought I was just being kind, but I was saving the world.") despite it clearly being his awesome Companion solving the problem.

Simply put, it was too much. They couldn't possibly do justice to every thread they tried to weave into this episode, and the end result looked like a kid's first attempt at a macrame plant hanger: you can see what they were going for, but it's a bit lumpy and strange.

Among the strangest of these threads, to me, is Missy's attempt to stop being "bad." First, I'm really disappointed that it was so easy to guess that she was what was in the vault, and that there's been no twist to subvert the reveal from a couple episodes back. Second, who wants a "good" Master/Missy? Her senseless malice was part of the essence of the character—of her charm. This weird, sudden change of heart totally defangs the character and makes her boring as all get-out in the process.

Which brings me to my next point: I don't trust that she's on the up-and-up. Seriously—when's the last time the Master/Missy did anything without an ulterior motive and a twisted plan to get out of any untoward eventuality? Precisely never. Besides, there's still a third of the series left for the whole Vault storyline to play out. There's plenty yet to come, I'll wager.

Then of course there's the Doctor's regeneration fake-out. "A little bit too much?" he asks Nardole after the fact. Though Nardole calls it "a nice touch," I'm beginning to think it's misdirection. Capaldi has said he's already filmed his regeneration scene, and we could readily take that comment to have referred to this episode. However, it's also possible that the production team is trying their damnedest to pull off the impossible.

With the way things work these days, a surprise regeneration pretty much can't be done. There's simply too much scrutiny around the show. Any sign of regeneration poses would set the rumor mill instantly to grinding. If, however, there were an extraneous regeneration-type scene in the middle of the series, there would be something to point to and say, "oh, that's what we were working on; nothing to see here."

If you had also already cast the next Doctor and simply announced the actor as a guest for the series, you would be able to maintain deniability on that front, as well. (I know I'm far from the first person to suggest this mechanism; I'm just running with it.) While I can't see them casting Michelle Gomez in the role, she wouldn't be a bad choice, and her already high profile on the show would make this trick simple enough.

Similarly, John Simm would be an easy casting choice in terms of the machinations outlined here. And there's the bonus that Gomez and Simm's characters are themselves Time Lords (a Time Lord? a Time Lord and a Time Lady? hmm...), which would readily deflect suspicion from any regeneration-related activity surrounding those actors.

Perhaps I'm grasping at straws here, but I really love the idea of Doctor Who pulling off a casting surprise. It's kind of a Holy Grail of media trickery, and if they could manage it... Well, that would be the ultimate "lie of the land."

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Comments

mrfranklin's picture

I forgot to mention another key call-back I'd meant to include in the review: Bill/Twelve being like River/Ten at the end of River's life (Forest of the Dead), with the Doctor restrained, unable to stop someone dear to him from sacrificing herself to save everyone.

By mrfranklin

This was kind of a Frankenstein episode that gave me major deja vue. We had Bill, rescuing The Doctor from captivity like Martha did. We had Bill, tying The Doctor up so she can die in his place like River did. And we had monks. Didn't The Doctor have a whole thing with Headless Monks not too long ago? Why revisit a concept like monks?

And while the Headless Monks didn't seem to have a lot on the ball they were quiz kids compared to these new monks.

They claimed they wanted to rule through love, not fear, because it was more efficient. But I didn't see a whole lot of love in the world the monks created. Sending people to labor camps for minimal infractions doesn't inspire love. Lots of hatred and fear though.

And their whole look of decaying corpses is not love inspiring. They claimed they wanted to look like humans and humans look like corpses to them. But after studying the simulation, why not go for another look, say, underwear models or fluffy bunnies or kindly parental figures or something? Anything that won't be scary and off putting.

And about that love, what difference does it make if ONE person loves them? One person had to ask for their help with love in their heart. But the other 10 billion of us don't love the monks and never did. The whole approach of "love us or we let you all die" does not seem calculated to inspire good feelings.

After simulating our history for the last 10 thousand years you'd think these monks would have a better handle on what makes humans tick.

Not impressed with their strategies to endear themselves to the human race.

So what was the point of all that simulating if they didn't learn anything from it?

A three episode arc that ends with this cobbled together mess that makes zero sense doesn't impress me much.

And, um, explain to me again why The Doctor wanted Bill to "rescue" him from the ship if he was in control of it and could have steered it into a pier at any time. Why did he want to make Bill desperate enough to shoot him? What was the point?

If, as Missy said, Bill would have to go so that her genetic line would be broken and the monks would lose control, why not just take her to another planet at another time? Enough distance would surely have worked as well as death to break her mental link between the monks and the population of Earth. She might have even have had to leave permanently but The Doctor could have found her a good home elsewhere in the universe.

I feel smacked upside the head with stupid. And they were doing so well this season. I'm disappointed.

By Kara S (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Yes, I also found this episode incredibly disappointing. I have a few thoughts that address some of your questions, but don't really remove them from play.

I understood the Monks to mean (ultimately) that they needed one person to ask them for help out of love—though yes, it was super poorly done, especially as they specifically said they needed to *be* loved. But I got the impression that it was supposed to mean that as long as someone had pure motivations, they could be harnessed to become the lynchpin.

The Doctor put Bill through all that bullshit to prove to himself that *she* wasn't under the Monks' control. And then just laughed about it instead of even apologizing for the necessity of traumatizing her. That really pissed me off.

Low point of the season to date, imo.

By mrfranklin

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