Sunday, June 4, 2017

Doctor Who, Season Ten, Episode Eight: The Lie of the Land

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The Lie of the Land marks the end of a three episode arc in which the earth has been invaded by Monks who cast themselves as benevolent overlords. It's been six months since Bill accepted the Monks rule, in order to restore the Doctor's eyesight and save his life.  Since then, the earth has become a dystopian world with people living in a police state and fear.  The humans have been given a false history which suggests that the monks have always been there and have functioned as sort of parental figure to humans, as we crawled our way out of the muck and created such wonders as the telephone, the lightbulb and the internet. The monks even go as far as to take credit for the times that the Doctor saved the earth. 

Bill is alone in this new world.  She listens to the Monk propaganda recordings the Doctor has made and she's certain that this is all one giant ruse because Bill believes the Doctor will save humanity.  On her own, Bill has conversations with long dead mother and confides all of her hopes and dreams.  Bill's dead mother has been a reoccurring theme this season and so it stands to reason that this story line will go somewhere, after all, the Doctor did go back in time specifically to take some pictures for Bill. Bill holds onto these created memories and her remembrances of the real history of earth.

When Nardole shows up, Bill is relieved to see him.  Nardole has located the Doctor and so it's time to do a rescue mission.  When Bill and Nardole finally confront the Doctor, he immediately calls for security which astonishes Bill.  The Doctor talks about how humanity has made the same mistakes time after time; fascism and fundamentalism raise their ugly head.  The Doctor posits that a benign leadership is just what humanity needs because they (read: The Monks) bring peace and order.  Bill is absolutely destroyed at the possibility of the Doctor being in collusion with the monks and his disregard of free will. When it becomes clear to her that the Doctor isn't joking around, Bill grabs a gun from a security guard and shoots the Doctor several times at point blank range. This is a stunning turn of events given that Bill was so sure of the Doctor that she put humanity in jeopardy to save him.  It's important to keep in mind that when Bill shot the Doctor she had no idea that Timelords can regenerate and so she absolutely meant to kill him.   This results in the beginning of a regeneration which is cut short by the Doctor because the whole thing was a test.  The Doctor wanted to know for certain that Bill hadn't been corrupted like the rest of humanity. 

The Doctor has long been a mercurial character with elements of absolute cruelty but this, for me, takes the cake.  It's worse than his game playing  in Kill the Moon. This is the first time that Bill has seen this side of the Doctor and instead of following through with the righteous rage that this deserves she takes it out jokingly on Nardole, for being in on the scam and not warning her.  It's as though the writers really didn't want to commit here. Sure, Bill isn't the same person as Clara Oswald and she hasn't traveled with the Doctor for nearly as long but Bill has shown nothing but absolute faith in the Doctor since the moment they met. Where are her feelings of betrayal? Why isn't she angry with him?  Bill was angry enough at the Doctor to shoot him repeatedly but not angry that he played this cruel trick on her.  Does this mean that for Bill, the ends justify the means?

Their next step is to sneak back to the University to pay a little visit to Missy, someone the Doctor tells us is almost as smart as him. Missy is on the path of change, if not redemption and part of this is staying trapped in a vault from which she could have escaped from quite some time ago. Missy does indeed have an answer, but it involves sacrificing Bill, since she is the one that allowed the Monks to have access to humanity in the first place.  The Doctor of course does not see this as a solution.  Missy could actively have provided false information or simply refused any aid at all and so for her, this is a big step forward. Missy however isn't ready for what she calls the Doctor's, "narcissistic belief" that he can save everyone and that all life matters.  This statement is both true and false.  We've seen time and time again the Doctor try to preserve life but we've also seen him casually toss it aside when it suits his purposes to do so or when rage overcomes his reason. The Doctor is the same man who had naive sympathy for Davros and the same man who killed Empress Racnos's children in Runaway Bride.  The Doctor feels a duty of care when it comes to his companions and Bill could never be a reasonable sacrifice to him. 

Missy sudden desire for goodness is absolutely going to be short lived. This current detente isn't natural between the Doctor and Missy.  Missy's natural instinct is to be an adversary to the Doctor. Missy may be thinking about how she ended up being sentenced to death and reflecting on all the death that she has caused to date but this doesn't mean that this self exam will lead to permanent change. I suspect when we see the Master again, the adversary will reassert itself. Just as when the Doctor was trying to determine whether or not he's a good man and ended up deciding that he's an "idiot with a box", Missy's introspection will lead to the long standing truth that she is already who she is meant to be. 

Rather than using Bill, the Doctor plans to use his mind to break the psychic link the monks have established with humanity via statues that they have strategically placed at all of the world's town squares. This, the Doctor muses, would give him a chance to eradicate racism and people who talk during movies.  Yes, the eradication of racism would be wonderful but this comment is particularly irritating given that Doctor Who, doesn't exactly have the best record when it comes to race. Bill is after all only the second companion of colour and Martha Jones was treated abominably, continually reminded of the fact that she is not Rose and could never stand in for her.  To then juxtapose race and people talking during movies so flippantly highlights the longstanding problems Doctor Who has when it invokes race/racism or involves people of colour. 

When the Doctor's plan doesn't work out, Bill takes a page from Riversong and sacrifices herself.  Aware that she will become and empty husk, Bill deems the sacrifice worthy if it saves humanity. Fortunately, Bill thinks about her mother and the false memories she has created in lieu of a relationship. The Doctor encourages Bill to continue thinking about her mother and this false memory is enough to break the psychic link that the monks have created with humanity. 

The monks could only ever rule all of humanity through a psychic link because there are only 12 of them. When faced with humanity rebelling because they could no longer convince them that the Monks had  always been a part of earth's history, the Monks pack up their little pyramid and flee. It all feels like a short cut given the fact that we have had two episodes building up to what a threat the Monks pose.  To see them simply disappear without a fight because of their small numbers makes them almost unworthy of being a true alien adversary in this universe. Could you see the Daleks or the Cybermen or the Weeping Angels turning tail and running in this fashion?  It's almost as though having written themselves into this corner, that the writers didn't know what to do with the Monks.  Granted, it would be wrong to change the world overall but surely a better ending could have been produced than this toothless finale.