Is there a Doctor Who fan who isn’t a little glad to see the end of the Monk Trilogy? After a very consistent run of episodes to start the tenth series of the Doctor Who revival, everything came crashing down with the ridiculously over-written ‘Extremis‘. Last week’s middle entry did plenty to mend the foundations of the series, but it all crumbled once again this week with final entry ‘The Lie of the Land’. It’s an episode that is essentially series three’s ‘Last of the Time Lords’ with a sizeable helping of Orwell’s 1984 and none of the silliness that made that episode such a fun series finale back in 2007.
After handing the Monks the keys to Earth last week, Bill (Pearl Mackie) has gone all Martha Jones in attempting to resist the tyrannical rule of the invaders, who are keeping control via propaganda that asserts they have always been there throughout history. With the help of Nardole (Matt Lucas), Bill tracks down the Doctor (Peter Capaldi), who is being held captive by the Monks and used as a presenter for their propaganda. Once the Doctor has been freed from the Monks, the trio take the unprecedented step of consulting Missy (Michelle Gomez) for help.
‘The Lie of the Land’ is a bizarre episode of Doctor Who in that it almost merits praise just for its ambition. This is not the sort of story that usually pops up halfway through a series and it does feel huge in the early stages. However, given the show allocated three hours to tell this story, the resolution feels more than a little half-baked. A scene midway through in which Capaldi’s regeneration is teased proves to be nothing more than a cheat to get the papers’ minds twitching and is resolved within a couple of seconds.
That scene does, though, prove to house the episode’s best moment as Pearl Mackie delivers an utterly tremendous performance as Bill, who is convinced that the Doctor has joined the Monks. Mackie has really grown as an actor over the course of the series and Bill is proving to be a compelling companion. It seems likely that she will leave with Capaldi to give incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall a clean slate, but it feels like a tragedy to only allow Mackie to spend a single series in the role. She even manages to just about sell a climactic moment in which she becomes more than a little reminiscent of her predecessor – the comedically perfect Clara.
The overriding sense throughout ‘The Lie of the Land’ is of wasted potential. This is a story packed with ideas, but very short on execution of those ideas. Michelle Gomez gets plenty of screen time as Missy, but she seems almost randomly inserted, as if she’s simply there to set up something for later in the series. The finale, meanwhile, sees the stakes of the story evaporate in an instant rather than culminate in something exciting.
Now that the Monks are gone, with a convenient wipe of the world’s memory, it’s time for Doctor Who to return to telling compelling stories within the confines of a single episode. The standard of this series was so high before the Monks first arrived and I wish that I too could erase my memory and remain blissfully ignorant of what has transpired over the last few weeks. Peter Capaldi deserves a great send-off as he hands over the TARDIS keys, but the Monks have been a major bump along the road.
Next week: We’re back to isolated stories, with deadly warriors from Mars battling Victorian humans. And Mark Gatiss is on writing duties, which is more than enough for me.
Doctor Who is airing on Saturday nights on BBC One and is available on BBC iPlayer.
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