Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Doctor Who Season 10, Episode 8: The Lie Of The Land

This week on Doctor Who, we finish the loose trilogy that started in Extremis and continued in The Pyramid At The End Of The World.

There are some good character moments in the episode, especially from the excellent Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts, but overall the storyline is lacking, and a sub-par ending for the trilogy.


The script tries to cram way too much into far little screen time, rushing from one scene to the next with no time for the audience to catch its breath. The episode is also riddled with contrivances, that pile up like cars on a California freeway. Sadly, the way the story's written it can't work without them.

The episode's also quite derivative, as it blatantly apes The Last Of The Time Lords, along with cribbing elements from Turn Left and even The Wedding Of River Song.

The worst part of the episode though is the Monks themselves. They're extremely weak and uninteresting villains, and I'm still not entirely sure what their plan was, other than generic world domination. They seemingly sit back and do nothing, even when the Doctor and Co. waltz right into their headquarters, bent on destroying them. 

The Monks finally make a token appearance in the third act and toss a few anemic lightning bolts and a couple soldiers, but that's pretty much it. Worst of all, when they're eventually defeated, they bugger off in silence, without so much as a "You haven't seen the last of us, Doctor!"

Lastly, a word or two about Donald J. Trump. He may have an all-time low approval rating, but our sci-fi TV series apparently can't get enough of the guy and his bizarre views on the media! Earlier this year Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. did a storyline featuring a Trumpian dystopia ruled by misinformation, and this week Doctor Who gets in on the act as well, with a similar episode all about "Fake News!" Thank Thor for Trump, I guess, else our sci-fi shows would be plotless in 2017!

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
We begin six months after the previous episode, as the Monks have taken control of Earth after Bill gave them her consent. Using subliminal mind control, they make it seem like they've been here for thousands of years, gently guiding human development. For some reason, the Doctor regularly appears on TV praising the monks, touting their benefit to humanity and reinforcing the lie.

Occasionally someone remembers the truth and is imprisoned for "memory crime." Bill's one of these people, but fortunately she's never found out or hauled off to jail. She reinforces her memory by having conversations with an imaginary, idealized version of the mother she never knew (WARNING! PLOT POINT ALERT!). She's sure the Doctor's involvement with the Monks is part of a plan to defeat them, but after six months her faith is starting to waver.

Suddenly Nardole bursts into her flat, with a lame and poorly-written explanation for how he survived the Agrofuel bacterium in the previous episode. He tells Bill that after he recovered from his illness, he went searching for the Doctor. After several months he found he's being held "on one of the old prison ships," which I guess are still a thing.

And just like that, Bill and Nardole decide to rescue the Doctor. They disguise themselves as part of a re-supply crew, and despite the fact that security on the prison ship is tight, they virtually waltz right into it. There's a tense moment as a Monk inspects the operation and actually stares right at Bill, but apparently it doesn't recognize her as the person who gave them consent.

Bill and Nardole sneak away and search the curiously empty ship until they find the Doctor in a cabin. Bill bursts in, happy to finally see her friend again. The Doctor takes a look at her and immediately calls his guards, who surround Bill and Nardole. She pleads with the Doctor to stop pretending to go along with the Monks and finally reveal his plan to defeat them. He coldly tells her there's no plan, and that he's willingly cooperating with them in order to save humanity.

Bill's so horrified by this revelation that she grabs a gun from one of the guards and shoots the Doctor several times in the chest. He falls over and his body begins to glow, as the regeneration process starts. This should of course mean absolutely nothing to Bill, who's never seen it before. Halfway through the process he stops and says "GOTCHA!" Apparently the gun was filled with blanks, and this entire scenario was cooked up to test Bill's loyalty. EVERYONE— including Nardole and the guards— are in on it. Somehow Bill restrains herself from shooting everyone with a real gun.

The Doctor then takes control of the prison ship and smashes it into a dock. Just how he managed to accomplish this, and why the Monks didn't try to stop him, is apparently none of our concern, as it's never addressed. He and Bill make a beeline for the University, where the Monks are waiting for them. Fortunately the Doctor's not headed for his office, but to the Vault below the school. I guess the Monks don't know about that?

The Doctor opens the Vault and reveals Missy imprisoned in a round Hannibal Lecter-type cell in the center of the room. She claims she had dealings with the Monks before and defeated them, and the Doctor demands to know how she did it.

Since Missy is allegedly trying to be "good," she decides to help the Doctor defeat the Monks. She can't just tell him the answer though, as she forces him to play a guessing game for the answer. Eventually the Doctor determines that the Monks beam their false history to the world through the statues of themselves they've set up in every city. The statues have a psychic link to the person who gave consent. Missy says all the Doctor has to do is find that person and render them brain dead, so the signal stops. Uh-oh.

The Doctor refuses to accept this plan, and looks for another solution. He reasons the Monks must have a machine that broadcasts their fake history hidden inside their pyramid. He says if he could hook himself up to the machine, he could send out the true history of the world to the populace, breaking the Monks' hold on them.

The Doctor, Bill, Nardole and a squad of soldiers infiltrate the pyramid in London. Inside they're attacked by the Monks, who kill several soldiers before inexplicably disappearing. The Doctor, Bill and Nardole reach the central chamber. Inside they find a lone Monk sitting in a chair, hooked up to a machine that constantly broadcasts its thoughts of fake history to the world. A series of screens on the ceiling display the lies the Monks are selling to the populace.

The Doctor grasps the Monk's head and forces his own thoughts into it. Slowly the images on the ceiling are replaced with real events, but then the Monk begins fighting back. The Doctor's thrown across the room by a massive psychic assault.

Bill tells the Doctor that even he won't survive a second attack, and says she needs to fix the problem she created. She walks up to the Monk and grabs its head. The Doctor tries to stop her, telling her she'll be killed, but it's too late. Bill is overpowered by the Monk at first, but slowly the screens begin filling with images of the fantasy version of Bill's mom. Since this version of her mother never existed, the Monks couldn't corrupt or control it, which I guess kind of makes sense if you squint.

The plan works, and the Monks' hold on the populace is broken. Humanity begins to revolt, and the Monks hightail it back to their pyramid and blast off into space.

A few weeks later, the Doctor notes that humanity doesn't remember the Monks, as they erased themselves from the public mind. He tells Bill she owes him a paper on The Mechanics Of Free Will.

Later, the Doctor sits in the vault with Missy. She sobs, saying she remembers the faces of everyone she killed.

Thoughts:
As I predicted last week, this episode was very similar to the Season 3 finale, The Last Of The Time Lords

In that episode, the Master takes over the entire Earth and holds the Doctor captive, artificially aging him so he can't escape. Martha Jones, the Doctor's companion, wanders the Master-controlled Earth for an entire year. She tells everyone she meets about the legend of the Doctor, and encourages the public to spread the word.


Eventually she's captured and taken before the Master, who plans to kill the Doctor in front of her. As part of Martha's plan, the population of Earth sends their "good thoughts and positive energy" toward the Doctor at a predetermined time. He's then restored through the Power Of Love, which allows him to defeat the Master and reset time so the past year never happened.

Sounds familiar, eh?

Bill even styles her hair and dresses in black just like Martha Jones did in The Last Of The Time Lords!

• Why the hell would the Monks ever let Bill out of their sight? After all, she's the person who gave them her consent and allowed them to take over the world. She's literally indispensable to them, especially since they've established a psychic link that allows them to broadcast their fake history through her. One would think they'd keep HER locked up in a cell instead of the Doctor!

Nope! Instead she's allowed to wander freely in public, coming and going as she pleases. You'd think at the very least they'd have kept her flat under constant video and audio surveillance. Obviously not, as she and Nardole plan to rescue the Doctor, and no secret police bust in to take them away.


In a similar vein, one would think the Monks would give Bill an extra helping of mind control to make sure she never remembered the past. Apparently this never occurred to them, as Bill realizes the Monks are a sham and freely recalls the way things used to be.


No wonder these schlubs were run off the planet!


I suppose it's mildly possible that while the Doctor was imprisoned by the Monks, he may have used his influence to protect Bill from them.


• The Monks never really seem like much of a threat in this episode. They occasionally have someone imprisoned when they remember the truth about the past, but that's pretty much the extent of their enforcement. 


Heck, Bill and Nardole are able to walk right onto the prison ship and into the Doctor's cell, and the Monks never even notice!


Writer Toby Whithouse tries to smooth over the Monks' apathetic attitude by saying they're more concerned about the Doctor getting out than by anyone else getting inThat's an old, old, ancient story trope that thousands of shows have used over the years to make their plots possible.


Even worse, the Monks barely try to stop the Doctor and Co. when they infiltrate their pyramid. They fire a couple of halfhearted lightning bolts at the invaders before being killed, and that's about it. 


And one would think there'd be some sort of alarm when the Doctor enters their thought-broadcasting chamber. Even if the Monks didn't want to dirty their hands stopping him, they could have sent their secret police to stop him.


Once again, is it any wonder these maroons were run off the planet so easily?

• Last week when the Colonel told the Monks they looked like corpses, they said, "We have chosen these forms to look like you."

I was sure that meant they had a true appearance that was even more shocking than a moldy-looking mummy. Or I thought their identity would turn out to be a twist of some kind. Like they were secretly Cybermen or something. Instead we got nothing. So what was the point of the whole "choosing our form" line?

I have a feeling that despite what happens at the end of this episode, we haven't seen the last of the Monks, and there's more of their story to be told.


In a recent interview, showrunner Steven Moffat said that "The Monks" is not the race's true name. And we know that the original 1960s Mondasian Cybermen are supposed to pop up sometime this season. I may be totally off base here, but I'm still not convinced that the Monks aren't somehow secretly the Cybermen.

• Speaking of appearances, doesn't it seem odd that the public so willingly accepts a race of "benevolent guardians" who look like ghastly, rotting corpses? I'd think most people would be uncomfortable even looking at them, much less submitting to their rule.

Wouldn't it have made more sense for the Monks to have looked like impossibly beautiful angels or something?


• This is some heavy duty nitpicking, but what the heck. During the Doctor's opening introduction, we see a Monk standing behind a victorious Winston Churchill, implying they helped guide his decisions.

Hmm. Churchill appeared on the show several times during the Eleventh Doctor's era, where he looked like the man above. How odd. One of these men is clearly an impostor!

• Also during the opening narration, the Doctor says the Monks have been there for all of mankind's greatest achievements, even waiting for us when we walked on the moon.

This is all a lie of course, but in the world of the story, humanity doesn't know that. If the Monks have already done everything humans are attempting to do, doesn't it seem like after a while we'd all just... give up? Why try to go to Mars or invent cold fusion when the Monks have probably already done it? 


• Now and then the Monks' psychic hold weakens on certain people and they realize the revised history of the world is a lie. 


This is such a threat to the Monks that they pass the "Memory Crimes Act" of 1975, making it a crime to realize the truth. In fact, whenever this happens the Monks actually send out an armed squad of "Memory Police" to round up anyone who remembers the way things used to be. 


That seems like a bad idea to me. 
Calling them "Memory Police" implies that there's something they don't want you to remember. Seems to me like that's just gonna get people wondering and thinking, and then even more citizens will start remembering! Why pick a name that needlessly encourages the very thing you don't want to happen? Wouldn't simply "Secret Police" or even just "Police" be enough? Or why mark their vans at all?


• At one point Bill walks by a Magpie Electrical store, which features a window full of TVs broadcasting the Doctor's propaganda.

The Magpie brand first appeared back in 2006's The Idiot's Lantern. The Magpie logo's shown up several times since, on various TV sets, Sarah Jane Smith's computer, River Song's scanner, a shop on the Starship UK and even on the Twelfth Doctor's guitar amp.

Oddly enough it doesn't appear on the TV set in this episode, which is a Sharp brand. I'm guessing Sharp probably ponied up some product placement dough, while the fictional Magpie Corp. didn't.

• So why doesn't Nardole use the TARDIS to pick up Bill and then rescue the Doctor? We've seen in past episodes that he can fly it. The TARDIS isn't even seen or mentioned in this episode, and it's not until it's over that you notice its absence.


Obviously the writer hoped that if he never mentioned the TARDIS, viewers wouldn't think about it, and then wouldn't realize that it could have solved the plot problems in about thirty seconds.

• Nardole tells Bill that he's located the Doctor, saying, "The Monks have got him on one of the old prison boats. Hulks, they used call them."


Believe it or not, Nardole knows what he's talking about here. The UK launched the ship HMP Weare in 1997 as a temporary measure to ease prison crowding. It was closed down in 2006.


• Bill and Nardole find the Doctor on the prison ship, but he appears to have betrayed humanity by siding with the Monks. This upsets Bill so much that she decides to straight up murder the Doctor by shooting him several times, which seemingly causes him to regenerate. After a few seconds he stops, admitting he was simply testing Bill's loyalty.

Obviously this "Fake Out Regeneration" was done just to trick the audience and make us think we were getting a new Doctor a few episodes early. He certainly didn't do it for Bill's benefit. As far as I know she isn't even aware that the Doctor CAN regenerate, unless he told her about it between episodes. And even if he did, she certainly wouldn't know what regeneration LOOKS like. When he started seemingly changing, she should have just stared and said, "'Why's there a golden fountain pouring out of your head?"

This entire sequence was nothing more than a cheap stunt designed to trick the audience into thinking they producers were actually going to switch Doctors this week. Bad form, guys!


• So Bill just shot the Doctor— a man she admittedly loves— three times in the chest at near point blank range. And no one says a peep about it afterwards! Not even a "Sorry I tried to kill you in a white hot rage" from Bill.


In fact the Doctor seems to have anticipated she'd do it, as he ordered his guards to put blanks in their guns (never mind where they got those on a ship anchored at sea).


• Why does the Doctor's coat look noticeably worn and threadbare in this episode? He's only been a captive of the Monks for six months. How'd his clothing get so worn in that short amount of time?

• All season long the series has been building up to the moment when the Doctor seeks the help of Missy. It finally happened this week, and I have to say it was 
pretty disappointing, consisting of playing "Hot & Cold" with the Doctor instead of just telling him the goddamned answer he needed.


I was expecting him to let her out of the Vault, and the two of them would team up to take down the Monks.


Hopefully her involvement will increase before the end of the season.


• Inside the Monks' pyramid is a room where they broadcast their fake history. The ceiling of this room is filled with screens displaying dozens of images of the altered past.

One of the screens even displays an image of a smug, grinning Donald Trump! Too bad that image wasn't a lie by the Monks.

The fact that Trump is the president should have been a huge clue to citizens of the Whoniverse that the Monks' version of history was all a lie. No race that "gently guided and encouraged humanity" would allow such a nimrod to become leader of the free world!

Note to the producers: I prefer my Doctor Who to be Trump-free, thanks. No need to see that on the screen while I'm trying to be entertained.

• The Doctor plans to infiltrate the Monks' pyramid and hook himself up to their machinery so he can broadcast the true history of the world, breaking the spell over the populace. He also starts coming up with things he could alter while he's at it, like using his thoughts to eliminate racism and "people who talk in cinemas."

That sounds a lot like the way the One Ring works in The Lord Of The Rings. Even when used for good, the Ring would subtly corrupt the user, urging them to try and remake the world 
according to their own rules.


• Sigh... once again, Doctor Who uses "The Power Of Love" to defeat the baddies of the week. Something they've done many, many times before in the revived series. At this point Huey Lewis would have a good copyright infringement case against the BBC.

I really hate this trope, but it sort of makes sense in this case though. Bill has a fantasy version of her mother in her head, and because it's not a real memory, the Monks can't corrupt it. That's actually kind of clever. It seems though like this pure memory would only affect Bill though. I'm not sure why it would disrupt the mind control of everyone else on Earth.

• At the end of the episode, the Doctor says the Monks somehow erased themselves from everyone's minds before they left, and humanity's completely forgotten them.


Nice try, episode, but that doesn't make the least bit of sense. Didn't anyone notice they'd inexplicably experienced six months of lost time? Did everyone just shrug & go on with their lives? What about all the people the Monks killed during their reign? I guess the families of these victims never wondered what happened to them? What about the people in the prison camps? Are they still there, with no memory of why?

• Last week we saw that giving consent to the Monks was a dangerous decision, as they'd disintegrate anyone whose request didn't come from "love." Bill gave her consent to the Monks and somehow survived her encounter.


This week we're told that rendering Bill brain dead is the only way to disrupt the Monks' psychic hold on humanity. She links her mind with that of a Monk, but somehow survives the encounter with her brain intact.

Some fans are starting to think Bill's seeming invulnerability isn't just the result of dumb luck. There's a theory going around that when the Doctor went back in time to meet Bill's mom in The Pilot, he may have done more than just snap her photo. Some are convinced that the Doctor fell for Mrs. Potts and actually fathered Bill, making her half Time Lord and explaining her invulnerability, as well as the Doctor's intense interest in her.


Ugh... I hope that's not what Moffat has in mind here.


This Week's Best Lines:
The Doctor: "The Monks have been with us from the beginning. They shepherded humanity through its formative years, gently guiding and encouraging, like a parent clapping their hands at a baby's first steps. They have been instrumental in all the advances of culture and technology. They watched proudly as man invented the light bulb, the telephone and the internet. They were even there to welcome the first men on the moon. It's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. And they have defended us too. Who can forget the time the Monks defeated the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Weeping Angels? Two species, sharing a history as happily as they share a planet, humanity and the Monks are a blissful and perfect partnership. How lucky Earth is to have an ally as powerful and tender as the Monks, that asks for nothing in return for their benevolence but obedience."

Nardole: (to Bill) "I thought your mum (whispering) died. You know, when you were (whispers again) little."
(this line makes me laugh because of Nardole's unnecessary whispering of the word "little")

Bill: "Why do it? That's what I don't get. They invade somewhere, take control. Why go to the trouble of changing the past?"
Nardole: "However bad a situation is, if people think that's how it's always been, they'll put up with it. That's 90% of the job done."

Bill: "But I shot you."
The Doctor: "Yes, well, that was the plan, you see? Everyone exchanged their ammo for blanks."
Dave: "Ahem."
The Doctor: "
Did you forget, Dave? You forgot? Well, that would have really blown the plan, wouldn’t it?"


Bill: (after finding out the Doctor was faking his involvement with the Monks) "And you were in on this too?"
Nardole: "It was partly his idea."
Bill: "Oh, my God. I’m going to beat the shi-"
The Doctor: "No! No! Oh, come on, come on, we’ve got the band back together again!"

Bill: (finally seeing the occupant of the Vault) "But it’s It’s just a woman. The way you and Nardole have been carrying on, I thought you had a monster in here, or something!"
The Doctor: "I do. Missy, Bill. Bill, Missy, the other Last of the Time Lords."
Bill: "Wait a sec. Why have you got a woman locked in a vault? Because even I think that’s weird, and I’ve been attacked by a puddle."

Bill: "I asked the Monks for help and started all of this, so I have to be the one to finish it. The only downside is, if that’s what we do well, it’s not worth me starting any long books.
Nardole: "Ok, well, er, let’s put a pin in it for now, as they say, and, er, see if we can think of something else."

Soldier: (under the influence of the Monks) "I’ll kill you first!"
(The Soldier suddenly collapses, as Nardole places his hand on his shoulder)
Nardole: "Tarovian Neck Pinch. Yeah, I studied their martial arts for a while, actually. Reached the level of Brown Tabard. Can’t do it with this hand though. Kind of bugs me. Course, this wasn’t my original hand, as you know. I won this in a game of... Yeah, let’s crack on."

The Doctor: (as he walks into the Monks' broadcast chamber) "Fake News Central!"

The Doctor: (calling to student to prove to Bill that the Monks erased themselves from humanity's memory) "You, Appalling Hair! This thing that we’re sitting on, what is it?:
Student: "Uh, we thought they were just like filming something here or something?"
The Doctor: "Thank you. Very helpful. Now go away, or something."

Bill: "Why do you put up with us, then?"
The Doctor: "In amongst seven billion there’s someone like you. That’s why I put up with the rest of them."

Missy: "I keep remembering all the people I’ve killed. Every day I think of more. Being bad... being bad drowned that out. I didn’t know I even knew their names. You didn’t tell me about this bit."
The Doctor: "I’m sorry, but this is good."

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