Saturday, 10 June 2017

Doctor Who: The Lie of the Land

So, that happened. Normally this sort of review would require a more meaningful opening, even just a few general comments, but this honestly left little to no impact here. What we have here is a rushed version of the "big impact" stories Doctor Who hungers for, a lot of big ideas or themes instantly tossed aside with little impact, and a desperate attempt to jump onto modern politics.

So, we have the worst aspects of Moffat's writing at work again - just when he seemed to be getting better - and a repeat of Peter Harness' floundering flailing attempts to make political commentary on something. Your guess as to exactly what is as good as mine, but it's very generally anti-government and anti-censorship in this case; while once again also making such a mess of it that i'm genuinely embarrassed to have the same stance as him on this topic.

Look, the situation here is simple: The Monks have taken over - their motivation for doing so, or where the powers which allowed one to toss a nuclear submarine about like a toy has gone, are left completely ditched and left up to the viewer - and they have re-written history. They now try to present events with them always in control, always defending humanity and pushing it along the correct lines. This is used to excuse their tyranny, and make the population far more compliant to their demands for further control as they take over.

Bill has been left with at least a partial memory of events prior to this conflict, but with no sign of anyone else from the TARDIS present, she has been left to fend for herself. Well, save for one bit of knowledge. The Doctor is still alive, but unfortunately he has sided with the aliens.

The Good

To be honest with you, there's not much here. To give credit to those involved, everyone present in the scene where Bill and the Doctor meet up again were acting the hell out of their roles, and there are one or two very awesome moments leading up to their return. In addition to this, the intro is actually enough to get you hooked at first glance, as it quickly sets up the situation and themes with astounding effectiveness while also playing upon the Doctor's monologues. 

The direction as a whole was fantastic this episode, and even in its worst moments there was no denying that the actual visuals, effects and presentation were expertly edited and handled. It was enough to give a sense of desperation and scale to the invasion itself at every turn, and even enough to allow for how dire the story actually was to be forgotten.

Finally, the story does actually bother to stop and delve into a few of the much bigger problems left by the last story. While it is gradually hand-waved away, the whole quarantine issue is used to help justify a time-skip between the last story and this one, and it is expressed that it's what prevented Nardole's return. The actual reason and requirement for unconditional devotion to the monks is explained as well, and in a much better tale it could have been something very interesting. Sadly, it's mostly just an excuse to have a massed occupation of the world with humanity already falling into line under it. Something which was done far better in a few other tales, both on the television and on here.

So, that's that for the good stuff. Brief, yes, but it had to be mentioned. Now onto the disastrous story itself.

The Bad

Last time the tale relied heavily upon the sheer stupidity of its main characters and heroes for the villains to win. Well, now the tables have turned. Despite having seemingly immense power and twisting reality itself to their will, planning out every possibility and event, to being beaten in a few weeks by a handful of people. No, not in the awesome way, in the way which leaves you seeking the nearest wall and inserting your forehead into it with considerable force.

Consider the following for a moment: The Monks have spent ages planning for every outcome possible, running it time and time again to test every single last possible future. they are capable of altering the world on a whim and can even pick out a single person among billions who can resist them. Even without that, up close and personal they can pick out ulterior motives by just scanning a person's mind. They are now in power, they have all the control they want an a subservient populace.

So, naturally, their next move is to completely and utterly trust the Doctor with a major position of power. The man whose digital recreation not only rebelled against them the second he knew of their existence, but whose victories against invasions they have tried to pass off as their own accomplishments. They leave him alone for six months, ignore him entirely, do not even bother to imprison him or keep an eye on his companion, and just go about their business. When he does make his move, they barely seem to react, doing nothing to stop his return, deploy no guards outside their all-important pyramid save for a psychic field which can be overcome by a person's voice repeating the truth, and don't bother to guard the very device ensuring their power.

Even their very abilities seem to have been dialed back by a hundred degrees, to where the rebelling thoughts of Bill, Nardole and a few dozen resisting humans cannot be detected right in front of a Monk!

Even if you get over that particular issue though, you then have the major problems surrounding their plans. The really big ones. For starters, the psychic link created to hold the public hostage is broadcast through their pyramid and amplified across a multitude of statues made in their likeness, which is somewhat fair enough. It gives them something of a weakness for any future stories while making them still quite powerful. Yet, it then goes the extra mile by claiming that their psychic link needs to be maintained with the one person who first created it (Bill, in this case) and passed down from parent to child. So, if that person is killed for any reason, they're screwed. If they fail to sire a child, they're screwed. If their species doesn't retain a reproductive method akin to humans, they're screwed. Really, one car crash, office fire, heart attack or natural disaster in the wrong place or at the wrong time, and they are buggered to the point of fleeing the planet. You could argue that this could be bypassed via a few guards or even just keeping the person in stasis, but no, she's just there being treated like anyone else.

This is honestly such blatant stupidity that these guys could have been beaten by Dr. Evil overnight, not the Doctor himself.

So, where is this all going anyway? What was the big point behind it? To make some criticism against the government. It's very general, very ham fisted and atrociously written until you can barely tell what it was supposed to be leveling criticisms against in the first place. We see a mother being dragged away for retaining "proper" thoughts, various icons scattered about the world to give a face to the enemy and proclaim their power, and mass propaganda broadcasts. The Doctor at one point even drops the line "fake news" but i'm not even sure if the writers knew the context behind that running joke with the orange bastard slouching in the Oval office. Look, if this episode is going to force you to sit through the writer's insane politics, i'm going to get involved as well.

The point is that this was a very lazily written attempt to be relevant, but it failed miserably, and even the follow-up attempts to give some message of hope just creates further problems as it goes along. In fact, the resolution behind it is not only mind-numbingly stupid, but genuinely left me questioning the mental well-being of Bill. Again, we're avoiding it due to spoilers, but it comes out of nowhere and just resolves everything. Once it happens, the story offers some very brief excuse as to why no one remembers anything of the last few months, all the statues are mysteriously destroyed, and things go back to normal. Yes, the villains accomplish this in their last moments, and no this doesn't make any sense. If anything it opens up a few new plot holes thanks to the investigations which would need to be made into all the people they killed, and a major question as to what happened to those they abducted.

Even if you were unfortunate enough to get hooked into this one because of the problem of a confrontation between Bill and the Doctor, you're cheated out of any fun. It's all a massive fake-out and is instantly resolved within a minute or two of taking place. Yes, even the regeneration clip is little more than a bait-and-switch, and the episode even tries to make fun of this; despite the fact he might have wasted one of his new lives on what was little more than an unnecessary "gag". The scene itself also makes no sense, and save for one funny joke involving the kitchen, it is entirely worthless.

All of this would be bad enough in of itself of course, but then we get the reveal of what's in the vault. Yes, it's Missy, as we all knew. she sits there for a while, chats and gives away a possible method to beat the Monks and that's about it. It's once again filler, and while the story tries to claim she's going "cold turkey" on being evil, it has no impact or meaning overall. Just like everything else here.

The Verdict

To hell with this episode. In fact, to hell with this trilogy. File it away, burn it, destroy it and scatter the remains. This is a poor joke, and the sort of thing the show looked as if it was finally moving on from at long last. The only thing it should serve as to future writers is as a guideline on what to avoid, and what is testing the patience of its audience.

So, yes, skip it and let's just hope the next story is a great one. Hell, after this, I would settle for just a good one.


  1. Man, it's a good thing the Monks don't have the power to do anything to anyone's eyesight, and it's a good thing that they can't just immediately disable weapons as soon as they know they're there, and it's a very good thing they have simulations that function like precognition. This means that they're incredibly powerful and a standard counter-attack would have no effect because the Monks could instantly deal with such a threat, I wonder how our heroes win?

    Oh wait, they just counter-attack them and the Monks forget about all of the abilities they've previously been shown to have. Well I'm certain that humanity's going to defeat the Monks once free of their control and they'll at least learn a lot about aliens from this encounter since there's a giant spaceship sitting there.

    Oh wait they just let them leave and the Monks do mind control (despite no longer being able to) to make everyone forget about them because Steven Moffat is 100% determined to make sure the setting will never move forward and everyone will be reliant on the Doctor because he's the bestest guy ever who's so good he saved the planet without realizing it (a line the Doctor actually says in this episode when Bill's thinking of her mother) and this is in no way extremely annoying and leads to just repeating the same fucking events over and over again because coming up with something new and remembering what humanity has and hasn't experienced would take too much effort!

    Sorry but this episode to me sums up the worst of Moffat, and I might let it slide if he didn't insist on bringing back things he made everyone forget about in the first place. "Remember when the Monks defeated the Daleks?" The Doctor asked, "Who're the Daleks?" Everyone responded. That is what should have happened given what he's done, and him playing fast and loose with the canon he's supposed to be creating is a little annoying, especially since making everyone forget that something happened is essentially saying "Fuck you, those episodes didn't matter." At least that's what it is to me, and making everyone forget like this has costed us so many interesting episodes and plot points.

    Before anyone objects, what exactly does humanity know of aliens before Moffat's run, and after Moffat's run? Before they knew they existed, they had many hostile encounters with them, they'd endured many hostile takeovers and they definitely knew who the Daleks were.
    After Moffat however, they know nothing. Nobody aside from UNIT knows a thing and it pisses me off especially when he writes stuff like the Doctor saying "Humanity forgets and doesn't learn from its mistakes." A bit hard not to do that when he insists on deleting every single event that pushes a greater narrative forwards a little!

    Personally I think a better ending would be they kill the Monks (seriously, why the fuck did they let them live and why did they let them leave?) and then they'd have a giant pyramid to study which could lead to so many opportunities. But no, they just let them all go, despite the Monks clearly dying to bullets. Furthermore, why didn't they just shoot the lead Monk (the one creating the illusion) in the head and only then seat somebody else in his place? This whole thing just sucked and I fully agree on questioning Bill's well-being.

  2. To make matters worse, the next episode sucks hard too. Not only is it an idiot plot (and I am underselling it with just that, the plot and characters are a bad joke), but it forgets about stuff established in this very season!

    The bit about the TARDIS making an air bubble? Forgotten. The bit where Nardole was the one who wants the vault kept shut the most? Forgotten. The very fact that the TARDIS can move in short distances? Forgotten. This is an episode where they have an army decide to become miners on a whim because it's yet another fucking political episode trying to make a point!

    This episode also has some of the worst dialogue I've ever seen and I've got the feeling "We're British!" Is going to be remembered for a while for a lot of bad reasons. This episode should also get a special mention for taking a very neat race of warrior people and making them look utterly pathetic. Apparently all you need to defeat the Ice Warriors of Mars is a knife for crying out loud! Apparently the Russians in the previous Ice Warrior episode could have won that fight, all they needed was kitchen utensils!

  3. I think the biggest problem with this one is very simple: it doesn't have the guts to go through with its premise.

    Have the Doctor actually be evil, not just pretending. Have him be brainwashed or something if they think it's needed to soften the blow, whatever. Just actually go through with the whole thing.

    Suddenly the tale becomes entirely different. Bill is forced to confront the fact that she made a horrific mistake and isn't vindicated in an anti-climactic manner. Missy, rather than being wasted on exposition, could play a bigger part if Bill and Nardole were forced to ask her for help out of raw desperation (exactly what was being suggested by the ending of Extremis, I might add). The Monks go from thoroughly idiotic to a serious threat in one twist. Maybe they felt something like that needed to be season finale material and they didn't want to do that when they've got a certain someone lined up. But I think this could have been a far more interesting trilogy if it had made the Doctor more fallible, even if it was brainwashing, and if Bill had been proven terribly wrong.