“The Lie of the Land," written by Toby Whithouse and directed by Wayne Yip, premiered Saturday, June 3.
Spoilers ahead for “The Lie of the Land” because hey ... it's a TV Recap.
The Short Version: The Monks have invaded the Earth, and everyone on the planet seems to remember them as having always been there helping mankind. Even the Doctor appears to have drunk the Kool-Aid and is making propaganda videos for the Monks as the human race has lost all free will. But Bill remembers that there was a time before the Monks. When Nardole pops up, the two determine to rescue the Doctor and save the Earth. There's only one problem: In order to to shut down the Monks' transmission of “fake news,” someone the Doctor cares about might just have to make the ultimate sacrifice.
The Good: a good start, Missy's negotiation, and Fake News
In the third episode of “The Monks Trilogy,” those invading corpse-like Monks have taken over the Earth and the Doctor appears to have joined them. There's some good stuff here, with timely subject matter that reflects on today's world, but the finale episode in the trilogy is the weakest of the three.
The benevolent Monks, who've always been with mankind, have kept the human race safe ... wait ... no ... the malevolent Monks took over the world six months earlier and have enslaved the human race, and the Doctor is helping by making videos for them! Bill remembers the truth and battles against the lie that's being beamed into her mind by the Monks, along with the minds of the rest of the human race. Only her imagining talks with her dead mother have kept her grounded as she watches the people of Earth suffer under the Monks' deadly rule.
The episode starts off great, with the Doctor making propaganda videos for the Monks, even though Bill doesn't believe he could possibly be on their side. When Nardole pops up after recovering from being poisoned in the previous episode, the two determine to save the Doctor from the Monks. Nardole knows where he's being held, so he and Bill hatch a plan, sneak onto the boat he's being held on and find the Doctor. While all this seems way too easy, we quickly find out that there's a reason for that.
The Doctor immediately calls the guards, phones the Monks and busts Bill and Nardole. Bill is shocked. She doesn't believe the Doctor when he tells her, “I have joined the Monks.” When he finally convinces her, Bill grabs one of the guard's guns and shoots the Doctor. But he doesn't die.
Instead, he starts to glow as if he's going to regenerate, but then he doesn't, and he's fine. It was just a test to make sure that Bill wasn't under the Monks' influence. The gun had blanks, and Bill has passed the test. Pretty much none of this is convincing, especially the Bill-shooting-the-Doctor part, nor his reaction to being happy that she tried to shoot him, which proves she was free of the Monks' influence. But okay, the writers are just trying to get to the good stuff. Right? The battle with the Monks.
The Doctor does have a plan. With the Monks hot on their trail, the Doctor takes Bill to the vault and they check in with Missy. After some negotiations involving a particle accelerator and a pony, Missy agrees to help them. Yes, she's familiar with the Monks. In fact, she even knows how to stop them. All they have to do is find the one person who gave them permission to invade the Earth in exchange for their help, who is the linchpin, and whose brain waves are being used via a psychic link to transmit the Monk's alternate history via all the Monk statues they've erected on Earth. And then they have to stop the linchpin from transmitting, as in kill Bill.
Bill admits to Missy that she is the linchpin. As the Doctor and Bill leave the vault, the Doctor tells Bill he's going to find another way to save the Earth. He quickly pins down where the main transmission is coming from, aka “fake news central,” and the three go off to stop the Monks. The plan is that the Doctor will use his brain to override the Monks' transmission and stop the Monks from beaming their alternate history into the minds of the human race.
The Doctor, Bill and Nardole are able to reach the Monk who is transmitting the alternate history. The Doctor attempts to mind-meld with a Monk who is wearing transmission headwear, but the Monk mentally fights back and the Doctor is knocked out. When he wakes up, Bill has tied the Doctor up and she tells him she's going to use her own mind as the linchpin to wipe out the Monks' fake history.
The Doctor is shocked and tries to stop her, but Bill tries her own mind-meld before the Doctor can get free. At first she's successful, but the Monk quickly fights back in a mental battle reflected on TV screens, and Bill starts to lose ground. But then she remembers her mother, and that's enough for Bill to release the world from the Monks' transmission. The Monks flee the Earth and the human's memory of the Monks is erased. Well, except for Bill's memory.
Bill is fine, and the Doctor reminds her she owes him a 3,000-word paper on “The Mechanics of Free Will,” which is now six months overdue.
The episode does have a brisk pace, and I continue to like the relationship between the Doctor and Bill. The final bit between them was sweet.
And we're learning more about Missy's imprisonment and why she needs 1,000 years to deal with her crimes. While I don't appreciate the several episodes it took to admit that Missy was in the vault, I do like where it's going.
The Bad: the Monks, their motive and Bill's non-sacrifice
While this episode moves along nicely, there's little meat to the end of this story. While the red herring of the Doctor joining the Monks does keep us going for a moment, what the heck has happened to the Monks?
The red Monk, who made the Monks so scary, seems to have vanished, although maybe he's the Monk in the chair with the headband at the end. Who knows? If he's one of the Monks, he's not making himself known. There should be a face-off with him and the Doctor. The Monk with the transmission headband doesn't move or say anything with the battle being reflected on TV screens. Mental battles are difficult to make exciting, and this one is an epic fail.
The Monks were creepy and challenging foes in the first two parts of the trilogy, but in this episode they are nothing but stock bad guys. Any hopes we might have had that the Monks would become the next great villain of the Doctor Who universe have evaporated with the red Monk.
And Bill makes the ultimate sacrifice of possibly losing her own mind and maybe her life to save the planet and then she's fine with no reasoning behind why she's fine. She thinks of her mom and she saves the world, and it's all too pat and easy for a three episode story.
Worse, we never discover why the Monks invaded, after all the trouble they went to to discover the perfect invasion technique to take over the Earth with their computer generated invasions, we get nothing. Other than enslaving mankind and being evil, why did they do it? No answers are given. It was a very disappointing end to what could have been a great story in the Doctor Who universe.
I should call this non-lingering questions. We know Nardole is fine after recovering from the poisoning. We know the Earth is safe, at least for now, from the latest threat of the Monks. We know Missy's in the vault and she's starting to remember the names of all the people she killed. We know Bill's got a paper on free will to do.
On the lingering side, since Bill was living alone in the Monks' fake news world, does everything go back the way it was before the Monks? Will the Doctor release Missy from the vault? Will she get her pony? Will Nardole have anything to do now that the Doctor can see again?
Most importantly, after two pretty good episodes featuring the Monks, why didn't the writers give us a better sendoff for what could have been a great new villain? Why create the Monks and then not use them to make the battle harder for the Doctor? Did anyone really feel Bill's life was in danger? Did anyone really think the Doctor had joined the Monks? Why, writers? Why?
And there's one more question. Bill's been a breath of fresh air for Peter Capaldi's Doctor. But will these heavy stories affect Bill's worldview and fundamentally change her? When the weight of the world has been on her shoulders, can she return to her carefree ways?
Lines of the Night:
“So relax. Do as you're told. Your future is taken care of.” - The Doctor
“Well, that's not that weird. I used to have an imaginary friend til he left me for someone else.” - Nardole
“I didn't ask for my sight back. You took it upon yourself to ignore me. To do what you thought was best. All I can say is we are lucky it's a benevolent race like the Monks and not the Daleks.” - The Doctor
“It's not a trick. It's not a plan. I've joined the Monks. Whatever it takes I'm going to save you from yourself.” - The Doctor
Best Line of the Night:
“Amongst the seven billion there's someone like you. That's why I put up with the rest of the world.” - The Doctor to Bill
Here's the trailer for next week's episode, “Empress of Mars,” written by Mark Gatiss: