Series 36, Episode 8
The Lie of the Land.
I've been rather looking forward to this episode, and not just because it represents the two-thirds mark of a series that has so far been very slow. Despite them being far and away not the most imaginative villains this franchise has, I do like the Monks as villains, and I was pretty hyped both to see what seemed to be a large scale altering of the timeline, and to find out how the whole thing about consent and love factored into it.
What I got was, in a lot of ways, quite disappointing.
Set six months after the end of the last episode, this episode introduces us to a world under the thumb of the Monks, with everyone believing that they've always been there. As Bill tries to shake off their influence, she and Nardole track down the Doctor, before embarking on a plan to defeat the Monks and drive them off world. Except, according to Missy, the only (or at least best) way to do that involves killing Bill, leaving her and the Doctor with an untenable choice.
This week's episode is written by Toby Whithouse, who has previously written three Doctor Who episodes I enjoyed, and three which I found quite bland. He was also one of the main writers on the ever-popular supernatural drama Being Human, so there's that.
Okay, so I hope we're all acutely aware of just how disappointed I am that the Monks were basically just using a psychic broadcast instead of actually meddling with time. To me, 'psychically convincing everyone they've always been' is the least interesting things they could have done here, and it doesn't make much sense for them to apparently need consent to do that. Meddling with time, however -- well, the rules surrounding time are fuzzy enough that I can absolutely buy that the Monks would have some kind of time-altering power that relies on having their victims' permission, and it would have created a much thornier problem for the Doctor and Bill to have to solve.
|For some reason, the BBC calls this Monk 'Giant Monk' despite him being of|
a regular size.
For an episodic villain, this wouldn't be a problem, but for a villain that has been built up over two episodes to be nearly all-powerful -- able to create a totally realistic simulation of Earth, able to teleport people and objects across time and space effortlessly, able to restore the Doctor's sight -- it feels like such a piddling, small plan, and for that reason it's deeply disappointing.
Nor is the dystopia they make particularly compelling. A species called 'the Monks' would, I'd have thought, had a more theocratic element to their rule, and that would have tied in nicely with the idea of 'love' -- if they had shaped the Earth not into a brutalist, diet-Nazi regime, but into a gaudy, opulent theocracy dedicated to their worship.
As it is, we've seen all these elements done before in Doctor Who, and better: In fact, we saw them done before in another three-parter -- the first John Simm Master trilogy, consisting of 'Utopia,' 'The Sound of Drums' and 'Last of the Time Lords' had all the same constituent elements. It had an otherworldly dictator maintaining power by use of a telepathic field, a brutalist regime with strong elements of Nazism, the Doctor held captive by said dictator and the companion having to go on a journey to free him, the involvement of the Master as both an antagonistic and almost deuteragonistic figure, and the solution being to turn the telepathic field against the dictator with a very human expression of belief.
|Missy and the Doctor.|
Despite all that, this probably is the best episode this series has had so far. It has a degree of tension, especially when it seems like the Doctor has sided with the Monks (which is a pretty difficult sell, but the show just barely manages it), and the Monks are still somewhat interesting villains, even if their potential hasn't been even remotely fulfilled.
|What's up with this one yellow Monk, anyway.|
The moments where the episode really shines, though, are those with Missy, who is always a joy to watch. The question of whether she actually is even remotely redeeming herself hangs somewhat heavy in the air, as it's left very (and probably deliberately) unclear as to whether she's on the path to becoming good, or if she's just manipulating the Doctor. Either way, the end result is going to be the same -- the show's not going to be permanently redeeming the Master anytime soon, unless it uses John Simm's return to find a way to split them off into a 'good timeline' Master and an 'evil timeline' Master.
Next week, it looks like another likely middling episode, involving Mars and the Ice Warriors. I can't say I'm especially psyched for that, but maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. It's written by Mark Gatiss, whose episodes tend not to be all that great (sorry, Mark).