Saturday, 3 June 2017

TV Review: It isn't just the land that lies in an underwhelming Doctor Who

S10E08 - "The Lie of the Land"

Contains Spoilers.

You can't fault the ambition of this three (almost four) part arc slap bang in the middle of Doctor Who's tenth series. This string of episodes has tackled a hell of a lot - ranging from a fake world to a globally invaded world - and it's somewhat exciting to see a show so far into its run still willing to try out new things and experiment a bit. Unfortunately, this little experiment didn't really finish that strongly. Toby Whithouse's "The Lie of the Land" is a disjointed and frequently misjudged piece of television - it's the series' low point, that's for sure.

Since the events of the similarly uneven "Pyramid at the End of the World," the Doctor has seemingly joined the Monks. They've now taken over the world and somehow rewritten history, almost the entire global population are under the impression that the Monks have lived on Earth for thousands of years. Bill can see the truth, though. She knows the world is a lie. Eventually Nardole resurfaces, and the two of them must track down the Doctor and attempt to sway him back to their side in order to save the world.

It sounds like standard Doctor Who. However, once Bill and Nardole track down the Doctor, the episode finds a sequence so misjudged and sloppily executed that the show we know and love seems to stop existing. The Doctor must trick Bill into believing he really has sided with the Monks, leaving her no choice but to shoot him dead and unintentionally kick off his regeneration cycle. But it's all a trick. Yup, that shot from all the trailers is little more than a  cheap fake out. It's a necessary fake out, granted, the Doctor does need to check Bill hasn't been manipulated by the Monks, but the scene abandons all nuance and goes so far overboard the biggest life jacket in the universe couldn't save it.

Bill has no reason to shoot the Doctor. It just doesn't make sense. I can forgive characters behaving irrationally in tenuous times, but shooting your best friend? Little old Bill, who just five episodes ago nearly had a breakdown when someone died? There's no part of her character that makes this a believable moment for either her personally or the narrative. The Doctor's phoney regeneration is also woefully pointless, seemingly existing solely to spice up that Next Time trailer from last week. The whole scene finds a pair of lovable characters at their worst. In fact, it's worse than that: it finds them away from themselves.

Once we get through this scene - Bill has apparently very little to say about this, beyond humorously threatening to kick the shit out of Nardole - the episode seems to find some focus. Finally, we know where we stand with each character and the story can begin to progress. Instead, Whithouse detours his script to Missy and halts the episode dead once more. The Doctor visiting Missy makes logical sense - she has a life outside of him and so she's bound to have crossed the Monks before, and seeing if she serves up this information is a smart way of connecting this back to her promised personality shift from "Extremis" - but the scene just doesn't work.

Michelle Gomez is a blast in the role once again, and Missy does get a handful of cracking lines, but there's an overbearing sense of wasted time looming every second of it. Due to the structure of this three parter, "The Lie of the Land" is tasked with beginning and ending this invasion in just 45 minutes. Whithouse frankly needed to use every minute he had, and he doesn't. The episode does eventually pick up the pace after Missy leaves the spotlight, but even then the results are uneven.

"The Lie of the Land" is saved by Pearl Mackie. She displays conviction in a misjudged scene, emotion in some deeply touching moments, and strength in a potential farewell. Bill ultimately defeats the Monks by relaying her own interpretation of her late mother across the world, cancelling out her own prior invitation to the Monks and replacing it with something stronger. It just about makes sense - and it ties in perfectly with Doctor Who's trademark sci-fi with a heart thing - but "The Lie of the Land" has been so misguided beforehand that the moment doesn't really stick the landing. Though it must be said, that is no fault of Mackie's - she remains terrific even when the episode threatens to collapse around her.

There's some fun to be had here - the performances of all four key players are reliably strong and there are a handful of funny one liners scattered throughout - but this is a concluding episode that merely adds more issues on top of a story already filled with them. "Extremis" started this arc in breathtaking fashion, but everything since has failed to live up to its promise of something weird and wonderful. Hopefully the show can pick up some more steam next week: we're heading into the series' final act now, and there's a lot of momentum to be regained.

Notes -

  • Next week's episode is written by Mark Gatiss, the man who gave us Power Ranger Daleks, Robin Hood and sleep dust zombies. In other words, I don't have much hope for next week's episode.
  • If it wasn't for Pearl Mackie's tremendous performance, this episode would've been very tough to get through - and that's something I never thought I'd say in a Peter Capaldi episode. The man was depressingly misused here.
  • Bill shooting the Doctor was bad enough, but firing four shots into him? Not just one solemn, sad bullet to end things? That whole sequence was a nightmare.
  • The nature of this arc also threatens to have had very little impact on any of our characters. How will this shape and change Bill's TARDIS experience? Will knowing the contents of the Vault alter the series' path? And, really, why is Nardole here?
  • Don't get me wrong, Matt Lucas is terrific in this show, but Nardole as a character isn't clicking within the scripts.
  • That said, I really want to know how Nardole won his left hand.

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