The trilogy of the monks ended this week on “Doctor Who.” In “Extremis” they simulated the Earth to plot their takeover of the planet. Then “The Pyramid at the End of the World” they made their move at a strategic moment and got the Doctor’s companion Bill (Pearl Mackie) to consent to the overthrow of mankind. Now comes the occupation. The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) warned of the unknown cost of giving up human freedom, and now we see what that looks like.
Written by Toby Whithouse and directed by Wayne Yip, “The Lie of the Land” premiered on June 3. Read our recap below for the top five takeaways from the new episode.
This is Not Normal
It’s hard to miss the modern political undertones of this week’s storyline. After Bill gave the monks her consent in last week’s episode they took over the world, but they’re benevolent rulers — sort of. They don’t rule by fear or by threat, they rule by love, and to do so requires them to make history — literally. They insert themselves into past historical events to establish themselves in the minds of the human race as the heroes of mankind. So why the deception? As Nardole (Matt Lucas) explains, “However bad a situation is, if people think that’s how it’s always been, they put up with it. It’s 90-percent of the job done.”
In the current political climate, especially in the United States, a common rallying cry has been to resist the normalization of the abnormal. Once we settle into “the way things are,” now matter how wild, outlandish, or downright evil, we lose our power to stop it. That’s what the monks do: rule by learned helplessness, undermining any resistance before it even starts.
Here’s another modern political parallel: the lie that gives the episode its title, that the monks have been benevolent dictators for all of human history, amounts to the most successful fake-news campaign in human history — take that, Russia!
“The Monks have been with us from the beginning. They shepherded humanity through its formative years, gently guiding and encouraging … They have been instrumental in all the advances of culture and technology” — those are the words of the Doctor himself, who seems to have allied with the monks by spreading their propaganda across the airwaves. Of course, fake news is a tactic as old as tyranny. The lie of the land is any that justifies the abuse of power.
The more important question is why the Doctor would be helping them now after fighting so hard in last week’s episode to stop humanity from giving in to their demands.
This is Only a Test
Pearl Mackie gets one of her strongest dramatic showcases to date when her attempt to rescue the Doctor from the monks doesn’t go as planned. Reunited with Nardole, Bill sets out on a rescue mission, but the Doctor doesn’t appear to need rescuing at all. In fact, he seems to turn on Bill entirely. “If you help the monks then nothing will ever stop them,” says Bill in desperation, now holding the Doctor at gunpoint. “They’ll be here forever.” Then she shoots him.
“Good girl!” says the Doctor, unharmed and actually quite delighted. This was only a test. The Doctor has been biding his time and assembling his own resistance, and he needed to know for sure that Bill wasn’t sent by the monks as a trap. You could look at it as a rather cruel ruse against Bill, though it does prove to be an important moment for the character in more ways than just proving she’s not brainwashed. By shooting the seeming traitorous Doctor, Bill in essence decided to be her own hero. She’ll only follow the Doctor so far, and if his moral compass breaks, she’s willing to fight him for the greater good.
And Bill isn’t only willing to sacrifice the Doctor, she’s also willing to sacrifice herself.
Love Saves the World
You see, Bill was the human who gave her consent to the monks in “The Pyramid” last week. What we discover is that her pure loving consent was essentially the key that unlocked the human race. It allowed them to transmit their fake news through her mind to humans across the planet. The key to stopping it is her brain death. Suffice it to say that the Doctor does not consent to that. He looks for another way, but when they infiltrate the monks’ inner sanctum where one of their species is transmitting the signal, Bill sees no choice but to die.
At this point I must digress for a moment to praise the prosthetic makeup for this transmitter monk, a ghoulish, decayed creation who looks like a monster out of “Pan’s Labyrinth” crossed with a “Walking Dead” zombie on the bridge of the Enterprise. When Bill grabs it by the head, she intends to erase her own thought and memories — her entire existence, really. But what she and the Doctor don’t anticipate is the power of the memory of Bill’s mother.
“All those years you kept her alive inside you, an isolated subroutine in a living mind — perfect, untouchable,” the Doctor explains. I speculated last week that love might save the day after it was used to exploit the weaknesses of the human race, and indeed it was. The monks could use loving consent as a weapon, but they ultimately couldn’t crack the code of a daughter’s affection for her mother. This memory became uploaded through the monks’ transmission like a computer virus, which broke the spell. In a more symbolic way, what the show seems to be suggesting is that love is resistance. It is how we access our own sense of freedom and justice. And that revelation sends the monks running to whatever part of the universe they came from.
In “Extremis” it was confirmed that the creature in the Doctor’s vault under the university campus was Missy (Michelle Gomez), his fellow Time Lord and a dangerous megalomaniac who needed to be kept under lock and key. This week we finally entered the vault and learned that the Doctor is not only guarding her, but also trying to reform her. “I keep remembering all the people I’ve killed. Every day I think of more,” says Missy tearfully, and the Doctor replies, “I’m sorry, but this is good.” That’s what the Doctor thinks, but I’m skeptical about Missy’s sudden turnaround. Is it genuine, or will the Doctor find himself once again fighting to save the world from her?
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