Part 3 of the Monks trilogy, this is set six months after the events of ‘The Pyramid At The End Of The World’.
The Monks have taken credit for evolution, all human achievement and all of the Doctor’s achievements. The Doctor himself is on TV, spouting propaganda for the Monks. Crowds of people watch TV cheering the Monks implementing what is called, but almost certainly isn’t, a “quick and painless” death to dissenters. The Monks have also placed gigantic, imposing statues of themselves all over the world.
We see armed law enforcement breaking into a family home and arrest the mother (Emma Handy). Her crime is “intending to undermine the True History”. There is apparently a “memory crimes” act established in 1975, but as the arrested woman points out the Monks have only been here a few months. She is immediately sentenced to ten years in a labour camp, without trial, and as she is taken away she shouts to the neighbourhood that everything the Monks are telling the world is lies and to fight against them.
Bill can remember the truth, but it is getting harder to every day, particularly with the way almost everyone else seems to blindly believe the lies. She’s even starting to wonder if everything she remembers happening before the Monks arrived was a dream. Nardole arrives and comes to Bill’s house. After establishing that he hasn’t been brainwashed, Nardole tells Bill he was ill for 6 weeks recovering from the bacterial infection he caught in ‘Extremis’. If he was human, it would have killed him. He’s spent the rest of the last few months locating the Doctor, and has manged to find him. The Doctor is on an old prison ship off the coast of Scotland.
Bill and Nardole are able to sneak onto the prison ship because of a contact who hates the Monks because his son was serving ten years in a labour camp for the crime of possessing a box of comics.
When they get on board the ship, Bill and Nardole soon find the Doctor. However, he calls for guards, and phones up the Monks! He says human society is stagnating, in fact it’s regressing. Bill doesn’t believe the Monks taking over is any better, not least the fact they are killing people. The Doctor replies that the Romans killed people, but saved billions from disease and famine. Bill says what about free will. The Doctor replies that humans never learn, and that they are lucky Earth was taken over by a “benevolent race” like the Monks instead of something like the Daleks.
Bill says “It’s like that time we discovered that big fish creature in the Seine in Paris”. The Doctor tells guards that Bill has just given him a coded message, as the fish creature was under the Thames in London (the events of ‘Thin Ice’).
Bill is heartbroken that the Doctor seems to have really joined the Monks. She steals a gun from a guard and shoots the Doctor, who begins to regenerate… and this all turns out to be a big fake out. The Doctor just wanted to make sure Bill wasn’t under the Monks influence. The guards had all been deprogrammed and the ammo was all blanks (and this was part of the episode was a bit daft, really).
Anyway, the Doctor says they need more help, and it’s so drastic they have to call the one person who is equal in intelligence to the Doctor, Missy.
We get to see inside the Vault itself, and it is essentially a luxury prison suite. Missy is playing the piano.
The Doctor asks Missy if she has ever encountered the Monks before. She says she has, and tells them that the Monks have done this to many planets, ruling over some for thousands of years. The statues are transmitters and the Monks gain a psychic link to the planet they take over via the person who made the request. The link can be passed on through the bloodline of that person, so the Monks remain in power centuries after the lynchpin has died. Missy defeated the Monks, and for her it was straightforward. All that was left of the bloodline was a little girl, so Missy just pushed her into a volcano!
Bill confesses that this time the lynchpin is her. Missy’s reaction is simply: “Awwwkward!”. Missy does say that it would be better if Bill didn’t die and instead had her mind erased to the point where she’s brain-dead but kept on breathing, that would get rid of the Monks quicker.
Nardole thinks there must be some other way. The Doctor says the pyramid, now located in London, must be where their transmission is coming from, and he intends to get in there and replace their signal with his brainwaves so he can broadcast the true history of Earth.
The Doctor, Bill and Nardole go with some deprogrammed soldiers to the pyramid. The closer they get to the transmitter, the stronger the signal is, so they all have to wear headphones with cassette players repeating a message which tells them the truth. There is a battle between them and some Monks, in which some soldiers and Monks get killed. One soldier’s tape is destroyed in the crossfire, and almost instantly he believes the Monks lies. Luckily, Nardole renders him unconscious with a neck pinch.
At the centre of the pyramid, which the Doctor labels “Fake News Central”, there is a Monk sat on a chair wearing a helmet and broadcasting the Monks false history all over the world. Although this is the one place the transmission doesn’t work, as they are in “the eye of the storm”.
The Doctor puts his hands on the helmet, and is able to erase the Monks from the transmission. However, the Monk in the chair fights back and puts the Monks back in. This knocks the Doctor out. He wakes up and Bill tells him SHE has to do it, even though it means certain death. Despite the Doctor’s protests, Bill gets hold of the helmet. All that happens is that the Monk is erasing all of Bill’s memories, she’s dying for nothing.
However, Bill begins to think of her late mother, or rather the memory she created from photos the Doctor gave her. The Monk can’t get near these memories, as while they are based on truth, they are imaginary. This is broadcast to the world.
The Monk’s psychic link is broken, and people see them for what they are. The Monks turn out to be massive cowards, and get back in their spaceship and fly away.
At the end, the Doctor is talking to Missy, who is… shedding tears. She can’t stop thinking of all the people she’s killed. The Doctor says “This is good”.
I had a mixed response to the part where Bill’s imagined memories of her mother overrides the Monks. Wouldn’t this mean that basically now the whole world now thinks Bill’s mum is God? On the other, it got me on an emotional level, as I found it very moving.
There is a lot of comedy in this episode, often quite black comedy. It is quite funny how the Monks just superimposed themselves over the whole of Earth’s history and take credit for everything that ever happened. Dictatorships can be like that, where they lie that the dictator is the world record holder for everything.
‘The Lie Of The Land’ is very Orwellian, it’s particularly like Nineteen Eighty-Four with the regime coming to take away dissenters and rewriting of history. There are also shades of Animal Farm too, with how people’s memories fade and they begin to question their own memory and what they saw with their own eyes. It’s gaslighting on a mass scale.
Once again, the Monk trilogy is very, very similar to the Jasmine arc in season four of Angel. ‘The Lie Of The Land’ specifically is a bit like the Angel episode ‘Shiny Happy People’, with how everyone acts under Jasmine’s spell, and Fred being the only person for a time who can see the truth. There is also Jasmine’s power being connected to blood.
In the Angel episode ‘Peace Out’, Angel and Jasmine have a discussion similar to the Doctor and Bill, on peace coming at a price, free will being too high a price, and whether killing thousands can be justified if it saves billions.
There are some interesting differences though. Jasmine was arguably a bit more well-intentioned than the Monks. With the Monks it seems conquest was their goal, saving the planet was just a convenient excuse. With Jasmine, it seemed more that world peace was her ultimate goal, though it’s implied that having a whole planet worshipping, adoring and being an extension of her wasn’t exactly far down the list of priorities.
Jasmine also possessed greater powers, and her control went even further than the Monks did. Her mind control was to the point where people fell in love with her at first sight, she never asked for consent. She could also control people’s bodies as well as their minds, and unlike the Monks on another planet Jasmine really DID shape its evolution and society before considering the whole thing a mistake and abandoning it. So in some ways, she was more extreme.
The Monk in the pyramid reminded me of William Stryker’s version of the Cerebro machine in X2, though that device was used for mass murder rather than mass mind control. The film did have a mutant who had mind control abilities associated with the device however, Stryker’s son Jason. He didn’t use the device, he brainwashed Professor Xavier to use the device for Stryker’s plot to kill the rest of the mutants.
The Doctor talking to Missy in the Vault made me think of The Silence Of The Lambs where Clarice Starling tries to get information about another killer she is investigating from Hannibal Lector, however here the genders were reversed, as the Doctor was like Starling and Missy was like Lector.
While there was nothing specific, the overall feel and tone of the episode reminded me of Being Human, and indeed this episode was written by Being Human creator Toby Whithouse.
It was quite funny when Nardole said he found a device to locate the Doctor in a drawer which also had some old takeaway menus and 50 Danish krone. I think a lot of people have drawers filled with old leaflets and foreign currency they forgot to exchange when they got back from their holiday.
The Doctor says if he could change history for the better, he would get rid of racism and “people who talk in cinemas!”.
One notable part of the episode was this:
Bill: “I don’t want our last conversation to be this”.
The Doctor: “I don’t want this to be our last conversation”.
This exchange between the Doctor and Bill was good, technically the exact same words, but changing some of them around gave the statement a new meaning. Bill was prepared to sacrifice herself, and the Doctor did not want that happen.
Michelle Gomez steals the show as Missy. She is great fun in a black comedy way, and as usual goes through many accents. Missy has some memorable, if harsh, lines too.
“You know, back in the day, I’d burn an entire city to the ground just to see the pretty shapes the smoke made.” She tells the Doctor “I’m sorry your plus one doesn’t get a happy ending” and that the Doctor’s “version of good isn’t absolute, it’s vain, arrogant and sentimental”, and that she would rather stay in the Vault than become all those things.
The ending is very interesting, as Missy seems to have genuine remorse for the people she has murdered, and if that’s the case that is a big development for the character. Michelle Gomez also played that scene very well.
There is so much packed into ‘The Lie Of The Land’, and it is another excellent episode. It actually seems a little lighter in tone than the previous two in the Monks trilogy, certainly a bit more comical in places. But it still had some dark themes, showing a dictatorship imposed over the entire world, and raises interesting points, how easy it is for people to go along with things even if they know it’s wrong both in the moral sense and in the sense of simply factually not being true. There was a lot going on in this episode, though I would say Missy was definitely the highlight.