The Lie of the Land Review
Let’s start with the mid-episode twist, i.e. the point where any hope that Toby Whithouse was going to do anything other than Whithouse all over the damn floor died. At this precise moment, a ton of threads that have been going on for a while are converging. Most immediately, we’re doing the trailered regeneration. We’re also at the climax of the trailered “the Doctor has joined the monks and Bill stands against him” plot, which is the hook this episode was previewed on since the initial Radio Times summaries. And, of course, we’re at the halfway point of the climax of the ballyhooed “Monk Trilogy,” resolving fully three weeks of storytelling. What do we get, then? A scene in which a room full of people literally cracks up that we fell for any of it.
It’s not, obviously, that I mind narrative substitution. I mean, I coined the phrase and all. But the substitution has to actually mean something instead of just being an empty placeholder. The point of narrative substitution is that the second narrative critiques the first one. It’s not just chucking out a plot because you’re bored with it and laughing at the audience for being so naive as to think you might actually have something to say.
And I mean, it’s not as though the Doctor apparently being with the bad guys that have brainwashed the world was a hugely interesting plot as opposed to a hackneyed genre TV standard, but it was something. For a brief moment, just after we learned Missy was in it, it even looked like it might tip into interesting. Bill and Missy teaming up to fight the Doctor? That’s a story worth telling. But even the hackneyed standard of “evil Doctor” would have been something. Hell, even a 1984 knockoff so banal it can’t be bothered to do more than substitute “memory crime” for “thoughtcrime” would have been something. A world whose history has been completely reshaped by the Monks could have been at least interesting. And the script clearly knows that, with its aggressively on-point lines about historical warnings of fascism and fake news. But the one scene that grapples with any of this consists of the Doctor spouting obviously wrong defenses of totalitarian order and Bill making non sequitur replies cribbed from fifty-four years of liberal moralizing in Doctor Who. It doesn’t even try – Bill’s defense of free will is literally just “you made me write a paper about it.”
But OK. At least the episode we’re substituting is Missy. Even Toby Whithouse can’t fuck up “team up with Missy to save the world,” can he? Ha. Of course he can! Sure, Moffat can’t have expected Whithouse to do anything interesting with “Missy tries to turn good,” not least because even Moffat can’t possibly be going to do anything other than the obvious “but she fails” with the concept because the odds of him breaking the concept of the Master in his last year on the program are nil. And the last scene, in which Missy goes through the contentless “oh woe I feel remorse” story beat confirms that Toby Whithouse is exactly not who you go to for interesting takes on morality.
But for me the real stunner is wasting Missy on pointing out to the Doctor the single most obvious genre-standard way to defeat the Monks possible, namely killing Bill. (OK, leaving her brain dead, which is at least a mildly macabre twist, but still.) The idea that somehow everybody had to resort to asking Missy for help in order to get to a conclusion that Pete Tyler could figure out on his own is… well, I mean, it’s what you’d expect at this point: stupid, lazy, and banal. (And if Missy knew about the Monks, are we thus meant to believe the Doctor, after saying he needed her help at the end of Extremis, failed to actually talk to her and get this information?) Its moral weight is Missy making Gordon Tipple eyes while complaining that it’s sentimental for the Doctor not to want to kill Bill. It’s tempting to suggest that this half-assed trolley problem is so boring even Toby Whithouse knows better than to write it, but honestly, at this point it’s hard to give him that much credit.
No, instead it’s time to blow the monks up with love. Which is a charming joke when positioned at the end of a Gareth Roberts story about Craig Owens. As the resolution for a three episode arc, however, it’s… oh, fuck it. Why even bother pointing it out? Let’s just note that it consists of a single image of a woman we’ve never seen deliver a single line of dialogue appearing again and again over some technobabble. Or better yet, let’s note that the actual focus of the scene where Bill’s love for her mother saves the world is the Doctor, who gets to carp about how he saved the world by giving her all those photos while his hero music plays.
And again, just like this could have been any number of stories that it briefly flirted with being, you can absolutely do a story about how Bill’s love for her mother saves the world. But you have to actually have the story be about that. You can’t just use Bill’s imaginary conversations to do the exposition at the beginning and then pretend this constitutes emotional investment. Actually show us the conversations, with the actress playing her mother getting to reply and ask questions. Frame the story as Bill telling her mother what happened after the fact. Do something that makes this woman who’s supposedly so inspiring that the entire human race rises up and overthrows its oppressors actually feel like anything more than an empty signifier of “emotional investment.”
Instead we get a story that literally has contempt for the audience. It’s Pip and Jane Baker without the terrible dialogue. Although “Caliente. That’s Spanish for hot.” frankly wouldn’t be out of place in a Pip and Jane script. So hey, let’s give Toby Whithouse credit – at least he went out of his way to make us glad Chris Chibnall beat him out for showrunner by reminding us of the only other time Chris Chibnall has come off well in a comparison.
- The catch-all list of stupid and undercooked bits of the episode. Any one of these is an excusable bit of “shhh, don’t think about the plot too much.” On aggregate, in a script this shambolically disinterested in having a point, they become recognizable as the sort of meat and matter of why this is such a piece of crap. Anyway: There’s not actually an explanation of the Doctor’s ruse, which there really should be given that it involves him encouraging people to turn their family members in for hard labor. Nardole gets a line of dialogue which literally amounts to “the monks made the signal untrackable, but I used this to track it?” A Monk looks straight at Bill then lets her board the boat – did they just forget the one person who can stop them? Actually, let’s just table the handling of the Monks til next bullet point. The Doctor actively solicits Bill to come find him in order to find out if the Monks sent her. Whithouse still can’t get past “last of the Time Lords” despite it blatantly no longer being true. There’s the whole to-do emphasizing the statues to set up the bit where the Doctor credits them with how the Monks could control the entire world with just Bill, but this has nothing to do with the resolution, and also only raises the question of how they controlled people before they got the statues up, none of which would have been a problem if the script hadn’t asserted out of nowhere that Bill wouldn’t be enough to control the world. There’s no suggestion of a biological component to the psychic link, and yet it’s passed down through the bloodline. The Doctor pointing at a pyramid on a map and saying “cathedral.” More or less everything about the tape recorders. The episode can’t seem to decide whether trying to hack the broadcast erases your brain or corrupts you. “Everyone forgets the Monks” doesn’t really play after they’ve killed tons of people and sent others to labor camps. I think that just about does it.
- It’s telling that the Monks don’t get a single line of dialogue in this episode: Whithouse has completely failed to bother with following up on the previous two episodes in any direct way – the Missy scene is essentially the only one in which it matters how they invaded last week. There’s no reference back to the idea of them simulating planets to understand how to invade them. (Their simulations apparently just missed the vault?) More than that, “psychic link to delude everyone about world history” and “simulates world history to figure out how to invade” seem like fundamentally different ideas. There’s two distinct versions of “the world is an illusion” in play over this trilogy, and there’s nothing that actually connects them to one another. The result is that the Monks end up not actually being an idea so much as a cool costume retained for three unrelated monsters. It’s hard to imagine them ever coming back simply because it’s hard to actually describe what they do.
- The declaration that Missy has adventures of her own and that her life doesn’t revolve around the Doctor is great. But the idea that Missy is liberating planets through cavalier and murderous ways simply doesn’t fit her character. The correct line in response to asking how she defeated them was her blinking confusedly and explaining that she’d been helping them.
- Apropos of nothing, the “return of Susan” theory’s been starved for evidence over the last four weeks, hasn’t it?
- If nothing else, moving from writing about David Icke to this was kinda funny.
- US viewers got the last episode of Class, for which I wrote basically the same review I did here.
- I did the cheeky thing where I didn’t actually say who the guest was for the Pyramid at the End of the World podcast, but for anyone who didn’t check it out, it’s actually an interview with Peter Harness. Surprise!
- Thursday, meanwhile, Kit Gonzo will be the one who gets the enviable treat of helping me find an hour of stuff to say about this.
- At least I’m reasonably excited about Gatiss’s episode. Victorian explorers versus Ice Warriors on Mars is a decent idea that Gatiss is actually suited to.
- Thin Ice
- The Pyramid at the End of the World
- The Pilot
- Knock Knock
- The Lie of the Land
June 4, 2017 @ 2:06 am
The episode of this trilogy that some people were calling ‘pointless’ (Extremis) has ended up being the only one of the three with any particular point to it. And one that would quite possibly have been better on its own. What a reversal of fortunes.
June 4, 2017 @ 3:32 pm
While I agree that Extremis was the best of the three, it couldn’t have worked on its own. Having to resolve the alien invasion thing that the whole episode sets up (and really, the episode is just beautifully artful setup) would have pushed it to at least a two-parter. Its genesis as Moffat just having some fun with Harness’s concept and leaving all the actual plot stuff to him was the only way it could have existed.
June 4, 2017 @ 8:47 pm
I think you could tweak it and sell it as a standalone where we never find out about these mysterious aliens who were simulating Earth (open ended in the vein of Midnight or Listen – the horror of the simulation concept alone is enough to justify it), but the sim-Doctor sending his memories to Real-Doctor ended up throwing off their predictions and delaying the invasion until some dreaded day in the future. Has the added bonus of leaving the Monks for some future showrunner to pick up and flesh out if they feel so inclined.
June 5, 2017 @ 12:10 am
I don’t think that would work. A big part of those episodes was the fact that the whole thing was a mystery that wouldn’t be answered. Extremis wasn’t, so leaving it like that might have felt as cheap as Sleep No More.
June 4, 2017 @ 3:41 pm
The Gallifrey-base levels of vituperation Toby Whithouse is getting here are near pathological. You should probably tell all the people what he did to you.
June 4, 2017 @ 3:55 pm
He bored me.
June 4, 2017 @ 4:05 pm
June 4, 2017 @ 10:38 pm
June 5, 2017 @ 10:27 am
I hated this episode even without knowing who wrote it.
I’m also going to say — this feels like a Bottle Episode somehow. I know that it had a bunch of location shooting, and all of those special effects shots showing the monks’ statues everywhere and the altered history cost money… but i still feel like it was scripted a lot like a bottle episode. All of the major beats take place inside the Doctor’s office, Missy’s cage, outdoors at night or in the darkened corridors of the pyramid. These are… Buffy the Vampire Slayer did episodes like this. But this episode splurged and did the ‘arrest’ sequences on streets in broad daylight with tons of extras and showed more of CGI re-history of the Monks than necessary, so obviously the Doctor Who Production Office didn’t consider this a bottle episode… but maybe they should have? Cheap script compelled to spend a higher budget than it ‘needs’ is so disappointing, especially when it’s a bad script. If we were going to be stuck with a bad script the least Whitehouse could have done was spend that budget on some interesting set pieces! …but we got marines shooting in darkened corridors.
June 4, 2017 @ 2:47 am
Random thought: “Hulk” is indeed the correct word for a prison ship, but it’s an interesting word to use in a Doctor Who script.
June 4, 2017 @ 2:48 am
Interesting that the three parts of this story arc, sit, in order at the very top, middle, and very bottom of the rankings respectively
June 4, 2017 @ 3:26 am
I think ending on “thank God Mark Gatiss is doing next week’s episode” about says it.
But, uh, yes, actually really looking forward to that one and glad this one is out of the way.
June 4, 2017 @ 4:09 am
For me, there was a sense that this episode was set up to fail. Creating a trilogy structure where each episode has a different authorship of decreasing series cred is a strange choice – particularly when trilogy wrap-ups rarely fare well against the expectations put on them.
Giving that clean-up job to a guest writer is quite the poisoned challis. But as we saw with Oxygen, when a guest writer puts an interesting idea on the table Steven Moffat is willing to run with it. It’s a shame none of the interesting ideas of this episode survive to the second act.
As for next week’s, I wish I could share in the optimism. I feel like it’s Gatiss’ giving himself his own send-off a la Planet of the Spiders / The End of Time, where all his favourite toys come out one last time. Now I’m much more favourable towards his episodes than the consensus of other Who obsessives, but I think that indulgence is best reserved for those who make the contribution of Letts or Davies – because when that indulgence comes around at least the audience are on board with their vision.
June 4, 2017 @ 5:52 am
My first thought is that it’s almost interesting that the matter of the Monks’ fake memories was solved by interposing a different fake memory (Bill’s “imaginary friend” version of her mother, itself a construction only possible by The Doctor likewise rewriting the past via taking those pictures). Of course, not drawing attention to the down-the-rabbit-holeness of it subtracts anything worthwhile from it (as does not engaging the question of passing the memories along the family line when the character in question is gay and therefore likely wouldn’t have children).
I wonder if I was the only viewer who saw a missed opportunity for a Nardole’s-eye-view this episode (even if Bill’s perspective was required for the lousy fake-out you focus the review upon).
June 4, 2017 @ 11:06 am
Yes, I thought that’s where it was going, and would have been a great way of developing a resolution that only Bill could have enacted but was fitting with other episodes. The strength and power of a queer woman’s ‘false’ memory or myth (particularly given religious context) and tying up with Extremis’ “a fictional Doctor is still the Doctor” resolution could have been really strong. But it doesn’t do anything with it…
June 4, 2017 @ 10:56 pm
Yes! Exactly that, which both of you have said. Halfway through the episode, when they were plotting the second heist, I said to my wife “nothing’s actually happened yet this episode, had it?”
Then the Doctor brags about how he’ll crush these Monks with his mind-fu, and everyone knows it’s going to be Bill who does so.
And straight away you think of the ONE character thing she’s done this episode, and assume that they will, I don’t know, use that …? Replace one invented reality with another? Could be done interesting ground to cover there.
But no. And I just have to boggle at how you can lay all those elements out, and then fail to do anything at all with them.
June 5, 2017 @ 3:57 am
This episode made me think once more on what I think is precisely so terrible about Toby Whithouse as a writer. I mean, he’s terrible in many ways, but it helped me narrow down one very interesting way in which he’s terrible.
When I realized after “Extremis” just how critical his episode was going to be for such a conceptually interesting story, I had a feeling we were headed for a splat bigger than a North Korean missile test. We definitely got it. I get the feeling this season was just spread a little thin when it came to writers. As the production came together, I think Moffat just ended up stuck with Whithouse on this terrible idea because the other ideas his good writers pitched him were so good that he didn’t want to throw those away. I mean, Sarah Dollard would have done a great job with this, but if that means we’d lose “Thin Ice,” then absolutely not.
I’m piggybacking the first part of my blogs about this. I’ll have one on the Monks Trilogy as a whole up on Tuesday, which is going to be super weird. But here’s my case for the most interesting of the many bad things about Whithouse’s writing.
June 5, 2017 @ 11:26 am
The peculiar thing about Toby Whithouse is that on the whole Being Human worked as television. Possibly there was a tendency to treat it as a two hander between the two men with the woman tending towards a supporting role – a tendency exacerbated by making the woman unable to interact with extras and minor characters. And the cliffhanger in the last scene of the final season was tedious. But mostly it worked.
Of his Doctor Who stories only The God Complex really works and one can easily attribute that to the director and cast. Even there it feels like a belated Davies-era script – Amy is written as a Davies-era companion, it has a potential companion figure who is fridged.
June 5, 2017 @ 10:33 am
Around the flabby middle of this episode I found myself thinking “I wonder what Sarah Jane and her gang are doing during these 6 months?” And the letdown from THAT thought returning to the episode we got was bitterly disappointing.
I didn’t find the episode’s decision to make those 6 months ‘real time’ instead of hitting a temporal reset button very interesting. There was nothing done with it. I guess the best thing you can say is that there will be a lot of novels and short stories set in this period 10-30 years down the line.
June 6, 2017 @ 10:47 am
And I wrote my followup for today, about all the fantastic ideas about the nature of truth, memory, history, and ethics are all related together throughout the entire Monks Trilogy.
It really is disappointing that the whole thing ended with an episode written by someone who didn’t understand what was going on at all.
June 4, 2017 @ 6:40 am
Of course Whithouse has Missy held in a transparent cage. All the cool villains were – five years ago.
There was a potentially good idea in Bill’s mother being a solution – she was a personal myth, and therefore not corruptible by the Monks’ history warping – as well as more generally, in the feminine combating an authoritarian regime. But it was definitely undeveloped and, in practice, completely overwhelmed by the by now bog-standard Power of Love.
And I have to give credit to Pearl Mackie: the two fake-out scenes (oh no, the Doctor turned evil! and oh no, Bill is going to die/be brain-dead!) were obviously fake, and yet I had my doubts, part of me thought they genuinely might do it – and that’s down entirely to Pearl Mackie acting the shit out of those moments.
And I suppose this episode wasn’t Before the Flood, so at least there’s that. But I would still prefer the one where Missy and Bill team up to take down the Doctor gone evil. Even if it would have been written by Whithouse.
June 4, 2017 @ 5:50 pm
“Of course Whithouse has Missy held in a transparent cage. All the cool villains were – five years ago.”
My first thought was: “wait, didn’t Steven Moffat do this not 4 months ago in Sherlock?”
June 5, 2017 @ 10:35 am
Yes. Including the prison warden yelling at Mycroft for bringing the prisoner a musical instrument, just like Nardole yelled at the Doctor for giving her a piano.
June 5, 2017 @ 8:49 am
I’ll take “Before the Flood” over this crap, any day.
June 5, 2017 @ 10:42 am
June 4, 2017 @ 7:53 am
Yeah that was appalling.
Pearl Mackie is an extraordinary talent for salvaging any kind of truth from a script that demonstrated open contempt for its audience.
Capaldi looked so very uncomfortable in all his scenes, resorting to his over-used rictus grin that looks like an attempt at Tom Baker manic but doesn’t quite work here. Particularly in the regeneration fake-out scene, which was made doubly annoying by the fact that diegetically it makes no sense. Bill has never seen a Time Lord regenerate so the orange glow would be meaningless to her.
Never mind the Gattis episode I’m now preferring and looking forward to my own head canon more than the actual show.
The Monks heal themselves and become Cybermen. Susan returns as John Simm and Capaldi regenerates into Michelle Gomez.
June 4, 2017 @ 10:48 am
During the regeneration scene (how? why? is Capaldi’s doctor biolumiescent or something?) I got really excited thinking that he would regenerate into Missy, becasue it would be revealed that the version of Peter Capaldi working with the Monks is the regeneration of the Master between Simm and Missy (we’d then see Simm regenerate into Capaldi later in the series after having been defeated by CapaldiDoctor – deliberately choosing the Doctor’s own face to regenerate into). THAT was interesting me. Then, nope, it was just a joke, lol.
June 4, 2017 @ 3:38 pm
Right, I’m very annoyed with you. I liked the episode just fine until you said that. How in the hell am I supposed to enjoy it knowing that your plot is so much better?
June 5, 2017 @ 3:40 pm
That was my thought as well (although not as well thought out), that the “evil Doctor” was Missy, either in it for herself, or possibly pretending to be the Doctor to confuse the monks while the real one did something clever.
It would have made more sense than Doctor upsetting Bill to her core, and then literally laughing it off.
June 4, 2017 @ 8:19 am
For a moment, when they entered the heart of the pyramid and saw the Monk controlling history, I thought it looked kind of like a Cybercontroller and thought they were going to go for that reveal.
I mean, why were the monks actually conquering planets like that? What did they actually get from people adoring them? They didn’t have a single line in the episode. Why?
What was the whole business about the monks appearing like they do because people are corpses to them?
There’s a few potentially interesting ideas in the story, but they’re not actually used in any way.
June 4, 2017 @ 10:23 am
The monks seem to be killing people and shipping them to labour camps largely to demonstrate that they are indeed evil, and nothing deeper than that.
The moment when everyone started laughing, I actually didn’t grasp that it was an absurd test of Bill, but actually thought that Nardole was working for the monks as well, and that they’d all tricked Bill for some other evil reason – perhaps to demonstrate to her the flawed nature of humans that she ended up prepared to kill her friend who she’d sacrificed the world for. Perhaps to break her fully and thus totally bring the world under the monks’ control. But no.
June 4, 2017 @ 7:05 pm
Something something fake news that one picture of Donald Trump in the controller, I guess.
Most shows wish they had as many good ideas to waste as this episode managed to.
June 5, 2017 @ 5:53 pm
That was one of my bigger problems with the episode. There was never any reason given as to why the Monks wanted to conquer planets. It seems like their desire to conquer Earth was “because it’s there”.
I thought earlier they might become the Mondasian Cybermen because of how they talk, but now I hope they aren’t.
Roderick T. Long
June 4, 2017 @ 8:35 am
I can’t believe Missy didn’t even offer a “Kill Bill” reference.
How come the Monks never got an adjective? We’ve had Meddling Monks and Headless Monks; just “Monks” fails to be very distinctive.
When they said that the crucial person’s link to the Monks is passed down via the bloodline, I figured there was going to be some plot point about Bill’s being a lesbian and so probably (though of course not necessarily) not having biological descendants — but it turned out the stuff about the bloodline was just a throwaway point that was never followed up.
June 4, 2017 @ 9:02 am
The Pointless Monks?
June 4, 2017 @ 2:35 pm
Ha! Good one.
Roderick T. Long
June 5, 2017 @ 1:22 am
Oh, and here’s what series 10 should have been:
Instead of trying to reform Missy by keeping her locked in a vault the whole time, the Doctor should have taken her travelling with him in in the TARDIS. She would have been a regular companion, in every episode, always keeping us guessing as to when she was going to be a helpful ally and when she was going to go all … magisterial. Like the Thor/Loki team-up, but with better dialogue. That’s the series 10 I want to see. (Not that I’m wanting to get rid of Bill; she could be there too.)
June 5, 2017 @ 10:40 am
But that would mean losing Nardole.
(Can Nardole be in the next Doctor Who spinoff?)
Roderick T. Long
June 11, 2017 @ 9:08 pm
I don’t see why it would have to mean losing Nardole. The TARDIS has had a four-person team before.
June 4, 2017 @ 10:17 am
Whilst it might not be massively interesting, I think there’s a solid story in this if the Doctor remains angry.
Have it all play out to that point, and have the Doctor make similar arguments to the ones he makes here. But he lets them go because he’s not fully brainwashed, the room’s just reflecting his anger back at him (Obvious symbolism)
Nardole then realises they have to break Missy out. We have the Missy saying they have to kill Bill bit, followed by the raid on the Pyramid. The Doctor’s there, and Bill’s sacrifice is proof Bill’s going to change. She’s saved by love.
Now there’s a narrative substitution of a sort. We go from a Fringe or Torchwood setting to a Love Saves All ending. And we keep the focus on Bill, not the Doctor. Now the final conversation similar but it has a weight to it.
Now, there’s a lot wrong with that, but I think it’s a lot better than what we got. Maybe moving the Monks around so that the Pyramid scene lasts longer and adds more elements from earlier.
Or maybe this is a desperate attempt to rewrite the episode that doesn’t work out…
June 4, 2017 @ 10:18 am
I’m pretty comfortable with this season – eight episodes in, I’ve only liked Oxygen – as a gracious way for Moffat to be saying “look, I know you have your doubts about Chris, I know, but honestly, he’s going to be an improvement, give him a chance”. No disrespect to those who love the Moffat era, and fair play, there have been some fine scripts within in, but it’s completely cemented position as Doctor Who’s worst ever in my mind now. Unless “Eric Saward” counts as an era, in which case it’s rather close.) Lazy, ambitionless, “this’ll do” stuff, week in, week out. Sigh.
June 5, 2017 @ 3:09 am
Why wouldn’t “Eric Saward” count as an era? Most of seasons 19-23.
June 4, 2017 @ 10:25 am
Worth noting, in my view, that this episode looked great and i think the director has a lot of talent, would be very happy to have him back.
I don’t get the hate for this ep tbh, type of thing that you find enjoybale moment by moment cos Pearl holds it together, even if it comes down to Toby having been handed a bunch of plot threads he couldnt think of much to do with.
June 4, 2017 @ 10:26 am
This was revolting. The more I think about, the worse it gets.
The Doctor voluntarily collaborating with a tyrannical regime (and one deliberately clothed in the imagery of historical totalitarianism at that). Acting as their propagandist and telling others to collaborate. For months. With no better excuse than “had to maintain my cover”. And then just laughing it off. The Doctor deliberately and premeditatedly putting Bill through utter, gut-wrenching heartbreak and despair. With no better excuse than “had to check whose side you were on”. And then going “Fooled you!” and laughing at her.
An appalling script that’s actually made worse by some great acting, because Mackie really makes us feel the hurt.
Whatever Whithouse’s past failings, I would never have expected anything this bad. And I’m seriously disappointed in Moffat for letting it through.
June 5, 2017 @ 11:49 am
I gather that Moffat had personal troubles around the relevant time, so should cut him some slack for not being on top of it. Last sentence retracted.
June 5, 2017 @ 6:39 pm
And yes, I do realise what an astoundingly pompous and pointless thing to say that is. I still feel more comfortable having said it.
Lovecraft in Brooklyn
June 5, 2017 @ 10:47 pm
The whole thing made sense when Rick did it on Rick & Morty, but he’s not The Doctor!
June 4, 2017 @ 10:37 am
On the upside, I suppose Jack can at least say, in the approximate words of Steve McCroskey, “Guess I picked the right week to quit watching Doctor Who”.
June 4, 2017 @ 10:40 am
Yeah, the script was utter rubbish. But speaking of Class, at least Wayne Yip continues his excellent track record of giving interesting visual to piss-poor scripts. The use of lighting and colour is intelligent and on-pint throughout, giving everything a suitable washed-out feel, and I really liked the detail of having a stray pigeon in the shot when they were storming the Pyramid.
The Cathedral is a Mencius Moldbug reference, obviously.
June 4, 2017 @ 1:35 pm
This episode was what happens when everyone but the most important person does a good job. It just feels more frustrating.
However, with stray wildlife, I’m not sure if that can be Yip’s choice or just an alchemy element added in.
June 4, 2017 @ 6:37 pm
Hit the nail on the head there. And yeah, I doubt that was a Stunt Pigeon, but even so, the decision to keep it in rather than re-take that scene was a nice one.
June 4, 2017 @ 10:51 am
That was so poor that the only thing I can really think of to say is
“But his play was really good, for f***’s sake!”
June 4, 2017 @ 10:52 am
Well, I stand by my comment last week. That would have worked better if they were Mondasian cybermen.
June 4, 2017 @ 11:11 am
I’m prepared to say at this point that Moffat stayed a season too long. In my opinion, he delivered two superb back-to-back seasons in 8 and 9, and Heaven/Hell/Husbands is a blaze of glory anyone would be psyched to go out on. And then he came back for one more season for which he doesn’t seem to have any vision. His crowning achievement (and it is pretty crowning, to be fair) is creating Bill and casting Pearl Mackie. No script has risen above “pretty solid” and several are well below that. Toby Whithouse wrote “Lie Of The Land,” yes, but when you’re talking about the end of an epic 3-part trilogy that gets central placement in your season, the buck really stops with the showrunner. It’s Whithouse’s fault that this script is bad; it’s Moffat’s fault that this will always be known as the season that devoted a fourth of its episodes to an utter-go-nowhere trilogy. I am not a Moffat-hater. Seasons 5, 8, and 9 are my favorite Nu-Who seasons. “Listen” is possibly my favorite Doctor Who story. But 4 remaining episodes aren’t enough to undo the damage even if they’re all excellent wall-to-wall. He stayed one season too long. (This doesn’t extend to Capaldi & Mackie, who look so energized by one another that they could carry another 3 seasons.)
June 4, 2017 @ 12:36 pm
(I mean, I know they’re not actually staying on – or maybe Mackie is – I’m just saying they read on screen like a fresh, energized TARDIS crew with a lot of life in it.)
June 4, 2017 @ 1:09 pm
I definitely agree. Moffat been my favourite show runner. However, I feel like I made peace with his vision of Doctor Who in the Husbands of River Song and got the emotional satisfaction to say goodbye (I felt the same way with HIs Last Vow and Sherlock). This series feels like an unnecessary epilogue. I suspect he’s only in charge this series because Chibnall wanted to do Broadchurch 3.
June 4, 2017 @ 9:01 pm
Moffat is in fact in charge because Chibnall wasn’t going to be available until 2018, and the BBC didn’t want to sit the series for two years.
The Husbands of River Song was supposed to be it, the end, Moffat was done. Then this gets dropped on it.
June 4, 2017 @ 3:45 pm
Well, this season is certainly the worst Moffat’s worked on since 7 (although, really, is that much of a condemnation?), I think that it’s still worth having. Capaldi is still getting tons of great stuff to do, the three Capaldi stars (Maitheson, Dollard, and Harness) all got a good final script in (because Chibnall is being an idiot and putting in a f***ing writer’s room), and Bill is both an absolutely necessary companion in this day and age and one that Chibnall would never write. Besides, the world would be a legitimately poorer place without Oxygen. Also, have you seen the quotes attached to the finale? That’s going to be great. In short, while Moffat could have left with dignity and fond memories after Season 9, I think that staying on for Season 10 is unequivocally a good thing.
June 5, 2017 @ 6:50 pm
Absolutely – I’m still positive about this season overall, even after a wobble this week, that yes, does weaken my overall impression of the run, which had been well constructed and lacking any major flaws up to this point, but does lose a fair share of credit for failing to wrap up its major experimental mid season arc satisfactorily. I still think “Thin Ice”, “Oxygen”, and “Extremis” are up there with my favourite stories (Extremis works on its own, even if it starts off the monk trilogy), “The Pilot” and “Pyramid” were rather excellent, and “Smile” and “Knock Knock” were fine as serviceable early season stories. Episode for episode, I’d say that’s actually around where series nine was at this point, before it elevated its standing with a fantastic concluding trilogy. Season Ten has plenty of room to pull off a similarly brilliant final act with a fun Gatiss romp, Rona flipping Munro writing for the show again, and Moffat giving us multiple Masters and Mondasian Cybermen to potentially lead into Capaldi’s goodbye. All of that plus Bill is plenty good enough reason to have series ten. Especially as originally, I was just hoping series ten would be something for me to look at as a bonus instalment of my favourite writer giving us an extra season after he had intended to go.
June 4, 2017 @ 12:04 pm
You know your Kill the Moon review? You could have used exactly the same first three paragraphs here, and you wouldn’t have needed to change a single word…
June 4, 2017 @ 3:46 pm
I would applaud your trolling, but it’s rather lazy. Have you actually read the first three paragraphs of this review?
June 4, 2017 @ 4:53 pm
I have, and I can’t see anything about them that prevents them being replaced. Or displaced. Displaced would probably be better, really; the first three paras of the KtM review (with the required substitution) and then continue on with “Let’s start with…” It actually follows on from “This was the single —st episode of Doctor Who ever” rather well.
June 4, 2017 @ 5:11 pm
The big problem here (and it’s worth noting that two of the first three paragraphs of my KtM review were one sentence long), is that this isn’t the worst episode at being Doctor Who. It’s not that bad. It’s probably better than The Lazarus Experiment, in that it’s at least fucking up slightly more interesting ideas and isn’t quite as misjudged. It’s easily better than The Twin Dilemma or The Horns of Nimon. Although Nimon has at least some of its underlying problems.
What it is is boring. And lazily boring. And that will always piss me off in a way that an honest to god incompetent fuckup never will. But it’s not nearly interesting enough to deserve an opening like the KtM review.
June 5, 2017 @ 6:07 pm
Horns of Nimon at least had Graham Crowden trying to out-ham Tom Baker. It also had Lalla Ward playing the part of the Doctor while Tom Baker faffed about on the TARDIS set with comedy noises, so the story’s at least good for that. Capaldi tries hard, but can’t drag the script up that much, Missy doesn’t really get a meaty part with this, there’s no motivation for what the Monks were doing, and there were other answers than to either kill Bill or go into the Pyramid – those blocks of Dwarf Star Alloy from 1969 should be around still, so the psychic link would be broken if Bill was just isolated like the Doctor was in the Day of the Moon (it doesn’t have to be that box, anything that would break the connection would work). Heck, this would have been better if it would break things if Bill was dead for a minute or two – Bill could volunteer to die for a little bit and run the risk of her revival not working right. And, at least the Nimon had a better explanation for their actions than we ever got wtih this trilogy.
June 5, 2017 @ 12:41 am
Apologies are in order – I completely misread your post. I thought that you had meant that the first three paragraphs of this review would be applicable to describe Kill the Moon, and thus the trolling would be in saying that that episode was sh*t on, y’know, this blog. My bad, sorry.
June 4, 2017 @ 10:46 pm
I think ‘trolling’ is a bit harsh! It was a joke!
June 4, 2017 @ 1:14 pm
We all knew Doctor would probably not regenerate and probably would not be evil.
What this episode suffered from is complete lack of worldbuilding. Beside everyone putting own dystopian black, there’s no sense of how things are.
We had that woman who sentenced people to 10 years in camp suddenly realizing she’s a goon for evil government, she could be a good focal point for storytelling. Maybe she could be Bill’s new role for the first act.
June 4, 2017 @ 1:36 pm
I honestly think that element of the script would have worked better if it was Kate Stewart or Osgood in the role.
Or maybe that would have just been relentlessly mean.
June 4, 2017 @ 1:48 pm
Wouldn’t have been much of a leap for Chemical Kate.
June 4, 2017 @ 2:12 pm
I thought about this too. But whoever she was, she needed more screen time. Simple cameo would still not work.
June 5, 2017 @ 3:15 am
Was Jemma Redgrave just not available this season? Seems like she should have been in last week’s episode.
June 5, 2017 @ 9:29 am
Yep. Holby City all while S10 was being shot. I’m pretty sure she will be back in S11 though.
June 4, 2017 @ 3:30 pm
“But the one scene that grapples with any of this consists of the Doctor spouting obviously wrong defenses of totalitarian order”. What would you consider to be less obviously wrong defenses of totalitarian order? I mean, I’m not a fan of them myself (I mean, I read this blog and agree with a lot of what it has to say), but they seemed decent as far as arguments for the wrong side go.
July 1, 2017 @ 5:44 pm
Well, the phrase “the Romans saved billions from disease” is first of all not entirely relevant, when there are examples of empires much closer to our own time; secondly it’s particularly stupid in light of the fact that Emperor Justinian had to watch half of the empire’s population die of a plague. And there’s the Antonine Plague which ravaged Rome from AD 165 – 180.
The remaining arguments are also founded on a nostalgic misreading of the Roman empire. While the Roman state had a bureaucratic order that managed to function throughout its periods of civil war, the patron-client system that the city ran on caused significant strains when scaled beyond the size of a small city, and the resistance of the Patricians to any change that would subvert any of their authority led to the civil wars and the collapse of the Republic. During the Empire, order relied on the wisdom of emperors without any real checks and balances, leading to chaos when people fought for the top spot.
As for famine, the civil war of the late Roman republic caused massive crop failures one year in five between 123 and 50 BC. So the Romans saved their citizens from famine except when the contradictions and failures of their system caused periods of civil war. Also the big one in 26 BC, as recorded by Josephus. Rome couldn’t handle that one at all.
There’s also the fact that the low-level totalitarianism they maintained — absolute obedience to the state or else death, even for the families of traitors — was added to Christian thought when Constantine decreed that all Rome was to be Christian. Thus Rome forever tainted Christianity with the concept that a state should judge and punish religious dissent. This caused Rome to change from a temporal of enemy of Jews into an eternal one, a climax of which was realized in the 1940s after a thousand and more years of Rome leading Christians into believing Jews were inherently evil.
There’s a lot of dead druids and Jews who would have been much better off without the Roman empire, and the Doctor’s explanations of why a totalitarian regime’s order is better then freedom ring hollow. “What the Romans have done for us” doesn’t take into account what a people might have created for themselves anyway if they hadn’t suffered from the deaths and chaos of foreign intervention.
June 4, 2017 @ 3:31 pm
The Doctor pointing at a pyramid on a map and saying “cathedral.”
Yeah, I suspect it was a cathedral before Moffat decided to tie the three stories together, and nobody thought of changing the line because, well, that would involve thinking it through.
June 4, 2017 @ 8:05 pm
I thought it was supposed to be one more bit of the new reality’s wrongness, like: St. Paul’s Cathedral is now a giant pyramid (not sure whether its placement on the map corresponded to St. Paul’s but I think so?)
June 4, 2017 @ 8:31 pm
Looking at the map, yes, they are going for “roughly where St. Paul’s is.” However when we get the aerial shot of the pyramid shortly thereafter, St. Paul’s is clearly visible nearby.
June 4, 2017 @ 11:00 pm
That sort of works for me as another example of the monks being “Cyberman-adjacent”, so to speak. Not that I picked up on it during broadcast, I was nodding off at that point.
June 4, 2017 @ 3:41 pm
Oh, an undercooked bit you missed, unless it’s a subset of “not actually an explanation of the Doctor’s ruse”; the Monks still don’t trust the Doctor, so he can’t work against them directly … just unbrainwash all his guards and plot with Nardole. I know we’re later told they’re short-handed, but really?
June 4, 2017 @ 3:43 pm
Huh, my usual avatar’s gone. I must have misspelled my e-mail.
June 5, 2017 @ 10:49 am
I wish they had more clearly articulated why they needed Bill, really. Like… her voice on the deprogramming recordings is the most effective block of the monks’ signals because the signals are based on her or something.
I also wish the monks had stripped away their ‘gift’ of restoring the Doctor’s eyesight at the end of this story.
June 5, 2017 @ 11:35 am
Yeah, I was really hoping for that too. But that’s Whithouse for you. To have such an easy way to add personal stakes for the Doctor and just not use it… What a waste. (Although maybe it just complicated other stories this season too much).
June 4, 2017 @ 3:49 pm
I think the thing that bothered me the most, that kept nagging at me, was that if the Monk’s entire plan was dependent on one person’s survival, you’d think they’d protect that person. Missy’s handwave of “they chalk it up to experience” when the person dies was completely unsatisfying.
Maybe you could argue that they’d predicted the future with their simulation machine and knew she wouldn’t die, but then why wouldn’t they have also predicted the Doctor’s whole plan in this episode? Really, that should have been part of their simulations, no? The whole thing doesn’t make a lick of sense, and stinks of them only thinking to the next complication to be overcome and not caring at all about the story as a whole.
June 4, 2017 @ 7:11 pm
What’s more, their brilliant simulation evidently can’t predict that a lesbian who remembers that she’s responsible for the dystopia she’s living in just might not have biological children.
I was half expecting that her memory lapse covered up for the Monks harvesting her eggs and implanting thousands of her offspring in women all over the world, perhaps leading to an interesting critique of reproductive futurity, but like all the other potentially interesting ideas in this episode, that didn’t happen.
June 5, 2017 @ 6:15 pm
Well, if they had the Monks harvesting her eggs, that would have made it more interesting at least.
June 4, 2017 @ 5:51 pm
Well I liked it.
Wayne Yip does a really fucking good job with this script, I think the quality of the episode is undoubtedly much higher than the quality of the script. I can’t wait to see what he does for Gatiss next week. I think he does a good job with most of the big set pieces (the Doctor/Bill confrontation, the Missy interrogation, the fight with the monks while listening to the recording). The extensive use of voiceovers and internal monologues is probably laziness of scripting, but it stays interesting enough visually that I didn’t really notice watching.
All the actors are great here. The episode has a lot of basically good ideas that it doesn’t really execute well or explore enough. The actors consistently manage to sell the idea of scenes even when the content isn’t quite there. Like I think Pearl Mackie might give her best performance so far in this episode? I like the Doctor cackling as he crashes the boat and Gomez’s delivery of “I threw her into a volcano”.
I mean I think there’s a lot that’s genuinely good about the script as well. Opening with the Doctor reading out the monks’ propaganda is clever (in much the same way that opening Before the Flood with the Doctor monologuing to the audience about time paradoxes was clever). The fact that it sets up Bill thinking about her mother as her personal antidote to the Monk’s mind-control early on is a well done bit. The way the confrontation between Bill and the Doctor veers between ideological and personal feels honest. This episode does better with Nardole as comedy relief than any other episode so far (not the same thing as doing better with Nardole in the general case). The conversation between the Doctor and Bill before she tries to sacrifice herself is wonderful, as is their scene post-climax by the statue (even if it repeats the Smile problem of seeming to genuinely hold young people in contempt).
Really, the biggest problems are that the ending is mediocre and most parts of it don’t stand up to any scrutiny at all.
I glad I wasn’t aware of the hype cycle in the week before this episode. “The Doctor may have sided with the Monks” works waaaaaaaaaay better as something teased in the opening and that it pretends to take seriously for one beat at the end of act one than as something anticipated as the point of the episode for seven days. I don’t really believe that the Doctor would think he had to antagonize Bill the the point of her shooting him, nor do I really believe that’s a valid way to foolishly waste regeneration energy. Nor do I think he’d laugh about doing it. This is a darker thing to do to her than anything he ever does to Ace or Clara, he would goddamn well take it seriously. But none of this quite jumps out on an initial watch, so it worked fine. The “everyone laughs” bit works pretty well as a tone transition, even if it’s appalling.
This whole season so far has had a strong “fun while its on, doesn’t really reward thinking about” problem. Most of the episodes don’t have quite this many nits to pick, but most of the episodes also weren’t this compelling on initial watch. Only seen it once so far, God knows how it will hold up on rewatch, but for now:
June 4, 2017 @ 7:22 pm
Not the worst episode but maybe the most disappointing.
“Magpie Electricals” – nice touch but it didn’t presage anything.
June 5, 2017 @ 5:24 am
Of all the hundreds of episodes in the half-century plus history of ‘Doctor Who’, and they picked ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ to call back to.
Might have been the most interesting thing in the episode.
June 5, 2017 @ 1:49 pm
The Idiot’s Lantern is the only other bit of Doctor Who that has the post-war vibe need for a 1984 rip-off. There is no reason for the world to look like that apart from the fact that Whithouse likes 1984.
June 5, 2017 @ 11:31 am
They keep referencing it, this wasn’t the first time. It’s obviously just a pointless continuity nod, so it didn’t bother me.
June 4, 2017 @ 7:25 pm
What a waste. There were good lines and good performances in the service of something that didn’t quite rise to the level of a conflicted mess. The lesson here is that Bill was wrong when she ignored the Doctor and made a deal with the Monks, but right when she ignored the Doctor a second time to defeat them? Or that a dystopia is wrong? Or is it that when freed from mind control, ordinary human beings fight back effectively and inspirationally against tyrants, but also the lot of them are useless except for rare exceptions like Bill? (Mind you, I rather appreciated that conversation at the end and if it were clearer the Doctor’s kidding about humanity but not about Bill it’d be brilliant. In context, it looks callous at the least.)
Worst here is the insanity of the “dilemma” the story constructed. OK, so Bill’s mind is the linchpin and the Monks have to amplify the signal via giant statues. Why does Bill have to die? Why not simply remove her mind temporarily, say, by going elsewhere in time and space? Or better, why not temporarily lock her in the vault with Missy? That offers a really interesting opportunity for them to have a conversation without the Doctor being present. If the vault doesn’t block psychic effects it’s useless for its stated purpose.
The objection that the Monks secure the Doctor but do nothing to render Bill safe from accidents seems a powerful one, and it’s already been raised. Add to that the problem that last week, the Monks had a huge prediction machine that even allowed them to know about random events happening all around the world. Wouldn’t that have been handy in trying to predict attempts to bring them down?
Why in the world does the Doctor need to keep Bill safe when her death is the one thing the Monks absolutely cannot afford?
For the most part this episode didn’t even fail interestingly. Let the Monks say something. Heck, give them a Russian accent! I also don’t understand the writing process for the three parts. Wouldn’t you start at the end and work backwards? Or script edit heavily to make the three stories build instead of dropping almost everything from the first two? “Fake news” isn’t the same as “fake history,” but the latter could be interesting if it fit into Extremis and made this episode the conflict between one fictionalization versus another. That would also allow the “Bill’s mother” element to land more effectively.
Instead, lots of things happen just because. Why have one unbrainwashed soldier get his recorder shot only to have Nardole nerve pinch him? Pretense is wonderful in service of something, but what precisely is being served here besides the need to fill airtime?
One would almost think the counter-programming that led this episode to get low initial viewership in the UK to be a good thing…
Roderick T. Long
June 5, 2017 @ 1:33 am
“if it were clearer the Doctor’s kidding about humanity but not about Bill it’d be brilliant”
Yeah, what happened to “Homo sapiens — what an inventive, invincible species — they’re indomitable”?
And it’s not as though most of the Doctor’s own species have proven to be much to brag about.
June 5, 2017 @ 7:12 pm
The new series Doctor has always been at least as prone to sweeping disparagement as to gushing adulation when it comes to ol’ Hom. sap. Ten especially, perhaps, whether it’s “I gave them the wrong warning. I should’ve told them to run as fast as they can, run and hide because the monsters are coming. The human race.”, or “Human race. For such an intelligent lot, you aren’t half susceptible. Give anyone a chance to take control and you submit. Sometimes I think you like it. Easy life.” But then Ten always was kind of a self-regarding, sanctimonious jerk.
June 4, 2017 @ 8:00 pm
I think one of the most disappointing experiences one can have while reading or watching a fictional work is getting excited because you think you know what’s going to happen and then being crushed when you realize that you were wrong but your solution was vastly superior to what the author wrote. The last time I felt it this bad was reading The Langoliers by Stephen King.
Here, I was excited because I thought they were building up to a reworking of one of the best scenes from Classic Who — the “Kill her. She means nothing to me.” scene from Curse of Fenric. I had assumed that the Doctor realized Bill was the lynchpin who allowed the Monks to conquer Earth because she would do anything to save the Doctor. And so, he needed to manipulate her into hating him enough to kill him in order to break that connection as the first phase of his plan to defeat the Monks.
And then, we got that rubbish about “oh, I was just testing you,” followed by the Doctor not even knowing about Bill’s importance to the invasion until Missy revealed it. Lame.
I also toyed with the idea that the characters were real but trapped inside a Matrix-like simulation along with the rest of humanity, which would have explained some of the bizarre and incongruous plot points. Case in point: Why does every brutal dictatorship in a dystopian fiction piece force everyone to wear the same drab, dark work clothing at all times? Is six months even enough time to mass produce enough drab, dark work clothes for 7.5 billion people? I suppose that’s one way to solve the unemployment problem.
Roderick T. Long
June 5, 2017 @ 1:34 am
What was your preferred resolution to “The Langoliers”?
June 5, 2017 @ 4:38 am
My theory for roughly 2/3 of the story was that the girl was a powerful psychic (which was true) but that the deranged businessman was also a latent psychic whose powers manifested in the middle of a psychotic episode. Their powers combined and drew everyone who was asleep on the plane at the time into a shared nightmare that was in the process of self-destructing due to the businessman’s childhood fears about the Langoliers coming to eat him.
Granted, “it was all just a dream” isn’t the best denouement, but it’s still better than inexplicable temporal anomalies and the explanation that once the present slips into the past, it gets eaten by giant killer beach balls. And that’s before we get to Bronson Pinchot hilariously miscast as the insane businessman.
Roderick T. Long
June 11, 2017 @ 9:15 pm
As mad as the toothy beach balls (and the stale sandwiches, for that matter) are, I like The Langoliers as a metaphor (not a literal rendering) for presentism (the metaphysical thesis that only the present exists). I can’t think of any other science fiction story that explores that thesis.
June 4, 2017 @ 8:06 pm
Also, I agree with Phil that Missy’s redemption arc will probably end with her not getting redeemed, but that is profoundly disappointing. IMO, the Master/Mistress being nothing but a cackling loon who is psychosexually obsessed with the Doctor is boring and, worse, has BEEN boring since approximately the last five minutes of Castrovalva.
But Missy trying to reform … and continually failing because at the end of the day she’s still a psychopath with no regard for lesser beings? No longer the antithesis of the Doctor but instead his dark reflection? Continually frustrated because she KNOWS that simply exterminating the bad guys is the most efficient route to saving the day but not being able to because she “promised to be good?” THAT could bring some interesting stories. Basically, the thinking person’s Xena: Warrior Princess.
Roderick T. Long
June 5, 2017 @ 1:40 am
I rather liked the idea in this episode that Missy’s version of goodness would be a ruthless, unsentimental utilitarianism. That would be an interesting foil to the Doctor, since that’s an approach he usually resists but sometimes succumbs to. Kind of a darker version of the Spock-Kirk dynamic.
But then they ruined it in the last scene by having Missy weeping with regret. Whether she’s sincere or faking it, either way it doesn’t fit with her self-presentation earlier in the episode. Ruthless utilitarians vow to avoid past mistakes, but they don’t waste time brooding over them.
June 5, 2017 @ 4:41 am
That was the moment when I gave up on the “redeeming Missy” storyline and assumed she was faking. Actual regret over killing specific people so soon after casually mentioning that she once defeated the Monks by throwing a little girl into a volcano was wildly out of character.
June 5, 2017 @ 8:33 am
Deciding that it would be a good idea not to waste time brooding over past mistakes because you’ve already learned what you can from them, and actually succeeding, are two very different things. Even for really small mistakes.
But fiction (at least mainstream enough for me to have come across it) never does ruthless utilitarianism well. A skilled ruthless utilitarian should avoid lying, for instance, because in humans, deception works through self-deception, so if you develop the ability to lie easily, you’ll inevitably end up confusing yourself.
I think fiction can’t afford to think that clearly because at that level, truths start bubbling up which the audience finds too disturbing with regards to the assumptions everyone lives their lives under. Like how little we actually value human life if it’s not right in front of us.
June 6, 2017 @ 3:40 am
OK, definitely wrong theory time: Missy dies at the end of her redemption arc being redeemed by stopping the John Simm Master from doing something terrible.
In doing so, she kills the John Simm Master, thus creating a temporal paradox that turns out to be worse than whatever the Master was planning to do.
As both their bodies are swept off into the Vortex, Missy begins to regenerate… and cut away to the Doctor trying to patch up the damage to Time. And the character is open to doing anything with in the following series, as the new Master/Missy could be anything at all.
Or, you know, she could regenerate into Alex Kingston, if we want a really bad ending. (Not that she’d do a bad job…)
July 2, 2017 @ 8:17 pm
My personal uninteresting fan theory: the Jacobi/Simm Master is actually an entirely different entity than the Delgado/Ainley/Gomez Master. Simm’s throwaway line in “The Sound of Drums” about being resurrected by the Time Lords to fight in the Time War means that he’s a construct created from whatever traces of his mind were left in the Matrix after The Deadly Assassin / The Ultimate Foe, and meanwhile Ainley sat out the war on the cat people planet only to regenerate into Gomez.
June 4, 2017 @ 9:02 pm
There’s a twin problem with the episode having the Doctor apparently join the Monks: one being that anyone who stops to think for a second knows there’s a twist here. This sort of thing has happened before and we can tell he hasn’t gone over to the bad guys (his talking about the benefits of ‘order’ is particularly ridiculous – no incarnation of the Doctor would think that way!) Within the story though, there is the fact that Bill doesn’t know this – she isn’t a Sarah Jane Smith who’s known him for years. She would be quite justified in doubting him after he affirms more than once that ‘the Monks are a good thing.’ The big laugh and turnaround following this doesn’t make all this ok. This is seriously messing with someone who has been a trusted friend. I suppose Bill does at least briefly vent her annoyance afterwards…
As far as the Monks themselves go – meh. As others have said, the world or character building element has been lacking here. They need a bit more than just to look creepy (and in a not very imaginative way.) Why not have them developed as characters over an episode first to establish motivation and then let them offer their protection to Earth? They might even be allowed to look aesthetically pleasing – that could actually make them seem scarier.
June 4, 2017 @ 9:13 pm
That certainly was something, for the first 20 minutes. And I suspect all that Whithouse originally had as an ideace? was “The Doctor As Big Brother”, since once the notion of the Doctor actually being in bed with the Monks was abandoned, the story kind of fell apart.
I mean, it wasn’t really actively bad, it was just very bland for a story that started off with a Moffat high concept puzzle box, wasn’t it? One can’t help but wonder how the story would’ve worked if it had been the original pitch of “something like 1984”, coming completely out of the blue with the story working out how it happened in the first place. Bill remembering how the world was, but not quite how it got there; the Doctor turned into the symbol of a totalitarian regime, spouting off propaganda, and we don’t know why. There’s something there. But bolted to the previous story-and it doesn’t help that I was pretty disappointed by that, since I don’t share the love for Harness and his political thrillers this blog does-and especially to Extremis, this wound up a damp squib.
There’s Gatiss next week, and he does seem to be doing a lot of the things he loves to do as a swan song, so that might be good, but this series has kind of been uneven as hell, held together by Capaldi basically turning into the second coming of the Fourth Doctor and Mackie knocking it out of the park week after week.
June 4, 2017 @ 10:17 pm
Very much agree with the feeling that this was a bad story rescued from being worse by good production and performances. Though the music was terrible. Stirring orchestra behind Bill making a speech was so OTT it was only acceptable if it was meant to be sarcastic.
I hated the doctor crowing about his contribution to Bill saving the day. It undercuts the Doctor as a positive mentor and turns him into Henry Higgins. If he had taken pleasure in her having strength he didn’t recognise rather than claiming it for himself I think I could have forgiven all the other faults.
The Doctor tests Bill by setting her up to make the same choice that (trying to be good?) Missy would make. It would be good to have seen something made of that but maybe the writers didn’t notice what they had done.
June 4, 2017 @ 10:40 pm
Not very good. No explanation of why the Monks actually want to conquer Earth in the first place. If they made the world a materially better place then there’d be a bit of a quandary, but all they seem to be concerned about is monochrome clothing & having people mope around on the street whilst rubbish piles up as if they were making some sort of art installation about the ennui and futility of interstellar planetary conquest. Just dire in so may ways.
If you’ re going to do three sequential episodes that link to each other at least have your writers discuss what they’re going to do in their stories. For example, when Bill sits down with the two cups of tea, would have been nice for it to be a date with Penny that gets interrupted by someone as a payoff to the previous episodes.
June 5, 2017 @ 1:23 am
I was expecting the Doctor to ask Missy “How are they controlling peoples’ minds? How did you do it when you carried out this same exact plot as Harold Saxon?”
June 5, 2017 @ 11:01 am
Mass mind control. The Doctor held by the bad guy for a year. His companion travels the world on her own, seeing what’s gone wrong and trying to carry a message that everything isn’t supposed to be this way….
Turning Bill into a discount Martha Jones is what really stuck in my craw. Martha Jones is ALREADY a discount Martha Jones! Just… is there anything there to this story? Anything at all?
June 5, 2017 @ 11:02 am
I had the same thought. In an episode more than usually blatantly assembled out of bits of old ones (Rings of Akhaten, Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon etc), it’s SODD/LOTT which seems the biggest influence, and the most baffling obtuse when you’re putting Missy in there.
The resonance that really makes it look bad, though, is Turn Left (for alternative history and authoritarian dystopia). There it’s “look at how bad things can get when the Doctor’s not there”, but here we have “look how bad things can get when the Doctor’s there the whole time, but decides to spend six months being Lord Haw-Haw for some fucking reason”.
To be honest, I’m kind of surprised at how much of the criticism of this has focused on the script’s extreme lack of quality (vast and manifold a field though that is), and how little on that jaw-dropping loathesome piece of bullshit.
June 5, 2017 @ 11:30 am
I figured he waited for Bill to show up because he knew he needed her somehow, even if he had to talk to Missy to figure out the details. Also, he needed time to de-brainwash the guards. But I’m not really going to bother to defend the Doctor too much here. If Whithouse wanted us to feel like the Doctor is powerless against the Monks and that the six-month-wait was justified, he should’ve, y’know, maybe write it into the actual episode or something.
June 5, 2017 @ 11:44 am
And not have him find the situation quite so hilarious.
But I don’t think any arrangement of circumstances and tactical calculations would have justified what he does. It just isn’t compatible with being the Doctor.
June 5, 2017 @ 1:30 am
Script was an early draft outline rather than an actual, y’know, script.
One persistent issue throughout this season (with the possible exception of Thin Ice & bits of Extremis) has been the lack of development of side characters. Dr, Bill, Nardole, Missy – and then just a bunch of ciphers. It’s like no one can arsed any more.
Now I would say that Pyramid and Lie both have similar problems – which boils down to lack of development of their central ideas. Which is a tragedy because their ideas are kinda crucial right now.
– Pyramid’s notion of invasion via consent sounded much better when Peter Harness was talking about it in the podcast than what we saw on screen.
– Lie’s idea of invasion via fake news and the reinvention of history is burning not right now. And yet the episode completely fails to grapple with it.
For all their flaws, Oxygen and Extremis felt vital and alive in ways that these two stories did not.
Roderick T. Long
June 5, 2017 @ 1:45 am
It’s particularly awkward that the secondary character who’s supposed to save the idea (Bill’s virtual mom) gets no dialogue.
Plus this episode suddenly asks us to believe that Bill regularly keeps up a running commentary with head-mom, but no previous episode has ever shown this. They could have planted a couple of scenes in previous episodes rather than just bringing this in out of the blue, like grabbing a gun off the wall in the third act when the wall was perfectly blank in the first two acts.
June 5, 2017 @ 4:55 am
Honestly, if Bill’s as-yet-unnamed Mum is so integral to the season, they should have cast a name actress. Or at least, you know, an actress. I almost suspect that the woman playing Bill’s Mum was cast solely because of her physical resemblance to Pearl Mackie and that they haven’t given her any lines because they’d have to get her an Equity Card and pay her more. (Obviously, I don’t actually know how BBC equity rules work, but the larger point stands.)
Also, does anyone else find it odd that Bill is extremely focused on her deceased mother but seemingly completely disinterested in her absent father? I’m getting a flashback to Season 5, when Amy’s absent parents were dismissed in a throwaway line (“I haven’t got any parents. Just an aunt.”) that turned out to be vital to the season-long plot.
Planet of the Deaf
June 7, 2017 @ 11:18 pm
As Bill’s Mum dies when she was young, Bill has never actually heard her. She’s this sort of fantasy figure, rather than an actual voice (Like Clara’s mother)
A little bit off how important she’s become to Bill, when presumably her step mother is the one who brought her up, the person she’s known for 20 years. Instead she’s just treated as comic relief
Roderick T. Long
June 11, 2017 @ 9:20 pm
The big goof-up in “The Eleventh Hour” for me is that Amy supposedly doesn’t remember her parents, yet she says “I used to hate apples, so my mum put faces on them.”
June 5, 2017 @ 10:03 am
Bill does speak to her mum in both Knock Knock and Oxygen. In the latter case, the way she does it kind of implies that she’s used to having “conversations” with her (“Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Mum, answer me!”). And escalating to what we see here seems like a plausible enough product of months of living in traumatic circumstances with no one she can really talk to.
Of the many stupid and awful things in this episode, I don’t think that’s one.
Roderick T. Long
June 5, 2017 @ 1:55 am
Okay, another gripe: the scene when Nardole looks at the pyracathedral, sees there are no monks guarding it, and then turns back and reports twelve monks, is obviously intended as a callback to people’s memories being altered as soon as they turn their backs on the Silence. But those scenes with the Silence were effectively creepy, and this just wasn’t at all. (Of course one reason for that is that making you forget their presence is a creepier ability than making you forget their absence.)
In appearance (hands and robes) the monks also resembled the wraith that chases the Doctor around in “Heaven Sent.” But again, that was effectively creepy and these just weren’t.
June 5, 2017 @ 6:03 pm
That the monks are an inversion of the Silence is the most interesting thing about this mess of an episode. The Silence have always been here controlling things invisibly; the monks just got here but want us to think they’ve been controlling things openly. The use of the moon landing in the opening montage is the key connector. In those simpler days of 2011, the show said exposing the danger gives us the power to fight back. Now in 2017, the show must acknowledge that the danger doesn’t even have to hide itself; we let them take over and agree that their lies were always true.
June 5, 2017 @ 6:58 pm
I don’t think TIA/DOTM was quite saying that. After all, the Silence never are “exposed” – people are simply programmed to kill them, after which then forget the whole thing, whereas before they were programmed with their orders, after which they forgot the whole thing. They have no more awareness or self-determination than before. It’s fairytale logic, not political.
June 5, 2017 @ 9:43 am
I really tried to like this one (I always try to like “Doctor Who”) and I just couldn’t. I mean, I enjoyed it somewhat while it aired, it looked pretty and had some tense moments, but it all amounted to nothing. I won’t repeat what the review and other commenters already said. It was just a mess, and not even an interesting one.
Has Whithouse even watched the series since Matt Smith left? Or at least read this season’s brief? That line about “Last of the Time Lords” was just jarring. As was the Doctor faking the regeneration in front of a companion who doesn’t know about regeneration. And the plot point about mind control passing through blood in a series with a gay companion. I write a little myself and I got second hand embarassment from this script. Such basic, crude mistakes. So easy to fix. But no. This is what we get.
I think Phil is very right about this episode having nothing but contempt for its viewers. I don’t particularly enjoy being laughed at for engaging with the story. But Whithouse seems to think I deserve it. Silly me then.
June 5, 2017 @ 11:04 am
“Second hand embarrassment,” very aptly said. Thank you!
Roderick T. Long
June 11, 2017 @ 9:23 pm
“That line about ‘Last of the Time Lords’ was just jarring.”
Blame Whithouse — but also blame everyone else, including Moffat, who signed off on this script without noticing that line.
June 6, 2017 @ 6:13 am
I enjoyed this more than “Extremis” and “Pyramid” for a number of reasons. One, the Monks are, as you point out, a shitty all-over-the-place non-concept, and knowing we have now almost certainly seen the back of them put me in a cheerful mood. Two, I resented how the two previous episodes coasted on the promise that THIS episode would make some sense out of the Monks’ behavior and aims, and I felt a little vindicated when that totally failed to happen and it was clear the other two were borrowing against a deficit. And three, while “Extremis” and “Pyramid” give way too much screen time to some of the worst acting performances we’ve seen on this show in recent memory, “Lie” puts almost all the focus on Capaldi, Mackie, and Gomez, which makes it far more riveting to watch than it must have been to read.
I liked “Knock Knock” better than a lot of people did, too, and I think the reason comes back around to the fact that what I look for in Doctor Who these days has a lot more to do with the acting than the scripts, and it’s typically the other way around here in the Eruditorum. Not that I don’t still grit my teeth at an awful story (I’m sure “Kill the Moon” had some good performances in it, for example, and I seem to recall the sets were nice), but I’m recognizing that almost every time I expect greatness from a story these days I’m disappointed, and every time I expect greatness from the actors, I’m pleased.
June 6, 2017 @ 6:17 am
Also, I won’t hear a word against “The Horns of Nimon.” I mean, they may all be true, but I’ll have my fingers in my ears. Though I may not have been ten years old for a LONG time now, I still feel that a Doctor Who without minotaurs in loincloths and platform soles does not bear thinking about.
June 6, 2017 @ 7:43 am
Pyramid I grant you, alas, but who gave a bad performance in “Extremis”? It was one of the few stories of recent times where I loved the guest turns. Laurent Maurel is great as Nicolas (the CERN scientist), Ivanno Jeremiah – a fine comic actor – is good as Rafando, and I was a big fan of Corrado Invernizzi’s warm hearted performance as Cardinal Angelo.
June 6, 2017 @ 2:55 pm
Maybe you’re right and I’m conflating the performances in this case with the characters, who didn’t do much for me at all.
Planet of the Deaf
June 7, 2017 @ 11:22 pm
I also enjoy Knock Knock more than most because it’s one of the few episodes this series with a strongly written and acted guest alien/baddie
June 6, 2017 @ 7:45 pm
I think the characters didn’t get enough time to prove themselves, but the guest actors were effective in the sense that you noticed them without being distracted by ‘celebrity’ status. They blended in and did enhance the story, to a degree. I just feel that Extremis should have led to a more interesting story than one involving the Monks.
Planet of the Deaf
June 7, 2017 @ 11:29 pm
A bit late to the party but…
What frustrates me most, is how we can have a 3 part story about an enemy, and still know so little about them and why they invaded us in the first place
It’s perhaps understandable in 45 minute single parter, but in the equivalent of a Pertwee 6 parter, the Monks are barely explained or investigated at all.
And due to the 3 authors syndrome, what appeared to be powerful and unbeatable enemies last week (BEFORE the mind control was in place), now are rendered helpless and pathetic once it’s been removed…
July 1, 2017 @ 5:52 pm
When I saw the opening monologue, I was scared that the monks had actually managed to rewrite human history; then I learned that they did it the way most totalitarian regimes do it: scribble all over the pages.
What I was disturbed by was the woman who comes in to arrest the other woman. If she got into her role that well despite the obvious nature of the Monk’s re-write, she must have been waiting her whole life for the chance to act as someone’s goon.
TBH that’s a lot scarier than a bunch of zombie monks pulling a Clara Oswald on the human species, because it’s a lot more plausible. You know there’s some jerk in your neighborhood who would dearly love to enforce The Rules on the basis of a higher authority so that he doesn’t have to take responsibility for his own decisions.
July 4, 2017 @ 4:44 am
And another thing —
I’ve been resisting commenting on every stupid aspect of this episode because there’s so many, but in the pyramid scene I realized something that i couldn’t let go easily like the music. Namely, the lie of omission visited on my chosen profession. The monks think they can make everyone believe their bullshit simply by broadcasting it into their brains. How the HELL did they miss the paper archives? There’s scads, loads, reams, bales, SILOS of documents produced DAILY and the monks didn’t go after the paper, did they? They just went after people’s brains as if paper records don’t exist. The episode never said what they did with the sheer mass of documents contradicting their story. Maybe they burned them all?
You’d have to burn enough documents to raise the planet’s temperature a degree centigrade, if you wanted to erase history like the Monks did. And that doesn’t even get into the digital archives! The amount of info we’ve got in digital files dwarfs the paper archives because people aren’t stupid enough to rely solely on a flammable medium for archival storage.
Archives exist partly to prevent the sort of thing the Monks try to do, and the story makes no mention of how the archival profession would have gotten in the way of the big plan to erase history. Maybe they just…made everyone forget that archives are a thing? No idea. The only part of the episode where the Monks actually interfere with paper records is in the beginning with the Propaganda Police and they’re only working on the recent stuff, not the old books that fail to mention monks.
My chosen profession would have ruined the plans of these myopic clowns pretty quickly.