Sunday, June 18, 2017

Doctor Who 10.08: "The Lie of the Land"

“However bad the situation is, if people think that’s how it’s always been, they’ll put up with it.”

The final episode of the Monks trilogy was especially timely. It was all about how we shape our reality and what we accept as normal. I believe at one point the Doctor even utters the phrase “fake news.” Bill and pretty much everyone else on earth are all struggling against the Monks attempting to rewrite history. The Monks want everyone to believe that they have always been around, guiding humanity, but in actuality, they have only been on Earth for a few months. For a while, they even have the Doctor making propaganda videos for them. When the Doctor, Bill, and friends finally go the Monks’ headquarters to defeat them for good, they have to keep headphones on with a recording that constantly reminds them of the truth in order to not succumb to the programming. It’s unsettling stuff. The ending was more than a bit handwave-y, in typical Moffat fashion, but episode writer Toby Whithouse (who has written some of my favorite episodes of “Doctor Who”) did the best he could with what he had to work with. The worldbuilding was especially strong, and like I said, unsettling. As it should be.

We see right from the building of the episode what the world is like now, several months after Bill consented to the help of the Monks to restore the Doctor’s sight. A family watches a propaganda film made by the Doctor, where he talks all about how the Monks have been around forever and how they’re so benevolent and helpful. In the middle of this, the episode’s equivalent of the Thought Police (I think they were called the Memory Police?) raid the house and take the mother away for possessing false history. As she is taken away, she yells about how the Monks have only been around for several months. Bill sees the commotion and walks away with the rest of the crowd. It’s easier to survive in this world by complying and not standing out. The same could be said for our own world currently, too. At home, Bill holds an imaginary conversation with her mother, where she explains that after she consented to the Monks, she suddenly woke up and everything had changed.

As Bill is deep into musing with the memory of her mother on the state of the world, Nardole appears. He has been spending a great deal of time looking for the Doctor, and he has found him. He’s on a very large ship. Bill and Nardole decide to try and sneak on the ship, which is almost made very complicated by the fact that Nardole doesn’t have identification papers, and Bill’s says she works in food service at the university. Luckily for them, just as one of the guards on the ship is about to ask to see their papers, he is distracted by the arrival of one of the Monks. Bill and Nardole find the Doctor, but he doesn’t really seem happy to see them. He has solders hold them at gun point, while he explains that he really agrees with the Monks. He says that humanity had its chance to show they could govern themselves properly, at they failed (it’s actually kind of hard to argue with that sentiment, especially in the past year). Bill is so upset by this that she pulls out a gun and tries to shoot the Doctor. That’s when he reveals that he was faking it and trying to gauge how brainwashed Bill was. All the guards in the room are on his side, too.

Once the Doctor has explained himself, it’s time to try and put a plan for defeating the Monks into action. The first step is to visit the vault for a conversation with Missy. Missy tells our crew that the only way she knows of to release the Monks’ hold on the planet is for the person who originally gave consent for their help (Bill) to die. Bill’s brain is basically being used to amplify the Monks’ brainwashing signal. If she had any kids, that power would be passed on to one of them upon her death, but when the consenter dies without children, the signal eventually dies out too. Understandably, the Doctor doesn’t like this plan one bit, so he’s got a backup plan. He thinks that the signals, while amplified by Bill, originate from the Pyramid, so that’s where they are going to go. They’re going to cut off the brainwashing at the source. The Doctor thinks his own brain is powerful enough, if he plugs it into the Pyramid, to overcome the brainwashing signal and transmit the correct history to the rest of Earth.

There’s a bit of a fight between our heroes and some of the Monks when they first enter the Pyramid. Our crew is all wearing what look like old-school Walkmen that are playing a mantra Bill recorded about how the Monks are fake and the history they are kind-of remembering is real. There’s a bit of the scuffle when one of the Walkmen breaks, leaving the soldier wearing it vulnerable, but they finally make it to the broadcasting hub, where a Monk is plugged into everything. Surrounding the Monk are screens that show the fake (Monk-filled, of course) history it is broadcasting. The Doctor grabs on to the Monk’s head, and he starts changing the surrounding images. Ultimately, though, the Monk is stronger, and it starts changing the images back, making the Monks even more prominent in its fake human history than they were before. The Doctor is knocked unconscious by all of this, and so Bill decides it’s time to step up.

Bill grabs on to the Monk’s head, and at first, it seems like the power of its thoughts is going to overwhelm her. Nardole, for one, certainly seems to think Bill is on a suicide mission. Luckily, though, Bill starts to remember images of her mother, specifically the photographs the Doctor went back in time to take earlier in the season. This gives Bill the strength she needs to overpower the Monk, and soon the scary pictures of Monk history on the screens are replaced by pictures of Bill’s mother. Across Earth, people start to snap out of their Monk-induced stupors. Instead of fighting back more, the Monks simply slink off to terrorize some other planet. I think Missy kind of implied this is what would happen if they were defeated. Apparently the Monks don’t care much about any particular planet. When the Monks leave though, so does most of the memory of them. Most people don’t even remember they were even there, and so the lessons about accepting fascism in exchange for security will go unlearned. We say those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it for a reason, and I feel like we’re in a moment like that right now in real life. The episode closes with the Doctor having a conversation with Missy, where she’s starting to seem like she might actually be remorseful for all of the damage she has caused over the years. We’ll see if that sticks.

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