The Lie of the Land – Doctor Who Review
I want to start by saying I enjoyed this episode a lot. It was very well written, the dialogue, for the most part, was snappy, natural, and drew me in. The cinematography and direction really brought out the best in Capaldi and Mackie as they delivered some of the most emotional scenes this series.
Having said that, there is something that worries me tremendously. It’s a concern I had right from the moment I saw the trailer and read the synopsis.
Cast your minds back to 2007 and the series 3 finale, Last of the Time Lords. The Master took over the world and the Doctor was locked in a cage for a year while Martha Jones walked the earth. But then, at the end, it was all erased. It never happened. Nobody but the Doctor and his friends could remember the events of the whole episode. And people got angry.
When you erase an entire episode’s meaning and importance for the world its set in, it feels a bit like a cheat. You set up high stakes and your characters must face the challenges not only of ending the horrors, but dealing with the aftermath. To take that away can often feel like a let down.
I was somewhat miffed at Last of the Time Lords, but it had a few saving graces. Firstly, I thought it was a very good episode on its own. But more than that, the lasting effects on a personal level for the Doctor, Martha and Martha’s family were felt long after the episode ended. The events may have been forgotten for most, but they stayed with the main characters. I was eventually okay with that.
Well, for one thing, this is the second time this sort of thing has happened this year. In Extremis, we discovered that the whole episode (more or less) had been a simulation and the consequences for that world and the characters in it were erased. And now, two weeks later, another episode has had its entire contents erased for everyone but the Doctor, Bill and Nardole.
Three episodes in three weeks, two of which, to some extent, now ‘never happened’. To do so once in a series was irritating to many, myself included, but to do so twice in one series, and so close together; I worry this will turn people off.
I understand that to an extent, the central conceit of the show is that things go back to ‘normal’ after the story is over so the next can start with a blank slate. But to erase the episode lends a sense of futility to it, and creates a feeling that nothing matters because it could be erased, or revealed to be untrue at any moment.
I’m a great admirer of Toby Whithouse’s work, and this script is generally tight and well written. Whithouse does dialogue much better than most and has a talent for capturing a character’s heart and essence.
But the plot itself is a little hard to decipher at times. I understand that you only have 45 minutes to build up a scenario, live in it, and then resolve it. But this is part three of a story and it still feels like it’s in a rush at times. I’m somewhat puzzled by it as Whithouse has such a good track record of well paced stories, so was this an editing issues?
It’s hard to really pin down what irked me about this episode enough to feel slightly let down. Generally, there are a lot of good elements. The dystopian setting, the concepts and ideas being discussed, the characters and atmosphere all make for a memorable viewing experience. But there’s something in the way it’s all tied together that feels lacking and I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Little inconsistencies are all over Doctor Who and I can often let them slide in an otherwise good and enjoyable story. I think, had this been an isolated episode on its own, I would have done just that. Indeed, I don’t think you even need the previous two episodes for this one to work on its own. But, seeing as it is the final part of a 3-part story, I think it’s fair to have higher expectations.
There was, I think, a missed opportunity here. Had the reveal of Missy in the Vault been saved for this episode, it would undoubtedly have had a much bigger impact. The build up to the big reveal was a bit of a let down in Extremis, in my opinion. Then again, I’m something of a sucker for a big reveal at a dramatic moment when the stakes are highest.
Here would have been a good moment. The stakes were high, the desperation palpable, and the sudden realisation would have hit home much harder. But, this is only a minor complaint.
Ultimately, seeing Michel Gomez as Missy again is always a pleasure.
You Say You Want A Resolution
Coming back to comparisons with Last of the Time Lords, the resolution to that story saw what many fans call ‘shiney Jesus Doctor’. Having been revitalised by, essentially, the power of prayer, positive thought, chanting – something like that – the Doctor glows and flies, superpowered briefly. It left many people annoyed.
There have been a few stories recently that have ended with the power of positive thinking or the power of love being the resolution. Which is fine every once in a while, but to me it rarely feels Doctor Who-y, if that makes sense.
Don’t get me wrong, the moment where Bill remembers her mother, and the power of that memory swells through her along with the music is very moving. Pearl Mackie puts in an absolutely stellar performance and really makes Bill Potts into a character we can feel for. And, again, in isolation, this would be a fairly reasonable resolution. It was suitably set up earlier in the episode, developed, explored, and executed. Top marks.
But something frustrates me about the number of times we have seen this. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve heard rubbish talked about ‘the power of positive thinking’ enough times to make my eyes bleed in real life that to see it in Doctor Who is a bit irritating. When you suffer depression or anxiety of any kind, you’ll undoubtedly have someone at some point give you the talk about positivity, or something not unlike The Secret. These things rarely help, and can often actually make things worse. So, perhaps I have a bias here against this sort of resolution.
Musical Side Note
As an aside, what is going on with the music in this episode? Murray Gold is producing some good queues, but are they being placed wrong? Specifically, the scene where Bill is about to shoot the Doctor we have a swelling, heroic, almost hopeful score. It didn’t seem to fit. I was scratching my head at it.
A similar thing happened during the confrontation with Missy. I’ll have to watch it a few times more, and perhaps I’m missing something, but again the music seemed not to fit. Perhaps I’m picky, I don’t know. The mood just didn’t seem right.
In both cases, something more subdued or tense might have worked. Compare to this scene from The End of Time where the emotions of the characters are reflected much more in the music. The uncertainty, the intensity, and the worry are subtly found in this downplayed queue. Or would that have been considered ‘more of the same’ by the audience?
This series of Doctor Who raised my expectations at the beginning. I know it might not come across in this review, but I am enjoying it for the most part. If I didn’t care about the show I wouldn’t bother critiquing where I felt it fell short of its potential. And there is a whole lot of potential in this series. We have two phenomenal lead actors in Capaldi and Mackie, some genuinely interesting ideas and concepts, and some unique set designs and monsters.
I suppose this will all have to be considered against the series as a whole. Will the Monks come back and will some of the issues be dealt with again? Or will this 3-part story be best left forgotten and erased, as if it never happened?
Time will tell. It always does.