The conclusion of ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’ saw The Doctor’s sight restored. Bill’s consent, although well intentioned, has allowed the Monks to gain control of planet Earth. Now The Doctor has joined them too. The Monks have always been here, helping and guiding humanity. Only Bill Potts knows the truth. Can she set history right again?
Pearl Mackie delivers her best performance to date
This episode really demonstrates why Pearl Mackie was cast as Bill. Clearly they spotted her acting talents and in this episode she is spectacular. Her performance is fantastically layered. Burdened by the knowledge that she created this version of Earth, she has to fight off the Monk’s propaganda message. Whilst speaking to her Mum, or rather a version of her Mum that Bill has created, Bill is noticeably more at ease. However Mackie takes things to a whole new level when Bill faces The Doctor. Bill certainly goes through the wringer in that scene and Mackie is absolutely stellar. From the relieved smile at seeing the Time Lord again to the rage and anger that pushes her to shoot him. When The Doctor turns on Bill she is completely crushed and broken. It also helps that Peter Capaldi is utterly convincing in those moments too.
The Monks have built monuments to themselves across the world. This dystopian imagery is well portrayed and a highlight of the episode. Alternative versions of Earth are a popular story device used by writers. Major dystopian tales vary from Orwell’s ‘1984’ to ‘V for Vendetta’. In Doctor Who they are often seen in the form of a parallel Earth in stories such as ‘Inferno’ (1970) and ‘The Age of Steel/Rise of the Cybermen’ (2006). ‘The Lie of the Land’ follows in their example. The scene of a house being raided by armed enforcers sets the scene perfectly. References of labour camps also send a chill down the spine of anyone with a vague knowledge of history. So even with the benevolence of the Monks, things are not well and those who know the truth are persecuted.
Another strong theme throughout is to question the information presented to us. Fake News has become the hot topic recently. Equally, the sheer coincidence of an upcoming General Election seems oddly appropriate. With the Monks using advanced technology to spread their version of history, the viewer is taught not to blindly accept the truth. Propaganda is a dangerous tool and has proved to be a powerful weapon. Winning the hearts and minds of citizens makes control easier. As the Monks phrased it last week, “To rule through fear is inefficient”. This makes for perhaps one of the most dangerous scenarios that a companion has ever faced before.
The use of a fake regeneration is a bit annoying. For a start The Doctor has recalled his ability to draw regeneration energy from himself which might’ve come in handy during the previous two episodes when he was supposedly blind. Equally the fake regeneration only works if you assume that the concept has been discussed with Bill at some other point. For the purpose of the ruse it would’ve been equally effective to have simply collapsed to the ground having been shot.
I feel like this regeneration-not was to tease the audience now that everyone is aware that a Capaldi transition is impending. As an amusing side note the preview I had the fortune (or perhaps the misfortune) of watching had not yet had the glowing regeneration effects added. It certainly put a different spin on it and was rather hilarious. Thank goodness I’d seen the series trailer otherwise I would have been very confused.
Once back on dry land Team TARDIS head to the Vault. Whilst it is great to have Michelle Gomez back as Missy having her locked up limits her abilities. Her dialogue is of course witty and entertaining but she only serves as a differential diagnosis for The Doctor. Whilst I’m sure she’ll get out of the Vault by the end of this series her inclusion in this episode added little other than exposition of the plot. Perhaps I am just impatient and want Missy out and reeking havoc once again. It seems unlikely as Missy is beginning to regret her past indiscretions. Perhaps she is actually turning good?
Throughout the episode certain things don’t stack up. For example, a Monk comes aboard the ship The Doctor is on and then leaves in an utterly futile waste of time but one that conveniently prevents Bill and Nardole getting caught. When we later learn that this check of papers was a fake-out then the appearance of the Monk makes even less sense. The Monks themselves also borrow from the Silence with an ability to shoot electricity from their hands making them a more credible alien force. This was desperately needed. Even so The Doctor and Bill make it into and through the pyramid incredibly easily. Despite featuring in a total of three episodes so far this series I don’t think that the Monks will be remembered much in the years to come.
The resolution of the story is also quite predictable. As soon as it was clear that the Monks were using a broadcast system to suppress the population and beam out their propaganda then it became obvious that this was the reset button. It is a solution similar to 2007’s ‘Last of the Time Lords’ with the companion managing to reset Earth’s history. Using Bill’s imagined version of her Mum to defeat the Monks attempts to twist things slightly but for her to survive whilst The Doctor was shaken off didn’t make a whole lot of sense. But love conquers all once again it seems.