Doctor Who: Turgid Adventure Really Designates Imploding Season
Whew, team. I thought last week was bad, but we’ve reached a new season low with this week’s episode of Doctor Who.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I’ve actually gone back and watched notably atrocious episodes like Kill the Moon and The Girl Who Died so my memory of them has faded somewhat, and thus I’m not confident in declaring The Lie of the Land (a pun so bad my eyes retreated into the back of my head upon reading it, where they perhaps should have stayed for the duration of the episode) the worst episode of the last few years, but fuck me, it has to be up there. The story (though that is perhaps too strong a word for it) followed Bill as she tried to find the Doctor and undo the dictatorship the Monks had set up across the Earth, and that’s as much thought as I’m willing to give the plot again.
It’s honestly hard to know where to start chipping away at this giant slab of awful, because I truly can’t think of one aspect that I actually enjoyed. Oh, I guess Peter Capaldi looked fucking smokin’ in that grey jacket, but that doesn’t count (I guess some of the production design was cool too, come to think of it). But as a whole, The Lie of the Land was sort of overwhelmingly bad, so much so that I know I could write three thousand words on this and come up with stuff I missed out. Okay, let’s deep dive this shit.
Firstly, Toby Shithouse’s (too easy, really) script was perhaps the biggest bomb in the episode, flattening everything else around it with it’s sheer terribleness. And I’m not just talking about the dozen jokes that you could hear skittering across the floor as they failed to land, or the stupidly, lazily Moffatian climactic speech(es) (“You clever, brilliant, ridiculous girl!” – what, are those the only descriptors allowed under Steven’s showrunnership?), or the lines and scenes that dragged on and on as though the episode was embarrassed to have to get to the next plot point; I’m talking about fucking plot holes upon plot holes upon plot holes, the story as thin as the BBC’s reasoning for letting Steven Moffat continue to run this show.
I mean, I could fill this entire review with them if I wanted to, but I’ll try to keep it down to a paragraph (I feel like explaining the plot of this episode would be a pointlessly tortorous task for us both, so if you haven’t seen the episode, I suggest you watch it before you continue): Why were the monks trying to take over the world in the first place? Why didn’t the Doctor simply destroy the statues that the Monks were usual as transmitters for their doctrine? Why would Bill think to lay her hands on the head of the guy controlling everything when what she has to do to end things is be dead? If the Doctor can trigger a regeneration at will, why couldn’t he have done so to reinstall his sight? If the Monks were truly all-powerful, why couldn’t they have a bit more security on their central hub so the Doctor and, what, about ten people couldn’t just stroll in? Please send the plot holes you spotted on a postcard to hell.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of that regeneration: that was one of the laziest, dirtiest tricks I’ve ever seen the show pull. They stuck a shot of regen energy in the trailer last week, for it to literally appear as part of a ploy to prove that Bill was on the Doctor’s side. A ploy which took up a good third of the episode, mind, and rendered one of Pearl Mackie’s best moments on the show, her speech to the Doctor before she shot him, null and void. Speaking of performances, Peter Capaldi had his first real wobble in the role, as even he seemed unconvinced by and uncommitted to the absurdity of this plot (though I doubt having to shout death-cringe lines like “I thought I was just being kind, but I was actually saving the world!” helped his performance much).
But then, that was this whole episode: cheap, lazy, and made without a hint of love. Even the scenes with Missy fell flat on their arse, with unfunny writing and a set-up cribbed straight from Sherlock’s final episode (a crazy lady in a transparent cage allowed a musical instrument). I know this review might read as bitty and disjointed, but there’s honestly nothing weighty enough in The Lie of the Land for me to get my teeth into and really criticize; the whole thing just didn’t work on any level. The direction swung between barely noticeable and actively bad (ugh, Missy’s eyes appearing in the smoke over the city for no good reason), and the music continues to be jarringly poor, prancing and grunting all over scenes to underline their emotional impact with all the subtlety of a plank to the face.
And, to top off the episode, we had another classically grating Twelve scene that really seemed to sum up the attitude of the Capaldi era. Sitting with Bill after everything is fixed, he shouts “Atrocious hair!” to get the attention of a passing student, then orders her to go away when he’s finished with her. When Bill asks what he sees in the human race, he tells her that he continues to care for humanity because amongst the seven billion people on Earth, she is one of them. That she makes it worthwhile, that she “makes up” for the rest of them.
I don’t care if I’m marching to the beat of the drum I started banging back in Thin Ice, but this attitude doesn’t fit with the Doctor that I’ve gotten to know over the years. Matt Smith’s Doctor, only one regeneration ago, delivered the line “You know that in nine hundred years of time and space and I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important”; the moral of Doctor Who, in my eyes at least, has always been that finding the humanity and decency in people is difficult but possible, and that everyone deserves the same basic level of respect and compassion. But this Doctor points at one person and goes “You. You’re special.” and that’s it. He gives a shit until he very suddenly doesn’t, and the cut-off for that often seems arbitrary (he doesn’t pause to mourn the loss of the people who joined them on their mission to break into the pyramid, for example, or even mention or refer to them again). He likes Bill, but God help the rest of the human race because apparently she’s the only one who makes it worthwhile. Yes, I know this could just have been a throwaway comment, but when you look at it in the context of this Doctor as a whole, it doesn’t feel like one.
Both as an episode in it’s own right and as the final section to the three-part Monk story, The Lie of the Land was never going to work. As I said above, there was no love here, both on the screen or behind the camera; yes, Bill’s love for her mother saved the day in the end, but the episode had careered so far off the rails by then it hardly mattered, as entrenched as it was in glutty cynicism and bad writing. But from the Doctor’s callous and cruel tricking of Bill into thinking she had killed him to the handwave ending of “well, humans never learn anything so fascism”, from the bad writing to the dull direction to the awful music to the uninspired performances behind the scenes, there was nothing here that indicated any level of care or attention from the people who made this episode. And, as part of a story that has taken up a quarter of the entire season, that’s not good enough. With a half-dozen episodes or so still to go of both Moffat and Capaldi’s run, Doctor Who needs to step up it’s fucking game if it wants to leave anything other than craterous wreckage for Chris Chibnall to work with next year. I don’t ency him one little bit, because coming back after this mess of a season is going to be harder than making sense of this three-parter.
Not to mention that they’re bringing back the Ice Warriors again when they could so easily have brought in the Sea Devils as I politely suggested several years ago. I’ll have you yet, Moffat.
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