Doctor Who TV Reviews

“The Lie of the Land” Finds Doctor Who At Its Most Political Since “The Happiness Patrol”

Doctor Who’s now-concluded three-parter confirmed what we might already have guessed: Steven Moffat is going out swinging. This is his final ride as Doctor Who head honcho, and after putting in the requisite work to establish the new companion Bill and the mini-mystery of why the Doctor has set roots down at a university he plunged into this trilogy with a clear goal to comment on current anxieties over a pending World War III, the rise of right-wing nationalism in the Western world and the spread of fake news. His solution was to put all of those anxieties in a Doctor Who context via the introduction of a new villain with a truly ingenious plan for world domination, and then ask whether or not we still deserve to be saved by The Doctor. It’s the most explicitly political storytelling in Doctor Who since John Nathan-Turner used a dystopian society to take on Thatcherism during the Sylvester McCoy-era classic “The Happiness Patrol.”

Yeah, but was it actually any good? Was it just political polemic? Did its metaphors even make sense?

“Lie of the Land,” the concluding hour of the trilogy, was the most politically charged installment yet, and while it was often breathtaking to behold it also seemed to simply run out of time, featuring an ending that was nearly as abrupt as Poochy being written out of Itchy & Scratchy via a line of nonsense dialogue and amateurish animation yanking him off the screen.

Spoilers Ahead

Here’s what I liked and didn’t like about “Lie of the Land”

What I Liked

The re-written history. It was chilling, yet also morbidly hilarious to see The Monks photoshopped into famous moments in history, decayed, corpse-like faces looming large in the background of the world.  That this sequence was narrated by The Doctor at his most re-assuring instantly set the tone for the dystopia, something we’ve seen on Who before but rarely if ever in such a way that The Doctor appears to be in cahoots with the baddies (or at least working as their slave). The central metaphor of The Monks=Fake News didn’t necessarily work as well throughout the entire episode, but for this opening it was brilliant.

The performances when it seemed as if The Doctor might have turned on humanity. For those given to pessimism about current events, here was an episode in which The Doctor seemed, however briefly, to agree with you, telling Bill, “Yes, you’ve got free will, but look what you’ve done with it. History was saying to you, “Look, I’ve got some examples of fascism here for you to look at. No? Fundamentalism. No? Okay. You carry on. I had to stop you or at least not stand in the way of someone else who wanted to because the guns were getting bigger and it was going to be goodnight, Vienna.”

In the Doctor’s argument, The Monks almost didn’t matter, just another fascist regime given power by humanity. Instead, humanity’s the true enemy, bound to self-destruct due to an ongoing inability to learn a damn thing from history. This was a scarily effective scene because of how hard Capaldi sold his apparent betrayal and how palpable Bill’s heartbreak felt, and, frankly, The Doctor made a fairly convincing argument.

This was like a comic book/action movie where the villain gets a moment at the start of the third act to rationally appeal to the hero, illustrating that they actually have a point, albeit one which proves to be directly in opposition to the hero’s moral code. The difference here is that The Doctor got to both be the villain and the hero, advocating for giving up on humanity once and for all and poo-pooing the overblown concept of free will in one breath before re-asserting his inability to ever give up on us and strong belief in free will in the next. I had some issues with how this scene was resolved, but the lead-up to that moment was Doctor Who at its surprising best, challenging what we believe about The Doctor and pushing Bill to her breaking point, ala The Doctor and Ace in the McCoy era.

The production flourishes providing the occasional glimpse at The Monk’s subliminal messaging. “Trust” and a picture of one of the Monks often flashed in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion whenever any of the characters dared to resist, and it was done in such a way that it almost seemed like The Monks had taken over the episode, hijacking the airwaves to Tyler Durden their way into the frame.

Nardole knows kung fu. Kind of. Each new installment in the trilogy revealed yet another impressive talent for Nardole, part of the season-long effort to initially present Nardole as bumbling comic relief before gradually revealing just how knowledgeable and, at times, physically capable he actually is.  So, it was perfectly in keeping with his character that he would know his own version of the Vulcan death grip, but not be able to do it with his other hand since he’s had a hand transplant, muttering on before a stern look from The Doctor causes him to trail off.

Missy. I loved the acknowledgment that The Master/Missy has other adventures unrelated to The Doctor. Feels like that has almost never come up before in Doctor Who history. Additionally, kudos to the closing scene with Missy tearing up over remembrances of her victims. Either she’s going through a Faith-in-Angel long night of the soul or she’s pulling a seriously long con. I can’t tell which one it is, but Michelle Gomez is playing the hell out of it either way.

Bill’s attempted self-sacrifice. I’ve said it before, but ahhhhh, y’guys, Bill’s just the best.

-The parting, hopeful message. My reading of this entire trilogy is it was born out of Moffat stepping back from the state of the world and asking himself if The Doctor was real would we still deserve to be rescued by him, ultimately settling on a hopeful answer with Doctor telling Bill, “In amongst 7 billion is someone like you. That’s why I put up with the rest of them.” It’s the capacity for good in the individual person which can still give us hope, or so the message seems to be.

What I Didn’t Like

The ending. The idea, as I understand it, is Bill’s memories of her mother are so pure and buried deep inside of her that they were incapable of being corrupted by The Monks, and subliminally transmitting the image of the mother to the rest of the world counters The Monk’s psychological hold because it’s actually fighting love (her love for her mother) with love (her love for The Doctor, which the Monks have weaponized by turning Bill into an unwitting battery supercharging their psychological grip on the world). I think. Honestly, the last 10 minutes of this episodes are such a blur of rushed explanations and abrupt exits that I couldn’t believe my eyes. They had two full prior episodes and all of “Lie of the Land” to build up to a big finale, yet then they ended up having to rush through it like an indie movie which has suddenly run out of money.

The fake regeneration. From a practical standpoint, can the Doctor actually do that? Can he force his body to begin a regeneration process for no reason and then simply stop? If that wasn’t what was actually happening there, then how exactly was he mimicking the appearance of a regeneration?

Those are some of the nerdy, inside-Doctor Who questions which the sequence raised, but what purpose did it serve from a storytelling standpoint other than producing an admittedly solid surprise? Could Bill’s deprogramming only be completed if she genuinely thought she’d killed The Doctor? I’m not entirely clear if any part of that ruse was actually necessary because Bill already seemed plenty deprogrammed to me. Perhaps, though, I was simply annoyed that a moment which had been hotly debated due to its inclusion in the season trailer turned out to be a parlor trick The Doctor plays on Bill as a test. At least this much is clear: Bill knows what the regeneration process looks like now. That might factor in later should she still be around when this Doctor finally regenerates, be it sometime this season or in the Christmas special.

What about you? What did you think of “Lie of the Land”? Let me know in the comments.


  1. As for the political aspects, I think this was more like an ink splot test. You saw what was in you, not what was in the ink.

    1. I think it was impressive in that it was oh so entirely political yet not so strident and overly specific in its commentary that you couldn’t enjoy it on its merits as a sci-fi story about a thwarted invasion (“Happiness Patrol” from the late 80s worked on a similar level). It was a more generalized commentary, namechecking fascism and fundamentalism but not directly linking them to any current world leader or specific movement. The most specific this episode got was probably the Doctor referring to the Monks headquarters as Fake News Central, and that if you looked on the TVs behind them at one point Trump was pictured. If you’re anti-Trump, you can draw a connection since the fake news thing, for lack of a better word, has entered the popular conversation since his campaign and victory. If you’re pro-Trump, his inclusion need meaning nothing more than he’s simply one of the various images which pop up on the TVs, or you might recognize the obvious association but not assume the episode is passing any kind of judgement. Either way, I think the episode did a fine job of walking a really fine line, and similar to “Happiness Patrol” when viewed years from now whatever commentary has been baked into “Lie of the Land” will be forgotten leaving the episode to work or not work on its own merits as a solidly told story. I think it passes that test, despite my qualms with the ending.

      1. I agree. The thing about Fake News is not that Pro Trump people could ignore the reference but that it works for both pro and anti Trump.

        Anti Trump people first used the term to discredit conservative media. Trump turned it on its head and started referring to liberal media as fake news. So, pro or anti, you can hear Fake News and believe that it refers to the other side. Really clever.

  2. Dissapointed with this episode actually. All that hype with the early regeneration and it really was for a pointless reveal. Would have swallowed the trick if it was for a more convincing part of the plot but this really served no purpose than to hype the start of the series of things to come. Likewise the shot of a weeping angel. The rescue, the converting of certain soldiers to know the truth was all a bit too convenient. Missy was wasted in her brief role. She seems to have become the Hannibal lector of the show now. They could have really milked her involvement more with her being a sinister prisoner unpicking Bill and the Doctor similar to Clarice or Ed Furlong’s character and made this a tame version of Hanibal. I know its a kids show but as I said before is it really a kids show? Make up your mind with the drama and audience. From the looks of the next episode we are back to usual with the monster of the week formula. Oh its the ice warriors in mars… Partick Troughton anyone? Still no sign of John Sim yet or original cybermen or the first doctor so now I am worried we are going to get that all crammed into the last two episodes which again would be a waste. PS those who moan about how he faked the regeneration think back to the 11th doctor who also bizzarly did it when he was a tiny person hiding inside a fake person when he got shot by the impossible astronaut/river song. That too was left unexplained.

    1. Dex, I think you make some valid points, but I find them to be minor annoyances only.

      I got a kick out of your reference of Hannibal Lector. You first seem to lament that’s what they’ve made her. Then you lament that they didn’t make her much of a Hannibal. Then you slam the producers for their indecisiveness. “Make up your mind!” LOL

      Personally, I was moved by the Missy scenes. Here we see the true bond these two actually have, even with all the animosity they’ve experienced. Even with all the terrible things the Master has done and tried to do. Here they sit and just enjoy a tea and a magazine. Quietly. Sweetly.

      We’ve already had many seasons of the sinister Master/Misty. What an interesting twist to see her TRYING to be good and not quite knowing how nor understanding the pain she’s beginning to feel due to her guilt.

      I thought it was masterfully done. (see what I did there?) When the Doctor said, “I know it’s painful, but it’s a good thing.” and Missy replied, “Okay”. That was so touching and meaningful.

      Of course, she could end up giving up and telling the Doctor she gave it a try but a leopard can’t change its spots. I hope they don’t go that way.

    1. Map2Success I think this Missy feeling remorse will play into the multi master storyline with the return of John Simm. They will both outsmart the doctor to comedy effect but she will betray Simm’s Master. That’s my guess anyway. I agree they are minor complaints. Still love the show but the regeneration scene was unnecessary. The episode was strong enough not to need it.

      1. I like that – “muli-master storyline.” We’ve had multi-Doctor stories before, but never multi-master. However, that’s what’s going to happen, right? How else could they bring John Simm back other than as his Master plucked from some point before his regeneration?

      2. Definitely going to happen. Its a certainty. Moffat said so. He wanted to get the new master bedded in but before that was at the End of Time premiere (10th dotor last episode) and Simm said to Moffat he would like to come back but felt he should bow out when Tennant did. Now Missy is established he brought him back. It will be interesting how the 12th will deal with him. Would pay real money to see Roger Delego or Eric Roberts also appear in some form too but highly doubt it.

      3. If Eric Roberts popped up I’d go out of my way to pour myself a glass of water, take a drink and do a spit take to register my astonishment. Not that I wouldn’t necessarily welcome it – just, I’d be stunned.

      4. Ha well they are coaxing Roberts to appear in big finish audio productions so who knows. Having said that it is doubtful given his character Bruce was the body the master obtained so unlikely they can explain him having adventures in that form. Plus a lot of Who fans have tried to pretend the 8th doctor movie didn’t happen (someone needs to review that 1996 movie hint hint as there are some solid scenes with McGann and Roberts but no one else).

      5. Oh, I’ve seen that 1996 movie. I like to pretend that I haven’t. In fact, I wish I hadn’t. But I’ve seen it and it’s…it’s…it’s…[come on, man. say something nice]….well, the actress who played the leading lady was actually quite nice at the Doctor Who convention I went to last year.

      6. Ha ha ha v good and generous commentary. Can i just ask you to look at this youtube clip of mcgann and that leading lady you mentioned (Daphene something or someone scooby doo sounding name) where he explains regeneration and you will see what a missed opportunity Who fans lost

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