Sunday, 4 June 2017

Doctor Who: The Lie of the Land (3)

Doctor: 'I thought I was just being kind, but I was saving the world.'

As a one-parter, I think this would have been a half-decent episode. As the culmination of a three-part story, however, it felt sadly lacking. It was at times funny, the acting was occasionally excellent, and the premise had oodles of potential. What a pity the conclusion was so weak. It wasn't quite a love-saves-the-day style cop-out, but it came perilously close.

The first fifteen minutes I found gripping. The alt-universe was set up nicely, Nardole and Bill's reunion warmed the cockles of my heart, and Bill's speech when confronting the Doctor, I thought magnificently executed. Pearl Mackie got a chance to dip into the more emotional areas of Bill's character, and her anger and disappointment at the Doctor's seeming capitulation, were both believable and moving. The appearance of Bill's mum also felt nicely set up, even if she was incapable of speech for most of the episode, and thus essentially useless.

Then Bill shot the Doctor, who in turn fake-regenerated, and the whole episode seemed to flush itself down the toilet. The tension was utterly dissipated, only to be replaced by some of the weakest comic relief I've seen on the show. Bill shouting 'What is happening?' felt like the most meta-moment ever. Yeah, what the fuck did happen? How did the episode switch from a tense, compelling alt-universe story, into a giggle-fest with an utterly impotent enemy? Weren't the Monks supposed to have spent yonks running simulations with their magical spaghetti machine? How were they so easily fooled when every potential outcome had been supposedly calculated?

It also made no sense to me that the Doctor would pull a staged regeneration. Why? What did he know two seconds after aborting his regeneration that he didn't know immediately prior to it? Bill's never seen a regeneration before, and the Doctor wasn't even looking in her direction. It was cheap when they did it in 'The Stolen Earth' and it felt even cheaper here. At least in season four the Doctor channelling the excess regeneration energy into his severed hand resulted in a meta-crisis Doctor—which may not have been my favourite story ever, but it did serve a purpose. Outside of marketing and sheer spectacle, what purpose did the Doctor's fake-regeneration serve tonight?

The idea of Missy being inside the vault as a sort of rehabilitation, I liked—even if I'm not entirely convinced that it's the sort of thing she'd do. Whether it'll work is another matter entirely, but the premise is fascinating, and Missy's reaction to being imprisoned was pleasantly subdued. Am I right in thinking that outside of Moffat, Whithouse is the only writer to have written Missy? Regardless, Michelle Gomez is infinitely more convincing when she plays Missy less frenetically, and I enjoyed seeing our three main characters finally interact. It's just a shame that Missy was in the vault at all. Wasn't she initially virtually everyone's number one choice, before being rejected as being too obvious?

You don't spoil Michelle Gomez's return in the pre-season teaser, set up the mystery of someone being in the vault, and then have it be Missy. Where's the surprise in that? John Simm's Master would've been slightly less predictable, but at this point (especially after the episode one teaser), even that would've been a weak reveal. And although it was nice to finally see the vault's sole occupant, did it really add anything to the story? The Doctor more or less worked out what was happening on his own anyway. Which is pretty much turning into a theme of the season: secondary characters appearing in episodes for pretty much no reason, and doing little of note.

Even the Monks felt a bit flat. After two excellent build-up stories and probably the most inspired invasion strategy known to man, did they really just up and leave... and in the most cliched spaceship imaginable? All that preparation, and they still couldn't stop Bill and Nardole from gaining easy access to the prison ship and foiling their dastardly scheme? In fact, I'm not sure what their plan even was. The enslavement of mankind, sure—but beneath that, what exactly was their motivation? Once the earth was subjugated, what did they intend to do with it: besides perpetuate a fake reality and kill dissenters? Was there anything more to it than that?

And Bill's memory of her mum somehow saving them all, felt like the final kick to my already weakened kidneys. We've had far too many of these lovely-feelings-solve-everything style endings over the years. Admittedly, there was a modicum of logic to it—what with the Monk's broadcasting some-bullshit-or-other about Bill's mum to the world's population, thus breaking their own spell—but it still felt like a rushed and poorly implemented climax to what had been, up until the last half hour at least, a fascinating story. Here's hoping that next week's story manages to thrill. It's Mark Gatiss's turn... what could possibly go wrong?

Other Thoughts:

—Nice Magpie Electricals hat-tip.

—When you set up an either dead or brain-dead outcome, it's cheating to introduce a third option so late in the game.

—Nardole's easy recovery was disappointing to say the least.

—Stopping people from talking in cinemas sounds like a grand idea.

Quotes: 

Nardole: 'What you doing? It's me... Nardy.'

Bill: 'Oh my God, I'm going to beat the sh...'

Missy: 'I once built a gun out of leaves. Do you think I couldn't get out of a door if I wanted to?'

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