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DOCTOR WHO: ‘The Lie of the Land’ Takes on Abuse of Power and Fake News

DOCTOR WHO: ‘The Lie of the Land’ Takes on Abuse of Power and Fake News

This article contains SPOILERS for the Doctor Who episode “The Lie of the Land.” Please watch before continuing, or live dangerously; it’s your life.

I’ve been applauding for weeks how Doctor Who series 10 has been really going for it when dealing with important social, political, and cultural issues, centered around the new companion Bill Potts (Pearl ‘Oh my God she’s so awesome’ Mackie). In the first two episodes in the three-part saga of the Monks, we’ve seen that they can create simulations that are real enough to feel alive, and totally misdirect an entire planet on their way to being made rulers. In the final part, “The Lie of the Land,” written by Toby Whithouse, we get to see what a world run by the Monks looks like…and it’s eerily close to what our planet could be facing.

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History is written by the winners, the old saying goes, and the beginning of “Lie” shows us that literally; the Monks have not only totally re-written Earth’s history, they’ve forced everyone to believe it. They show us that they’ve always been here, helping humanity achieve all of its greatest accomplishments and there to protect us from the likes of the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, and the like. And in order to force this issue, they have a mouthpiece, someone who can be their biggest proponent, a voice of calm, consenting reason: the Doctor.

The opening 18 minutes or so of “The Lie of the Land” does an amazing and chillingly accurate job of showing us a pacified fascist state. The Doctor’s propaganda shows us how delightfully peaceful the world is because of the Monks, but immediately thereafter, the jackbooted enforcers of the Monks break in to a suburban home and apprehend a woman whose only “crime” was not being brainwashed by their signal. Any tiny voice of resistance is swiftly stamped out.

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This moment felt especially chilling, given the precipice on which much of the world seems to be sitting, with actual totalitarian leaders in place throughout the world, and others seemingly turning toward that. Hearing a lie so many times it starts to sound real is a time-tested method of control and people can be incredibly susceptible to that. Later on in the episode, we see one of the Doctor’s soldiers losing his grip on what’s real and only remembering the fake, being emotionally wounded by the idea that anyone would question such deep-held beliefs.

This opening section also finds Bill and a still-alive Nardole (who calls himself Nardy, hilariously) trekking their way to where the Doctor’s pirate video signal broadcasts–a cargo ship–and finally, Bill gets to the Doctor, believing implicitly that he’s actually faking. His speech to her, about how he’s totally joined the Monks and is in his right mind, is devastating. He gave humanity opportunity after opportunity not to fall into traps of fascism and suffering and hate, but since they couldn’t, and since Bill herself wouldn’t listen to him, he figured the Monks’ peace is better than no peace at all. It’s a heavy moment, and one that resonated–is accepting a totalitarian regime worth it if it creates relative peace? Ultimately, Bill thinks the answer is “no.”

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Now, obviously, this “reality” wasn’t going to last, and I was actually fairly surprised that we left it so soon, but it ended up all being an elaborate ruse to test whether Bill was in the grasp of the Monks or not. Her shooting the Doctor is definitely an extreme move, but one he evidently expected. (Did he need to pretend to regenerate? No, of course he didn’t. But it made for a great “WTF” moment in the trailer, huh?)

From this point forward, the episode follows a fairly traditional track, with the Doctor and Bill visiting Missy (supposedly reforming) in order to get ideas about how to defeat the Monks and break their signal. Bill’s decision to sacrifice herself makes amends for her being the reason they’re in that predicament in the first place, and the way she’s ultimately not left brain dead is a nice get-out-of-jail-free moment.

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But the Doctor’s final conversation in the episode with both Bill and Missy felt quite poignant for the themes of feeling like you’re losing the world and that all hope is lost. Nobody seemed to take anything away from the months under Monkish rule, and while the Doctor claims humanity’s ability to not learn from their mistakes is “really annoying,” he does say that people like Bill among all the sheep make them worth saving. A beautiful moment, and one that, I’d hope, let people who feel helpless remember there are people like them in the world.

The final bit with Missy is a little more ambiguous, and the Doctor’s face sort of says everything. Missy, tears running down her face, says she started remembering all the people she killed, and didn’t think she ever knew their names, but she does. Is this her attempting to repent, or is it just giving the Doctor what he wants to hear? It’s unclear which the Doctor truly believes, but he’s not accepting it at face value. Truth and reality are two very different things, as this episode skillfully depicts.

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“The Lie of the Land” finishes the Monk’s trilogy with perhaps the show’s most hard-hitting socially relevant episode yet. The Monks themselves ended up not being very important. Like I said about the previous episode, they’re more of a misdirect. They represent an unstoppable onslaught of repression and subjugation that is scary and seemingly all powerful but can be defeated by remembering what humanity is at its best. We would all do well to remember that we have the power; we just have to retain hope.

Let me know your thoughts about “The Lie of the Land” in the comments below, or on Twitter!

Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9/8c on BBC America.

Images: BBC America

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor and the resident Whovian for Nerdist. Follow him on Twitter!

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