Previously on Doctor Who, “The Pyramid at the End of the World”
The conclusion of the Monk three-parter restored order to the world and put love back on its pedestal as the savior of all. It brought Missy and the Doctor back into uneasy alliance and elevated Bill to ultimate heroine of the world, for which the Doctor grants himself credit. Previously of “The Husbands of River Song,” the “Lake” episodes, “The Magician’s Apprentice,” and “The God Complex,” writer Toby Whithouse is the first besides Steven Moffat to write for Missy. Regeneration? Fake out. After 120 minutes of story, the arc disappointingly holds out on the Monks’ true identity, and the end is frankly a bit of a Whomp Whomp with a minute-long explanation and snappy wrap up.
Nevertheless, I cried, so it did something right.
With three episodes out of twelve after an 18 month break, this arc feels like it took more than it gave, but its one gift is Pearl Mackie’s spotlight without the Doctor, and not just playing off her wacky roommates. After “The Pyramid at the End of the World,” the Monks keep the Doctor out to sea on a prison ship while Bill is left to keep the flame of reality alive as the rest of the world slowly succumbs to the Monks’ memory dampening and history rewriting. Bill protects the purity of her memories by visiting a vision of her mother as meditation. As a yoga teacher, I felt the authenticity of her practice.
What didn’t work for me was almost everything else. After 6 months of battling the Monk-obsessed dystopia complete with Memory Police, 1984 dark jumpers, and work camps for comic book possession (Fandom daydream: “Geeks are the ultimate subversives!”), Bill is rejoined by Nardole, who, after a 6-week convalescence, located the Doctor. Together they infiltrate the prison ship where the Doctor has been serving as the Monks’ primary propagandist. Why it’s important that the Doctor do this, either to him, to them, or to humans, is unclear. At least they’re benevolent, he shouts, recalling oh-so-many social media comments claiming anything short of Sharia Law is benevolent, but not too strongly, like every other point made this arc, in case you want to LALALA! over the message.
After he swears complicity, Bill pulls a gun and shoots him. Several times. Her assessment that the combination of Doctor and Monks would be insurmountable is true, but questionable given no prior inkling on her part as to how dangerous the Doctor himself could be. As soon as his regeneration begins, it stops, and he giddily admits to an extended ruse to ensure she was no double agent while guards literally applaud him. This might be more meaningful if he hadn’t deliberately avoided discussing regeneration with her. He breezily explains that he deprogrammed all of his guards, which the regularly-visiting Monks never suspect, and off they go to the pyramid, re-parked in London, to shut down the main transmitter, which, gasp!, broadcasts through all those Monk statues that appeared shortly after the invasion.
You don’t say!
Once there, the weak tea political criticism turns its face on Fake News. Interfacing with the Monk Faux News anchor controlling the constant overwriting of real history, the Doctor’s mental prowess isn’t adequate to stop the outflow, and the backwash throws him to the floor. Bill steps in River-style and handcuffs him, intending to sacrifice herself by plugging in, which Missy warned would turn her into a mindless husk. Even as she’s on the verge of death doing what he couldn’t, the Doctor tosses out one of his Clever girl!’s before congratulating himself for saving the world by taking photos of Bill’s mum. Sigh. Somehow, her mother’s living memory is enough to lift the veil from Earth. This moment of a sobbing Bill gazing adoringly at her Mother in high-def brought me to tears, but the mechanics fall flat as the Doctor crows,
”She’s filling her mind with one pure, uncorrupted, irresistible image! And it’s broadcasting into the world because it can’t help it!”
On to the shockingly cynical closing. Bill gushes, All people need to do is remember who’s in charge! Inspiring, except the Doctor declares that humanity is doomed, referencing an average Becky cluelessly walking by a Monk statue. That might be valid if the Monks hadn’t literally brainwashed everyone on earth except Bill and comic readers. Not quite the same thing as complicity in political imperialism. If only we had an old, crazy-haired white man, whose image is managed by old white men, claiming to save us from ourselves and taking credit for everything good done by people in general, women in particular, and black women specifically.
More missed opportunities: Nardole whiffs by another great point, saying 90% of the job is done if you make people believe this is the way it’s always been. An interesting observation regarding Good Ol’ Days politics, if only they’d actually made said point directly. Bill nearly revives that Torchwood tie-in when she accuses the Doctor of waiting for her in case he had to kill her, which he completely and denies, but I suspect she’s right. In the end, the Doctor praises her by saying that out of 7 billion, there is one spark that makes it all worth it. It’s easy to imagine ourselves as that spark, but does he? Someone needs a Snickers.
Ultimately, I am disappointed with this arc. The introduction was slow, the action was poignant but limited, and the end plodded to a fairly damp conclusion, although Pearl Mackie was fantastic. Punctuating it all is Missy, who is enlisted at the halfway point and elaborately introduced as the other last Time Lord, which would again be meaningful if Bill knew anything about them. Missy claims to having defeated the Monks before by kicking the link into a volcano. When Bill admits the link is her, Missy plunks onto her piano with amusing dissonance, “Awk-ward!” Since the Master can never resist prodding the Doctor via his companions’, she must’ve known it was Bill.
After all is resolved, the Doctor reads while Missy detoxes from her evil ways, shedding a tear for the unnamed masses she’s killed… Is anyone buying this? I don’t mind, since I love Missy’s particular brand of mayhem, but it feels like a cheat if the Doctor believes her conversion while we’re in on the joke. If indeed she is reforming… What am I saying? She’s not.
Musical Note: During the Doctor and Bill’s consultation, Missy is playing Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1. Not only a daring, experimental piece, the term “gnossienne” was invented by Satie. There are two theories behind this name; one that he was referring to gnosis, a spark of knowledge from the gods, which is contextually appropriate. The second recalls the myth of Theseus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur, in which Theseus descends into the depths to slay the Minotaur, and, using the thread Ariadne provided, finds his way back out of the Labyrinth but must leave her behind. Sounds like the story of the Doctor and any given companion, no?
Quotes, Theories, & References
- Overlay Monk imagery continues, now appearing as a transmission. When Missy explains the solution, her eyes overlay Earth’s sky.
- The Handmaid’s Tale vibes: a man violently arrested in the street in front of Bill and “Praise be to the justice of the Monks.”
- The last time earth was invaded with alternate memories? Courtesy of the Master via the Toclafane in “The Sound of Drums,” when Martha Jones was companion.
- Appearances for Magpie Electricals in DW: 14
- I never want to see another poorly Photoshopped image of someone taking over history again, even if the Monk Lisa was amusing.
- Nardole info: his imaginary friend left him for someone else, he can drop someone with the “Tarovian Neck Pinch” (more Star Trek), and he won his current hand gambling.
- Epsilon, fire, Jupiter, lily
- “Whatever it takes I will save you from yourselves.” Reminiscent of his promise to the T-Rex in his first episode: “Whatever it takes, I will keep you safe.”
- Daves featured in DW universe: 37.
- “But it’s just a woman. God, the way you and Nardole have been carrying on, I thought you had some kind of Monster locked up in here.”
- Missy’s wish list: Boots, particle accelerator, 3-D printer, and a pony.
- Once she made gun made out of leaves.
- “You’re literally on fire, you’re so caliente.”
- Other ills the Doctor might fix via transmitter? “Racism, people who talk in cinemas…”
- The evolutionary mudskipper is a reference to a 2005 Guinness ad.
Doctor Who S10E8
"The Lie of the Land"
Starring: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas, Michelle Gomez, Beatrice Curnew, Emma Handy, Jamie Hill, Solomon Israel, Rosie Jane, Stewart Wright