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13 June 2017 @ 07:35 pm
The Lie of the Land  
Hmmm... The Lie of the Land was better than The Pyramid at the End of the World. In fact given endings are so much harder than beginnings, I'd say it did a pretty good job of tying up the "Monk Trilogy". Ultimately though, I think it had the same problem that The Pyramid at the End of the World had, namely that the Monks are not really a Science Fictiony baddy at all but more a Fairytale baddy and the meshing of the Fairytale baddy with the pretty straight-up SF presentation doesn't really work.

I call the Monks a "fairytale" baddy mostly because, as I observed of The Pyramid at the End of the World, before they can take over the planet they require an explicit though ill-defined bargain to be struck, but also because here they are ultimately defeated by the magic of love. Both of these are more about symbolism than physical reality. I will note that the resolution in The Lie of the Land has a better explanation than the initial bargain - the idea that they are defeated by a concept that is both about love but also as fictional as their own narrative - and that the whole thing works considerably better than the Tenth Doctor's much-maligned Tinkerbell-Jesus moment at the end of Last of the Time Lords of which it was very reminiscent. However this still feels a lot more like fairytale logic than SF logic. I don't think it helps that the Monk's nature, motivation and powers are all exceptionally hazy. In The Pyramid at the End of the World they can pluck fighter planes from the sky and nuclear submarines from the sea and yet here, once the false memories are removed, they are fairly easily defeated (or at least scared off) by a few soldiers. If the Monk Trilogy had been trying to evoke an atmosphere similar, say, to Sapphire and Steel then this might have worked but its trappings are all modern-day (SF) mystery/thriller (Extremis, The Pyramid at the End of the World) and near future dystopia (The Lie of the Land) and I don't think the story quite earned breaking the mould of those genres with its underlying explanations.

I really like this Tardis crew, and their interactions. Once again, I liked what we saw here of Bill and Nardole working together. I wasn't so keen on the Doctor testing Bill, but the fact that she more or less accepted his explanation of his behaviour as justified sort of brought me round. However, I couldn't quite escape the feeling that the story had just wasted 10-15 minutes on trolling the viewers about when the regeneration was going to happen. I thought the scene with Missy in the vault, and the different ways the Doctor and Bill reacted to her solution were great. I thought Bill hand-cuffing the Doctor up at the end and getting on with what needed to be done was also great, but a lot of this is about the characters and the actors and not really about the story construction.

On a story level, The Lie of the Land works better than Pyramid (though I did wonder why everyone was wearing dark colours all of a sudden), but I think it would ultimately have been stronger if we hadn't had a fake regeneration half-way through, a fake reset at the end (I know it's a Doctor Who handwave that humanity tends to forget invasions but it was treated particularly dismissively here and one of the things I wholeheartedly preferred about RTD's version of Doctor Who was he was absolutely prepared to run with the population of Earth remembering alien invasions) and if someone had put a bit more thought into what the Monks actually are (and why they are called Monks once taken out of the context of the Vatican in Extremis) and how they work.

I want to like series 10 more than I am, because I think they have finally got the characterisation of the Twelfth Doctor right and I think the combination of Bill and Nardole as companions works really well, but so far I've found it hard to get completely behind any of the stories. This trilogy in the middle feels particularly weak. I suspect some of this is simply because it is attempting to be a trilogy. Ultimately, I think having three linked episodes in the middle of a season is an interesting idea, but it hasn't really worked. I'm not sure if that is because of its placement in the season, or just because coordinating three different writers across three different stories introduces a new level of complexity into maintaining a consistent plot logic and presentation of your monster/villain.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/451997.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on June 13th, 2017 07:29 pm (UTC)
I don't think fairy tale-ness is necessarily a bad thing, even when combined with SF; I would argue that one of my favourite stories, Warriors' Gate, manages to tread that line with aplomb, but this just didn't work for me. Too much time was spent on the Doctor apparently working for the monks, apparently just for something shocking to go in the trailers. Too much just wasn't explained. It was too reminiscent of other stories, especially The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords. I didn't like everyone forgetting the Monks at the end either; they were there for SIX MONTHS and apparently killed quite a lot of people.

I completely agree with your final paragraph, except that I would say I was fairly whole-heartedly behind Oxygen and Extremis (despite the former's knee-jerk anti-capitalism which didn't really understand what capitalism actually is (like most anti-capitalists)). I wonder if the three parter would have been less uneven if it had had a single writer?
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on June 13th, 2017 07:40 pm (UTC)
Hmm... I'd say that Warriors' Gate gets away with it entirely because of the surreal presentation of pretty much everything aside from the privateer and its crew. The presentation here was pretty realist, even by Doctor Who's standards (compare with, say, The Beast Below) and I think that jarred.

I wasn't really counting in Oxygen which I agree with you was a strong story but suffered from not really understanding what it meant by capitalism, and so ended up tilting at a straw-man or at least at an economic model that many capitalists would also disagree with.

I think a single writer would have helped. I've taken part in a couple of fan-fiction projects which attempt to coordinate several writers over a multi-episodic structure and it is remarkably difficult to juggle what everyone wants to do, what everyone thinks is going on and making links between stories which are all being written more or less simultaneously so you don't exactly know what is going on in them. While this is a more professional under-taking with a show-runner who is not afraid to rewrite heavily where necessary, I imagine the problem of competing understandings and emphases remains. I'd be interested to know if there was a document at the start setting out what the Monks were or whether it was allowed to grow organically over the writing - it feels like a case of the latter and the previews in DWM have rather suggested that.