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TV Review: Doctor Who: The Lie of the Land

Talking politics in Doctor Who has always been an interesting proposition. While the show has always ostensibly been science fiction, it has never been gun shy about taking a crack at current events. One of the best recent examples being The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion two-parter, which took a metaphorical turn on the Syrian refugee crisis. The Lie of the Land is the third in a three-part story and this one in particular deals with the benign evil of fascism and how otherwise good people get caught up in it. The last episode of Doctor Who dealt with Bill making a faustian deal with the Monks to save the Doctor’s life and restore his eyesight, in exchange handing the keys to Earth over to them. What follows is something along the lines of The Last of the Time Lords from back during the Russell T. Davies Doctor Who: A broken Doctor reduced to being a trophy, a companion who remembers what life was before and an Earth brought to heel by its conquerors with a humanity only too happy to be complacent and do what its told.

The difference here though is a more introspective look at how much of our morality is situational. When you strip away the context from reality and our lives, how much of what we are is shaped by the world around us? The world this Toby Whitehouse posits is one where people are quite ok to go along with its rulers and unleash their worst selves, while turning around and forgetting why it happened when said rulers are deposed. It’s hard not to feel the spectre of Brexit and the 2017 election looming over and it’s not without reason in this instance, given the 1984-esque reliance on the imposition of a comforting lie that presses the blame on the other over the truth. Bill traded the freedom of Earth for the security of familiarity and it drags the entire planet down with her.

That being said, where the episode excels is in giving Bill a much needed spotlight. The inciting incident was her mistake, but she’s also the primary driver of its resolution. While that’s not necessarily new, but going by this episode’s cousin: The Last of the Time Lords, Bill’s actions aren’t a lead-up to the Doctor descending to fix everything, or to allow Nardole to lecture her. Her actions make the difference here, even when they seek an outside consultant and it’s a welcome continuation of this season’s commitment to building Bill up. To that effect, the initial idea of making the Doctor the face of the bad guys works to enforce that growth, as a way of pushing her desire to save the world outside of what the Doctor would do.

While the episode does end up closing the loop on its premise, it also fulfills the metatextual nature of the conceit: humanity is hard-pressed to ever actually learn anything from its encounters. While in this case, the memory loss is enforced, it serves as a grim reminder of how the axe of fascism is always waiting to swing down yet again. While three episodes may seem to be a bit of a big thing given the transcendence that the last Doctor Who three-parter achieved, this one while not quite hitting that mark, it does do a fantastic job of hitting its own goals. If the rest of the season continues to be anything like this: it is going to be a high watermark in Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie’s tenure on the show.
4 Guns out of 5

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