The sense that we’ve all been here before is entirely appropriate for ‘The Lie of the Land,’ the eighth episode in Peter Capaldi’s final season as The Doctor. Although there are some story elements that the conclusion to a three-parter shares with the third season’s ‘The Last of the Time Lords,’ this occasionally uneven arc sticks the landing and gives us the kind of large-scale and thought-provoking thrills that the show always delivers at its best. [Look out! Very minor spoilers ahead].
Following Bill’s deal with the Monks in ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World,’ Earth’s history has been rewritten to make the population believe the Monks have been a benevolent presence since the beginning of time. With armed squads enforcing the Memory Crimes Act, punishing anyone who cites a history other than the one the Monks are peddling, then they are carted off. The Doctor, Nardole, and Bill must band together to stop them, turning to the unlikely ally of Missy (guest star Michelle Gomez) for advice.
Writer Toby Whithouse picks up a political undercurrent that’s been running through Series 10, this time playing with the notion of what people are willing to accept as the “new normal.” Indeed, The Doctor reminds Bill that the Monk’s plan worked precisely because people are willing to put up with more if they think it’s always been this way. To underline the point, when the crew reaches the Monk’s eye of the storm, The Doctor proclaims it “Fake News Central.”
‘The Lie of the Land,’ for all of its epic scope, manages to have a lot of fun with itself. The season’s regeneration, and the one glimpsed in the trailers so far, does finally make an appearance: but it’s not the final one, as you may have already guessed. Every moment of Missy lolling about on a piano like Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys is a joy, albeit far too brief. We also feel confident that Whithouse had Third Doctor Jon Pertwee’s Venusian Karate in mind when Nardole displays his mastery of the Tarovian neck pinch.
A satisfying conclusion to the season’s first big arc, with a terrific turn from Pearl Mackie that shows us what Bill is made of. To quote The Doctor, “Amongst 7 billion, there’s one like you. That’s why I put up with the rest of them.” With hints about the remorse of Missy, and a single episode about the Ice Warriors next week, we are back to playing the guessing game we have done in every Steven Moffat series so far. The answers are undoubtedly right in front of our face.