Warning: Potential spoilers ahead for the episode.
The trilogy is a most dangerous form of storytelling. It assumes that you will be able to tell one large story across three separate parts (or acts if you prefer) with each standing up on its own. The opening can be good, the middle can be strong, but it is the ending that might ultimately determine how the story is remembered. What has been termed “the Monks trilogy” has seen the long running British science fiction series Doctor Who attempt a trilogy in the middle of its tenth season with the titular aliens coming and taking over the Earth. So could the dystopian The Lie Of The Land bring the trilogy to a satisfying close?
Of course, this isn't the first time that Doctor Who has gone dystopian. The Classic Series (that is the original run of the series between 1963 and 1989) touched on it quite a bit in stories such as The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, The Sunmakers, and The Happiness Patrol. It's also been explored in the series' vast spin-off fiction including the Big Finish audios The Natural History Of Fear and Live 34. Even the New Series has touched upon it in episodes such as the Series Three finale Last Of The Time Lords and Matt Smith's second outing The Beast Below. Indeed, if The Lie Of The Land bares a resemblance to any previous Who episodes it's the Series Three finale and not just because of the dystopian setting but because it also comes at the end of a three episode story arc in need of a resolution to set everything back to normal.
Which this episode not only does but does well. The first twenty minutes or so sees writer Toby Whithouse and director Wayne Yip create an Orwellian nightmare of an alien invasion. The Earth is occupied, the thought police are out on patrol, and the line from Orwell's most famous novel is brought to life: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
Like the previous parts of this trilogy, the episode asks viewers to look at our own world through a fun house mirror of sorts, one that suggests (like all good dystopian fiction does) that this and our own world are not too far apart. Indeed, I suspect anyone familiar with the aforementioned novel by Orwell will recognize a moment or two that the episode pays homage to. It's some of the most bleak, fascinating, and well directed minutes of New Who in recent memory that leads to a powerful scene that puts the TARDIS crew of this season on the line.
Once the set-up is completed, it's down to business. If last week's The Pyramid At The End Of The World showed how we could get ourselves into a mess of choosing potential tyranny with the best of intentions, this episode asks how we go about fixing it. It also allows Michelle Gomez's Missy to return to proceedings and gives her a role in shaping events. The pointed satire of previous episodes is present throughout but most especially towards the end as the TARDIS crew aims to take down “fake news central” and which sees a potential sacrifice that might just save the world.
The thing is that this episode could easily have been a mess. The aforementioned Last Of The Time Lords was a solid episode until its closing minutes when Russell T Davies chose to turn the Doctor in a fairy, ripped off the end of Superman: The Movie, and invalidated in effect everything that had happened for the 45 minutes or so that came before it. What Toby Whithouse manages to do is not only build up an occupied world (and Britain especially) but also give a meaningful way of defeating the baddie that doesn't resort to something dang near close to magic to do so. It also pays off not only something that has been built into one particular character since their introduction but also allows the Doctor to make a pointed remark about how history seems to repeat itself.
It's not only Whithouse as a writer or Yip as a director who deserve to take the bows here. The TARDIS crew is on fire across the board. Peter Capaldi's Doctor is on fire in this episode from the first line he delivers right up to the last scene. Even Matt Lucas' Nardole (referred to now by his nickname “Nardy”) is on fine form after having been regulated to the sidelines for most of the season thus far. It's Pearl Mackie as Bill who is the emotional heart of this episode as we see the woman who doomed the world trying not only to survive in the world she helped create but also trying to figure out how to right her wrong. Michelle Gomez does well in her brief appearances with characters and viewer alike never quite being sure of her intentions or sincerity while the supporting cast is solid though never too showy due to the focus on the regulars.
The Lie Of The Land is everything it should be. It's a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy as well as a solid piece of Who in its own right, a dystopian science fiction tale that asks the viewer to look at the world around us a little harder at how we might change the situations we find ourselves in. It might even show how to tell the kind of story that Russell T Davies tried to tell a decade ago and bungled up . Dare I say it but it is everything Last Of The Time Lords wanted to be and failed at.
And that is no lie.