The Lie of the Land and Why Doctor Who’s Monk Trilogy is an Inconsistent Mess
About a week ago, an interesting trilogy of Doctor Who stories came to a close. Nicknamed the ‘Monk Trilogy’, these stories detailed the takeover of Earth by a group of alien Monks called the ‘Prophets of Truth’ as well as their downfall at the hands of the Doctor and his companions.
It was an interesting arc, with some neat ideas. Extremis had the Monks simulate Earth’s history to figure out when best to invade, with the reveal being that the entire story took place in said simulation. The Pyramid at the End of the World had an invasion that was only possible through direct consent.
Unfortunately, the execution of an idea is different from the idea itself. And in terms of said execution, the Monk Trilogy is an inconsistent, rather poorly written mess.
For example, Extremis, The Pyramid at the End of the World and The Lie of the Land are all supposed to be part of one story. They’ve got the same bad guys (the mysterious Monks), they all start where the last one left off and they’re supposed to illustrate an invasion being prepared, carried out and thwarted.
That’s all well and good. But here’s the issue:
They’re also all completely inconsistent with one another. In other words, none of the writers really knew what the Monks were capable of, what their plans were or how the story should play out.
And the end result of this is just one hell of a mess. For example, Extremis showed the Monks as somewhat dangerous, with the ability to predict the future by simulating everything Earth went through in its history and picking the right moment to invade based on that.
But they’re just alien invaders. Not reality warpers, not gods. Just standard old aliens who want to conquer Earth with advanced technology.
The Pyramid at the End of the World on the other hand showed the Monks as literal reality warpers who could somehow detect and stop a nuclear missile fired from the other side of the planet, before teleporting the crew of the submarine that fired it into their pyramid. Somehow.
Yet somehow when it comes to The Lie of the Land… they’re suddenly weak to bullets, are shooting electricity from their hands like a knock off version of The Silence and immediately surrender and wipe everyone’s memory once their propaganda has been defeated.
It’s a woefully inconsistent characterisation, and it shows the main problem with the episodes perfectly. The writers clearly weren’t talking to one another about their ideas and just wrote everyone completely differently in each episode.
Now admittedly, this isn’t exactly a new problem in Doctor Who. I mean, The Silence that I mentioned a few paragraphs ago went through a similar issue with their characterisation too. Appearance one had them as all knowing alien overlords that had watched Earth since day 1, appearance two had them as part of an Illuminati like cult and appearance 3 had them as… genetically engineered confessional priests associated with a space church.
But they at least kept their powers consistent. You turned away from them, you forgot about them. And attack wise, they shot lighting from their fingertips. It was a simple as that.
The Monks don’t have this. They feel like completely different alien races in each appearance and the only consistent aspect is the character design. There’s literally nothing you can identify as unique to them, or which makes them memorable villains.
However, it’s not just the Monks which are the issue in the episodes. It’s the completely different setup and tone in each one.
In Extremis for example, there’s a heavily religious bent to the whole setup, with the Monks concept playing into it pretty well. I mean, they appear in the Vatican library in the simulated reality. Of course they might look like zombie monks with that whole getup.
Yet in the next story, all the religious elements are gone and it’s suddenly become a military story. What happened to this world’s version of the Vatican? Why were the military a complete no show in the simulation?
Hell, why do the Monks still look like monks?
Who knows. It’s most likely because the two stories weren’t originally written as part of the same arc.
But it’s not just a lack of consistency which is a problem here. It’s also how many characters and plot threads are introduced and then just dropped at a whim.
For example, the fake regeneration that’s clearly just there to make the next time trailer look shocking:
Turns out that’s nothing. He was just pretending be brainwashed, and calls off the regeneration like it never happened. We could have had a story where the Doctor was evil. The episode was made out to be a story where Bill and Nardole were the only sane people and the Doctor was on the side of the villains.
But we didn’t. At the end of the day, they just say “Hah, we were just joking!” and moved on. It made for a very disappointing end to an otherwise interesting situation.
And that’s the case with a lot of characters here too. Why? Because for whatever unknown reason, the three stories just introduce and drop seemingly relevant characters at random.
For example, does anyone remember the cardinal the Doctor and co visit the archives with? No? Well it’s quite likely the writer didn’t either, since he sees the Monks and suddenly vanishes from the story never to be seen again. Did they kill him? Did he realise he didn’t exist? Has he wandered into CERN or the White House or somehow?
No, we don’t know. He just ups and vanishes forever.
Yet the examples don’t stop there.
Nope, you’ve also got the scientists in the second episode, one of which basically acts like a pseudo companion to the Doctor. What happens to her after the story? Who knows, they never mention her ever again.
Nor for that matter do they ever mention how some people knew the Monks lies were just that (such as the woman arrested at the start of The Lie of the land), why one of the Monks was on the prison ship that the Doctor un-brainwashed or even what happened to the ship captain that brought the Doctor there to begin with. They’re all just loose ends that are treated like background props and dropped without any warning, despite obviously having a connection to the events at hand.
Then there’s Missy. She’s played up as a big part of the episode (and the obvious inhabitant of the vault they make clear back in Extremis), yet she literally does nothing of value in the final episode. Well okay, that’s technically not right. She says roughly how the Monks trickery works, and makes it clear that Bill has to die to break the connection.
But that’s it. She’s literally just Mr Exposition for the story, and could be replaced by anyone else in the universe without changing anything.
Outside of characterisation, things don’t get much better for the arc either
For example, it’s quite clear for instance that each story is trying to illustrate a real world problem or philosophical thought experiment through a Doctor Who style fantasy counterpart. Extremis is based on any number of ‘Brain in a Vat’/’Plato’s Cave’ style fake reality concepts. The Pyramid at the End of the World is clearly trying to illustrate the dangers of accepting dictators because you’re too scared of the alternatives to think clearly.
The Lie of the Land… is an invasion story that’s trying to cram a harebrained fake news narrative into the middle. It’s a perfectly okay invasion story in a lot of ways (and would work really well with absolutely any other villain or concept) but that’s all it really is.
However, the writers clearly wanted it to mention fake news somehow, so we get this shoehorned into narrative about how the Monks propaganda and brainwashing is fake news. This is patently absurd because:
- Fake news doesn’t try to completely change history. No one would buy into a fake story that said Donald Trump was the second coming of Jesus and invented the internet, nor one that his Democrat rivals were the true identity of Jack the Ripper. What the Monks are doing is closer to Stalin’s image editing from the old Soviet Union. Where he removed Trotsky from a bunch of old photos and edited himself in his place.
- People don’t buy into fake news because of ‘brainwashing’, but because the narratives are attractive to them and confirm their pre-existing views. The Monks don’t even try this, instead immediately going full 1984 on the population the minute they take over. As a result, it trivialises a real issue by acting like people only agree with it because of ‘mind control’.
- And finally, fake news is (usually) commercial in its motives, and usually not run by those actually in power. The government or rulers using propaganda is not fake news in the usually understand sense.
As a result of this, the ‘fake news’ comments in the episode feel very unnatural, and seem more like they were put in to capitalise on buzzwords rather than because the episode was actually about that as a topic.
Fake news is not using subliminal messaging to brainwash the population.
And fake news isn’t the only political misfire here. The whole comparison to dictators could arguably be seen as one too.
What do I mean? Well, the end of the episode basically says the Monks retreated because ‘like most bullies, they run away when people turn against them’ or something similar. It’s a nice hopeful message, but it causes a few large issues with the arc’s storyline.
For one thing, the last episode showed the Monks were almost omnipotent in terms of power. Why would a god like being who could previously stop nuclear attacks and airstrikes suddenly run away when a bunch of random people realise they’re evil? Did the Daleks and Cybermen run away when people realised that had invaded Earth?
Hell no. In their own words:
“This is not war. This is pest control”
This in itself is always going to be an issue with rebellion/revolution stories. If one side is significantly more powerful or advanced than the other, then there’ll always be some point where running away makes less sense than just saying ‘bring it on’. The Daleks for example are so much powerful than the Cybermen (or most other species for that matter) that they don’t even need to care about the other side’s significantly higher numbers. Because hey, they’ll just win through brute force anyway.
And so as much as it makes a nice soundbite, bullies and dictators don’t necessarily fold the minute someone stands up to them. Some do sure. We’ve heard the stories from the Arab Spring where Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak quickly fled after the population turned against them.
But we’ve also heard similar stories where it’s backfired. Like with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad brutally turning the army on the population and committing war crimes in his desperate attempts to retain power. Sometimes bullies and dictators simply are powerful enough to not care what the people think of them.
Which up until this episode, was also true of the Monks. They were reality warpers who could stop planes and nuclear missiles with a wave of a hand. Why would they immediately surrender if people realised they weren’t here since the dawn of time?
They wouldn’t. Unless of course you do what the Lie of the Land writers did and quickly make into ineffective villains that get mowed down with normal bullets, have no ability to tell what their enemies are up to and lack any and all such powers to speak of. The Monks only surrender because they’re suddenly far less dangerous than they were in the last two episodes before it. In trying to make a statement about dictators and bullies, the writer sent them through massive villain decay and destroyed their credibility in a single episode.
And that kind of sums up how the arc’s problem. Its story only ‘works’ because it’s inconsistently written. Whether that’s by making the Monks weaker in some episodes than others, having unexplained plotholes that don’t make any sense or having story elements that don’t really tie in well to the overarching plot.
Inconsistency killed the whole story.
Let’s hope the rest of series 10 makes up for this blunder.