elisi: (Bill (dark))
[personal profile] elisi
I feel this only addresses about three things, but it's already Thursday and my head just won't wrap itself around things the way they should. So further thoughts might follow. Please talk to me about stuff you think I should look at!

Weekly Meta Cafe is hereby open. :)

First of all, I feel I should point out that half my notes from this episode are just ‘I LOVE NARDOLE’.

He just has to open his mouth to make me smile. Honestly, Matt Lucas has the best job in the whole show. <3


I think the most surprising thing about ‘The Lie of the Land’ is how straightforward it was on a surface level. Drab authoritarian regime. The Doctor appears to be working with the Monks. Bill & Nardole go rescue him. He gets Bill to jump through hoops to make sure she’s not been brainwashed. The Doctor talks to Missy, who has information. Bill realises she needs to die. The Doctor tries to take her place. It doesn’t work, Bill goes to sacrifice herself, but her love for her dead mother proves to be an obstacle the Monks can’t overcome. Monks run away, world is saved, people barely remember a thing.

It’s almost Doctor Who by numbers: World in peril, love saves the day.

People have pointed out the similarities to the resolution in Rings of Akhaten - the Doctor giving his all, but it’s not enough. And then the companion steps up and (through her very particular history/her dead mother) saves the day.

There are also parallels back to S3, although this wasn’t ‘the Doctor Saves Us All’. The plan in the S3 finale was basically the same as Bill’s was here: Get the Doctor back. And it worked a treat then – they used the Archangel network to restore the Doctor, and then he dealt with the Master.

Here, however, ‘getting the Doctor back’ only works up to the point of ‘the Doctor can work out what’s wrong’. What he can’t do is save the world, as the structure is very different, and Bill – as the responsible party – has to be the one to undo the damage.

Since we’re talking about parallels, there is also Bill talking to her mother to keep sane, much like Oswin did in the Dalek Asylum.

And Bill ties the Doctor up so he can't keep her from sacrificing herself, much like River handcuffs him in the Library. Ditto the nice argument about who should have the privilege of burning their brain out…

But there is more to it than parallels to the past, so I am going to attempt look at the three-part structure.

Here’s what I laid out earlier:

Ep 6: Here is a concept
Ep 7: Now let's put it into action (the whole world in extremis)
Ep 8: The fallout (1984)

Looking at this episode in isolation doesn’t work. I shall hand over to [personal profile] promethia_tenk as she had an excellent insight:

The thing that really struck me is what a postmodern pastiche they are. The tone, the setting, and the storytelling devices jump around wildly both between the three episodes and within them. I mean, Moffat's writing is obviously . . . Moffat. So that's to be expected. But in Pyramid at the end of the world, not only do you have the long-unexplained juxtaposition between the army/pyramid scenes and the lab scenes, you also have the unique inter-cutting of the previously-on scenes with Bill's date and you have a classic Twelfth Doctor fourth wall-breaking soliloquy and voice over. I remember thinking how awkward it was to do both in the same episode--it was like getting two episode intros in the same episode. But I chalked it up to clunky writing. And then in this episode, I think I'm right, there are basically three distinct sections . . . and they don't quite fit together. They are all kind of saying different things, and they all feel quite different. And we start the episode watching one of the Doctor's broadcasts, which is kind of like . . . a nature documentary? Mixed with Mr. Rogers. And we have Bill narrating major parts of the episode, which is a very infrequently used device on Doctor Who. It rather jars, really. And that scene in the Doctor's broadcasting room on the ship is . . . it is *weird*. The tonal shift after the fake regeneration is just bizarre, and it feels highlighted by the white room. They were literally putting on a play for Bill and it feels like they are laughing about it 'backstage' afterwards. These are a weird pastiche of episodes that are doing everything they can to break our sense of narrative continuity.

… so you know what book does the same thing?

Moby Dick. Conveniently brought up by the Doctor in Extremis. Does all kinds of strange things. Chapters that are excerpts from nature journals, or written as acts of plays--that kind of thing.

I should probably go and look up what that book was actually about . . . it was all a bit of a blur by the end. Something about the struggle of the old world against modernity.

So that could work.

And, I mean, post-modernism is entirely appropriate to the challenging of reality and truth we get in these episodes. Tired, so copy/pasting from Wikipedia:

While encompassing a broad range of ideas, postmodernism is typically defined by an attitude of scepticism, irony or distrust toward grand narratives, ideologies and various tenets of universalism, including objective notions of reason, human nature, social progress, moral universalism, absolute truth, and objective reality. Instead, it asserts to varying degrees that claims to knowledge and truth are products of social, historical or political discourses or interpretations, and are therefore contextual or socially constructed. Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, irreverence and self-referentiality.

The baseline throughout is Bill’s question:

“I need to know what's real and what isn't real.”

The Doctor calls the Monks’ pyramid ‘Fake News Central’, and it’s interesting to note that the simulation in ‘Extremis’ was more true to the actual world than the broadcast version the Monks beamed out in ‘Lie of the Land’.

The kicker is the ending:

DOCTOR: This thing that we're sitting on. What is it?
STUDENT: Er, we thought they were just like filming something here or something?
DOCTOR: Thank you. Very helpful. Now go away, or something. You see? The Monks have erased themselves. Humanity's doomed to never learn from its mistakes.
BILL: Well, I guess that's part of our charm.
DOCTOR: No, it's really quite annoying.

Which ties in with the Doctor’s rant when Bill confronts him in the ship:

DOCTOR: Yes, well, I mean, you had free will, and look at what you did with it. Worse than that, you had history. History was saying to you, look, I've got some examples of fascism here for you to look at. No? Fundamentalism? No? Oh, okay, you carry on. I had to stop you, or at least not stand in the way of someone else who wanted to, because the guns were getting bigger, the stakes were getting higher, and any minute now it was going to be goodnight, Vienna.

Sci-fi always reflects current events. If people look back thirty years from now, these episodes will be as easy to place historically as The Happiness Patrol is for us. And – being human – might be battling the same issues all over again. (Humanity's doomed to never learn from its mistakes.) Just look at how Britain seems incapable of learning from what they went through under Thatcher…

Why do people vote the way they do? Fear? Strategy/ Self-preservation? Love?

(Take my rights, just keep me safe…)

What is real? What is real for me? Is there such a thing as subjective truth?


Finally, then both Extremis and Lie of the Land are resolved in exactly the same way:

DOCTOR: There's always one thing you can do from inside a computer. Even if you're a jumped-up little subroutine, you can do it. You can always e-mail!

DOCTOR: All those years you kept her alive inside you, an isolated subroutine in a living mind. Perfect, untouchable. She's a window on the world without the Monks. Absolutely loved, absolutely trusted. And that window is opening everywhere.

Which strikes a hopeful note – the systems can be practically perfect, but there will always be a way through. We might be stuck in an endless cycle, but it is a cycle. It will get dark, but then lighter again. Or in other words:

Intellect and romance triumph over brute force and cynicism.

(Now, as long as we don’t destroy the planet…)


So, for the past two seasons we had Clara as the main mirror. She was all the things and reflected all the things, and it was quite delightful. Missy was a dark Clara mirror (see this post), and the Doctor & Clara got caught in a reflective loop.

HOWEVER. Clara has gone off to be a Doctor all of her own, so what now? Bill is still much too fresh and innocent to go dark (and will hopefully never go as dark as Clara). So, where are our Doctor mirrors?

Well, they’re in the bad guys. And very disturbing mirrors they make, because they are so very accurate. You thought this was an episode/triptych about some aliens that started out promising but then had a mildly unsatisfactory ending? Well, let me pull back the top layer and see what lies beneath.

First of all, let me quote the following exchange from ‘Rose’. Clive is the conspiracy theory guy she finds on the internet and then goes to meet:

CLIVE: A lot of this stuff's quite sensitive. I couldn't just send it to you. People might intercept it, if you know what I mean. If you dig deep enough and keep a lively mind, this Doctor keeps cropping up all over the place. Political diaries, conspirisy theories, even ghost stories. No first name, no last name, just the Doctor. Always The Doctor. That's your Doctor there, isn't it?
ROSE: Yeah.
CLIVE: I tracked it down to the Washington public archive just last year. The online photo's enhanced, but if we look at the original
(The original is a picture of Kennedy's cortege going through Dallas. The Doctor is just one face in the crowd.)
CLIVE: November the 22nd, 1963. The assassination of President Kennedy. You see?
ROSE: It must be his father.
CLIVE: Going further back. April 1912. This is a photo of the Daniels family of Southampton, and friend. This was taken the day before they were due to sail off for the New World on the Titanic, and for some unknown reason, they cancelled the trip and survived. And here we are. 1883. Another Doctor. (a sketch) And look, the same lineage. It's identical. This one washed up on the coast of Sumatra on the very day Krakatoa exploded. The Doctor is a legend woven throughout history. When disaster comes, he's there. He brings the storm in his wake and he has one constant companion.
ROSE: Who's that?
CLIVE: Death.

Why am I pulling out that long quote? Well, allow me to do a little experiment. I am going to alter the Doctor’s documentary speech a tiny bit. Actually, I’m only going to change one word. Instead of 'Monks' I will use the word 'Doctor':

The Monks haveThe Doctor has been with us from the beginning.



They He shepherded humanity through its formative years, gently guiding and encouraging, like a parent clapping their hands at a baby's first steps.



They have He has been instrumental in all the advances of culture and technology.



They He watched proudly as man invented the light bulb, the telephone and the internet.



They were He was even there to welcome the first men on the moon.



And they have he has defended us too. Who can forget the time the Monks Doctor defeated the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Weeping Angels?

exploding daleksx



Two species, sharing a history as happily as they share a planet, humanity and the Monks Doctor are a blissful and perfect partnership.


How lucky Earth is to have an ally as powerful and tender as the Monks Doctor, that asks for nothing in return for their his benevolence but obedience.

Harriet Jonesx



I am sure you could suggest dozens upon dozens of other examples to add to this list. He is woven through Earth's history in ways that cannot be changed without dire consequences - f.ex. look at Pompeii, a fixed point, but one that the Doctor helped make happen. The Monks inserted themselves through lies, but the Doctor is embedded properly. We could even say that the Monks copied the Doctor.

(Again, this is where Clara is the fascinating flipside to the coin; as deeply enmeshed in the fabric of the Doctor's life as he is in the history of the world. If the Doctor shaped the history of humanity, then Clara shaped him right back. But that's a different topic.)

Of course the Doctor helps because he cares, and doesn't particularly want worship or anything else in return, but last week I noted the Monks' similarities to Time Lords (the outfits, the superior technology, their ability to change their bodies), but it's taken further this time, as I demonstrated above.

However the Time Lords always had a strict policy of non-intervention. But the Doctor - oh the Doctor just can't help himself...

OCTAVIAN: Two hundred years later, the planet was terraformed. Currently there are six billion human colonists.
DOCTOR: Whoo! You lot, you're everywhere. You're like rabbits. I'll never get done saving you.

Time of Angels

But being 'the Savior' can also be problematic. Look at the Doctor's initial idea for how he would save the day:

DOCTOR: Somewhere in there, the Monks must have some kind of a machine that creates and broadcasts the myths of their history. The ones that are powered by, carried by, fed by your brainwaves. So, we get in, I plug myself into it, and replace the signals that they are receiving with my brainwaves and beam out the true history of the world. Oh, yes! I could even throw in some other stuff. The things that I could change just by thinking. Racism. People who talk in cinemas.

'The things I could change just by thinking'. At the start the similarities are only inferred, but here they become literal. The Doctor will take the Monks' place and swap their input for his own...

Switch back to the previous episode:

ERICA: Oh, my God!
DOCTOR: No, I'm the Doctor, but it's an easy mistake to make. The eyebrows.

Humanity caught between the Monks and the Doctor. Between would-be rulers, and the appointed one. Remember, Twelve has gone Victorious before, that impulse is there if the need is pressing enough.

But then, the episode before that:

NARDOLE (dressed as a Monk): Greetings, sinner. Only in darkness are we revealed.

He then goes on to read from River's diary.

Words which Missy repeats a little later. (Missy thoughts later.)

And so, we have the two sides of the conflict - the Monks; using love in order to enslave, and River on the other; using love to remind the Doctor of who he is:

RIVER: Goodness is not goodness that seeks advantage. Good is good in the final hour, in the deepest pit without hope, without witness, without reward. Virtue is only virtue in extremis. This is what he believes, and this is the reason above all, I love him. My husband. My madman in a box. My Doctor.

And so it follows, that it is love which saves the world. Love for naught but love's sake. Not a tactical attempt at subverting the lies. (The intent has to be pure.)

Which is why it has to be Bill who saves the world, and we get not the Doctor's idea of what the world should be, but Bill's love for her mother.

And the Doctor gets a timely reminder...

DOCTOR: Look at that! All the pictures I gave you. I thought I was just being kind, but I was saving the world.

A random act of kindness can change the world, which is of course the point of all the best Doctor Who stories. In an three-parter where the Doctor has lied and manipulated and tactically maneuvered his way through the plot, this was a beautiful ending. And one the Doctor needed, I think.

As Angel once said:

"If there is no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. 'Cause that's all there is. All I wanna do is help. I wanna help because - I don't think people should suffer, as they do. Because, if there is no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness - is the greatest thing in the world."

I think this is the most important thing we could possibly remember at this point (at any point) in time.

ETA: Make sure to check out Promethia's insightful comment here on DW, and also don't miss the quite ridiculously wonderful comment-fic on the LJ side: A Whale of a Tale.



elisi: (Default)elisi
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