|Posted by SonicR on June 20, 2017 at 6:25 AM|
Three-parters return with the Monks: mysterious aliens who seek to invade Earth – but only if they’re asked. It’s an interesting premise, but unfortunately the execution is somewhat lacking. As a whole, it fails to congeal into one unified story; while there are elements carried over between the three episodes, they never really capitalise on the potential to take those threads and explore them over the course of 135 minutes. Each episode prefers to instead introduce its own elements, and that works as a detriment to the story as a whole.
For instance, the first episode, Extremis, does a good job of giving us the first glimpse of the villainous Monks, their capabilities, and their level of dedication to ensure that their plan works perfectly. It’s all to do with simulations, and how to discern whether one is in the real world, or the simulated one. As such, it could be surmised that this theme would carry on through to the next two episodes as well. It does, but in a different way. Pyramid at the End of the World and Lie of the Land focus more on the psychological aspects of truth, to the detriment of the technological ones. And that’s unfortunate, because Extremis does quite a good job at tying the two together.
This is due to how it explores the ramifications of discovering that the world is a simulation. Readers of the Veritas book decide to commit suicide, and I think understandably so. After all, if the universe is just a simulation, then what’s the point to life? It’s hard to emphasise just how horrible I think such a revelation would be – Bill and Nardole are clearly aghast at the notion, and Bill in particular has trouble coming to terms with the reality of the situation. It’s an admittedly superficial exploration into the base existential questions we humans have, and how we’d react if something that we would normally never believe turned out to be true.
But it’s an exploration that could have become very substantial had it continued into the next two episodes. Having the Doctor, Nardole and Bill question whether they were in yet another simulation would have added a nice layer of depth to Pyramid at the End of the World. After all there was a test in the Extremis simulation that allowed you to know if you were in a simulation, so what if, for another simulation, there was no such test? What if the Monks wanted the people in the Extremis simulation to know they were a simulation? It could have become very mind-bending in ways like the 2014 Christmas Special, and I think would have worked better. For instance, Bill initially refuses to give consent to the Monks to invade, believing it all to be another simulation. But then the Monks reveal that this is in fact the real world, and so she consents, allowing the Doctor’s eyesight to be restored, and the Monks to invade. This ending for Pyramid would have essentially the big twist in Extremis done in reverse – that the episode has been taking place in the real world, not a simulation, and I think would have made for a more compelling episode.
That’s not to say that Pyramid didn’t have some good stuff – the protagonists working out the Monks’ plan works well, but at times it does feel like the characters are biding their time until they need to get in positions so that plot contrivances can setup the events for the next episode. And these contrivances are quite basic too – a very sick scientist who refuses to go home; both biolab airlock doors being able to be open at the same time, the locking mechanism on the lab door being something that no lab would ever use for a locking mechanism, and of course, the fact that the Doctor is still blind at all. The Time Lords are such an advanced race, but they don’t have something in the TARDIS that can heal blindness? Or the Doctor couldn’t have gone to somewhere that could have? None of these things are addressed, and it’s quite annoying. The fact that Bill (or anyone, actually) doesn’t notice that the Doctor is blind is another major let down. It should be obvious to anyone that he’s not behaving normally, and after what happened in Oxygen, the cause of the odd behaviour should be obvious, to Bill at least.
But contrivances aside, the ending to Pyramid is effective and well-constructed. Bill’s willingness to consent to the Monks despite not knowing what that would entail, while a big silly in the grand scheme of things, felt genuine after seeing the rapport they’d build over the course of the series. What doesn’t feel genuine, however, is her decision to shoot the Doctor one episode later, in Lie of the Land. Despite all the justification of her believing that the Doctor has joined the Monks, it comes off as a completely bogus character decision in order to get the Doctor to fake a regeneration so that the trailers could capitalise on the fact that Peter Capaldi is leaving at the end of the year. Has regeneration really been trivialised so much that it’s now just trailer fodder?
The Doctor’s fake regeneration really irked me – and not just because the scene involved both him and Bill acting incredibly out of character, but because it was some wasted potential. If you’re going to capitalise on Peter Capaldi’s departure, why not make the regeneration legitimate and make Lie of the Land the first appearance of the 13th Doctor? The episode is immediately made that more compelling, as now the Doctor has to defeat some aliens that are already settled in the role of Earth’s Masters, all while dealing with the usual post-regenerative symptoms. The ending would also be changed so that Bill renounces her consent to the Monks, and time rewinds back to the instant after the Doctor’s eyes were healed in Pyramid. A touch convenient yes, but better than the actual ending of the episode, where humanity forgot exactly what had happened over the past 6 months. What about all the people who the Monks killed?
As for Missy, well, I’m not really sure the story needed her. I get the sense that her appearances in Extremis and Lie of the Land were intended to set up her role in the final two episodes of the series. As it stands, I find the arc that they seem to be going with (turning her good) to be silly. The Master, good? Really? But that quibble aside, it’s actually rather nice seeing a different side to the Master, one where there’s no grandiose plan for killing the Doctor, or world domination (or both). You do get the sense that both she and the Doctor miss the friendship they once had in their childhood, and it will be interesting to see how that will play out over the rest of the series before culminating in the finale.
All in all, the Monk trilogy is a bit of a disappointment. It had a great setup and premise, but failed to capitalise on them, instead giving us plot contrivances and extreme out of character moments. Individually, the episodes are solid, but when taken together as a unified story, they reek of missed opportunity.
Categories: Doctor Who Reviews