The Lie of the Land.

TV Netflix announced the cancellation of Sense8 by Netflix this week, which was disappointing but if it didn't work within their secret metrics of streams plus sign-ups then entirely understandable. Each episode reputedly cost $9m presumably because of the globe spanning storylines, numbers of main and secondary characters and actually looking generally very expensive.  Perhaps if there's enough of a protest, they'll at least allow for a wrap up film of some sort.  The show ended on a stunner of a cliffhanger with all kinds of interesting new pieces of mythology about how the clusters are networked together.

None of which has anything to do specifically with The Lie of the Land, other than that Sense8 provoked in me a similar excitement that the Who revival used to, in which I adored all the characters, enjoyed the innovative execution and applauded the ambition.  Every season and episode felt like it had some import and there was a joy to the whole thing, even in the more nihilistic moments like Turn Left or SOD U LOTT.  Yes, I know, moan, moan, moan, but Moffat's persuaded to stay final goodbye tour doesn't feel like the work of someone who's finally trying out all the ideas he's been saving.  It feels like a managed decline in desperate need of a Hestletine figure.

The Lie of the Land is fine, but it's no more than that and I want it to be more than that.  It's the kind of story we've seen in the past from the various iterations of the franchise when a particular mode of the format has gone on just that little bit too long and it's starting to repeat itself in a rather pronounced way.  Late era VNAs or EDAs or on television deep into the eras of the longevity Doctors (in terms of story number), Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee or Baker #1.  They won't be too objectionable when seen later during an extended rewatch and ... oh I'm starting to repeat myself.  Well, if it's good enough for the show ...

If the episode's at all watchable its because of those central three performances.  Writer Toby Whithouse (and whatever Moffat's interpolations are) and Capaldi trade in our memories of the arsehole who wandered around pretending to be the Doctor in series eight to convincingly suggest the Time Lord really joined the monks in oppressing humanity, because it seems like just the sort of thing that cretin would have done.  The actor plays it up to a tee, especially that horrific toothy grin which makes him look like a toothbrush with a hernia during the addresses to the people of Earth (excellent way of introducing the new world order too in the teaser ala Woody Allen's Zelig).

That smile changes considerably when the Doctor flips back into the more benevolent Tennant-lite figure we've generally enjoyed this season.  In the final moments under the statue he's utterly charming, explaining once again how humanity tends to be oblivious about alien invasion once they're over.  For the most part.  At this point, I don't think it's clear how much of everything which has happened to this version of the Earth has stuck from the past few years.  Did the cracks take care of the whole of the RTD era?  Rebooting the universe?  Or is the influence of the Faction Paradox still around?  Has Miracle Day not happened now?

Michelle Gomez's interpretation of Missy has gained considerable depth and like the suspicious Doctor we're not entirely the sure about the extent to which this new found soul is real or just another plan to gain her best friend and our confidence before unleashing some new mischief on the Whoniverse.  It is odd that she didn't reference her own utilisation of a similar methodology from The Sound of Drums, but perhaps it's best when you are re-iterating some earlier story idea not to actually remind the audience too much (even if most of them can go back and rewatch the thing immediately on their favourite streaming service).

But the linchpin of the episode is Pearl Mackie who like numerous companions before her decides that the only way to save the world is to sacrifice themselves.  On this occasion it's because of Bill's own foolishness, albeit in an attempt to save the Doctor (and the future of the franchise), but watching the actress reveal her character's realisation of such and how to mend the Earth it is utterly compelling, as good a piece of companion performance we've seen in the past few years.  Usually such moments are reserved for final episodes so we'll have to see how her story arc plays out for the remainder of the season.

As for the rest of this instalment?  Well, like I said it's fine.  As of late, it's all too tempting to simply produce paragraphs listing the moments in other episodes which resemble this one.  Someone on Twitter posted a photograph of Clara holding up her parental leaf from The Rings of Arkansas and another noted the similarity of the Monk's logo to Saxons and from there the parallels are so shameless that to actually write up a list would be entirely pointless.  I almost simply reposted my review of LOTT but it could just as easily be The Wedding of River Song or The Impossible Astronaut since its re-imagined universe and alien hand-holding business shares much with them too.

But it also lacks scale in comparison to those stories clearly attempting to portray a global threat on the budget of one of RTD's cheaper episodes with statues photoshopped onto postcards of landmarks and an increasing series of sparsely designed sets where scenes continue slightly longer than you might expect.  I'm not imaging this am I?  Are we watching a show trying to hide a cut in budget or at least a reduction in available resources due to everything otherwise costing more overall?  Surely there has to be some way of telling interesting stories without trying to ape the past whilst simultaneously failing to replicate the grandeur.

The episode also lacks compelling secondary characters within whom we see the effects of the memory changes.  Bill's housemates or dates from previous episodes  would have been perfect for this but for either budgetary reasons or availability we're left with the central characters and a more localised insular view.  We might also wonder how all of this has effected the Doctor's friends in other corners of the planet in the kind of episode which leads to wonder if Captain Jack's off world, Mr Smith has gone dark or Miss Quill is sitting on her hands (or at least what are supposed to be hands in her human form).  Where's bloody UNIT?

So yes, sorry, another week, another shrug.  The teaser for Gattis's piece next week does look exciting and unlike other viewers I've generally enjoyed Mark's previous episodes.  Robots of Sherwood is still my favourite of that year even if Sleep No More was a misstep the next.  The Empress of Mars seems like him trying to get all of his favourite things in one place in case Chibbers decides to hire a whole new set of writers  so I'm actually pretty excited about next week.  I always try to go into each episode with an open mind, and it's true that The Lie of the Land had a few good jokes.  I just wish it was ... I don't know ... you know ... that ... there was more of that ...

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