Themes in Doctor Who repeat because history repeats, and stories do too, as per The Lie of the Land.
I am endlessly interested in how stories are in and of their time but also universal, cosmic, mythical. How any story set today can refer to ‘fake news‘ but also be about the first story humans learn and repeat: the mother daughter plot.
There can be any amount of throw away lines like the one above to demonstrate The Doctor’s world being in touch with the zeitgeist but the bigger picture consists of long games: human history as a series of extremist and fascistic bumps in the road we forget, and repeat. But beyond the sociopolitical forces at work over time is the question of what it is to be human. One of the ways is how we invent stories and people, or reinvent those who are no longer here, that is Bill re-imagining her long dead mother.
So while The Doctor gave her the photos so Bill could see her, Bill did the work of reinventing her. This does skate close to the ‘love is the answer’ solution as per many episodes, but this is more like ‘imagination is the answer’, which is also, to be honest, quite the plot of late. Once more superior story telling and the love of a daughter for her (unreal) mother save the day. Why must so many mothers have to be dead to save the story?
The Silence of the Lambs scenes with Missy in the vault gave the story the oomph it needed, even if she restrained her murdering tendencies long enough for Bill to become the Clarice stand in. And her truth bomb about The Doctor was apt too. It revealed the flaw of this episode. Which leads me to agreeing with the A.V. Club:imagine if The Doctor had actually sided with the Monks as influenced by their mind control? Imagine Bill, Nardole and Missy working together to save and rehabilitate The Doctor and then fight the invasion. That makes for a darker, riskier, and more interesting episode for such a big build up. By the conclusion Bill, Missy and The Doctor would have been facing their demons and guilt over murder and attempted murder, rather than just Missy.
But we’ve seen alternate militaristic hell-scapes before, through the eyes of both Donna and Martha. Bill’s particular version reminded me a little of the future fascist-vampire world under Hal in the second to last series of Being Human (UK), what with the decor and insignia. Being Human went (because it could) to one of the most taboo things a person (or ghost) could do to save the world, led by the hand by the person it needed to happen to. It was bleak. And while the vampire future folded in on itself, the sacrifice to stop it had consequences that continued to be felt in later episodes in the current world.
Maybe, as a function of its ‘family friendly’ status, I don’t feel this with Doctor Who. Bill attempted to murder The Doctor. This should have emotional and psychological consequences beyond a 3000 word essay on free will, although I can’t fault the performances of Pearl Mackie and Peter Capaldi. But the episode leaves a lot of stuff swept under the carpet: like should there be consequences for The Doctor spouting Monk propaganda? And, how about the fact the Monks killed and imprisoned people, and didn’t unwind time as well as memories. Are victims forgotten, or are their deaths rewritten? Is everyone charged with a memory crime released?
Perhaps, the problem is that this episode sells the premise well enough, but we’ve been told over the two previous episodes not to trust the world. Thus, this rescue doesn’t seem quite as believable as it should. A part of me wishes this wasn’t so much the rescue as much as just another subroutine in the Monk model universe. Although with the impending return of the Ice Warriors and ye olde Cybermen maybe this isn’t the usual Who universe at all, just a repeating, looping, self referential one.