This is such a frustrating episode. It’s clearly full of good ideas, as there are several plot threads that start extremely promisingly, only to completely fall apart. The biggest and most egregious misfire is the Doctor working for the Monks. Those scary propaganda broadcasts were brilliant, as was the hugely powerful scene where Bill confronts him and it seems he’s turned full villain.
I’m not usually one to second guess the writing process, but it smacks to me of wanting to do these really cool ideas, but not knowing how to resolve them. It essentially boils down to “haha, only joking”, which immediately ruins the preceding moments by making them meaningless, in exactly the way that Extremis avoided. On a character level, it’s cruel and unnecessary for the Doctor to put Bill through that. How dare he test her loyalty when this whole invasion is only happening because of her love for him.
It was the regeneration element that really rubbed me up the wrong way. It was the most intriguing thing to be teased in the pre-series publicity, and for it to have been a fake seemed like a complete cop-out, plus it sells the forthcoming actual regeneration short by providing a sneak preview. And it’s even more galling because Capaldi and Mackie were so brilliant in that scene, the performances clearly outclassing the material they’re working with.
This is also the case with Missy, as Michelle Gomez continues to be the most unpredictable actor ever to take on the role. Her introduction gives the episode a short in the arm after that shambles, but it’s short-lived. The gang head to the Monks’ temple, where we’re promised mind-bending illusions that end up only manifesting in the most perfunctory of ways, as another great idea falls by the wayside.
The next is the Doctor taking on the Monks in a Morbius-style contest of wills, failing, and Bill taking his place. Her act of sacrifice works, once again, due to Pearl Mackie, but the entire might of the Monks being taken down by her magical dead mum is just fucking silly, conceptually and visually. It’s so underwhelming that it has to be accompanied by a clearly tacked-on Capaldi voiceover, which is at least 80% exposition to compensate for the lack of clarity in the execution. This whole epic trilogy ends with a pathetic whimper.
And I’m not sure it’s ever made clear what the Monks actually get out of this arrangement. They enslave humanity, but to what end? What’s actually in it for them? It all just seems like a massive ballache to me, having to keep an entire population brainwashed for no discernable reason. And that’s to say nothing of the practical implications – transmitting telepathic bullshit is one thing, but they’d also have to confiscate every history book, documentary DVD and newspaper archive in the world, as well as editing the entirety of Wikipedia.
Considering that a quarter of the series is devoted to them, the Monks are incredibly underwhelming when you boil it all down. Such a wasted opportunity to do something truly epic, but instead all the early momentum is lost, and a series that could have been even better than the last is suddenly decidedly not.