Season 10, Episode 8: The Lie of the Land
BILL: They’re doing something to us. The Monks. I can’t think straight. It’s like they’re saying they’ve been here forever, and I know they haven’t, but part of me is starting to think that it’s real. Every day I have to, I have to remind myself that everything that you, me and the Doctor did actually happened, and it wasn’t just a dream. Why do it? That’s what I don’t get. They invade somewhere, take control. Why go to the trouble of changing the past?
NARDOLE: However bad a situation is, if people think that’s how it’s always been, they’ll put up with it. That’s ninety percent of the job done.
In the episode, The Lie of the Land, we see the consequences of Bill’s decision to ask for the Monk’s help in order to save the Doctor. Not only have the monks turned the world into a dictatorship where freedom is limited and the monks are worshipped as heroes, but they have managed to change history to such an extent, that their presence is viewed as being a permanent part of the landscape. They have managed to trick humanity into believing that they saved humanity numerous times from disasters and that their dictatorship has been going on for decades, if not centuries. As Nardole points out, people will put up with a situation if they believe that the situation is just how things are. Bill, however, manages to hold on to the truth: the Monks are lying; they are ruthless totalitarians who claim to have provided security and safety to humanity when in reality they only bought back widespread bondage and slavery.
The most shocking part for Bill, is the fact that the Doctor seems to have decided that the monks were correct after all:
Bill, is rightly incredulous at such thinking, especially coming from the Doctor. And as viewers, we are supposed to side with Bill. We of course, just like Bill, have an inkling that either the Doctor is faking or something must have happened for him to spew Monk propaganda. No one in their right mind, if they had a choice, would believe that authoritarianism amid the violation of human rights would bring security and safety. Of course, history proves that people fall for that lie again and again.
Both Hitler and Stalin rose to power during periods of incredibly upheaval. Their respective countries had just been devastated by war: World War I (1914-1918) and the Bolshevik Revolution (1917). Hitler took power in a context where Germany suffered not only the loss of millions of its citizens, but their defeat was one of utter humiliation. The Treaty of Versailles created new boundaries for Germany while giving away some land to the victorious allies, the Germany military was defanged: their numbers drastically reduced and limitations imposed on the types of weapons they were allowed to have, (though the allies, were also supposed to eventually disarm) and Germany lost all its colonies. However, the most humiliating clause forced Germany to accept full responsibility for World War I, making them responsible for all material damages aka they were forced to pay reparations. The economic situation worsened with the onset of the great depression.
The time period before the Russian Revolution was one of oppression. In the 1890s Russians were suffering under exploitation and severe famine. The advancement of Nicholas II to the throne did nothing to initially appease the growing pains of industrialization that Russia was undergoing. The ill fated 1904-1905 war with Japan did not improve matters and the Russian intervention in World War I left an already exhausted citizenship even more on edge. However, the 1917 Revolution, which saw the overthrow of the tsar dynasty, did not lead to peace and prosperity. In the immediate aftermath, Russia pledged into a devastating civil war.
Both Hitler and Stalin solidified their support and their power by claiming that security for the people would come only under Hitler and Stalin’s authority and the implementation of their ideals. The two dictators became the physical manifestation of all the hopes and dreams that Germany and the Soviet Union hoped to achieve. Of course, there was pockets of opposition, however, those who opposed Hitler and Stalin had to reckon with an extremely powerful personality cult. While viewers look at the worship of the monks in The Lie of the Land as ridiculous, it parallels the cults that surround real life dictators.
Dictators promise to provide strength and security in response to total obedience. The Doctor, although, he is still pulling Bill’s leg in this scene, makes some very good points about the nature of free will and humanity’s inability or unwillingness to learn from history:
The Doctor slams humanity’s ill use of free will while also regurgitating the argument made by the monks and totalitarians/state governments everywhere: “things were going downhill and a strong, authoritarian figure needed to take control.”
While this type of thinking is not as extreme in modern western countries, the reality is, that the notion that security comes at the cost of liberty is alive and well in so called democratic countries. The “War on Terror” and the domestic and foreign policies implemented in its name, are the direct result of this twisted belief that prioritize security over all else. We see this in the so called “material support for terrorism” cases that the FBI brings which, instead of catching high ranking, powerful terrorists, often nets the mentally ill, mentally disabled, and/or poor. (For an in-depth look at this travesty of justice check out the series, Trial and Terror by the Intercept). The language of security is being used to go after undocumented immigrants, those applying for asylum, and now legal residents.
It is natural for humans to want a measure of safety and security. Especially in the light of terrorism, natural disasters, war, and other forms of violence. But the problem arises when people think that dehumanizing others, creating a false history, and slowly curtailing individual rights will lead to security. No, it only leads to even more death and destruction. We might not be worshiping powerful dictatorship like aliens-but the devastating consequences of believing in the myth that “national security” can be guaranteed is all too real. We see it in the shoddy FBI terror cases and the brutal Gestapo like tactics of ICE.