Doctor Who has been around in one form or another since 1963. As a science-fiction series about a time-traveling alien and his blue police box that is bigger on the inside, one would expect the franchise to be swarming with creative and iconic alien races. Like many great sci-fi franchises, a lot of effort and detail tends to go into these creatures’ design, history, and motivations. Sadly, the newest alien menace in the show, The Monks, fails on all counts.
The latest three episodes of the current season have revolved around The Monks, a race of humanoid corpses who want to rule the world — insert an M. Bison “Of course!” meme here. The Monks’ first episode, “Extremis,” is compelling due to the plot twist in which the characters and world in the episode are nothing more than computer simulations, which drives home how powerful The Monks are. The second episode, “The Pyramid at the End of the World,” is where things began to fall apart. The audience is left with many questions. Why do The Monks pilot a pyramid? Is it actually space ship disguised as a pyramid, not unlike how The Doctor’s T.A.R.D.I.S. is a time/space ship disguised as a blue police box? What do The Monks actually look like? Well, the pyramid is just a pyramid, and we are given a veritable non-answer for why they look like rotting corpses. At least The Monks’ mentality of “we can only rule the world if you ask us to save it first” is novel, but all of my goodwill disappeared faster than a Weeping Angel’s victim in the final episode, “The Lie of the Land.” That episode quickly establishes that The Monks rule the world by brainwashing humans to believe The Monks have been humanity’s benevolent protectors since before humans evolved. In other words, The Monks rule through a fascist government that relies on alternative facts, alternative history, and fake news. And no, that’s not my own personal examination: The Doctor flat out states this in the episode. Never have I seen a more blatant and hyperbolic mocking of Donald Trump since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s “Agents of HYDRA” arc.
The Monks are nothing but an unsubtle mockery of Donald Trump and his supporters. There is no substance to these creatures — The Monks (not Trump supporters). Audiences aren’t given any explanation for anything about The Monks. Why they look like corpses, why they fly a pyramid, why they shoot lightning from their hands — none of it is ever explained. Sometimes a lack of explanation can work (The Beast from the episodes “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit” is a good example), but not so with The Monks, especially since their motivations are never explained. They want to rule the world. Ok, but why? The episode never touches on this crucial point. Think about the first Doctor Who alien/villain that pops into your head. What is its motivations? Odds are you can link motivations to most creatures seen in Doctor Who. Daleks? They want to kill humans because they view all non-Dalek life as a threat. Cybermen? They believe organic life is inferior and that forcibly assimilating humans does them a favor. Weeping Angels? Everyone needs to eat, and that includes eldritch statues. The Monks? Um…because they control a bunch of other worlds? But then why do The Monks control those worlds in the first place? This lack of any true motivation reveals The Monks as little more than an excuse to place someone’s political message in the show.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t hate The Monks because they’re a political message but because they’re an unsubtle political message. Doctor Who has provided nuanced political messages in the past. The two-parter, “The Zygon Invasion/Inversion,” is an example of a well-done, or at least decent, political message. To quickly sum up, these episodes are a follow-up to “The Day of the Doctor,” wherein numerous Zygons (shapeshifting anthropomorphized octopus tentacles who entered Doctor Who canon in 1975) are left to live on Earth. In “The Zygon Invasion/Inversion,” most of these Zygons want to live peacefully on Earth, but a radicalized few decide to supplant humanity as the dominant species. These radicals forcefully recruit peaceful Zygons by turning humans against them and espousing an “us vs. them” mentality. I had to re-watch the episode twice to determine that the episodes were a message about the Muslim population in the UK. Much like the Zygons, most Muslims want to live peacefully side-by-side with other people, but a few Zygons/Muslims don’t want to give peace a chance and intentionally sabotage relationships so they can recruit others to their cause. These radical Zygons/Muslims do this by tricking non-Zygons/Muslims into believing that all Zygons/Muslims are untrustworthy and bloodthirsty monsters. What really dives the point of the episodes home is that Muslims look like the general population, much like how the shape-shifting Zygons can look like anyone. There is nothing subtle about The Monks, however, especially since The Doctor spells out their campaign of fake news for the audience. Finally, messages against racism are far more timeless (pardon the pun) than messages against Donald Trump.
I would not be surprised if The Monks aren’t the least effective villains in Doctor Who. However, they’re still nothing more than a barely-disguised political message and a reflection on the opinion of Trump in much of the population of the UK, or at the very least the opinion of the guy who wrote The Monks’ final episode.