The conclusion to the two-part Doctor Who season 12 premiere is sort of messy and all over the place, but promises great things to come.
The first half of the Doctor Who season 12 premiere had car chases, a shocking cliffhanger, and Jodie Whittaker in a tuxedo. It’s hard to top that, and “Spyfall, Part Two” falls well short of its predecessor, wrapping up the first two-parter of the Chris Chibnall era with an episode that’s narratively all over the place, but which promises an intriguing overarching story for the remainder of the season.
The ostensible James Bond theme sort of falls apart from the very start of the episode as Graham, Yaz and Ryan manage to survive an airplane crash using a preloaded video from the Doctor and the sort of internal time travel logic that would make the guys from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure proud. (“Trash can. Remember a trash can!”)
There’s a lot to like about the episode’s decision to pair off our three companions as an actual trio this week, and it’s something I wish the show would come up with a reason to do more often. Here, it’s not executed particularly well, as Yaz, Ryan and Graham are left on Earth on the run from Lenny Henry’s dystopian Faux Mark Zuckerberg, and must use their lifted MI-6 spy gear to try and thwart his nebulously explained evil plot.
Which I think involves turning humanity into human-shaped flash drives because….reasons? It’s something to do with the perils of Big Data and how stupid we all our about our privacy and the information we willingly hand over to large corporations.
But…that’s not exactly a new story these days, is it? At the end of the day, this subplot largely seems to exist to let Bradley Walsh have the time of his life pretending to shoot lasers out of this shoes, so who are we to harsh his buzz?
Thanks to the glowing light aliens and their strange pocket dimension that appears to be made of pipe cleaners, the Doctor meets Ada Lovelace, and is drawn through to nineteenth century London. Lovelace, of course, is an amazingly groundbreaking woman in her own right, and generally considered the world’s first computer programmer. Basically, how do we make this woman a companion right now?
Actress Sylvie Briggs is charming in the role, and Ada is surprisingly adaptable, rolling with the fact that she not only met a woman in the void which she had previously identified as her own dreams, but joining the Doctor in 1940s occupied Paris without so much as a flinch.
There they meet Noor Inayat Khan, the first female radio operator to be sent into Nazi-occupied France (who was later tragically executed at Dachau.) In theory, this trio of impressive ladies is on the run from a shrink-ray toting Master, but for the most part this portion of the plot seems like Doctor Who wanted an excuse to simply include these incredible historical women rather than actually build a story around either of them. Hopefully, people will Google who they are.
There’s a lot of filler in this episode to cover for the fact that this is basically a long chase through history between the Doctor and the Master, though I could have done without the on-the-nose gesture of the villainous Time Lord sporting literal Nazi gear. Sacha Dhawan remains a solid performer, however, and he and Whittaker certainly have great chemistry with one another.
YMMV on whether this suddenly evil Master works for you in light of Missy’s season 10 arc, I guess. The jury is firmly out for me.
Much like “Spyfall, Part One”, the conclusion of this installment is really the point of it all. (Which sort of makes me wonder if this all really needed to be two episodes, but we’re here now, I guess. And two parters appear to be what we are doing this year. At least Graham got laser shoes.)
This episode’s – and probably this season’s – big twist is that Gallifrey has once again been destroyed and all the Time Lords are dead. Oh, and the Master’s the one that did it.
Now, there’s something a bit uncomfortable about the fact that Gallifreyan genocide is pretty much just being trotted out as a plot point for the second time since 2005. It’s certainly a story I never thought Chris Chibnall would be particularly interesting in revisiting. We’ve spent seasons on the fall and rise of Gallifrey already, after all.
Joke’s on me, I guess.
According to the Master, the Founders of Gallifrey and everyone who came after them are all massive liars who deserved to die for keeping some deep truth from him about “The Timeless Child” and all the other Time Lords. So, he murdered them all and razed their city – his city, let’s not forget – to the ground. Dhawan’s portrayal of the Master is one of barely restrained fury, and has s certain physicality to it that previous recent incarnations did not. It’s easy to believe he could become very violent – he even roughs up Thirteen at one point – and it’s obvious he takes no small degree of pleasure in destruction.
(Again, how we got here from Missy, I do not know.)
The Timeless Child was mentioned back in season 11’s “The Ghost Monument,” and though we all did a lot of speculating about it back then, Doctor Who itself sort of moved on and we all kind of forgot about it. Well, this mystery is back with a vengeance now, and appears to be one of the main stories that will drive the bulk of this season.
Who or what is The Timeless Child? And how did lying about it doom Gallifrey to death? Why does the Master even care? There are many questions to answer here, and it’s a big change for a show that refused to do anything other than standalone stories last season.
With the connective tissue between individual season 12 installments thus established, we can also begin to consider what it means that this arc seems to involve the Doctor confronting her own history. This is a Doctor that doesn’t seem to much like discussing her own past – even with those she’s closest to. It feels like that’s going to have to change, and soon.
Doctor Who continues Sundays on BBC America