Each week the Blogtor Who team give their first thoughts on the latest episode of Doctor Who. We are now just past mid-season and here’s our thoughts and comments on Series 12, Episode 6 – Praxeus
First a pretty spoiler protection picture.
The underlying theme of this year’s series seems to be about saving the planet. We already had Orphan 55 where the planet became so poisoned by C02 that it decayed beyond global warming into one dominated by C02. Now we had a plastic-eating bacteria from an alien planet as a warning to reduce the deadly spread of plastic pollution.
The programme had a strong and interesting start with the Doctor’s three companions coming into their own. Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) as the comedy duo and Yaz (Mandip Gill) stepping up as strong individual willing to think on her own without the guidance of the Doctor. Separating the Fam from the Doctor worked very well and perhaps for the first time there didn’t appear to be too many companions. Score one for the writing team in adopting the Hartnell era multiple companions plot techniques.
The plot was weak and confused in various areas with too much exposition needed to explain what was happening that still didn’t quite make sense. The holes in the story were glossed over by the rapid pass of the actions and Hitchcock-like bird attacks.
One point that significantly bothered me, was the lack of care shown by all for the various deaths in the programme. The lovely and brave Aramu (Thapelo Maropefela) died without anyone even mentioning him.
The Adam (Matthew McNulty) and Jake (Warren Brown) romance worked on an emotional level. The two actors definitely had chemistry even if their story points toward the plot were standard fare. The conclusion was a bit too rushed and predictable.
However, having made all these comments, Praxeus along with all the other episodes for Series 12 are a marked improvement over last year’s stories.
After the quakes sent through the very foundations of the show last week, Praxeus is a much more standard slice of Doctor Who. But it’s still top notch stuff, stabbing all those classic buttons in a satisfying way. Its use of the rising tide of plastic pollution in the oceans is reminiscent of Big Finish’s recent Torchwood story Sargasso (though, that time it really was the Autons.) It adds the murmuration of birds to the list of things kids are to be scared of (after statues, cracks, satnavs, wifi, and more), has a proper mystery, scares, and laughs.
Doctor Who has rarely looked more expensive either, with brilliant use of foreign filming for a truly global sense of threat. And it’s all lifted massively by a great guest cast. Considering the pace with which it rattles along, it says a lot that the romance between Matthew McNulty’s Adam and Warren Brown’s Jake really engages the audience.
Ultimately Praxeus proves that Doctor Who doesn’t need huge twists and shocks to be quality entertainment.
I have mixed feelings about ‘Praxeus’ at this exact moment in time/ it felt a little like a filler episode in this series where there are so many overarching threads and plotlines — specially in the wake of last week’s major returns and revelations. Whilst it’s true that ‘Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror’ didn’t have anything to do with the Master or Gallifrey, this story didn’t quite draw me in as much as that one.
All of ‘Praxeus’s location hopping, plus all of the disease related jargon left me quite confused about what exactly was going on at a few moments. Nevertheless, this episode gave us some very memorable and immediately engaging minor characters in the form of Adam and Jake – I think I’ll be able to re-watch ‘Praxeus’ much more happily knowing that this episode thankfully didn’t fall victim to the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope in the end!
It was also quite refreshing to see Yaz say ‘no’ to the Doctor for once, even if she didn’t discover much on her own. Also, I’m sure (as with ‘Orphan 55’) there’ll be many people who see this episode and it’s message about plastic pollution as too ‘preachy’, but just like that episode’s central message, ‘Praxeus’s is highly relevant and important to raise viewers’ awareness of.
The worldwide scale of this episode could have be a blessing or a curse. Three locations each with different characters is a lot for one episode. It could feel like we’re not getting enough focus on any one character – even our regulars. However for the most part this isn’t the case. The episode switches between scenes at a pace that doesn’t linger too long and yet gives us another time with characters to get a feel for them.
Splitting up the Tardis team works really well – allowing each of them to get a few moments to shine. Yaz, especially, gets some great moments. She takes charge of the decision to go back and investigate the Hong Kong warehouse further, and is annoyed and frustration that she find out she HASN’T found an alien planet all by herself. It seems like we are getting the feeling that life aboard the TARDIS isn’t quite fulfilling her ambitions. A thread that may well be going somewhere.
The supporting characters were more of a mixed bag. Jake and Adam has a fulfilling complete arc in the episode but Gabriella ,despite being along for most of the episode, felt like background-filler for most of the time. The environmental message was driven home in this episode but done so much better than Orphan 55. The theme about plastic pollution was incorporated into an exciting plot without dominating it.
And this was an exciting plot, with moments of jump scares, full paced chases from Hitchcock like birds and races against the clock with a few twists and turns along the way.
Another episode of Doctor Who and another unsubtle hint at the environmental impact that humanity is having on the planet. Once again, everything looked superb with some fabulous location shoots. But yet again this particular series delights in introducing far too many additional characters. Not only does this suffocate the over-inflated trio of companions but it also encourages you to emotionally invest in individuals when given only a brief introduction to them. Aside from the horror inspired sequence inside a creepy deserted hospital and some Hitchcockian birds, there was also some originality. The twists at the end with the revelation of the real reasoning with how the Praxeus virus came to Earth was well done. The message of plastic use was far more subtle here than the similar message in ‘Orphan 55’ but coming so soon after that episode it will inevitably cause eye-rolling and complaints about ‘preachy’ Doctor Who.
So, this week Greta Thunberg + The Birds = Praxeus. It was all going quite swimmingly. A tense series of events set at different places across the globe, yet all linked, and a missing astronaut and his copper husband trying desperately to find him. So far, so good. In this series, Graham, Yaz and Ryan have come into their own and shone when they’ve been away from The Doctor, and this is no different. Graham is always the best value companion – no more so than here when pointing in the exact opposite direction of the alien he’s hunting. Yaz appears to be taking on the characteristics of Thirteen and Ryan is increasing in confidence, which is a joy to see in the awkward lad with dyspraxia. However, once again this series, it feels that there are just too many people for one story and no-one gets the time they need to effectively allow their story to unfold. Jake and Adam deserved more, Suki Cheng was horribly under-explored and Gabriella could have been erased from the story altogether. And once again, an earnest environmental message takes the place of a cracking alien. Oh please, Chris Chibnal, give us a mad little git with a plunger. And give these characters enough time and (sorry) space in their stories to allow us to know them better. Once again this series, Praxeus feels like a missed opportunity.