Each week the Blogtor Who team give their first thoughts on the latest episode of Doctor Who. Here’s what we thought of the first episode of Series 12 – Spyfall – Part 2.
Needless to say, this article contains massive spoilers, so only read on if you’ve already watched the series opener.
So to avoid spoiling anyone. A pretty picture.
Spyfall Part 2 took a different path than Part 1. More a battle of minds between The Master and The Doctor throughout history. There were also several nods to some interesting women in history. As a semi-conductor engineer and computer programmer, I know about Ada Lovelace, the first programmer and her work on Charles Babbage’s. Analytical Engine.
Noor Inayat Khan, code name Madeline, was a British spy who was captured and tortured in Nazi-occupied France. She was executed in Dachau. She was one of William Stevenson’s elite spies – see The Man Called Intrepid. Both women were childhood heroes of mine.
The last series, the creative team eliminated or ignore a lot of the history of Doctor Who. In this episode more so than even Spyfall Part 1, they appear to be adding as much history as possible. So much so, that as an uber-fan of Doctor Who – classic and new, I had trouble counting all the references. Dare I say there were perhaps too many references to keep up with.
As for the plot, it was a battle between the Doctor and the Master throughout time. Sacha Dhawan confirmed and solidified his role as the Master and once again stood out in the episode – outshining all including Lenny Henry who also put in a stellar performance. The “fam” – Graham, Yaz and Ryan – were all unnecessary. Jodie Whittaker has much more to work with this time around. In Series 11, she seemed carefree and unburdened. Not quite carrying the pain of years of existence. However, Chibnall seems set to return both a story arc and the pain of a Time Lord this season.
Both changes bode well for Series 12.
The conclusion of Spyfall not only gives us a satisfying end to the spy antics of New Year’s Day but proves to be a far more ambitious and epic tale than we could have imagined. There’s something delightfully unexpected about the Doctor assembling her team of kick-ass women pioneers from history, any one of whom might have deserved their own episode usually. And as there’s breath-taking confidence at how it soars from perfectly pitched comedy to high drama from moment. So you have homemade Victorian grenades and the Master and the Doctor reminiscing about that time the former threw the other off a radio telescope. But also the grim murder of Barton’s mother, and the Doctor’s intense rage about Gallifrey. Simply magnificent Doctor Who, with an edge we’ve rarely seen.
They weren’t lying when they said that the second part of this story had a different feel to the first! As a fan of Doctor Who’s historical episodes, I did enjoy this time-hopping aspect of this episode, but it did make the story feel quite disjointed. It’s always great to see critical historical figures interacting with the Doctor, but it would’ve been nice to find out a bit more about Ada and Noor, and given them their own separate episodes to tell their stories. One of my favourite aspects of this episode was getting to see the Doctor and her friends separated, and how they are when they’re not together. Whittaker definitely gave the stand-out performance of this episode.
Nevertheless, this episode did an excellent job of tying up pretty much all the loose ends and questions posed in the first part of ‘Spyfall’, and the aim of Barton and the Master’s plan. I’m sure most people (myself included) will have found Barton’s speech about data and privacy very relevant and very unnerving. I think I would have preferred the Master to have given that speech, however, as he ended up mostly being an expository device. Nevertheless, everything he revealed to the Doctor about Gallifrey and the ‘Timeless Child’ (which it’s gratifying to have finally had addressed!) is very intriguing. It’s great to see this Doctor finally addressing her past lives. I can’t wait to see how these revelations impact the rest of the series!
After a solid start to the series last week it was with apprehension that I tuned in to Spyfall part 2, after all the show has a ropy history when it comes to the second part of two-parters, some fantastic part ones in the show’s past have been let down by their concluding parts.
If The Master appeared slightly gleeful at his return to the world of Doctor Who in part one of Spyfall, then part two sees him in a far more unhinged and much more menacing state. This Master bristles with malevolence as he darts from 1834 to 1943 and back to the present day terrorising and murdering folk. He evens cavorts as a Nazi in Paris during World War II (using a much-needed ‘tiny Teutonic’ perception filter). And the cause of this? The Master has been back to Gallifrey. And the Gallifrey is burning; destroyed.
Spyfall Part 2 is a dark episode. Lenny Henry’s Daniel Barton, believing he’s an equal partner with the Master and the Kasaavin, plans the end of humanity. He even ‘offs’ his own mum after cable tying her to a chair in a gloomy warehouse because she didn’t recognise just what a powerful man he was. It was gloriously grim even if we know that Barton is ultimately a pawn and entirely expendable to his erstwhile partners.
Events surrounding The Doctor and the TARDIS …ahem…fam… provide some lighter moments. Last week’s Bond(ish) theme continues with Graham, Yaz and Ryan escaping a crashing plane and Graham doing a soft-shoe-shuffle with a pair of laser shoes. The Doctor sets about resolving matters with the help of real-life historical characters mathematician and computer pioneer Ada Lovelace and British wartime spy, Noor Inayat Khan. This three-woman team was an exciting addition to the story, and it left me feeling I’d love to see it given another outing.
But the star of this episode for me is Sacha Dhawan as a Master with many familiar old tics and motifs, but with an added sense of being potentially more dangerous than ever following his visit to Gallifrey. “We are not who we think,” his hologram tells The Doctor. What does this mean? Chris Chibnall pulled off an audacious trick last week in bringing The Master back. Could his next trick be to change what Gallifrey or the Time Lords are? The abandoned thread of The Timeless Child from back in episode 2 od series 11 (The Ghost Monument) is picked up again here. Is this a new Bad Wolf or Silence Will Fall? Has Chibnall introduced a story arc that was, for me, much missed in series 11? We can only wait and see. If this two-parter is the shape of what’s to come in series 12, I for one can’t wait to see how it unfolds.
Well. I’m not entirely sure what to make of all that. It was bonkers, time-hopping Doctor Who but it didn’t work for me. Despite several more scenes of exposition, I’m still none the wiser regarding the alien menace. One of the more intriguing elements in Part One was the targeting of intelligence agents, but that was blasted past in a single line of dialogue. There was simply no time to deal with it because there was too much going on, and that was one of my biggest problems with the episode.
While meeting Ada Lovelace and Noor Inayat Khan was very commendable, covering both in the same episode, in 60 minutes flying through at a frenetic pace as it was, proved less than ideal. Add in the 21st Century setting where technology will ultimately bring about an end of humanity plotline, and you realise that the episode was simply trying to do too much, possibly to fill the 60-minute time slot. No wonder the ‘fam’ were entirely redundant and not just Yaz but all three of them. They manage to fly and escape a crashing plane with embarrassing ease and when declared enemies of the state overcome that peril in their very next scene.
The references to the past were also particularly jarring. After Series 11 declared and delivered something completely fresh, free from the trappings of the show’s history, the change of tactic is so stark. Not only has the Master returned we had references to Jodrell Bank (technically should’ve described it as the Pharos Project), contact (The Three Doctors), the rhythmic heartbeats of a Time Lord, a return to Gallifrey and the reestablishment of the timeless child story arc. There was also a lack of subtlety not least with the two lead villains.
If you weren’t already booing Daniel Barton then seeing him kill his own Mum was the clincher. Similarly, The Master as an officer of the Third Reich is unquestionably pantomime villain territory. Oh and Barton merely exits the stage and seemingly suffers no repercussions for his actions whatsoever, just like numerous villains last series enjoyed and left some viewers infuriated, myself included. Although the visual product on-screen was flawless, with wartime Paris looking particularly stunning, it all needed time to breathe. Or even less time and subsequently, one less idea to explore.
My feeling at the end was of an episode which recognised Steven Moffat-style time-hopping and a wounded Doctor without Gallifrey a la the Russel T Davies era had proved successful in the past and blatantly replicated them. And last week had been so promising!
The next episode of Doctor Who – Orphan 55 – on BBC One and BBC America Sunday 12th January.