After the fireworks of New Year’s Day, Spyfall comes to an explosive conclusion
Oh, what a lovely cliffhanger! Doctor Who fans are used to waiting lately, after a full twelve months between Resolution and Spyfall. Yet that’s nothing like the sweet agony of waiting for the resolution to a truly magnificent cliffhanger. And after the likes of “I! Am! The Master!” in Utopia and “Well, I couldn’t very well keep on calling myself… the Master, could I?” the Doctor’s best enemy has done it again. And after that wonderful moment of “Oh” at the climax of Spyfall Part One, fans have been besides themselves to know what happens next. Thankfully, there was only four days to wait. Days fans spent mainly on gif making and coming up with a new shipping name (‘Thirster’). And, of course, arguing about how long a spoiler kept being a spoiler.
But there was so much more to the first half of Spyfall than just that cliffhanger. Even before that, it had established itself as something a little special. While last year’s Dalek episode had already begun to point in this direction, this is probably the most unnerving story of the Whittaker era so far. The very fact that the Doctor and her team find themselves uncertain about exactly what they’re up against is rare in Doctor Who. The presence of the Kasaavins, alien monsters from another dimension apparently beyond the understanding of even the Doctor, lends it an air of Lovecraft or M.R. James. And as great as Doctor Who usually is, it’s a refreshing shot in the arm to the usual structure of the Doctor naming the enemy, and explaining their M.O., almost immediately.
Spyfall crams its two parts with enough ideas to power an entire season, but does so with apparent ease
But the tricky bit in such stories is always either making the answers completely satisfying, or else convincing the audience that it’s better left a mystery. So, now we have the complete story, does Spyfall live up to the first half?
If anything the second half transforms a solid, fun story into a genuine classic. The sheer scope of events as we battle across the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries to save the entire human race from becoming mere computer components is breathtaking even for Doctor Who. While the notion of alien spies pursuing a cold war against our universe – not actively malign but permanently watchful in case they ever declare war is truly inspired. Until, of course, the Master intervenes to give them bigger ideas.
The latest incarnation of the Master may be the most dangerous yet
Sacha Dhawan’s Master is a particular revelation. Magnificent the Part One cliffhanger may have been, but it played the dangerous game of giving the Master’s true personality only minutes of screen time. And that spent in manic glee at successfully pulling off his surprise. People rushed to, mainly positive, judgement of this new Master. But only now do we have a bit more to go on, on how he’ll stand up to the greats like Roger Delgado or Michelle Gomez.
And by the end of the story, we do have a much clearer picture of this new Master. And while Dhawan’s superficially seems closest to the John Simm incarnation but adds something new and edgy of his own. The Simm Master was openly batty, and reveled in it. But this incarnation adds an element of fracturing control. It’s a Master who knows he performs better when he restrains his worst excesses and attempts to do so. It makes him less a bouncing cartoon of snarling villainy and more a pool of bubbling lava under a thin crust of rock, in constant danger of exploding. Combined with the hatred that drops from his pours like sweat, it may make him the most compellingly dangerous Master yet.
Sacha Dhawan’s compelling performance places this Master a cut above
It’s particularly impressive that Dhawan goes beyond being convincing as both the Master and the mild mannered analyst O. Rewatching the first half is very rewarding as the Master’s true personality hides in plain sight throughout, such as when biting his tongue as the Doctor strides past him into his house, spouting nonsense. Let’s hope we get to see more of Dhawan’s Master soon. After all his predicament in the final moments is hardly the worst corner he’s ever had to get out of. And that electrifying recorded message he leaves for the Thirteenth Doctor almost demands a rematch between the two.
Structurally, Spyfall is also a slight surprise. The second half neither continues in a straight line from where the first left off, not takes the Moffat Era route of being an almost entirely different story. Instead it builds and expands on the first past, satisfactorily answering all our questions while opening it up to epic new horizons.
In Part Two, the Doctor takes us on a bravura ride through history that embraces fun and danger in equal measure
There’s something delightfully unexpected about the Doctor bouncing through time, picking up her team of kick ass women pioneers from real world history. Under normal circumstances both Ada and Noor might have been the focus of their own episode (indeed Ada met the Fourth Doctor in Big Finish’s Enchantress of Numbers). And Whittaker’s portrayal of the Doctor as thinking on her feet, never quite sure what she’s going to do next, pays off brilliantly here. The Doctor executes her comeback plan flawlessly, after all, but thanks to her energy in the role, it’s a rollercoaster ride that feels like it’s constantly in danger of coming off the rails.
And as there’s a breath-taking confidence as show here as we move into the second season. It moves with an illusion of effortless ease from breezy comedy to edged menace. There’s brilliance like the confrontation at the inventors’ exhibition, as the Master is genuinely irked by the Doctor’s survival, or where he and the Doctor reminisce about old times atop the Eiffel Tower (“Did I ever apologize for [throwing you off Jordell Bank]?” “No.” “Good.”). Not to mention Graham’s laser blasting dance moves. But there are also legitimately chilling moments, like Barton’s disdain at a generation which has sleepwalked into his clutches, or the return appearance of the sound of drums in WWII Paris.
Not content with being a slice of near perfect Doctor Who, Spyfall points the way to yet more drama to come
One of Spyfall’s strengths is how it exceeds expectations. Despite than punning story name, and tuxedo and bike chase filled trailers, it’s much more than a fun romp through James Bond pastiche. Like all the best Doctor Who homages of other material, it never forgets to be Doctor Who first and foremost. Scary, funny, surprising, and though provoking, it’s Doctor Who at its best. Beyond all that, it hits the show’s mythology with the biggest earthquake since The Day of the Doctor. And Blogtor Who can’t wait to see where that takes us next.
Doctor Who Series 12 continues at 7.10pm next Sunday with Orphan 55
Having decided that everyone could do with a holiday, the Doctor takes Graham, Yasmin, Ryan to a luxury resort for a spot of rest and relaxation. However, they discover the place where they are having a break is hiding a number of deadly secrets. What are the ferocious monsters that are attacking Tranquillity Spa?
Doctor Who Series 12 stars Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham), Mandip Gill (Yaz) and Tosin Cole (Ryan). Chris Chibnall is showrunner, with Matthew Strevens Executive Producer. Orphan 55 is written by Ed Hime and directed by Lee Haven Jones. Guest starring James Buckley.