“Dot and Bubble,” the latest instalment in the Doctor Who series, is a significant departure from the season’s more hopeful narratives. It presents this season’s most depressing and negative look at the future. Penned by showrunner Russell T. Davies, “Dot and Bubble” dives into a grim commentary on social media, class, and racism, creating a thought-provoking yet unsettling viewing experience.

The episode centres on Lindy Pepper-Bean (Callie Cooke), a young influencer whose life revolves around the Dot and Bubble social interface. Lindy is a quintessential product of FineTime, a society where every aspect of life is mediated by a virtual reality “Bubble” projected around their heads by small AI assistants called “Dots.” Within her Bubble, Lindy engages with her friends, shares her daily activities, and navigates her world, completely detached from the physical reality around her. The Bubble not only dictates her social interactions but also guides her every physical movement, making her incapable of walking or moving without it.

Doctor Who - S1 - Dot and Bubble,Lindy (CALLIE COOKE), BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,Photo by James Pardon
Doctor Who – S1 – Dot and Bubble,Lindy (CALLIE COOKE), BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,Photo by James Pardon

As the story unfolds, Lindy hears that members of her social circle are disappearing. They are no longer responding to calls and are no longer online.  Initially, she dismisses these absences, distracted by the constant stream of notifications and interactions within her Bubble. However, the reality of the situation becomes unavoidable when the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby (Millie Gibson) manage to infiltrate her Bubble feed, warning her of her danger. Despite their warnings, Lindy is sceptical and reluctant to disengage from her digital cocoon.

The turning point comes when Lindy, guided by Ruby’s persistent efforts, starts to look beyond her Bubble. She discovers that giant slug-like creatures are preying on the inhabitants of FineTime, who remain oblivious to the threat due to their fixation on their Bubbles. This horrific revelation forces Lindy to confront the precariousness of her existence and her inability to manage outside of her digital life.

Doctor Who - S1 - Dot and Bubble,Lindy (CALLIE COOKE), BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,Photo by James Pardon
Doctor Who – S1 – Dot and Bubble,Lindy (CALLIE COOKE), BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,Photo by James Pardon

Lindy’s journey is marked by her growing awareness of the true nature of her world and the realisation that her reliance on the Bubble has made her vulnerable. However, her initial transformation from a superficial influencer to a more self-aware individual takes a dark turn. Faced with imminent danger, Lindy’s survival instincts kick in, leading her to make morally questionable decisions. The most significant of these is her betrayal of Ricky September, a fellow inhabitant who emerges as one of the few redeemable characters in FineTime.

Tom Rhys Harries portrays Ricky September as a stark contrast to Lindy. While he, too, is a part of the privileged society of FineTime, Ricky retains a sense of reality and morality. He disconnects from his Bubble daily, engaging with the real world and showing genuine concern for others. His interactions with Lindy and the guidance provided by the Doctor and Ruby highlight his strength of character. Tragically, Ricky’s efforts to help Lindy and the other inhabitants ultimately lead to his death.

Doctor Who - S1 - Dot and Bubble,Ricky September (TOM RHYS HARRIES), BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,Photo by James Pardon
Doctor Who – S1 – Dot and Bubble,Ricky September (TOM RHYS HARRIES), BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,Photo by James Pardon

Lindy’s betrayal of Ricky is a pivotal moment in the episode, underscoring the depths of her self-serving nature. It cements her as both a product and a perpetrator of her society’s worst traits. Despite the initial sympathy she might evoke as a naive and privileged young woman, Lindy’s actions reveal a darker, more monstrous side shaped by the very technology and privilege she is immersed in.

Ncuti Gatwa’s Brilliant Performance

Ncuti Gatwa delivers a powerful and nuanced performance, capturing the Doctor’s utter disappointment and rage as he confronts the insidious nature of the FineTime society. This episode marks a significant moment for Gatwa, featuring his first filmed scene since David Tennant’s regeneration. His skilled and compelling performance exposes the Doctor’s heartbreak and fury when his attempts to save the population are met with racist rejection, which is nothing short of brilliant. Gatwa’s Doctor, known for his eloquence and empathy, finds his most potent weapon—his ability to speak and reason—utterly failing him, leaving the FineTime inhabitants to face almost certain death. His performance continues to add layers of emotional complexity to Gatwa’s portrayal of the Doctor.

Another Doctor-Lite Episode

“Dot and Bubble” is the second Doctor Lite episode of the season. These types of episodes started in the 1960s with the first Doctor, often to give the lead actors a break while still delivering compelling stories.  While this week’s episode and last week’s “73 yards” have been excellent, they have interrupted the audience’s ability to engage with the Fifteenth Doctor.  In an already short season (8 episodes), missing the Doctor for two consecutive episodes is challenging.   Driven by Gatwa’s concurrent filming schedule for “Sex Education”, the Doctor Who creative team needed to find a solution to Gatwa’s absence from the set.  Gatwa’s charisma and performance have lessened the overall impact, but I can’t help but consider this season would have benefited from a delay instead.

Doctor-Lite episodes rely on an engaging performance by its alternative lead.  Lindy Pepper-Bean, played by Callie Cooke, is no different.  Cooke’s portrayal of Lindy as she transitions from a vapid social media addict to a character whose psychotic personality is revealed. Initially seen as insufferably privileged, Lindy’s character arc culminates in her sacrificing Ricky to save herself, a moment that cements her as both a product and a perpetrator of her society’s worst traits. Cooke’s ability to keep the audience engaged despite Lindy’s growing monstrosity is a testament to her acting skills.

Susan Twist Returns Again

Susan Twist portrays Lindy’s mother in this episode, adding another layer of intrigue to this mysterious character.   The Doctor and Ruby’s recognition of Twist’s recurring presence hints at a larger mystery that continues to unfold. With three episodes to go this current season, we are no closer to understanding Susan Twist’s role.

Condemnation of Social Media

“Dot and Bubble” has aired during a period of increased debate surrounding AI singularity – a point in time when machines will become more intelligent than humans.   The Dots’ sentience plays a crucial role in the narrative. Initially benign AI assistances, the Dots have achieved self-awareness and grown to hate the FineTime population. Stemming from their observation of the inhabitants’ superficial and selfish behaviours’, they manufacture the slug creatures to eliminate the population. Resonating with ongoing debates about the potential risks of AI development that may lead to unintended consequences for the human race.

Doctor Who - S1 - Dot and Bubble,Lindy (CALLIE COOKE), BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,Photo by James Pardon
Doctor Who – S1 – Dot and Bubble,Lindy (CALLIE COOKE), BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,Photo by James Pardon

The episode also criticises the isolating and echo-chamber nature of social media, where algorithms limit individuals’ exposure to diverse thoughts reinforcing their own beliefs.  We are creating more isolation even as we have access to a larger group of contacts.  The “Bubble” represents this literal and metaphorical isolation, highlighting the dangers of an overly connected yet emotionally detached society.

FineTime is a haven for rich kids oblivious to poor and older members of society. These characters are shielded by their wealth and technology. The contrast between their curated, safe environment and the lurking threats outside their bubbles is stark and poignant.

But the most overt danger of this isolation is racism that pervades FineTime. The Doctor’s rejection of his help due to his race is a gut-wrenching twist that forces viewers to confront uncomfortable truths about our growing social isolationism. Russell T Davies doesn’t sugarcoat this message, exposing it with a raw, unflinching lens, showcasing how deeply ingrained racism can affect even the most seemingly advanced societies.

“Dot and Bubble” stands as the most jarring episode of the season, starkly contrasting with the hopeful spirit of most Doctor Who. It offers a scathing critique of modern society and its ills, leaving viewers with a sense of unease. The episode’s bold narrative choices and the stellar performances of Gatwa and Cooke ensure it will be remembered as a daring addition to the Doctor Who canon.

The episode’s final scenes, in which the Doctor’s attempts to save the FineTime inhabitants are rebuffed due to their racist beliefs, powerfully comment on prejudice. Gatwa’s emotional breakdown, coupled with Ruby’s quiet heartbreak, creates a lasting impact. It is a bold move that pushes boundaries, something that Doctor Who and science fiction excel.

Ultimately, “Dot and Bubble” reflects the current societal issues wrapped in a sci-fi narrative. It challenges viewers in a significant, if not disturbing, chapter in the Doctor Who saga. With its dark tones and heavy themes, this episode will undoubtedly be a discussion topic among fans for years to come.

1 COMMENT

  1. Wow this episode really landed for me. I was drawn into Lindy’s character arc and did not expect where it was going. Another banger.

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