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Doctor Who: “Spyfall, Part 2”


The second part of “Spyfall,” the two-part season 12 opener, is just as exciting as the first! In particular, there are two aspects of it I really enjoyed. The first is the Master chasing the Doctor through two separate time periods, 1834 and 1943, and the second is the introduction of the Doctor’s temporary companions, the real-life historical figures Ada Lovelace and Noor Inayat Khan. They make such a good, enjoyable team that when the three of them return to the present day, Graham asks what I was already wondering: “Are we being replaced?” (No disrespect to Graham, but I would have been a-okay with that!) Of course, the memories of their adventure with the Doctor have to be erased at the end so that time can take its proper course, but I seriously wouldn’t mind seeing them again at some point. There was instant chemistry between all three of them, and Sylvie Briggs and Aurora Marion managed to bring an enormous amount of life to characters who ultimately only have a few scenes.

There’s a quiet moment when Graham, Ryan, and Yaz are resting while on the run from Daniel Barton and the police that I quite liked, too, especially because it’s the moment where it sinks in that none of them really know anything about the Doctor. It’s a scene that really should have happened last season, but I’m glad it’s finally here. I was also happy to see, at the end of the episode, that the companions confront the Doctor with their questions. Longtime readers of this blog know I’ve been dying for this new Doctor to talk about herself in a way that isn’t just a throwaway joke, and it looks like we’re finally going to get that. (Maybe Chris Chibnall reads my blog? Okay, probably not, but a man can dream!)

There’s a funny moment where the Doctor once again forgets she’s a woman now and calls herself the “Marvelous Apparating Man” before correcting it to “Marvelous Apparating Lady,” followed by a mutter of, “Every time…”

I have no real gripes, but there are a couple of parts I thought fell flatter than the rest of the episode. There’s a little bit of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure at the end when the Doctor goes back in time to put several important things in place for when they will be needed, such as the sabotaging of the Silver Lady device that was helping the extradimensional Kasaavin come through, and setting up the way Graham, Ryan, and Yaz survive the crashing airplane. Also, the Master and Daniel Barton’s plan involving the Kasaavin didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Something about rewriting human DNA and turning people into supercomputers. It all felt rather handwavy, as though Chris Chibnall, who wrote both episodes, realized he needed a good reason for the alliance and threw together a “humanity is in danger” plot. I thought it was much scarier when the Kasaavin say they want to take our universe for themselves, perhaps creating some kind of interdimensional empire, although that’s thwarted, too, by some technobabble at the end. It’s not a very compelling climax to an otherwise exciting two-parter, but since the Doctor often resolves things with smarts instead of violence, or at least usually tries to, I’ve grown used to climaxes that rely on a lot of button-pressing and quickly delivered pseudoscience.

For all the excitement, this episode is 100% about the Master and the Doctor, and it’s in their scenes together that it really shines. Particularly their conversation atop the Eiffel Tower, which really did feel like two old friends talking, and that wallop of an ending, where the Master reveals he has razed Gallifrey in revenge after discovering everything he and the Doctor were taught about their civilization was a lie. It has something to do with the Timeless Child, which was first mentioned back in season 11’s “The Ghost Monument,” and which I was worried would be completely forgotten about. (I think I still have a little PTSD from the Steven Moffat era, in which plotlines were frequently raised and then dropped just as quickly. Remember when the Doctor was going around removing himself from databases all over the universe, usually between episodes, but it went nowhere and came to nothing? Or when the Doctor learned Gallifrey was saved after the events of “The Day of the Doctor” and vowed to go find it, but then spent the whole next season not bothering to? But I digress.) Anyway, I’m excited to see where this leads. Although Gallifrey is in ruins, I suspect this isn’t quite like the Time War and there will be Time Lords out there who still survived and whom we may run into down the road. (Bring back Leela and Andred, you cowards!)

And now for some Doctor Who neepery, and for a change this episode if chock full of it! There’s a lot of talk about regeneration, as Graham, Ryan, and Yaz discuss what they do and don’t know about the Doctor. When the Doctor wants to get the Master’s attention in 1943, she taps out a quick succession of four beats on the Morse code machine. She calls it the “heartbeat of a Time Lord,” which harkens all the way back to season 3’s “The Sound of Drums” and season 4’s “The End of Time.” The Doctor and the Master speak through telepathy, using the word “contact” just like the Doctors did with their other selves in 1973’s “The Three Doctors” and 1983’s “The Five Doctors.” (Time Lords are telepathic, mostly just with each other, which is how they’re able to recognize each other despite regenerating into new bodies. However, it seems the Master learned long ago to shield his mind from the Doctor, since the Doctor didn’t immediately recognize him as either Missy or O.) There’s a discussion between the Master and the Doctor while they’re on top of the Eiffel Tower that seems to be a callback to the events of “Logopolis,” where the Master caused the Fourth Doctor to fall off a radio telescope and regenerate. Except the Doctor accidentally calls the radio telescope “Jodrell Bank,” which is the telescope the miniatures for “Logopolis” were based on. The actual events of “Logopolis” took place at the fictional Pharos Project. A simple mistake, or a missing adventure? We may never know for sure, although the dialogue (“Did I ever apologize for that?” “No.” “Good.”) seems to point toward an erroneous reference to “Logopolis.” We get a mention of Gallifrey “hiding in its little bubble universe,” which is a reference to the end of 2013’s “The Day of the Doctor,” and of course the Doctor finally telling her companions that she’s a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous, and that she stole the TARDIS and ran away. This era of Doctor Who finally doesn’t feel so separate from the rest anymore.

The next episode looks like a standalone rather than a continuation of this story arc, but something tells me we haven’t seen the last of the Master, which is good because 1) Sacha Dhawan is doing a great job in the role, and 2) I’d really like some answers. The implication seems to be that this is a post-Missy incarnation (his asking if he ever apologized for Jodrell Bank could be seen as a reference to when Missy wanted to make up for all the evil she caused), but it’s disturbing how quickly he seems to have undone all the hard work he did as Missy toward redemption in season 10. Also, Missy wasn’t supposed to be able to regenerate after she was stabbed, and if I recall her body was still on that Mondasian ship that the Cybermen were crawling all over. I want to know what happened!

Doctor Who: “Spyfall, Part 1”


After an interminable wait of more than a year since the end of season 11 (and exactly one year since the New Year’s special “Resolution”), Doctor Who‘s twelfth season is finally here. I was excited for it, but also trepidatious. Season 11 was a mixed bag, more so than usual for this show. There were a few great episodes like “Rosa” and “Demons of the Punjab,” but far more of them were mediocre or outright unsatisfying like “Arachnids in the U.K.,” “The Tsuranga Conundrum,” and “It Takes You Away.” Also, until a Dalek showed up in “Resolution,” season 11 felt strangely separate from the 50+ years of continuity that had come before. So I wondered, nervously, what season 12 would bring us.

Well, if “Spyfall, Part 1” is any indication, season 12 will be a big, big step up. The episode is an enjoyable, fast-paced adventure full of action, scares, mysterious aliens, humor, and multiple setups for what will presumably follow. I loved seeing Stephen Fry as C, the head of MI6, and the James Bond spoofs were a delight, from the music as the Doctor and her companions approach Daniel Barton’s mansion to sneak into his casino party, to the Doctor not knowing how to play cards. (On a side note, I hope the Doctor continues to wear that tuxedo for the rest of the season, because she looked incredible. I don’t mean to be reductive, but it definitely added fuel to the fire of my inappropriate celebrity crush on Jodie Whitaker!)

Of the companions, Graham continues to amuse me (“Worst Uber ever!”). I was pleased to see Yaz show a little more emotional depth in this episode, particularly the way she reacts to almost dying, and I think I might be starting to ship Yaz and Ryan (even though Yaz’s sister keeps asking for his phone number). Ryan’s freakout about not looking enough like Hugh Jackman to give himself the fake name Logan was hilarious and helped remind me why he’s more than just Graham’s grandson. Unfortunately, the Doctor herself remains a sketch of Doctorish behavior and humor. I’m desperate for a scene where she opens up about herself in a way that’s meant to be serious instead of funny. As much as I love Jodie Whitaker, I need more from her Doctor than we’ve been getting.

Sascha Dhawan’s O, a former MI6 agent and friend of the Doctor’s, is an incredible character. I liked him from the start, which meant I assumed he was going to die by the end of the episode. I was wrong about that, because the episode ends with a big, unexpected reveal. O is actually the Master in disguise! I reacted simultaneously with “Cool!” and “What? How is that possible?” We’ll have to wait and see how this incarnation of the Master came into being, whether he is pre- or post-Missy, though either explanation will come with its share of wrinkles that’ll need to be ironed out.

After the big reveal and the excellent cliffhanger, I’m more excited for the next episode of Doctor Who than I have been in a while. Luckily, I won’t have to wait long for “Spyfall, Part 2,” which as of this writing airs tomorrow!

And now for some Doctor Who neepery! Let me get my disappointment out of the way first. There was a big missed opportunity for a serious continuity deep-dive at O’s remote Outback house, which is supposed to be stocked with remnants and artifacts from previous alien invasions of Earth. Would it have killed them to show a few things, like maybe a Cyberman helmet, or a Sontaran wand gun, or the plastic gun hand of an Auton? It felt like such a wasted opportunity. Same with O’s files on the Doctor. How great would it have been to see Graham flip through some photographs with mounting surprise as he sees pictures of Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee, Sylvester McCoy, David Tennant, etc.? I know it would be fan service, but I’m a fan and sometimes I want to be serviced! (Okay, that came out weird, but hopefully you know what I mean.)

But it’s not all missed opportunities. The Master has his Tissue Compression Eliminator again, the weird weapon that doesn’t just kill his victims but shrinks their bodies down to doll size! I don’t think he has used his TCE at all in the revival series, but it was his weapon of choice during the classic series and I was happy to see it again. The Master also calls himself the Doctor’s “best enemy,” which are the words the Third Doctor used to describe him in the 1983 20th anniversary special “The Five Doctors.” There’s a brief mention of UNIT and Torchwood, both of which are apparently gone now due to the budget cuts mentioned last season. And of course, the episode was dedicated to the memory of the “masterful Terrance Dicks,” longtime writer and script editor of classic Doctor Who, who, along with Robert Holmes, helped create the Master back in 1971.

Doctor Who: “Resolution”

There was no Christmas special this season, but there was a New Year’s Day special, hence the double-entendre of the title “Resolution.” While it was one of the better episodes of season 11, I had some issues. (Don’t I always?) Let’s dive in.


“Resolution” has a pretty great setup — in the 9th century an army defeats a monster so terrible that its remains have to be chopped up and buried in three separate corners of the Earth, where they are guarded through time by generations of soldiers (not unlike the Mother Boxes in Justice League, now that I think of it) — but in the end the mysterious creature turns out to be just another Dalek. I was excited to see this new Doctor face her oldest enemy, but the setup was so creepy and compelling I couldn’t help but feel a little let down, too.

There were parts of the episode I liked a lot, though. The Dalek outside of its armor was quite scary, probably the scariest-looking Dalek without armor the show has ever had. The makeshift armor it welds together out of scrap metal (which, remarkably, only seems to take the possessed Lin about an hour to do) also looks great. It’s not an attempt to create a new look for the Daleks, thankfully — I’m looking rather pointedly at you and your failed candy-colored, Power Rangers-esque new Dalek designs, “Victory of the Daleks” — but rather this one Dalek’s approximation of its original armor with the materials at hand, which makes it all the creepier. There are some good action sequences and a few great moments of suspense. But what I really liked was the appearance of Ryan’s father, Aaron, who wants to make up for being a bad father after all these years. It’s a nice resolution (there’s that double-entendre again!) to something they set up well over the course of the season. I loved how the Doctor, who doesn’t always know how to act tactfully, immediately takes Aaron to task for missing Grace’s funeral before Ryan even has a chance to. Graham slamming the door in Aaron’s face is pretty great, too, as is their later, much calmer conversation over the box of Aaron’s old things that Grace had kept. Graham continues to be my favorite character of the new cast.

Unfortunately, the resolution of Ryan and Aaron’s conflict comes way too quickly and easily, in my opinion. I didn’t need Ryan to forgive Aaron, which he does; I needed Aaron to do something to prove that he really wants to make amends, which he doesn’t. It’s all wrapped up much too quickly, with no lasting consequences for either of them except that they promise to stay in touch now. It doesn’t ring true or emotionally authentic.

I got the sense during the season, and this episode kind of proved it to me, that new showrunner Chris Chibnall is intentionally aging the show down. It’s always been a family show, of course, but ever since the revival began in 2005 it has skewed toward slightly more adult emotions and situations. Chibnall seems to be taking it in the other direction, making it more child friendly, like the classic series. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does mean the big emotions and big stakes of past seasons are few and far between now. For example, were this an episode from the Davies or Moffat eras, Aaron would have proved his love for Ryan by sacrificing himself at the end to ensure the destruction of the Dalek and to keep Ryan safe. Here, all Ryan has to do is tell his absentee father that he forgives him and still loves him for Aaron to find the strength to shrug the Dalek off his back and send it hurtling into the supernova alone. No big consequences. No big stakes. Just a scary moment, and then everything is all right again. It’s going to take some time for me to get used to this more child-friendly take on Doctor Who.

Here’s where I get really nerdy, though, because I felt there were several continuity problems in this episode. First, if this Dalek was one of the first to leave Skaro and has been dormant on Earth since the 9th century, I don’t think it would know who the Doctor is. There’s the slight possibility that this Dalek was present when the Fourth Doctor tried to stop Davros from creating more in the 1975 serial “Genesis of the Daleks,” or learned about those events afterward in Dalek school, but that seems like a long shot. It would be much more likely that this Dalek was unaware of the Doctor because of its circumstances. (The Dalek also shows no surprise at how much Earth has changed since the 9th century. That’s not a continuity issue, but it would have been a nice touch.) Second, this Dalek has abilities no Dalek in the history of the show has ever had. This Dalek can not only survive its body being chopped into pieces, but those pieces can teleport back together and reanimate because of…ultraviolet light? Um, okay. Roughly five percent of sunlight is ultraviolet light, but I guess that wasn’t enough to do the trick over the centuries. It can also pilot people around while hanging off them like a backpack. We’ve seen Daleks brainwash people before, and we’ve even seen them turn people into sleeper agents in episodes like 2012’s “Asylum of the Daleks,” where the agents had those silly-looking eye stalks springing out of their foreheads, but we haven’t seen this before. These new abilities are explained away by the Doctor saying this Dalek is different from the others because it’s a reconnaissance scout, but that doesn’t make sense to me. These abilities strike me as something all Daleks would love to have, recon scouts or otherwise — especially the ability not to die when it’s chopped into pieces! (Also, since when is their armor so vulnerable to fire that a Dalek can be defeated by 9th century humans with a simple bonfire?)

But the biggest continuity issue of all is that no one seems to remember the events of the 2008 Tenth Doctor episodes “The Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End,” in which the Daleks invade Earth and move the whole planet to another galaxy! When the Doctor mentions the name Dalek to Graham, Ryan, and Yaz, they show no reaction and don’t seem to know what she’s talking about. Later, when a policeman pulls the possessed Lin over for speeding and she tells him he is an enemy of the Daleks, he acts like he’s never heard the name before. Even the Army soldiers who face the Dalek refer to it as a drone and don’t seem to know better. It’s only been 10 years since the Daleks appeared in every major city on Earth and presumably killed thousands of people! As far as I can recall there was no timey-wimey bullshit to make everyone forget it happened or create a new timeline where it didn’t, and yet no one remembers the Daleks?

Don’t give me that look, I told you I was going to get nerdy.

And now for additional nerdiness with some Doctor Who neepery! I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Doctor’s scarf in “Resolution.” Any time the Doctor — or anyone — wears a scarf on the show, it’s hard not to see it as a nod to Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, whose long, multicolored scarf has become iconic. We get a mention of UNIT and Kate Stewart, followed by a thinly veiled dig at Brexit when it’s revealed UNIT is currently not operational because its funding is under review. We also see a mention of the Black Archive when the Dalek accesses Lin’s computer, a reference to UNIT’s secret vault of alien artifacts that we first saw in 2013’s 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor.”  The Doctor takes her companions to 19 different New Year’s Eve celebrations across time and space, including the 2000 celebration in Sydney, Australia. Interestingly, the Eighth Doctor was also on Earth during New Year’s Eve 2000, as we saw in the 1996 TV movie. She could have gone to visit herself!

That’s it for season 11, and that’s it for Doctor Who until the next season starts in 2020. It’s going to be a long wait, but I’m eager to see where the show goes from here. And like James Whitbrook over at io9, I’m hoping 2020 will be the Year of Yaz, since she’s the one character who still feels underdeveloped and underutilized.

Doctor Who: “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos”

The Doctor Who revival’s 11th season has been something of a mixed bag, in my opinion. I thought it started out strongly with “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” “The Ghost Monument,” and “Rosa,” then went through some peaks and valleys afterward. For every strong episode like “Demons of the Punjab” or “Kerblam!,” there was a mediocre episode like “The Witchfinders,” or even a straight up bad one like “Arachnids in the UK.” I’m very happy to report, then, that the season finale, “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos,” is a return to the strength of the season’s early episodes.


It’s fitting to call “Battle” equal in quality to the season opener, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” because together they form bookends to the season. The Senza warrior Tzim-Sha, whom the Doctor banished from Earth at the end of “Woman,” reappears in “Battle” with vengeance on his mind. To be honest, I found the wounded, sick, and angry Tzim-Sha of this episode to be even scarier than he was in “Woman”! With additional callbacks to the episodes “The Ghost Monument” and “Demons of the Punjab,” it feels like the season has come full circle and offers a kind of closure. It’s not a season-long arc, exactly, but it helps make the season feel like a cohesive whole.

I liked when Graham tells the Doctor he’s  going to kill Tzim-Sha for what he did to Grace back in “Woman.” Finally, I thought, some conflict! Unfortunately, I thought the conversation that follows suffers from the same lack of emotional depth that has plagued the writing in many episodes this season. Their conversation feels very stilted and cliched. How many times have we heard someone say, “If you kill him, you become just like him”? I would much rather have seen the Doctor tell Graham about the toll that comes with taking a life, speaking from her own experience, or even seen her get mad at Graham and tell him she didn’t ferry him all the way across space and time so he could have revenge. Instead, the conversation feels rushed and by-the-numbers to me. I wanted more emotion, a criticism I found myself repeating often throughout the season.

As for Tzim-Sha’s plan, I have to admit I didn’t fully understand it. Why keep the crews from the crashed ships alive in stasis? He can’t leave this planet, so he can’t bring them back to the Stenza homeworld as trophies. Also, why shrink the other planets down instead of just destroying them? Maybe that has more to do with the Stenza idea of keeping trophies, but still, it seems overly complicated. Then again, I should have stopped trying to make sense of Doctor Who villains’ plans a long time ago, as they rarely make sense.

Anyway, I liked “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” a lot, and I’m so relieved this up-and-down season ended on a high note. I like the cast and the character development of Graham and Ryan, I just hope next season we’ll have a little more emotional depth. And also maybe a little more Yaz?

And now for some Doctor Who neepery! The Doctor mentioned the TARDIS once regressed a Slitheen back into an egg, which is a reference to the events of the 2005 Ninth Doctor episode “Boom Town.” She also mentions the TARDIS once towed the Earth “halfway across the universe,” which is a reference to the 2008 Tenth Doctor episode “Journey’s End,” which coincidentally also dealt with stolen planets. Another story that deals with stolen planets, and miniaturized ones at that, is the 1978 Fourth Doctor serial “The Pirate Planet,” in which the hollow planet Zanak would materialize around other planets, plunder their mineral wealth, and then crush those planets down to tiny rocks. One such shrunken planet was Calufrax, which turned out to be a disguised segment of the Key to Time, a cube composed of crystalline shards that look remarkably similar to the ones Tzim-Sha was keeping his own shrunken planets in!

Next up, a New Year’s Day special (in which it is rumored the Daleks, whom we haven’t seen since 2015’s Twelfth Doctor episode “The Witch’s Familiar,” will return), and then…no new episodes until 2020? Say it ain’t so! These long breaks between seasons are a drag!