Doctor Who: “Praxeus”

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

I don’t have much to say about this one. “Praxeus” is a filler episode with a serviceable Doctor Who story: mysterious deaths on modern day Earth are traced to an alien virus that the Doctor must identify and cure. (Well, it’s the TARDIS that actually comes up with the cure, of course, because the TARDIS is a magical machine that can do anything, even synthesize cures off-screen). The problem, though, is that I’m so invested in this season’s main plot line that I can’t connect with a filler episode like this one. Where is Doctor Ruth? What did the Master discover that caused him to attack the Time Lords? What is the Timeless Child? When is the Master coming back? When is Captain Jack Harkness coming back? Hell, when is Doctor Ruth coming back? We’re in the back half of the season now and I don’t want any more filler.

But that’s not how a Doctor Who season is structured, unfortunately. We’re going to have to wait until the two-part season finale for any answers, and until then it’s likely to be all standalone episodes. So, taking “Praxeus” on its own merits, what did I think? I thought it was kind of meh. Okay but not great, in the same way that “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terrors” was okay but not great. Serviceable really is the word here.

Things I liked about it: Co-writers Peter McTighe and Chris Chibnall split up the companions at the start of the episode, sending them to various parts of the world, and I thought that worked really, really well. As I seem to mention a lot, it’s hard to find something interesting for all three of them to do, so when the show manages to it’s worth pointing out. I very much liked Yaz striking out on her own to discover more information and being courageous enough to follow the alien henchman through the teleportation device to his own turf. I thought Yaz and Gabriela made a good team, too. I wouldn’t mind seeing Gabriela on the show again. The mystery is creepy and interesting, and those infected by the alien virus come to a suitably gruesome, science-fictional end. There’s a nice reversal of the usual Doctor Who trope of the big emotional moment when one character sacrifices their life for the rest of them. Also, abandoned hospitals are great, creepy settings, and I think the bulk of the episode should have taken place in that abandoned hospital in Peru where they find Jamila’s body.

Things I didn’t like: The revelation that Suki Cheng is the alien who brought the virus to Earth. It didn’t make sense to me. How did she get that job at the lab in Madagascar? How long has she been working there? Her partner at the lab, Zach, seems to have known her for a long time, as if they’ve worked together for years, but the virus appears to have only just begun to spread, which means the crash couldn’t have been that long ago. There’s another environmental lecture from the Doctor, although this one is nowhere near as bad (or as long) as the one in “Orphan 55.” This time it’s about how we’re gunking up our planet with too much plastic, which, coincidentally, is what the alien virus feeds on. The reason it makes me groan is not that I’m some kind of anti-environmentalist but because it’s just sloppy writing. You have to trust your audience to get the message. You don’t need Rick Deckard to say, “Oh my God, maybe I’m the bad guy here,” at the end of Blade Runner, you need to lead him and the audience to that conclusion through the action on screen.

There’s not much in the way of Doctor Who neepery in “Praxeus,” either. When the Doctor is trying to figure out the connection between plastic and the infected birds she name-checks the Autons as a possible cause before discarding the idea. The Autons are plastic robots controlled by the Nestene Consciousness, which has power over all forms of plastic, and they date back all the way to the Third Doctor’s very first serial, “Spearhead from Space,” in 1970. Their last appearance on the show was in the Eleventh Doctor episode “The Big Bang” in 2010, which saw companion Rory briefly turned into an Auton through a turn of events we can only call timey-wimey.

Doctor Who: “Fugitive of the Judoon”

***MAJOR, MAJOR, MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! SERIOUSLY!***

I was so excited after watching this episode that when it was over I immediately took to social media to post the following, with which I’ll start off this review as well: “Fugitive of the Judoon” is the best Doctor Who episode in years. Breathlessly paced, filled with action, suspense, huge surprises, callbacks to the classic series, entertaining and endearing character moments, and a setup for an arc that’s poised to take us through the back half of the season, it’s everything I liked about the Doctor Who revival from the start, but much of which, frankly, I felt left when David Tennant and Russell T. Davies did.

The episode starts off deceptively simply. The Judoon, an alien race of rhinoceros-headed Dog the Bounty Hunters, have come to Earth in search of a fugitive they’ve been charged with capturing and returning to a mysterious client. Because the Judoon are trigger-happy and technically don’t have jurisdiction on Earth, the Doctor gets involved to try to stop a bloodbath and negotiate the fugitive’s peaceful surrender. Then things get crazy, fast, and I actually turned to my wife several times while we watched it and said, “What the fuck is going on in this episode?” But in a good way. Let’s break down everything that was awesome piece by piece, because honestly I’m kind of overwhelmed by this episode!

The Doctor reveals to her companions that she’s been searching for the Master ever since he was taken away by the Kasaavin, and that she’s been going back to Gallifrey regularly. This may seem like a small grace note and a way to keep the ongoing plot line fresh in viewers’ minds, but I think it actually goes deeper than that. One could postulate that the Doctor is searching for the Master because the bond she created with Missy is still present in her, that in some ways she still considers it her mission to save the Master from himself. There’s also the element of them possibly being the last two Time Lords again — or at least the last two she knows about, because her visits back to Gallifrey can only be for one purpose: to look for survivors. It’s reasonable to think there might be survivors because this time Gallifrey’s destruction wasn’t from something as monumental as the Time War, which, by some method we never learned, also managed to kill every other Time Lord even if they weren’t on Gallifrey. We don’t know the method by which the Master attacked Gallifrey, but the Doctor’s assertion that Gallifrey is once again gone for good strikes me as premature, at least with the information we have right now. But I’m so happy to see Jodi Whitaker get to stretch her acting chops. Last season, her Doctor was goofy and happy-go-lucky almost no matter what the situation. Now she’s allowed to play brooding, angry, and upset. She’s allowed to once again be a mystery to her companions instead of the fun space lady who takes them on adventures.

How the hell they managed to keep the return of Captain Jack Harkness a secret, I’ll never know! But wow, was that great! (According to the Radio Times, John Barrowman, who plays Jack, faked a house renovation in Cardiff to keep it a secret why he was there, but then, in true John Barrowman fashion, he actually went ahead and renovated the house to maintain the cover!)  I loved how, like so many others, Jack immediately assumes Graham is the Doctor with a new face and then gives him a big smack on the lips. Graham’s reaction is priceless, and reminded me why he’s my favorite current companion. (As far as I’m concerned, Bradley Walsh can do no wrong in this role.) The joke only escalates when Jack mistakes Yaz for the Doctor next. It was so wonderful seeing Jack again that, alas, I could only feel frustrated disappointment that he doesn’t actually have any scenes with the Doctor. That’s a reunion I really would have loved to see, especially now that the Doctor is female. I think it would have been hilarious and chock full of even more horniness than usual for Jack. But I suspect Jack will be back for the season finale and we’ll finally have that long-awaited reunion. (This despite Chris Chibnall telling The Mirror that Jack won’t be back again this season. We’ll see.)

The return of Captain Jack Harkness would have been enough to make this episode special, but wait, there’s more! The fugitive the Judoon are after is a woman named Ruth Clayton, who it turns out has a Chameleon Arch of her own. But she’s not just another Time Lord, she’s the Time Lord. She’s another incarnation of the Doctor! Holy shit! But there’s a wrinkle. Neither Doctor recognizes the other. Doctor Ruth (yes, that’s what I’m calling her) doesn’t seem to be from the current Doctor’s past or future. Amazingly, for Doctor Ruth Gallifrey not only still exists but it’s Gallifrey that hired the Judoon to find her and bring her back, with the help of the vindictive Time Lord Gat. It’s all quite mysterious and absolutely compelling. At this point, I wanted the episode to be another hour longer!

Jo Martin, who plays Doctor Ruth (I’m sticking with it) is fantastic. She makes an immediate impression, and I have no doubt there will be many spinoff novels and Big Finish audio adventures about her. And that outfit! At once garish in its clashing colors and stylish in its fit, it’s pure Doctory goodness. And her TARDIS! I’m sorry, but I like the interior of Doctor Ruth’s TARDIS a lot more than the Thirteenth Doctor’s. It had that classic series feel to it, but updated and modern in its details. (And it has the round things on the walls again!)

So what is the secret of this new, previously unknown Doctor? If she’s from the future, how did she not recognize or remember the current Doctor? If she’s from the past, why would the current Doctor not remember her? My theory is that she isn’t from the future or the past, but rather she’s the Doctor from an alternate universe. Back in “Spyfall,” the first episode of the season, we saw a map in O’s house that appeared to show multiple Earths. I think we’re dealing with a multiverse here, and when the Kasaavin broke through from their universe to ours it opened a rift that this Doctor and her pursuers came through. That’s my theory, anyway. I don’t think they’re going to go the route of another “forgotten” incarnation like the War Doctor. I think that would be narratively unsatisfying, not to mention it would throw off the regeneration count even more than the War Doctor and the Metacrisis Doctor did! Anyway, I think we haven’t seen the last of her. Like Captain Jack, I suspect Doctor Ruth will be back for the season finale.

Okay, I’m actually exhausted from thinking about everything that was awesome in “Fugitive of the Judoon,” so let’s get to some Doctor Who neepery! The Judoon first appeared back in the 2007 Tenth Doctor episode “Smith and Jones,” in which we were also introduced to companion Martha Jones. The Chameleon Arch, which allows Time Lords to masquerade as humans and have their memories replaced with new, false ones (you really have to wonder what bizarre circumstances led to the invention of such a device), was first seen in the 2007 Tenth Doctor two-parter “Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood,” and of course was used in conjunction with the Master’s return to Doctor Who later that same year in the episode “Utopia.” Captain Jack Harkness hasn’t appeared on TV since Torchwood ended in 2011, nine years ago. Jack tells the Doctor’s companions to warn her about the “Lone Cyberman,” ostensibly the last Cyberman in existence, and of course we just witnessed the genesis of the Mondasian Cybermen in the 2017 Twelfth Doctor two-parter “World Enough and Time”/”The Doctor Falls.” Captain Jack also had his own encounter with the Cybermen in the 2006 Torchwood episode “Cyberwoman” (which, coincidentally, was also written by Chris Chibnall). The companions are slowly being let into the Doctor’s world now, asking about the Cybermen and being told they’re a threat on par with the Daleks, which they encountered in the 2019 New Year’s Day special “Resolution.” Lastly, Jack says something like, “Nanogenes, it’s always nanogenes,” when his stolen ship is attacking him, and this is likely a reference to the 2005 Ninth Doctor episode “The Doctor Dances,” in which alien nanogenes are spreading a plague through WWII London. “Are you my mummy?”

Phew! I think that’s it. I’m exhausted!

Doctor Who: “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror”

***MILD SPOILERS AHEAD***

I actually don’t have much to say about this episode. It’s a perfectly serviceable story in the now-solidified “New Who” formula: the Doctor meets a famous person from history and helps them defeat an alien threat. “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror” is a good episode, it doesn’t fumble any of the balls it’s juggling the way the previous episode, “Orphan 55,” did, but it’s not all that memorable. Well, there is perhaps one thing that stands out in the episode: Goran Višnjić. His portrayal of Nikola Tesla is charming and charismatic. You can see why his assistant Dorothy is so fond of him!

The joy in both the Doctor and Tesla at meeting a fellow scientist/inventor is contagious and makes for a lot of fun. The rivalry between Tesla and Thomas Edison makes for good television. Unfortunately, I thought a lot of Graham’s jokes fell flat this time around, which is a shame because Graham is usually pretty funny. When Tesla and Edison are arguing at one point, Graham tries to get their attention by shouting, “Oi, AC/DC!” But it’s more an eye-rolling line than a hilarious one. On the other hand, Nina Métivier’s script manages to find something for all three companions to do, which is no small achievement.

The villain is an odd choice. The Queen of the Skithra looks so much like the Racnoss from the 2006 Tenth Doctor episode “The Runaway Bride” that I’m left wondering why they didn’t just make her a Racnoss instead. I’m certainly not against new monsters, but the resemblance is so striking it left me wondering why they bothered making her a different species.

So yeah, it’s not a groundbreaking episode but it’s not a bad one, either. I think one of the reasons it’s not resonating with me more is that I was so taken with the two-part season opener that featured the return of the Master and his revenge on the Time Lords that these standalone episodes are automatically going to feel like filler to me. I’m dying to get back to that plot line!

There’s not a whole lot of Doctor Who neepery to share for this episode. One of the Skithra is wielding a Silurian blaster, and of course the Silurians have been around since their first appearance with the Third Doctor in 1970’s “Doctor Who and the Silurians.” (Yes, that’s the actual title it was broadcast under!) The actress who played the Queen of the Skithra, Anjli Mohindra, also appeared as Rani Chandra in the Doctor Who spinoff The Sarah Jane Chronicles (on which, coincidentally, Bradley Walsh also appeared, although not as Graham). Robert Glenister, who played Thomas Edison, appeared on classic Doctor Who as Salateen in the 1984 Fifth Doctor serial “The Caves of Androzani.” And finally, Goran Višnjić starred on ER back in the 1990s and 2000s with Alex Kingston, who is known to Doctor Who fans as River Song.

Doctor Who: “Orphan 55”

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

After the strong two-part season opener, “Orphan 55” is your typical base-under-siege Doctor Who story — although this time the base is a resort, a setting that, alas, could have easily led to a lot more humorous or insightful moments than it did. Regardless, it plays out like a base under siege anyway, with security guards, military vehicles, laser rifles, people sacrificing themselves to hold off the monsters while everyone else escapes, etc. etc. etc. But even if the premise isn’t all that original, the episode does have some things going for it. The pace is quick, thanks to the story essentially being one big chase, and there’s a good amount of tension and suspense. The monsters, called Dregs, have an interesting design, although their motivations are never quite clear, which I’ll get back to later. There are a few funny bits at the beginning, such as when Ryan is suffering the aftereffects of the hopper virus, or when Graham reveals that his idea of a nice vacation is to just sit somewhere for three hours. Ryan gets a love interest, which sparked some weird feelings in me when I realized I had been subconsciously shipping Ryan and Yaz. Why do I want them to get together? I have no idea. Maybe because it would make them both more interesting? Anyway, the episode is enjoyable, and though you can tell it was made on a smidgen of a budget, it looks really good. It’s only a shame the ending is so terrible.

The finale relies a lot on coincidences and things happening solely for the sake of the plot. Once the Doctor and the other survivors get back to Tranquility Spa, they discover the monsters are coming for them and there’s no way out. Their only hope is to use a certain kind of fuel to power the one remaining teleportation device, but they don’t have that fuel, they only have a different fuel. Except the Doctor announces that the fuel they have can be transformed into the very fuel they so desperately need thanks to the hopper virus she just happens to have extracted from Ryan and is still carrying around in a potato chip bag. How lucky!

I have a lot of issues with the Dregs. Why do they keep Benni alive but kill everyone else immediately? Why are they attacking the resort in the first place? Why does that one bit of land matter to them? If they’ve existed for generations and exhale pure oxygen, why isn’t there more oxygen in the atmosphere by now, especially if there’s nothing else around that’s sucking it up? Why did the Alpha Dreg not only allow the Doctor and Bella to talk their way out of the room they were locked in with it, but also willingly walk into the cage and close the door? Well, that one I can answer: Because it was what the plot needed, not because it made any sense. How the hell did Kane, who was attacked by the Dregs, survive and make it all the way back to Tranquility Spa completely unharmed in order to help her estranged daughter fight off the monsters? Same answer. After an exciting base-under-siege setup, the finale’s writing was frustratingly lazy.

Oh, and also, the ruined and toxic planet Orphan 55, on which Tranquility Spa is built, is actually the far-future Earth and the Dregs are our mutated descendants. Is that necessary to the story? No, it exists pretty much just to be a big twist. Too bad we’ve seen it before in everything from The Planet of the Apes to the 1986 Sixth Doctor serial “The Mysterious Planet,” which just so happens to utilize the exact same method of revealing that the planet is Earth: they find a subway sign!

And then there’s the end. Hoo boy. So the Doctor and her companions are teleported safely back to the TARDIS, where they ask her if it was really Earth and how that could be, and then for a good couple of minutes the Doctor lectures her companions on how important it is for humans to listen to scientists’ warnings about global warming! Look, I’m as concerned about global warming and climate change as anyone else, but someone needs to tell Ed Hime, who wrote this episode, that at some point you have to trust your audience to get the message without the main character lecturing about it at the end. (Even Hitchcock knew that the scene tacked onto the end of Psycho, in which the psychologist explains everything that came before, was terrible and unnecessary, but the studio insisted.)

Ugh. Really, “Orphan 55” isn’t a bad story, but the finale left such a bad taste in my mouth, from the lazy writing to the lecturing, that it colors the whole episode for me.

And now for a bit of Doctor Who neepery! Aside from the (possibly intentional?) callback to “The Mysterious Planet” that I mentioned earlier, there are also similarities here to the monsters featured in the 1989 Seventh Doctor serial “The Curse of Fenric.” Those were the Haemovores, mutated, vampire-like humans from half a million years in the future who were the evolutionary result of humanity living with excessive pollution. At one point, the Doctor tells her companions, “When I say run, run,” which is something the Second Doctor said quite often.

Next week, the Doctor meets Nikola Tesla and what appear to be some giant alien scorpions!

 

 

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