Dear reader after the momentous revelations of the previous week I secretly held a tiny hope that this once Doctor Who would go against type and give me an immediate hit of arc satisfaction in episode 6. But that isn’t its style so we were taken back a step to a mystery of the week episode with dead birds, disappearing humans, a strange alien bacteria and a race against time.
I have to say I abhor the term “filler” so avoid using it like the plague. It’s an expression which I’ve seen used on too many online forums or videos to describe as inconsequential when an episode disappoints said fan. I am however tickled by the descriptive definitions of the word that filler could be a) substance added to a product to increase bulk, weight or strength or alternatively b)material issued to fill extra space. The first definition has I feel more positive connotations than the second. Did this episode add substance or strength or alternatively fill a space?
Episode 6 – Aliens put the Earth under the microscope
Well, Praxeus didn’t add anything to the series arc (sigh) but in the effort to reflect real-world concerns (which this era seems ever so keen to promote) it hit a surprisingly current keynote. If coincidental concerns regarding coronavirus COVID-19 weren’t so present-day with reported deaths in China, Hong Kong and France I would have entirely dismissed the doctor’s off-camera voiceover that humans are a “global” community in her speech at the beginning of Praxeus.
DOCTOR Planet Earth, early in the third decade of the 21st century. Population, seven billion. Seven billion lives, separate and connected, from the depths of the oceans to the edge of the atmosphere.
In of itself, the sentiment is rather general, wishy-washy not giving any clue to the threat coming. I suspect that just having a visual depicting the Earth without any speech would have been seen as a wasted opportunity for the writers Pete McTighe and Chris Chibnall to not hammer home their message. Yes, I am using a touch of sarcasm here as both were ignoring the rule of a visual medium of “see don’t tell”. As Jake rolling his eyes at Graham and Yas observed at one-point smashing down the warehouse door in Hong Kong they “Chat, chat, chat, chat, chat!”
Praxeus as a concept is a rather subtler approach than the sledgehammer approach of Orphan 55 in another episode covering the damage that humans are doing to the planet. I’m not averse to these “message” stories but want them to balance being entertaining and also pushing piously “worthy”. On the whole, this story succeeded in the storytelling far better than Orphan 55.
The story incorporated the idea of an alien bacteria feeding on plastic well and that the planet being so full of the stuff was what attracted the aliens here. I love that mix of fiction wrapped around reality of a large garbage patch, a gyre of rubbish and marine debris in the Indian Ocean, plus the alien bacteria uses that to feed on.
It’s an interesting idea of planet Earth being used as a petri dish by aliens to test for a cure for themselves. I’m sure that we aren’t alone in the universe. We haven’t progressed very far yet out amongst the stars so could be considered as primitive through an alien’s eye. There was a mystery as we didn’t even find out the name of the planet that Suki and her crew came from but I liked the look of the crew at the hospital although why Suki didn’t have a suit and they did I’m not sure.
Like Spyfall this story uses the three-location format to set up the action so we have Hong Kong, Madagascar and Peru. Praxeus did look exotic and that is surprisingly something we are getting used to now with Doctor Who I’m glad that we have this more global approach to stories although I’m not sure I initially liked all the frequent cutting back and forth between locations. The look and effect of the Praxeus infection were really impressive and I loved Segun’s music which added atmosphere during the episode.
There have been some fantastic horror films made about attacking bird colonies and the episode draws on well-known visual and audio tricks to create cool moments such as the initial scratching of the birds on the vloggers tent in Peru, their fluttering wings and the attack of the birds as they crashed through from the skylight of the laboratory in Madagascar.
The idea of the bacteria being spread so easily by birds infected because of the plastic they ingested is such a clever idea Drawing on real facts that birds are suffering because of our over expansion in plastics and our thoughtlessness concerning the environment. It also allows for exploration of the instinctive fear that humans can have for an enemy that cannot be reasoned with and which outnumbers them by at least forty to one.
Leaps without logic
- There were some parts to the story which felt illogical and irked me in an otherwise decent story. Perhaps the script needed a further polish but it struck me that events in the plot should occur organically based on what we know about the characters and the situation but I noted the following:
- Jamila and Gabriela arrived at the river and discovered the rubbish dump so why not move away from there? If it had been getting dark as they arrived I could understand they might be forced to stay even if the smell would have been unbearable for anyone.
- How was Adam able to use his phone to text Jake being he was tied up?
- Later Gabriela obtained from a Reddit message board that an ambulance took Jamila away. Who found Jamila and got her into an ambulance or did the aliens take her to the hospital? If we saw the aliens monitoring the birds as they attacked Jamila then them taking her away would make sense.
- Ryan and Gabriela then got a lift to the creepiest hospital ever, found Jamila who exploded after she succumbed to the infection. Gabriela didn’t seem that upset by Jamila’s death at the end of the story as she wanted to go with Adam and Jake on their honeymoon vlogging as “Three Idiots Roaming”. No explanation was given how she would explain Jamila’s disappearance to her family. Surely she would be missed eventually? Also Adam, “famous missing astronaut” reported missing on the news. Did he confirm he was alive to his space mission colleagues? Mind you Doctor Who has form here as way back in 2009 how did Yuri and Mia explain their presence back on Earth after the base exploded in the Waters of Mars. Maybe I am overthinking this point but its little illogical things such as this that could be solved with a line of the script.
There’s more ….
- The doctor asked Ryan to dissect a dead bird when a scientist Suki is there stood next to him. Really Doctor?
- Everyone forgot about poor Amaru
- Jake up in an alien spaceship without a spacesuit (ok maybe I have to suspend my disbelief for this one)
Supporting cast and the Fam
I did think that having a large number of characters included within a wide-reaching story such as this did not serve them well as that there just wasn’t enough time given to know them properly. Most were sketchy there just to serve the plot. Three victims initially, then Suki, Amaru and the two-alien crew who died plus Jake, Adam and Gabriela. Adam and Jake the married couple were the standouts of the episode, struggling with commitments issues both well acted but the others won’t be that memorable in the long run. Poor Amaru got disregarded about pretty quickly.
It seems that Chibbers and the writers are learning to split our Tardis crew up and this worked really well. I like that the Doctor had already briefed the “Fam” and they were on a mission when we saw Yas and Graham in Hong Kong and Ryan in Peru. The assumption being they were aware of the same things we have seen as an audience but it added interest that both were there for different reasons Ryan was looking for a bird to take back for the Doctor and Yaz and Graham were following energy readings. It’s motivating for their development that they had their own companions to talk with as they explored as it also expanded the story onto a larger scale.
JAKE My husband is an astronaut. Do you have any idea how hard it is being married to somebody that impressive?
In series 11 Yaz was too much in the background but in Praxeus we saw a streak of independence emerging, as she was thinking methodically perhaps due to her police training but also as a character keen to explore and somewhat follow in the Doctor’s footsteps. Ryan, I found was quite well paired with the fiery Gabriela but there is something about his demeanour which is sometimes slightly dull even though he’s a sweet slightly vulnerable character. Bradley Walsh always manages to find the humour in Graham but his best interaction was the man to man discussion with Jake on the beach where he listened and sometimes didn’t say a word. I really want to know more about Graham aside from being married to Grace.
DOCTOR: Oh, I’m a sucker for a scientist
Jodie worked well popping up unexpectedly to guide the others. Her disappointment in Suki and in herself when she realised she had been duped is so the Doctor. I did find at times though there was still the breathlessly gasping and talking to herself (prefixed by “Oh” quite a lot) which distracted me. Her doctor talked a lot in this story in a not particularly subtle way and sometimes it moved the plot along as in the case of the bird enzymes attacking the bacteria and other times it was silly. Jake when in the spacecraft says he dispersing the antidote, we see it and then the Doctor says it again. It’s too much exposition to explain what was going on from her to the audience. Maybe it’s a fault of the writing that the only way they can show the Doctor is clever is by having her talk constantly
JAKE: Dispersing antidote… I think.
DOCTOR: Jake, you’ve done it. Antidote particles being dispersed into the jet streams.
This story is a better effort overall than the other “issue” episode Orphan 55, with superior signposting of its themes and a clearer narrative although not without some faults. Praxeus does lack some of the necessary subtlety with its characters to resonant deeply and leaves a lasting impression but like Orphan 55 is bold in its ambitions. It lands altogether more successfully through its use of a current hot environmental topic mixed in with a mostly satisfying well-created solution
Reviewing Orphan 55 against this story I think I overmarked it initially with a score of 7 so welcome to decimal scoring …Until next time