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Skies are Falling! Doctor Who S12 E1/E2 Spyfall Review

Dear reader wow series 12 is finally here after a long year and it’s great to have new content to review. A few months ago, I wrote that I hoped the production team had reviewed some of the decisions from the last series and one of the items I mentioned was a lack of two-parters. I’ve seen the trailers for the first episode and it’s really exciting to have a two-parter. In a recent Doctor Who Magazine article Chris Chibnall said Series 12 is phase two of a strategic plan with deliberate development and progression. The tone of episode 2 felt different to Episode 1 but with each bringing their own touch of the familiar.

Episode 1 James Bond-style adventure where we met a supervillain and new aliens.

Spymaster

Yes, I am going to tackle the massive secret revealed in the last couple of minutes of the first episode first! I’m so glad it was kept a secret because it’s WILD! Yes, the arch-enemy of the Doctor, the Master is back! It was delicious to see as the realisation set in for the Doctor and for us. Sacha Dhawan chewed up the scenery springing around like an imp on acid, clapping his hands, so pleased with himself at his cleverness.

Spies in Disguise- The "Fam" is back
Spies in Disguise- The “Fam” is back

Sacha Dhawan was totally channelling John Sim’s mania so that makes me think he must be the regeneration after Sim but before Missy. I really hope that is what is revealed later and they don’t jettison the Missy redemption arc created by Moffat. Sacha Dhawan created a subtle straight performance however as Horizonwatcher so I really enjoyed the reveal and what a hoot that he adopted the letter O due to his narcissism. The clues were there to his real identity I guess as O revealed he had files on the Doctor and the advanced technology he had within his “house”.  I really hope his masterly performance has some reason as well as madness but I somehow doubt it. He left the doctor to die with an intriguing message which I really hoped would be explained in Episode 2.

The highs and lows of the episode

The fact that I watched the first episode three times must mean I really enjoyed it. Yes, it was imitative, a pastiche, but it set its cards out quickly and clearly as spies kept being bumped off. I liked the alien Kasaavins who in silhouette looked like Chinese mud men but they did provide a sense of menace and felt very X Files coming through walls. One of the issues I thought was wrong last series was there was too much standing around talking so an episode inspired by the James Bond films was a definitive positive. I think Chris Chibnall has listened to the criticism of Series 11 regarding pacing and added more show don’t tell in this episode. All the espionage scenes felt familiar enough that I found myself relaxing into the story and relishing all the genre tropes such as the team decked out in tuxedos, the gadgets, Mr Big Lenny Henry playing a sneaky megalomaniac.

A Kasaavin and Barton
A Kasaavin and Barton

The direction by Jamie Magnus Stone was excellent adding sorely needed pace which a show like Doctor Who thrives on. The director made the most of the foreign location to ensure it looked suitably stunning. It was REALLY fun seeing all the gadgets, the plane, the motorbikes, the cars. I really liked the peril for the “fam” once the suicidal car starting racing down the motorway to kill its passengers. Did anyone else get an ATMOS feel with the car? The vibe with the night scenes in the car was definitely Chris Chibnall as it reminded me of Jodie’s first episode “The Woman who fell to Earth especially with the background score running alongside from Segun Akinola with the eerie 1980’ sci-fi film beat.  Stephen Fry talking through the audio sounded like Gus from “Mummy on the Orient Express” I must say Stephen Fry was wonderfully British as only he can be, in a sadly short role as C – the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service. He bit the bullet O Oh!

Worse. Uber. Ever – Graham

Although it took a few minutes to re-establish where all the supporting characters were in their lives, which felt a little superfluous, I enjoyed Yas’s development actually pitting her interrogation skills against Daniel Barton.  Her emotional reaction after being zapped into the alien realm and returned to the outback felt like some payoff which we were waiting for her character since series 11. Ryan was there as support and she actually feels like the bossier one of the two so a Zoe and Jamie type of relationship could work well between them.

A spooky and fun spy adventure 8/10

Episode 2 The Doctor travels through history and discovers a terrible fate for humanity

The Timeless Child

Chris Chibnall is certainly turning his back of the stand-alone stance of series 11 and has added a series arc with the “timeless child” which I hoped for in my wish list. The fate of Gallifrey started with Russell T Davies wherein the Time War the planet was lost and destroyed, Steven Moffat brought it back, and now it’s destroyed again. I can honestly say I am a little nervous at this particular route of the Master destroying Gallifrey (and hinting at sinister secrets). Let’s see how this whole arc plays out. It has the potential to rewrite the entire history of the Timelords. Eek!

Everything that you think you know is a lie – The Master

The highs and lows of the episode

Previously on Doctor Who… Yes, this is new with the voice of Jodie and I am glad the precredit sequence made a return this series. Doctor Who really needs that hook for the audience.

I wondered how they would resolve the plane going down and I’m no expert but did anyone else think that the plane took ages on its path towards the earth considering there was no cockpit? Chris Chibnall borrowed the pre-recording trick from “Blink” which was okay. But he borrowed too many concepts from other eras, the mind-meld from the classic era, characters on the run, pursued by a person in control of technology from “The Sound of Drums” the Master living through the 20th and 21st century as Jack Harkness had to in Torchwood. I’m not sure whether he is paying homage to those ideas by reusing them or he can’t find his own unique solutions…

Jodie still irritates me when she tries comedy and there were lots of times I sighed in frustration for both episodes. “I’ve had an upgrade”, the snap gag in the casino was childish, the big crisis, kisses call to O, talking to herself come to mind) But then I really enjoyed her scenes with Sacha Dhawan in Episode 2 He snapped, cackled and popped in his scenes and she came up to meet him in those scenes. Finally, she has an adversary who she reacts to believably,  is allowed to show disdain, concern and act at a deeper level. To see her distress at the destruction of Gallifrey and anger at the Master reminded me of Capaldi’s reaction when Missy told him the co-ordinates for Gallifrey in “Death in Heaven”. That she reiterated her identity when asked by her companions as a Timelord made her seem more real, more open emotionally than I saw most of the last series.

Seeing both the Master and the Doctor above the human race atop the Eiffel Tower reminded me they are both renegades, equals in status if not attitude. Whilst the Master is a master of disguise seeing him as a Nazi was a strange ( obvious ? ) concept and seemed deliberately set to put him in bad taste. But what I do like is the actor Sacha manages to balance the rage and madness shown in 1843 with the tissue eliminator with a kind of calm callousness in 1943 and then a brute honesty as a hologram. Is that due to the writing or the actor I’m not sure? There was one strange scene where the soldiers shot the floor in the house where the Doctor and Noor were hiding and the Master just walked out. I did wonder did he know they were there or does he just do that for kicks. If he did, then the Master never checks the details of his schemes to see if they died.

Ooh he is a Master of disguise! 1
Ooh he is a Master of disguise! 1
Ooh he is a Master of disguise! 2
Ooh he is a Master of disguise! 2

Moving over to our other villain. The speech from Barton about how easily we give our data away electronically really hit its mark. Trusting in the technology we have and that the personal information we give is safe is a fallacy. I found the actual scene where people were being upgraded a bit of an anti-climax though. It just seemed too far-fetched as a scheme for us to be hard drives. I was more curious and really wish we had learnt more about Barton’s “mummy issues”. Lenny Henry was bitter coolly detached from reality and it was shocking to see him kill his mum. He seemed to exit quickly at the end from the scheme without any repercussions but I wonder if the long arm of the law will catch up with him eventually.

Going off on a companion tangent I certainly loved Graham over the two episodes. He has a quiet assuredly and gets some terrific one-liners with the Doctor. Bradley Walsh is pure comedy gold, so solid as Graham and seeing him dance in laser shoes was a definite highlight.

I suppose having two historical female figures in the story was meant to be an opportunity to educate us about” great women” but it felt clumsy and slightly lecturing.  Going to 1943 and meeting Noor Khan was probably superfluous. If you consider her eventual fate in real life being sent to a concentration camp and shot she felt a poorly sketched character for a British heroine of World War Two. It felt she was shoved into the story only for the purposes of using the radio to contact England about the Master and probably deserved a story to herself. Having Ada Lovelace, who was a determined, intelligent Miss to assist the Doctor would have been enough working alongside Charles Babbage, for me anyway.

The resolution of a story can be tricky and Episode 2 was a solid enough episode in that it answered the questions from Episode 1 about who the aliens were, what the relationship was between the Master and Barton. The Silver Lady figurine was also interesting as a device to summon the Kasaavins.

If I consider the story as a whole it feels slightly uneven for me.in that I think part 2 was so heavily plot-driven compared to Episode 1. It was packed full and only on a second watch was I was paying close attention did all of Episode 2 come together to satisfy as a part of the whole.

A busy episode where Jodie got serious 7.5/10

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