Doctor Who: Spyfall, part two

Okay, well, that was about as properly DOCTOR WHO as DOCTOR WHO has felt since the start of this new regime. It wasn’t perfect, naturally, it had its flaws–the largest of which being that the underlying plan of the Kasarvin is not only utter nonsense, it’s dispensed with almost off-handedly, so much so that secondary villain Barton just walks away, out of the story. But as with the best of WHO, the plot really provided a framework for fun moments and interesting character interactions, and some fun time travel shenanigans.

To start with, the Doctor actually felt like she was in the driver’s seat in much of this episode, even when she was on the back foot. More than anything, this was the element that had been missing for me in the most recent series, and so I hope that this heralds a movement in overall direction. It probably helped that the Doctor had an adversary to contend with, her best enemy, the one whose life most closely parallels her own. So we got plenty of good two-hander moments between Jodie Whittaker and the delightfully scenery-chewing Sacha Dhawan. (It is now impossible to go back and watch the docu-drama AN ADVENTURE IN TIME AND SPACE without reading in an unplanned-for subtext to the whole thing.)

Along those same lines, while on the run and bereft from assistance from the Doctor, the three amigos got to show their stuff as well. Any time we take a moment to linger on these characters and let them interact–as when they’re hiding out in the construction area and they pause to ask themselves not only what their next move is but also to stare at how little they really know about the Doctor, the characters start to come to life beautifully. On a percentage basis, this episode did better for them in this regard than most–and that’s even with the addition of two other time-tossed quasi-companions competing for screen time.

Stylistically, the production still seemed to be large, but it was a good choice to ditch the Bond pastiche after the previous episode–that let this one open up and become its own thing and kept it from becoming tiring. The couple of hold-overs–in particular Graham’s laser-shoes–verged on the ridiculousness but were employed with enough of a wink that I let them get away with it. I also couldn’t help but liking Ryan accidentally explaining the team’s plan to the security guys they’d waylaid. Again, anything that helps to give these characters added personality I’m all for.

What else? I liked the timey-wimey escape from the plane crash, which felt like a deliberate callback to the Moffat era in a “You want that sort of thing? I can do that sort of thing” manner. I also rather enjoyed the fact that the episode doesn’t bother to explain the mechanics of the escape until the very end. I liked the use of real historical figures and watching the Doctor work in each of those different eras. I particularly liked Ava Lovelace being gobsmacked by the future of 1943. And for all that Barton’s speech was hammer-on-nail I liked the fact that the episode had a message to convey about the state of the world and the manner in which we’ve compromised with these massive data-gathering entities for the sake of convenience. While the point could have been made with a little bit more subtlety I was glad that it was made at all.

The big stuff that everybody’s going to be talking about will of course be the revelations concerning Gallifrey and the Time Lords. It remains to be seen how this thread will play out over the series–my guess, were I a betting man, is that it will be largely back-burnered over the next six or seven episodes, only to come to the fore for the conclusion of the series. I will say that I’m rather glad that Chris Chibnell through his surrogate the Master burned the whole place down. The truth of the matter is that the Time Lords as a going concern are never really all that interesting, and they tend to make the Doctor feel less special. One of Russell T. Davies’ smartest moves when he brought the show back was in wiping them out, and making the Doctor truly a person without a home. I understand the impulses that led Steven Moffat to slowly reverse this state of affairs, but the end result wasn’t anywhere near as emotionally satisfying. So hopefully, they can stay good and burned this time. They’re better as an unobtainable memory in the first place, and a remembrance that the universe is a chaotic and dangerous place.

So, good marks all around. Season properly started. The show is feeling comfortable again. bring on the next one.

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