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Here’s What The Doctor Who Companion Thought of Spyfall, Part 1

Secret service agents across the world are being attacked, their DNA rewritten. Mysterious aliens, seemingly made of light and capable of phasing through objects – even into the TARDIS herself! – have been spotted, and are seemingly chasing the Doctor and co., all of whom have been employed by MI:6 to get to the heart of the problem.

Stephen Fry represented the dusty old establishment, certain that the Doctor was a man; he was then shot in the head. Lenny Henry scowled and threatened and waved a gun around. And Sacha Dhawan? O, he gave a Masterly performance. That’s Spyfall: Part 1.

In his review, James Baldock says:

“I’m not sure I can say with a clear conscience that this was any sort of classic, but neither was it a car crash (although it features one or two). Spyfall strides the awkward middle line between haphazard fun and mediocre buffoonery, equal parts cringe to crowdpleasing, and there is a sense, as its closing credits roll, of having watched something that was basically candy floss: enjoyable while it lasts but flimsily and loosely constructed, and prone to falling apart the second you poke at it. That’s probably okay: some people like candy floss.”

But what did everyone else think of Spyfall; Part 1? Well, we can’t ask everyone, so instead, we asked a few contributors still lurking around after the Doctor Who Companion‘s Christmas party. Some had sobered up. Others hadn’t. See if you can tell which is which. You may be surprised.

Tony Stokes

We were promised spectacle and we got it. We got action. We got a sense of menace. UNIT and Torchwoood were mentioned. From virtually no nods to the past, we got several. There wasn’t much in the way of character development, but it wasn’t that sort of episode. Lenny Henry pitched his acting just right. Stephen Fry was wasted. I suspected O was a wrong ‘un but had no idea which one…

I have a theory about  the aliens.But I am probably wrong, so I’ll keep schtum. A promising start to the season.

Colin Burden

Because of Series 11, I selected Spyfall Part 1 from my TiVo’s recordings as if it were a bit of a chore; I had low expectations and a “let’s get this over with” attitude. It didn’t help that it was advertised as a James Bond satire which, let’s face it, has been done to death over the years by all and sundry.

Then it surprised me. Aside one or two issues, I really enjoyed it.

Most of the episode contained what the whole of Series 11 was missing: adventure, escapism, monsters/aliens, and any moral posturing being subtle rather than in your face. For example, the digs at Google and Facebook.

There were some nice action set-piece nods to Bond: a dead chauffeur (Live and Let Die), motorbike chase (Tomorrow Never Dies), jumping into the back of the plane (The Living Daylights), and the same plane in a dive (Die Another Day). Was the ‘uploading of data before Barton returns’ a nod to Spooks or Mission ImpossibleSpooks used a similar sequence often. Even Sir Lenny Henry’s character name, Barton, was a spy nod: Dick Barton Special Agent! (Cue the Devil’s Gallop).

I still find Whitaker lacking in gravitas, but this went some way in moving that attitude on and I was relieved that the sonic screwdriver ‘over-reach’ was missing.

“Doctor, The Doctor” was a bit cringy, but I suppose in any James Bond pastiche, variations on that line are compulsory. But I loved the ‘snap’ gag.

But overall, what surprised me the most is that I didn’t want the episode to end. That hasn’t happened for quite a long time. I just hope episode two can keep up the pace.

As for Sacha Dhawan and bearing in mind the calls for him to be the Doctor from members of this site: Touché, Chibnall.

The Girlfriend’s opinion: “They’ve spent some money on that.”

Bar Nash-Williams

‘A lot of inconsistencies, but very, very interesting.’

I said I’d be positive, so:

  • Sense of real menace in the pre-credits sequence.
  • Aginola’s music.
  • The sense of humour is improving. The bit with Yaz’s family was funny – Dad’s search for shoes, Graham pointing his laser shoes: is that going to be Chibs’ theme?
  • ‘I saw some great rocks.’ Love it. Playing snap was funny. As was the way Yaz and Ryan reacted to ‘how do you feel about undercover?’ Yaz got all the best best lines, and the best role too.
  • I appreciated Henry’s understated performance, and the ‘alien eye’ chairs in Barton’s office.
  • Barton’s aide with check trousers and bow tie is a Who fan. And Barton’s scarf is a Lovarzi rip-off.
  • The TARDIS set does look bigger; the Doctor using that extra space bounding down to secure the doors.
  • The monsters are a spooky, genuine threat. ‘Your shape’ – pause – ‘amuses us.’ In a tank and a low, modulated voice – echoes of the 456.
  • The ‘governments have been superseded by tech companies’ speech started okay, but landed a bit clunky.
  • Mystery: the place Yaz then Doctor end up – synapses? Cocoons? The Matrix?

‘All the gear, but no idea.’

So to the negatives:

  • Subtlety, Zero. I do not like the way they handle the TARDIS, working on it from outside like a Reliant Robin – and I thought using it to cook a turkey was demeaning.
  • I still don’t like the way Chibs writes the Doctor’s dialogue. ‘Big, serious crisis.’ No.
  • Graham: ‘are you just here for the running commentary?’ – having nothing to do; the Doctor didn’t even notice him until Yaz repeated his warning.
  • Ryan’s ‘I’m never going to let that happen to you’ was annoying; he just did, potentially.
  • Car/bike chase needed a Steve McQueen jump. And arriving after a chase Barton would surely set all his security to find them, not just calmly fly off!
  • ‘Oh, come on Doctor; catch up.’
  • Doctor doesn’t know anything more than we do. Hubby thinks she should; he misses the cleverest person in the room. Back in the early days, the Doctor didn’t always know everything, but had authority. In that sunset face-off, being less dangerous than Barton is not true to any of her predecessors. Capaldi’s line – ‘if you’re winning and I’m in the room you’re missing something’ – highlights that here she’s not winning. She’s missing everything. I feel safer with Yaz.

Okay, who else called the baddie from the very first shot? No character introduced from the back, Master of all he surveys, is going to be a goodie. The ‘welcome to my parlour’ vibe, obvious when he’s telling Graham about her, or watching her decode the alien software. He interrupted her question about multiple Earths to deflect her. It was obvious that he was A Baddie, just not that he was THE Master. Not much to judge him on yet, but unconvinced. If you’re going to be the Master, don’t be Simm’s; be your own. Though the ‘man close to my heart’ should have been ‘hearts’ – is that a clue? ‘Wicked witch of the west’ implies ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore’. The ‘everything you think you know is a lie’ might be in Extremis’ territory, or maybe just Red Dwarf’s AR suite.

I won’t judge on half a story; we’ll see if Part 2 tips the balance.

Paul Cheesman

I was bored somewhat until the last five minutes. The Men In Black sketches did nothing for me, although at least each companion had their five seconds of solo glory. The car attacking and being out of control felt very ATMOS (The Sontaran Stratagem/ The Poison Sky).

There was a lack of depth, hence believability, of Yasmin and Ryan visiting VOR and doing everything they did in such a high security set-up, although the Aussy Ranch setting for the Master’s TARDIS was excellent and I failed to guess the Spymaster. Small point though: as the Doctor’s TARDIS was seen inside the Master’s one… doesn’t that cause a recursive loop (Logopolis)?

The ending was good – certainly a good reveal and presumably why Chibnall chose the episode name (we got a new ‘M’ at the end of Skyfall). What are these inter-dimensional beings? I would go for a new race of Cybermen to tag in with where Missy regenerated… “Peoples of the universe, please attend carefully. The message that follows is vital to the future of you all. The choice for you all is simple. A continued existence under my guidance, or total annihilation”. This time he is going for total annihilation.

Final Verdict – episode one – slow but saved by the ending.

Rick Lundeen

This was actually a welcome surprise. An actually scary threat, all the companions having things to do, great guest cast, and surprises.

We got an alien threat that seems very threatening indeed and if you wanted big stakes, it seems as though you’ve got them. Graham was great as usual, still the best of the lot but Yaz got more attention this ep than in the entirety of Series 11 and everyone was well utilised. There was a better emotional connection between companions here, so Chibs is learning. Ryan was a bit useless and made to be a buffoon again, which was unfortunate. He’s never gonna let anything happen to Yaz? Bless.

“C” doesn’t know the Doctor’s a woman, so we get to see another “stupid man” get taken down by her saying she’s had an upgrade? Enough already. To the Doctor, bodies are boring. Neither Whittaker under Chibs nor Capaldi under Moffat should take a stand that a female incarnation is better simply because they feel guilty about the past millennia. Oh, and that exchange was totally gratuitous and unnecessary anyway — C doesn’t know she’s a woman but MI6 have intimate knowledge about exactly where Graham, Yaz, and Ryan are geographically every minute? Come on, make up your mind. But it’s okay, as the stupid man is now dead.

The Doctor’s still not inspiring confidence, no, but she does get serious. It still seems like Lenny Henry has her over-matched in a stare down which is not good either.

Now, the Gallifreyan elephant in the room. I suspected that O might be something other than who he purported to be but I did not see him being the Master. I did not see that coming. This may be an opportunity to do something very interesting with this incarnation of the Master as far as which incarnation he is. Maybe so far back that he has no knowledge of the Time War? Hmmm.

But overall, I think this was a good step up from what we saw last year and maybe the most well rounded and capable script from Chibnall to date. I’m giving this a thumbs up. Say 7/10

Am I being too generous? Do I want the show to be good again so badly that I’m ignoring problems and popping on the rose colored glasses? I can’t say — I’m too close to it – but if nothing else, I do believe there’s been an improvement across the board. I’m eager to see Part 2 and see if Chibs can stick the landing. Too often, we’ve seen big two-part stories in this and other shows that can do a great set-up but not necessarily finish it off properly. Fingers crossed.

Simon Danes

Series 2 of Bubble and her Fam kicks off with – well, more of the same, really. Uninvolving, uninspiring, bland, beige, and vanilla. Ironic that the Beeb followed it with a trailer for Good Omens with David Tennant, which may have served to remind viewers of happier times…

The story so far all reminded me, oddly enough, of The Keys of Marinus: a series of narrative strands with the separated TARDIS crew wandering up dull narrative cul-de-sacs that lead nowhere, only to be finally reunited for the last bit. At least Marinus had a good leading cast. Couldn’t even get excited about Stephen Fry, Lenny Henry, the pretty visuals, the tweaks to that rotten TARDIS set (you can re-sculpt a dunghill but it remains a dunghill), or the revelation that Waris Hussein is the Master. (And contrast it to the revelation that Professor Yana is the Master: one left me open-mouthed, the other would have prompted me to utter the syllable “meh” if I’d had the necessary viewer involvement. Which I didn’t.)

I know, I know: too early to pass judgement on Sacha Dhawan’s performance. It’s just that the Master is still one of the most coveted parts on British television. They could have got some titanic actors queueing up to play him. Kenneth Branagh said he wanted to play the Master, for goodness’ sake! I know Sacha’s a good actor but honestly, if you had the pick of British talent (and they did), would he really be on the top of the short list?

Oh well. Good to see some people liked it. Me, I’ll just sit it out and wait for a change of cast and a new showrunner. Then we might get Doctor Who back.

Tony Jones

I’ve decided Doctor Who is a state of mind. I was in the mood for a bit of entertainment, some action, and a sci-fi twist and Spyfall Part 1 delivered. I didn’t mind (most of) the flaws, irritations, inconsistencies, and somewhat wasted screentime; instead I enjoyed what we had of Stephen Fry, was glad the white light aliens didn’t have a trite name (the Bright perhaps?), and it took yet another existential threat to the universe to annoy me even a little.
I felt Jodie’s Doctor was better, liked the odd close-ups at the beginning, and am rather looking forward to Sunday night.

Of course I can’t ignore the two biggest elements of Spyfall Part 1.

Chris Chibnall made sure tea drinking got prime importance, and we can even add iced tea to the Doctor’s list of preferred tipples!

Even more importantly (perhaps), Yaz actually had some character depth and gave Mandip Gill some real acting to do! Her time in the strange forest clearly upset her and she came back genuinely distressed. Add to this the sense of still wanting to make a go of her day job and I have to say this was Yaz’s best episode by far!

Oh yes, we had Sacha Dhawan play a new incarnation of the Master. I knew there was something else! I’ll let others talk about the surprise twist, obvious trick, mad Master, and pre- vs post- Missy!

Jonathan Appleton

Congratulations to the production team for pulling off one of the bigger surprises in modern Doctor Who history – no small feat in the social media age. When Sacha Dhawan’s O said he’d met the Doctor once before, I was worried we were in for one of those meta explanations referring back to the actor’s appearance in An Adventure in Space and Time but thankfully not – it was all part of the misdirection in a story which ramped up the action and left a good few questions for the remainder of the series to address.

Aliens in Doctor Who are always so much more frightening when we don’t know their plan and this episode made the most of that, their glowing, ghostly presence providing a nicely unnerving threat for the regulars to be baffled by. The James Bond elements didn’t quite hit home for me – there are plenty of other shows I can look to for screeching tyres and blazing gunfire – but I will concede that they were a fun device with which to frame the tale. Second parts are often a bit of a disappointment, but I have to say I’m pleased we don’t have to wait a week for this one.

Jordan Shortman

Following on from Series 11, I was anticipating Spyfall with both excitement and some feeling of dread. Series 11 wasn’t my cup of tea, mainly due to a poor quality of writing. So imagine my surprise when Spyfall knocked my socks off!

It was funny and dark and exciting while giving us a storyline and vibe we’ve never had the like of before. The writing from Chibnall was solid, as was the direction which helped to keep everything going nicely but the heart of this episode lay in its performances from the cast. Jodie was on top-form here, effortlessly devouring the script and delivering a great turn as the Thirteenth Doctor. Her companions were just as excellent; Bradley Walsh is always enjoyable and that didn’t change and I really enjoyed the performances from Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill; Gill in particular got plenty to do here which was nice to see. Lenny Henry was good as Daniel Barton and I’m looking forward to seeing where he goes in the second episode. And Stephen Fry was great… for the few seconds he was in it!

If the episode suffered in any way, it was perhaps some of the padding in the middle but the reveal at the end more than made up for that. I was shocked – Chibnall has actually brought the Master back?! Sacha Dhawan was excellent, especially after the twist and O’s true intentions were revealed. And what a cliffhanger, The Doctor teleported away, Ryan, Yaz, and Graham stuck on a crashing aeroplane, the Master gone. It made me ask, how are they going to get out of this one? And I can’t wait to see how!

Leon Hewitt

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t even sure I’d be watching this year. In fact, I nearly forgot it was on. It was the now traditional “Happy New Who Day” text arriving from a good friend of mine (one of us sends it at the start of every series) that reminded me that the show was back. As I tapped in a reply, I suddenly realised that no self respecting Doctor Who fan stops watching just because they’re not enjoying it.

However, it turns out that I ended up quite enjoying it after all. This episode felt bolder and more confident than any of Chibnall’s inaugural run. Gone was the “Sleepy Sunday evening drama”/”Programmes for Schools and Colleges” feel that plagued his earlier output as showrunner. Instead we got an exciting, creepy, mildly satirical episode. And the return of the Tissue Compression Eliminator (which still gives me nightmares). This New Year’s Day, the programme finally started to feel like the show we all love again.

Fitting then that the production team decided to dedicate this episode to the man responsible for a lot of what we enjoy about Doctor Who, Terrance Dicks. At times, this felt like a remake of a lost Pertwee story that Uncle Terry may have commissioned. We had an extended car chase, the Doctor repairing the TARDIS in a garage just before being seconded by a secret government organisation, and the reappearance of the Master (beautifully eschewing continuity by not mentioning Missy or the events in The Doctor Falls – “If they’re asking questions about inconsistencies, the show is not good enough.” as the late Mr. Dicks put it.)

And when they weren’t channeling the Dicks/Letts era, the scenes where Yas was transported to wherever she was transported to by the shining silhouettes felt very much like a Holmes/Hinchcliffe scene. Finally in the Chibnall era we get some proper peril, a proper adventure.

So, all in all, a very positive start. Yes, we always say we want Doctor Who to evolve and surprise us with something new. But by taking elements of two of the show’s most successful periods and slamming them together with a whopping budget, this episode did surprise. And delight.

Andrew Hsieh

A strong start to a new decade and a new series, exactly 10 years after saying farewell to David Tennant in the second half of The End of Time. To be honest, I think this is by far the best episode that Chris Chibnall has written as showrunner, now that he’s finally back on track; a vast improvement from doing a full run of stand-alones in 2018, with more time to flesh out the plotting and character development.

The Bond-esque premise and homages were just fascinating. Uniquely incorporated with a good balance of action, thriller, and comedy, including the wide variety of locations familiar to the Whoniverse (London, San Francisco, Australia etc.) and Segun Akinola’s devoted score and motifs. Speaking of his music, I was pleasantly surprised by how they put more emphasis on the original 1963 melody in the iconic theme tune; gives it a feel of suspense during the title sequence right after the ‘cold open’ (first time seen since 2017).

Even though Stephen Fry’s “C” was, unexpectedly, assassinated in a very short period of time, his appearance wasn’t wasted a bit with a hint of whimsical dialogue. Same with Lenny Henry, I loved his sombre portrayal as the shady Daniel Barton, which clearly reminds me of when he appeared in the third series of Broadchurch (also starring Jodie Whittaker).

And last but not least, Sacha Dhawan’s mysterious “O” who we thought was an old ally of the Doctor. The thing that got me wondering about him was that moment when he offered to show Graham the files in his ‘house’. “Did he know Clive Finch or work at UNIT?” I thought. Well, it’s certainly a good thing to be misled though, whilst watching serial dramas.

But then it came, the ultimate twist that we didn’t see coming… a new incarnation of the Master. I was shocked. I couldn’t stop gasping in horror throughout the closing minutes, almost as if I were having a panic attack; especially the part where he unveiled his Tissue Compression Eliminator with the real “O”. Nevertheless, he was brilliant – very Saxon-esque with his mannerisms. With that said, I still want to find out who exactly those Kasaavin creatures are. Could they be the newest Cybermen design, similar to their ‘ghost form’ in Army of Ghosts, or the Voord according to the latest rumours? Only time will tell… in Part 2.

Indeed it will! All in all,Spyfall Part 1 seems to have gone down rather well, though few can really agree why – except for that reveal at the end. That O was actually the Master seems to have pleased the majority of fans.

How will they get out of that cliffhanger? We don’t have long to wait to find out…

Philip Bates

Editor and co-founder of the Doctor Who Companion. When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything. Writer of The Black Archive: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang, The Silver Archive: The Stone Tape, and 100 Objects of Doctor Who.

Here’s What The Doctor Who Companion Thought of Spyfall, Part 1

by Philip Bates time to read: 15 min
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