The Master is back, the Doctor’s been teleported to an unknown planet, and her companions are plummeting from the sky! Fortunately, the Doctor gets out of that predicament with a little help from Ada Lovelace (who ends up in the same place, for reasons), and presumably a rewatch of Blink. Meanwhile, the Master chases the Time Lord through time and ends up on the wrong end of some Nazis.
That was Part 2 of Spyfall, the opening serial of Doctor Who Series 12. In his review, Drew Boynton considers:
“Spyfall Part 2 zips along at a Steven Moffaty pace and feels as Big and Epic as second-year showrunner Chris Chibnall and the BBC probably intended. Surely in order to woo back viewers after a mixed reception to Series 11, they have brought out the big guns: legendary guest stars, big-budget gloss, action(!), a beloved (or be-hated?) villain, and an over-arching mystery for the season.”
But what did the rest of the DWC think? We rounded up a few contributors and questioned them with bright lights trained on their faces…
I’ve been a pretty vocal opponent of the Thirteenth Doctor. Series 11 was too “light”; it didn’t at all feel like the same character played by Hartnell, Baker, Tennant, et al…
However, that all changes now. This episode was a godsend. It was by far and away the best single episode we’ve gotten with the Thirteenth Doctor. There were handful of ones from Series 11 that I liked, but even those still didn’t really feel like Doctor Who. This one did.
For a start, she didn’t seem lost or know what she should be doing. That’s been a major problem to date – the Doctor always seemed like she needed help, was never in control. Not this time: she was plotting, dominating, and really acted like the Doctor we knew in the past. There was a meeting of historical figures from the real life past – and a story over multiple time periods… But most importantly, the Doctor also wasn’t waving the sonic around like a doofus. Every time that happened, I would always hear the War Doctor saying “they’re not water pistols!”
But this one – all that was gone. This was proper Doctor Who again for me. We had a great guest (Mr. Gareth Blackstock himself), had some exposition scenes that didn’t drag, had the Master, the companions weren’t totally useless, some comedy (Laser shoes!) – it wasn’t a standalone episode; it was part of a larger whole. Basically all the bits I liked in Doctor Who. This was the first one where I saw “The Doctor” in a Whittaker episode.
I’m also particularly known for loving self referential stuff. There were several throwbacks in this episode. There was a reference to Logopolis (mentioning of Jodrell Bank), a reference to the 50th Anniversary Special (a return to Modern Gallifrey), and a reference to The Three Doctors and Five Doctors specials with “Contact!” (where the Doctor and the Master talk to each other via their minds), and a reference to the Tenth Doctor being able to remove people’s memories (like Donna).
Speaking of that, the scene with the Doctor and the Master at the top of the Eiffel Tower had some great dialogue. I particularly loved the Master saying “Why would it stop?” His acting was good too here, almost felt like the Master would be crying about Gallifrey.
Speaking of the Gallifrey, I wonder if all the “ghosts” here are actually the dead Time Lords from Gallifrey that the Master killed. Wouldn’t be the first time the Master has done that – the Toclafane, anyone?
Loved this episode, and hope the rest of the series is like this. One last comment: Lenny Henry’s character escaped, so he might come back later.
Well I got that the Master was going for ‘total annihilation’ (Logopolis speech) from Part 1 but Part 2 was a strange mix of disjointed, or rather disconnected, segments plus copying a lot of other scriptwriters’ ideas.
Whilst somethings are ‘Who-niversal’ like two hearts, regeneration, Gallifrey etc, some things are one-offs which relate to one story… “Receiving messages written in the past from the future” is Steven Moffat’s Big Bang whilst “talking to a recording, and the Doctor seeming to answer back” is Blink; the whole world population “being taken over by their mobile phone” is from Tom MacRae’s Rise of the Cybermen; The “Rhythm of Two Hearts” is directly from Russell T Davies’ The Sound of Drums as is the ‘perception filter’ and it was his transforming all humans “by transmitting energy” that was the basis of The End of Time (except then they became the Master Race!) and also the ability to remove the Doctor from someone’s memory which was in RTD’s Journey’s End.
Those matters aside, we get an invisible enemy, lots of time jumping, the ‘Fam’ being ever so resourceful – I think that had one than one line each – and rather mellow ending to the ‘world domination tale’. It was, however, a bit more Who than we have seen previously.
The twist, however, was of great interest: Gallifrey destroyed by the Master, an unknown history featuring the ‘Timeless Child’ and thus there is a grave possibility (or forthcoming danger) of a complete rewrite of Gallifreyian history; just remember that “Everything you know was a lie!”.
Final Verdict – episode two – disconnected, slightly plagiaristic, but possibly saved by the Gallifrey reveal.
Considering this was the second half of the story, Spyfall Part 2 felt very different from the first episode. Surprising, then, that Chibnall chose to abandon the tradition Doctor Who has adopted since 2005 of each episode having its own title. For two such stylistically distinct episodes, different episode titles would have worked.
This episode left behind the Bond parody of episode 1 and went for something darker and slower paced. I got a vague sense of David Lynch inspiring much of this episode as the Doctor wandered around the dreamlike world of the Kasaavin. It evoked the atmosphere of the Black Lodge in Lynch’s Twin Peaks albeit with computing pioneer Ada Lovelace rather than a backwards-talking dwarf. The Doctor’s journey from the world back to the 21st Century felt like a time-travelling fever dream – dropping in on key moments in the history of computing and picking up a couple of companions on the way.
This episode was surprisingly creepy. We had the Master’s casual use of the Tissue Compression Eliminator (echoing how casually the sonic screwdriver is used in modern Who), Daniel Barton killing his Mum, and the Master ordering the machine gunning of floorboards the Doctor was hiding under. This was a long way from the previous series’ gentle tales teaching kids about Rosa Parks and the Partition of the Indian subcontinent. At points while I was watching this, I felt I was watching a re-interpretation of third episode of The Deadly Assassin.
Does this make for a better show? On occasion, Doctor Who is dark, but this is usually balanced with some lightness. The lighter elements here (such as Graham’s laser shoes) didn’t land as well as they might; they felt overwhelmed by the pervading bleakness. Which makes me wonder about the scheduling (if such a thing can still be considered relevant in this day and age). This episode was the lead in to the gentle Sunday night drama Call the Midwife. To go from a moody Jodie Whitaker contemplating the destruction of her home to the fun and frolics of midwifery in the Swinging Sixties feels odd. Whereas last year, Doctor Who felt too much like a gentle Sunday night drama, I’m now wondering if it’s swung too far the other way. I’m reminded of the superhero comics that came along in the wake of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Suddenly every character was being reimagined in a grim and gritty way. Are we seeing the same with Doctor Who now? Is this a reaction to the criticisms of the 2018 series? Is the Master’s comment about the Time Lords in this episode going to lead to a “grim-dark” reimagining of the show akin to those we saw DC and Marvel do with their characters in the late ’80s? I’m intrigued to find out.
There’s something slightly amateurish about the sight of an ashened, ruined Gallifrey some 10 or 15 minutes after we’ve heard the Master talking about its destruction. It gives the Doctor a reason to pop over there (something she can apparently do at will now, even though the Time Lords are seemingly unable or unwilling to reciprocate) – still, how much better might it have been for us to first glimpse the torched citadel completely unwarned? ‘Show, don’t tell’ is a maxim that gets thrown about far too much, but it still feels as if this was the perfect opportunity to use it – as it stands, there is no shock value to the scene because we know it is coming, and the BBC presents only the most cursory of vistas, prompting only the mildest of reactions from the person looking at it. Would it have been too much to see the Doctor cry, or at least show some visible signs of upset besides sitting against a TARDIS wall, looking blank and forlorn?
Or perhaps that’s the point – perhaps this, too, is the calm before the storm, a storm the Doctor can only weather with the help of friends she is currently content to leave in the dark, thus setting the stage for six or seven episodes of skirting around the question of who she really is before a final, explosive confrontation. And perhaps that’s the only way to reinvent Gallifreyan history – something, it seems, Chibnall is about to do – without it becoming tedious. And it is destined to be tedious, this game of gods and monsters and prophecy. It is an awkward fact that stories about Time Lords – the anomaly of Deadly Assassin aside – tend towards dullness, and it is difficult to see how the current regime could reinvent them. But it does, at least, give us something to ponder as the weeks unfold and the awkwardness in the console room builds towards an inevitable crescendo. Like it or not, we’re going back to Gallifrey, and all that remains now is to see how much of the fandom Chibnall can poke with a stick without losing the casual viewers. It’s a dangerous game, but so is getting out of bed.
The rest of it is average: Graham is enjoying his laser shoes, while Yaz has apparently forgotten how to be a police officer, having decided that her role this week is to sit in the corner and look helpless while the men get to have all the fun. But the biggest problem with Skyfall Part 2 is that the pacing is off. Having the Doctor travel 200 years into the past to pick up Ada Lovelace is absolutely fine – the pages of exposition seemingly necessary to explain her importance, however, are downright tedious. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in 1830s London with Charles Babbage or war torn Paris with the cast of ‘Allo ‘Allo; Whittaker paces and monologues and gushes about the admirable pioneering qualities of the people whose memories she will eventually wipe, reeling out the history, seemingly unaware that the only people who tend to listen are stranded in 21st century Essex. It’s like watching a BBC Schools presenter on crack. There is a reason why the Doctor is not allowed to travel alone; occasionally she needs someone to tell her to shut up.
Last week, I had very low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. This week I was hoping that it would deliver again but, sadly, it wasn’t to be. Sacha Dhawan’s Master did deliver as did the last few minutes regarding the (re)destruction of Galifrey, but what preceded felt like a lot of padding. The Master following the Doctor through time could have been a different story altogether and the Kasavin, so central to part one, were almost relegated to an afterthought or a stand-in time ring.
Considering both episodes together, I was reminded of a 15-year-old me going to see The Empire Strikes Back – unpopular opinion alert – and feeling that the film’s finale was at the beginning with the spectacle of the Empire’s attack on Hoth. Maybe the impact of its ending was not so important to mid-teen me (I wasn’t particularly a Star Wars fan anyway), but I was aware that most movies had their big brash climaxes at the… well, climax. Spyfall seemed to suffer the same fate as Empire; the big action set pieces – the dead chauffeur sequence, the motor bike chase, the Outback siege, and the plane explosion – were all in the first half. The second half of the tale slowed down to a largely chatty episode (but which was stolen by Dhawan anyway).
I do like the fact that there is an air of mystery being put into a fairly lightweight Doctor, although a year between series was a long time to wait for the Timeless Child to get mentioned again. Could this bring a bit of needed gravitas to the character? Fingers crossed…
Leesten verry carefully: I shall say zees only once…
Jumping about all over the place and informing those of us who didn’t already know it – with typical sledgehammer subtlety – that women played a VERY IMPORTANT role in history and we should be VERY ASHAMED for not trumpeting this constantly, Doctor Who and ’Allo ‘Allo finally teamed up. I was hoping Herr Flick was going to emerge from the armoured jeep instead of the Master but was disappointed. Nor did René turn up to give us some gags about his mighty sausage. What a missed opportunity.
A noisy mess, really. I’m a bit deaf, so these days I have to watch Doctor Who with the subtitles on – but then have to turn the sound down when the effects or music get VERY LOUD and VERY SHOUTY. Why do they have to do this? I never have to bother with subtitles with Classic Who because it doesn’t feel the need, unlike Who today, to WAKE ITS AUDIENCE UP with VERY LOUD NOISES to make us all think it must be jolly exciting. Which it isn’t.
A few good bits but not enough to save the story from mediocrity, and I fear the current TARDIS crew wouldn’t be able to pull off a good script even if they got one. They haven’t had one yet. Some hint of subtlety and even nuance from Jodie at the end of the episode, moderating what has thus far been a one-note performance. There’s no range in this characterisation (is it a characterisation?) of the Doctor; it’s almost always on the daffy primary school teacher level. We had a hint of something deeper – but it’s not enough.
After that shocking plot twist on New Year’s Day, the two-part opener concluded with a (complete) change of direction in another hour of thrills, which all kept me guessing throughout. Not just the tone or setting, but also a different director taking over whilst Chris Chibnall pens both halves. That is definitely a first for a New Series multi-parter, if you exclude the Series 3 finale and “The Monks Trilogy”; just like with two episodes premiering on the exact same week (this time, four days apart), on BBC1, what a (belated) Christmas/New Year’s present!
First of all, I loved how they finally brought back recaps to the show (not seen since The Doctor Falls or, if it counts, Twice Upon a Time). What pleasantly surprised me about it was hearing Jodie Whittaker provide the “Previously on Doctor Who” voiceover – a trope often used in American serial dramas and sitcoms. Really cool, right? I think they should stick with the practice from now on.
In contrast to Part 1, where we see multiple locations across the world, the Doctor travels back in time to two different historical periods, London 1834 and Paris 1943, with some unexpected assistance from Ada Lovelace (name definitely rings a bell) and Noor Inayat Khan. Only to be ambushed by the Master (of disguise), who is also revealed to not be in control of the Kasaavin, seeing Sacha Dhawan wear Victorian garments with a top hat and, later, a Nazi officer uniform was none other than priceless; heavily “PC”, also, but I’m okay with that.
And I should also point out the very moment where the Doctor remarks that he is “not exactly their Aryan archetype”, which I believe could be an indirect reference to the comical “Master Race” from The End of Time.
While the subplot is heavily driven by the spy-fi/conspiracy elements, they still remain crucial to the overall theme in the present. It was miraculous to see how Graham, Ryan, and Yaz survived that crash landing, by following the Doctor’s Blink-esque instructions inside the plane. And getting tracked down by Daniel Barton in Essex, while using all the gadgets provided by MI6, couldn’t be more thrilling. So who was involved with Barton’s extraction near the end? Could it be that he’ll be back for the two-part finale, this time conspiring with the Cybermen, just like Tim Shaw and his SniperBots returning at the end of Series 11? Regardless of speculation, never say never.
And last but absolutely not least, the ultimate twist that we never saw coming: Gallifrey. To be honest, I felt like crying when the Doctor returned to her home planet, only to discover that it has been “nuked” by the Master – all in complete ruins with, presumably, no survivors. Purely horrific to view the sight of what she once called home. But it doesn’t end there. He also reveals to have learned a dark secret of their own species, and how it all somehow connects with… the Timeless Child. A new story arc, changing the course of history forever for the Doctor, it all looks very promising for the remainder of Series 12.
Highlights for me included Sacha Dhawan as the Master, whose performance is full of unhinged menace and avoids the high camp moments we tended to get from the recent incumbents of the role. In some ways this was an episode reminiscent of the Moffat era, full of reversals and misdirection, with that feeling of not quite knowing what’s going on. I will confess I let out a sigh at the prospect of a season-long arc plot, with characters referring cryptically to things they already know but aren’t ready to reveal, but perhaps that’s just the way it is with sci-fi shows these days.
Problems with the episode for me were the use of time travel by the Doctor to save her friends from a perilous situation (which surely removes any jeopardy from the series) and Gallifrey being destroyed again – a revelation which, rather like when Star Wars introduces another new Death Star, really doesn’t have the same impact when it’s already been done. But there were good moments along the way, including a spirited guest character in Ada (who I’d have to say outshone regular companions, Yaz and Ryan), and that speech by Lenny Henry which was as good a summary of the dangers of the modern technological age as I’ve heard.
Okay, I’m probably going to be at odds with many here, but I liked it.
Reboot #2: Imagine Series 11 never happened. Imagine this was our intro to the Doc and her Fam. Ryan, playing basketball but not totally comfortable, away a lot. Yaz with a normal family, good at her probationer job, also away a lot. Graham a widower with previous heart trouble, ‘travelling’ with a hint that it’s not always good. They get together with a strange person who is called up by the authorities to fix stuff, and she has access to things they don’t. The fam sleuth around, Something Scary comes through the walls, an old friend turns out to be an old enemy, and a modern-day issue is explored from origins to present-day potential misuse. The gang turn out to have something more to them than meets the eye, the Doc and her scary frenemy have some chemistry, and there are hints of mystery, backstory, some darkness, and plenty of humour. The two parts introduce time-travel, two TARDISes, three genres (Present-day Bond/action movie, Resistance France noir-ish war-movie, 19th Century Science Fair costume drama), and big guest stars. As a jumping on point to show what Who is all about, Spyfall’s not quite Rose or The Pilot, but much, much better than anything in Series 11.
Showrunner: It’s as though Chibs has finally found some confidence. I mean, look how much he’s playing with previous Who – Logopolis, Invisible Enemy, Parting of the Ways, Blink, etc. Chibbers to Moff – ‘You’re not the only one who can do classic.’
‘Timeless Child’ may not be quite as convoluted as Moff’s long plots, but is beginning to twist. In production terms, Chibs still has the big screen scale in mind, the sets and pace are good, the lighting/directing/camerawork luscious. The Kasaavin remind me of the Invasion of Time invaders; neither turned out to be a worthy adversary. The advance in SFX tools was utilised well in re-shaping background image, less so in blinding white light mode. Sekinola’s score still grabs me – I love the repeat drum roll when apparating Doctor ‘corrects’ herself (didn’t need to – on those days ‘man’ was used to denote both sexes). He has a lighter touch than Gold, but still a recognisable style.
Plot: The Doctor has a notorious habit of gratuitous name dropping, but here we get to see Famous People With A Point – using their knowledge and skills as part of the plot. We progress from the Difference Engine and Ada’s synapses to the Barton app for re-purposing brains as harddrives. The concern about data-harvesting a bit crass but not invalid. Good SF always platforms our present day hopes and fears.
The Doctor: Jodie is beginning to inhabit the role with some authority. Another thought experiment: imagine Matt Smith saying some of her dialogue and waving his hands around as she does. Imagine Troughton kneeling and rolling his eyes as he waits for the chance to get the upper hand. She’s not yet as good as either of them, but she is, portraying the same person, and finding her own take.
Friends: Graham’s still the heart and ‘normal bloke’ core, the experienced screen presence the younger actors lean on. Yaz, balancing her fear and excitement, care of family with thirst for adventure. Ryan tripping up steps when nervous, can’t ride a bike but can fly a plane, has the inner strength to keep fighting when all seemed lost. They all try out the ‘What Would The Doctor Do’ meme.
And Graham still found time to get a soft shoe in.
Ada and Noor make the most of their one-time companion roles; both have presence and aren’t fazed by the weird situation, Noor coolly saying ‘you’re new’ to the Camp Commandant, and Ada taking charge with the resources to hand. As usual the Doctor doesn’t use weapons because his/her friends do that instead, be it a steam gun or a laser shoe.
Not sure it’s fair on Ada to leave the Master in her mind…
Enemies: Like genres we get three in one story, an old long-term enemy, a one story Baddie, and a ‘monster’ that ends up being a throwaway.
Dhawan’s Master is scary, ruthless, angry. Better when not manic and giggly.
Barton still excellent, played utterly straight, relationship with Mum cold – like the Master, he was just trying to get attention. What happened to him?
Kasaavin – house of wine? Written under the influence, or best viewed that way? What were they doing there and why? Lots of unanswered questions, another threat got rid of too easily.
It’s the first time in Chibs’ tenure I’ve been left with a thought worth musing: ‘darkness never sustains.’
We might just be back on the road…
While I think this episode still ranks above past Chibnall efforts, A) that’s not saying much and B) it was a step down from last week.
This one had a lot of nice developments and story beats. Too bad half of them were rehashes of old episodes. Aside from the nod to Blink, a bit of Age of Steel was thrown in and a Big Bang homage, we get a major retelling of The Sound of Drums, with the fam on the run while they’re online as the Most Wanted on every screen, sitting around a warehouse chatting, and a raving lunatic Master, and right on down to the four beats of his hearts. I do have to go on record as saying that no, I’m not happy with another raving mad dog as the Master. He’s good when he tones it down but acting so irrationally so often at the drop of a hat makes it seem like he’s got an inoperable brain tumor.
Jodie held her own in person with the Master and I liked the multiple face offs, though admittedly, my mind started to wander during the Eiffel Tower scene at one point. Jodie in general was okay but again, I feel some of the enjoyment I might have gotten out of the episode, her performance was spoiled a bit by seeing old episodes repurposed here.
And I have to say it, the fam was about as useless as they could be. By mid episode, my wife suggested they all get traded for Ada, who seems more competent than the three of them put together. They’ve been uncovered as idiots. And I’m sorry, this Scooby Doo nonsense with Graham’s laser shoes. He’s tap dancing out deadly laser beams? That was beneath the SJA level of entertainment. You’re regressing, Chibs.
Furthermore, in World War II, A) they just land in front of the most important female spy in the war effort – -what a coincidence! They couldn’t be content with just one female trailblazer like Ada. Spread out the wealth, Chibs! B) Why exactly did the Doctor and Ada not get shot full of lead when the Nazis shot up the floor they were hiding? C) all the things the Master’s done, from mass murder to burning planets and dressing like a Nazi is “a new low”? Oh, wake up.
I did think the ending was strong though! Gallifrey, his holographic message, the Timeless Child call back, and her being serious with the fam at the end. She should get serious more often; it lends her some weight in her performance. This week’s, I’m going to have to give a 5 out of 10. Last week got 7/10, so the two parter averaged a 6/10.
I also predict that that his Timeless Child mystery will stretch to the end of Jodie’s run and Series 13.
Oh, but that was awful. C’mon folks – we’ve really lowered our standards if we thought that was good.
Okay, I’ll find some positives: that OAP pulling out her iPad and focussing it on the fugitives! Hilarious! Utterly ridiculous, obviously, so that was amazing. Sacha Dhawan’s great. Duh. He feels genuinely threatening, especially when carelessly flicking out the old Tissue Compression Eliminator. It’s just sad that all that led to a horribly misjudged scene in which the Doctor effectively takes away the perception filter and goes, “Look, collected fascists! This guy’s black!” I’m sure there was some spiel about him not being able to use those mind manipulation tricks he often does, but let’s face it, the subtext – notable because Chibnall’s stories seldom have subtext – is that the Doctor defeats the Master by pointing out to Nazis that he’s Asian. Disgusting.
The plot was disjointed, and much of it didn’t make much sense (why was Ada on that planet with the Doctor and why did they bring her back?), but at least the Doctor got something to do. Sort of. What she did was underwhelming, and again, the Thirteenth Doctor doesn’t command the respect or ooze the authority other incarnations (or other Time Lords, such as the Master/Missy and the Rani) do.
The threat fizzles away and you’re left with a story with very little substance.
And why is Chibnall displaying such a lack of basic Doctor Who knowledge or indeed knowledge of basic storytelling? What exactly did the Doctor’s companions do to add to the plot? Why haven’t they questioned who the Doctor is before? And why are they satisfied with what she does tell them?! “I’m a Time Lord from Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous” isn’t who she actually is. It’s lumpy exposition, revealing that there’s very little to actually intrigue you about this Doctor. Instead, we’re left with asking what’s happened to Gallifrey. Gallifrey, by the way, was burnt down by the same Time Lord who ran away from his people during the Time War and disguised himself as a human because he was so scared.
Don’t get me started on Gallifrey.
So instead: Ada recognises the Master’s voice while she and the Doctor are hidden under the floorboards. How? He didn’t say anything. How’d he find Gallifrey so easily? Others have pointed out the problem with the Jodrell Bank line, but surely we should also question why the Master’s TARDIS didn’t change while in France? The Doctor says it’s because he’s arrogant. That’s not how Chameleon Circuits work.
Even putting aside continuity issues (because, to be fair, when writing a drama, you’ve got to tell the best story you can, regardless of what’s come before), Spyfall was a poorly written serial which I suspect only pleased some folk because: 1. The Master was good; and 2. It hinges on various set pieces, acting as tent-pegs in an attempt to hold the mess together, i.e. the Master reveal in Part 1, and, in Part 2, what happened to Gallifrey.
Ah man, I really miss Doctor Who.
This is the episode we’ve been waiting for. Bold, powerful themes and a difficult resolution plus a high concept arc to come.
On the picky side, more time-travel trickery to save the companions than Curse of Fatal Death and how come the bizarre plot involved only female heroes from history? More important to note is why Ada and Noor made better companions than Graham, Ryan and Yaz?
Meanwhile Nazi Master in war-torn Paris as just a subset of a big bold plot ranging across recent history and even back to Gallifrey! A big dose of RTD style resetting with easily Jodie Whittaker’s strongest performance in the role at the end of the episode.
I’m genuinely rather excited and Chibnall has really got people talking about this again. I just hope it isn’t only the fans but a wider audience.
It’s a fairly mixed reception, but leaning more towards the positive flank than the negative.
Next time, will we find tranquility at the spa?