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Reviewed: Doctor Who Series 14 — Dot and Bubble

We all know what fans think of Doctor Who, but what about the viewers who like it but wouldn’t class themselves as fans? What did they make of Dot and Bubble?

To make a change from my banging on about my ideas, this review is by three people who like Doctor Who very much but wouldn’t call themselves “Whovians”. DWC readers have met two of them before: Claire and Helen, who reviewed The Power of the Doctor for DWC a couple of years ago. They are joined by Joseph.

Let’s meet them.

  • Claire started watching Doctor Who with The TV Movie in 1996 and has caught up with most of the classic series on VHS and DVD. She has watched all of Nu Who but gave up on Jodie’s episodes after The Tsuranga Conundrum.
  • Helen is in her early twenties and has watched all of Nu Who. She also bailed out on some of Jodie’s episodes and rejoined the show for The Power of the Doctor. She has seen some of the original series.
  • Joseph is twenty and has watched most of Nu Who and several episodes of the original series.

We discussed the episode straight after it was broadcast. I took notes and nudged the discussion a little but this is what Claire, Helen, and Joseph made of it.

Be warned… Some strong opinions follow and you might not agree with them…

Helen: I heard that this episode was originally pitched as a Matt Smith episode. I can’t believe that it was years in the making! It should have been better. The satire is ridiculously obvious, on the level of “you young people can’t get off your phones or live without TikTok”. It’s crass satire. It also seemed to be written by someone who didn’t like teenagers. “They only do two hours’ work a day and then they party” – that’s a patronising view of teenagers by someone in his sixties.

Claire: You’re right; it’s “you young people can’t do without your technological devices” – it was very patronising. I thought this was a very boring episode. It took far too long to get started.

Joseph: I thought the video call when the slug came into view was hysterical. It was supposed to be scary but was just funny.

Claire: That’s right. There was no scare factor with the monsters; they were as ludicrous as the bubble wrap monsters you used to get in the original series. They were funny, not terrifying, and I imagine they were meant to be terrifying.

Joseph: The writing wasn’t good. The human beings behave like ludicrous parodies of human beings. And September looked as though he’d stepped straight out of some high school drama. Wow! He reads books! And loves history! He’s so deep! It’s like Angel reading Nietzsche [in the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer].

Helen: He wasn’t like other guys! He reads books! Wow! I thought he was going to turn out to be evil or a hologram or something, but no…

Claire: I quite liked that the Doctor was unable to save them at the end. It’s very rare that characters actually choose not to be saved. That was interesting.

Helen: And that gave Ncuti an acting moment: his rage and despair.

Joseph: Yes, laughing then angry. I think that’s the first time we’ve seen the Doctor unable to save people.

Claire: I’m not at all sure about the mention of “voodoo” at the end [as the reason why the young folk won’t go into the TARDIS]. The Doctor is the only black character, so did they not want to go with him because he was black? Or was it because he was an adult?

Frank: I thought it was a class thing; they were all rich and he was scruffy – but you’re probably right, it was about racism.

Claire: I thought Ruby was really good in the previous episode [73 Yards] but she had far too much to do in Dot and Bubble. Why isn’t the Doctor doing more? Ruby and the Doctor are now an equal partnership with equal screen time but why on earth is that? And again, as with Jodie, we have a Doctor who is not socially awkward or out of step with other characters. Ruby and the Doctor know each other really well, too well, after just a few episodes; they’re always jumping up and down and hugging. There is no sense of a developing relationship. Most of the companions find the Doctor difficult or challenging, but we’ve lost that. Even Martha, who I didn’t like much, had a more interesting relationship with the Doctor than Ruby…

Helen: Yes. How can we be invested in the Doctor or Ruby when they lack substance as characters and when we never see them? The Doctor doesn’t feel like a major character any more. He is always peppy, grinny, cheery.

Joseph: That’s three episodes in a row when the Doctor hasn’t been able to walk around and do things. He was stuck on a mine [in Boom], then absent for most of 73 Yards

Claire: The show is actually called Doctor Who so… where is he? This episode didn’t feel like Doctor Who. It stayed with that boring girl [Lindy] all the way through. The Doctor doesn’t do anything any more.

Helen: That’s right. Dot and Bubble was very like Blink in structure – stay with the point of view of a new character, keep the Doctor at a distance. But the difference is that Blink was good and this was dreadful.

Joseph: It’s just Russell T Davies stitching together a bunch of wacky ideas. They should have stuck with the Doctor and Ruby, and told it as a traditional Doctor Who story, especially as they haven’t really established Ncuti as the Doctor yet.

Claire: Yes, it’s as though Davies started with lots of pretty pictures – you often get this with Davies – but it doesn’t all add up. When you try to piece it together as a story, the story falls apart. Davies didn’t, again, take the opportunity of looking at the society. Why were the parents so happy to send their children to Finetime? It was just like Space Babies, when we had no real idea of why the parents from the planet dumped their children on a space station. Davies doesn’t do context. We should care about a society that behaves this badly but we’re not given a chance to because there is no context, no depth, and no explanation.

Jospeh: And it was actually so ugly to look at on screen, when Lindy was in her bubble. There was no careful explanation or consolidation of the fictional world; just a handful of cool looking images and ideas… It’s as though Davies started by saying, “this would look nice on screen”, and then tried and failed to build a story around the visuals. It felt as if more screen time was needed to establish the world of Finetime, rather than just showing us endless scenes of Lindy in her bubble. Was the story thought through properly? Why did the slugs eat people in alphabetical order?

Helen: I thought it was hilarious that Lindy couldn’t walk without her phone but then suddenly she was able to. It was way too sudden. She must have been able to walk on Homeworld before she arrived at Finetime so why couldn’t she walk any more? And the characters all came to terms very quickly with everyone being dead.

Claire: No one forgets how to walk! It was just not credible! Yes, why did the dot create the slugs? Why didn’t it just kill people anyway? Were the slugs supposed to be a computer bug? And I’m happy to believe that Ncuti is a good actor – I haven’t seen him in anything else – but he’s not being given anything to do.

Helen: He was good at the end, with his disbelieving laughter.

Claire: You no longer have a sense of a physical journey this season; that the Doctor and Ruby get into the TARDIS and travel from place to place. There are no scenes in the TARDIS any more.

Frank: And you need those to get the character interaction.

Claire: What’s the thing with Susan Twist? I barely noticed her. Wasn’t she the woman Ruby met on the path in 73 Yards? They’re trying to repeat the repeated image, from one episode to another, of the Eye Patch Lady or Missy, but both those worked because they were so visually distinctive. You can’t pick up clearly on this Susan Twist thing.

Joseph: Was the ending, with the young people going on a boat and being doomed, meant to be a metaphor for this generation of young people in our world being doomed? Because that’s really lame.

Helen: I think the whole episode made fun of young people, people my age. It p*ssed me off. I think it was saying, you young people are hopeless, with your TikTok, fashion, vintage fashion, and mental health problems. It was teenage girls’ culture being mocked by a man in his sixties. It was mean spirited and unnecessary and straight out of Black Mirror, which I stopped watching because it had the same attitude to young people. Then Davies made the teenagers racist at the end, which made it okay to send them to their doom. It was like watching a satire by someone who’d never met a teenager, or who hates young people.

Final thoughts?

Claire: There is no consistency in this season.

Helen: Yes, this week it was trying to be Black Mirror. Next week it’s going to be Bridgerton

Joseph: With owl people.

Helen: With owl people. They are picking and choosing different genres week by week: last week it was a spooky Wales story…

Frank: I think that’s true. It’s like an anthology show now, not Doctor Who.

Claire: It’s straight out of the Chibnall playbook, referencing other shows. He referenced Call the Midwife…

Marks out of ten?

Claire: 2/10. We were laughing at the peril. The slugs weren’t scary monsters; they were just ridiculous. And I’d give 73 Yards 8/10, though I want to have some explanations for the plot, otherwise that’s just a provisional score for it… And why did the Doctor think they’d all die in the forest when he’d tried to sell them the river as a desirable place to escape to?

Joseph: 3/10. It did at least feel like a story. And two of those marks are for the slugs eating the people on the video call, which was just funny…

Claire: Oh, that was ridiculous! With his legs sticking out!

Helen: I was willing to like it but it was a boring episode. I just don’t know who the show is for now. Is it for the fans? But Frank didn’t like it and he’s a fan. Is it for adults? I don’t think so. Is it for young people? Well, they cast an actor who’s famous with people my age as the Doctor. Some of my friends never watch Doctor Who but watch it now because that guy who was Eric in Sex Education is the Doctor. So they get young people on board and then take the p*ss out of them. And you learnt nothing about the Doctor or Ruby in this episode.

Claire: Each episode this season could have been the first, establishing episode of a season. There’s no consistency in the season at all… of genre or quality. I think I’m only watching it out of loyalty to the brand; it’s Doctor Who and I like Doctor Who and want it to be good. But it isn’t good. If I’d tuned in to 73 Yards or Boom as a casual viewer, I’d have stayed with it and then wanted to watch the next episode. But if I’d started with Dot and Bubble I wouldn’t have made it to the end of the episode, and the same goes for the rest of the episodes this season.

Frank Danes

Reviewed: Doctor Who Series 14 — Dot and Bubble

by Frank Danes time to read: 8 min
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