Doctor Who (Modern): S12EP2 “Spyfall, Part 2”

Series 12
Directed by Lee Haven Jones
Written by Chris Chibnall

Last Wednesday’s episode started the series off messily, but I will give the show credit for trying to go big.  For better or worse, the episode was a deliberate rejection of last season.  Choosing to bring back a recurring baddie after spending all of the regular season self-contained (though the final episode brought back a villain introduced in the premiere) was a significant decision, but far from the only difference.  Last year had no two-part episodes and very self-contained stories and yet the first one went long and set up a cliffhanger for the second with a very visible “Part 2” in the name. 

The show may have dealt with issues of rushing at the end of the episodes last series, but Part 1 was just plain rushed throughout.  Thankfully gone were the lectures from The Doctor and the repeated twist that humans were the villains all along (which is a good one the first couple times), but there was somehow even less character development. Still, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves as whether you liked it or not, it represents only 10% of the season and the episode wasn’t even the end of the that story.

The last episode ended with the big twist that the charming companion-lite, O, was actually The Master.  It was a disappointing twist largely for how quick the character was brought back after the very effective end to their time as Missy.  We all knew their return would come eventually, but it was far too quick for any return to make an impact.  We only got a brief, lackluster glimpse of him last week as he did a bunch of yelling including about how “Everything that you think you know is a lie” and sent a plane carrying the entire cast plummeting to their “certain” death.

Well everyone that is but The Doctor who was transported to some mysterious place Yaz had been sent to earlier.  The Doctor gets to spend this episode apart from her companions, their paths only again crossing at the end.  The Doctor is saved from her predicament trapped on the giant foggy, electric head (I still have no clue what that place exactly is besides maybe being the home world of the glowy things).  While she is there, she quickly finds a woman named Ada who comes to this place each time she is left paralyzed.  No, this is not explained either to my knowledge nor why they were seemingly protecting her and telling her their name (they are the Cassavan, spelling questionable).

What is explained is that this Ada is Ada Lovelace, an important historical figure in the development of computers, and the two of them are transported to some 1834 tech show.   The tech show itself is a silly but worthy gag that goes maybe a bit underdeveloped here.  The Doctor uses her sudden appearance to pretend to be a magician for maybe a scene before she is interrupted by the return of The Master.  This time, he is in period clothing and after getting into an argument with Barton (the CEO from last week), comes storming into the tech show raving and randomly shrinking people.  He even forces The Doctor to kneel and call him by his name which a cleverer show would have brought up his real name or at least teased it.

We may have gotten only a brief sight of him last time, but it was an accurate one.  This Master is an absolute raving madman who is played by Sacha Dhawan as an almost persistent Mr. Hyde all bug eyed and head frequently tilted.  Even John Simm brought more restraint to his performance in the role.  He has a vision for maximum carnage and disguises himself as a Nazi (after The Doctor and Ava transport themselves via glowy light to 1943 Paris) because subtlety has already been thrown well out of the pram, why not go all in.  He’s just boring because when you are always at 11, there is no room to increase the level of threat and it all becomes white noise.

Meanwhile in the more interesting if slight B plot, the companions are in a more pressing situation what with the plane crashing.  They are improbably saved by Ryan who  finds a bunch of plaques pointing him along to instructions to start up a video from The Doctor.  Chibnall clearly (if understandably) liked “Blink” and thanks to The Doctor’s help, the plane is able to be flown in and landed in Essex by autopilot.  The three of them are tracked by Barton and forced to go dark on the run.  They aren’t actually on the run long as they eventually stumble upon Barton and his plan and… do basically nothing to contribute to stopping it.  Graham does get to fire off his stupid laser shoes a few times though and his glee at getting to use them is one of the few episode highlights.

At the center of the plot is a mechanical wireframe sent to Charles Babbage that moves on its own and projects the Cassavans.  We have moved back to reiterating that they are inter-dimensional monsters and spies through time though I’m not sure that Chibnall knows what a spy is.  They have supposedly been infiltrating various people through all the years, but we don’t see much of any evidence of this.  They are what make up the missing 7% of Barton which was confirmed not to be human in Part 1.  The Cassavans were already on Earth and The Master convinced them to work together.

Barton is proof of concept who let himself be experimented on and he plans to use his technology empire to enable the Cassavans to impart their energy into the entire human race.  Barton gives humanity three minutes via text to prepare for the end of all humanity though he says half will remain sentient which is sending some real mixed messages.  He believes humans are perfect storage system but archaic as far as life goes.  It’s a big take that people who blindly accept user agreements in a sci-fi message that certainly hasn’t been recycled by every show (and probably already Doctor Who) at this point.

The Doctor is able to stop it though by vague time travel shenanigans, the save that the show tries to avoid because it is the one that threatens to undermine every threat, but who cares about that.  The method involves setting up a trap in the silver lady (the wireframe) for the Cassavan and which exiles them to another dimension and sells out The Master for a second time that episode by recording him confessing to his intentions to betray the Cassavan.

The episode thankfully slows the hell down, but it is still jammed full of too many ideas.  They at least have room to breathe, but none get the attention they deserve.  This story could have easily made for like four stories between 1834, 1943, Barton, and The Master, but they are all forced to share space to the detriment of each.  Heck, the jumping through time randomly by using the Cassavans could have set up a plot all itself.  My biggest complaint though is reserved for the conclusion of this lazy episode.

Turns out, The Master has been in a strop because he’s apparently been to the resurrected Gallifrey which has been destroyed (again), this time by him presumably because The Doctor made it look so fun the last time.  The real reason is that the Time Lords apparently lied to him and The Doctor about something that The Master refuses to reveal.  It is setting up some mystery about their whole species being not what they think and based on “the lie of the timeless child” buried in their species’ shared memory.

I mentioned at the end of last episode that I was curious to see how they would pay it all off, but now any interest in all that is gone.  The show hasn’t even properly utilized Gallifrey after seasons setting up its return and now it’s gone for the second time.  Apparently, this is the season for sci-fi types to just tear down what the previous person in charge set up just to hearken back to the era before that.  They could just build off of the work of the prior writer, but building is hard especially when you can jam your own head up your ass.  I know you want to try and make headlines to stand out and attract viewers, but just throwing lazy twists at the wall doesn’t help.  Big twists aren’t interesting in and of themselves, they need context and impact and need to come just when you aren’t expecting any.

The story just seems to just want us to roll along with everything, but only two episodes into this season, I already don’t care.  Nothing is explained (I’m not even talking overarching stuff, basic things) aside from Graham I don’t care about any of these characters, and the show seems more concerned with walking back everything from the Moffat era step by step.  I can’t wait for another season of angst over Gallifrey’s destruction and more mysteries no one cares about regarding The Doctor’s origin.  Graham is about the only reason this escapes the Gentlemen’s F.

Grade (For the Complete Story): D (only the third such one I’ve given, both to First Doctor serials)

Stray Observations

– As much as I appreciate focusing on the key female on the project especially over a white man, Charles Babbage and his difference engine make only a quick appearance that seems sourced from his Wikipedia entry and where the dialogue basically yells out who he is, what he is known for, and then moves on.  He seems like the kind of person who should have been more central to an episode or not at all.  This is Assassin’s Creed level plot writing.
– Something interesting could have been made about The Master using a psychic filter (presumably the same tech or whatever as the psychic paper) to make the Nazis think he is white, but that is not present here.  Then again, I can’t say I trust Chibnall to write a story investigating groups Hitler and the Nazis would have hated using their imagery or ideologies regardless.
– I feel like I should have mentioned British war hero Noor Inayat Khan who shelters The Doctor and Ava in 1943 and helps them out, but she too feels extraneous to the story.  As if Chibnall just Googled “famous historical British women” and contrived a way for them both to be in the episode and exposit their contributions.
– The Doctor is able to talk to The Master long range through some ESP shit and I have said this before in reviews for the show, there is no way not to make it look stupid.
– The first time The Master is ratted out is when The Doctor snitches on The Master to the Nazis and jams his perception filter which would be a much better action if it didn’t mean we were now rooting for those wacky Nazis (who serve as a crowbarred in vague threat) to chase after the non-white man.
– I feel bad for the people who have their phones on silent or are asleep or don’t have phones and miss out on this warning
– “Luckily there’s an app for that” Just remember guys, someone got paid money to write that
– Apparently The Doctor now has Men in Black abilities to remove the memory of her from people’s mind since we are just completely rebooting this show.  Remember how much everyone loved the Donna sendoff?
– The Doctor being apart from her companions lets them work better as a whole and certainly points to how much better the show would be with only three people at the center.
– Oh Steven Moffat, how we didn’t appreciate you until you were gone (well I mostly did for all your faults even if I felt it was time for you to pass things off)
– This Week in Cliffhangers: The Doctor promises to visit (and show off) Gallifrey to her companions another time.

Next Up:  The Thirteenth Doctor thankfully gets away from Chris Chibnall written episodes and returns to week long breaks with “Orphan 55” next Sunday, 1/12.