“Spyfall – Part Two”
Doctor Who: Series 12 – Episode 2
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Directed by: Lee Haven Jones
Synopsis: In part two of this epic spy thriller, a terrifying plan to destroy humanity is about to reach fruition. Can the Doctor and her friends escape multiple traps and defeat a deadly alliance?
With the Doctor’s companions plummeting to earth in a cockpit-less airplane, it was inevitable that the cliff-hanger would require some timey-wimey maneuvering to resolve itself and we were given a mixture of the iconic DVD moment from “Blink” and some paradoxical time travelling reminiscent of “The Big Bang”. While it did feel like a bit of a cheat (although most cliff-hanger resolutions are), it also foreshadowed the Doctor’s use of time travel to outwit the Master and the Kasaavins in the final act. The episode may not have had much surprises in relation to his cliff-hanger endings, but I was shocked at how drastically different the tone of this episode was in relation to the previous installment. Gone were the spy pastiches (although the costumes remained) and it transitioned into a more historical serial, with diversions into 1834 London and 1943 Paris to pick up some notable women from the past.
The episode wisely split the Doctor away from her companions, which allowed Graham, Yaz and Ryan to demonstrate their own abilities as they avoided the combined forces of Daniel Barton’s security and the ghostly Kasaavins. With “the Fam” on the run as fugitives, the episode had the same feeling of hopelessness as the Season Three finale where the Doctor, Jack Harkness and Martha Jones were up against the Master in his Harold Saxon persona. Unfortunately, this element of the story felt underdeveloped – we never found out how Ryan, Yaz and Graham were ‘pardoned’ and removed from the most wanted list. Surely, this would affect their everyday lives – especially considering the beginning of the previous episode made the effort to show how their friends and families were growing suspicious of their absences. It felt like there should have been more effort to tie up those loose ends, or at the very least, we should see more ramifications on the companions’ home lives.
It was fun to see the story transform into a time-travel romp through the past, although I found it difficult to follow the actual plot at times. I couldn’t quite work out how why the Kasaavins were spying on historical figures involved in the evolution of computers, and how this tied into Daniel Barton’s plan of turning all humans into organic hard drives. It felt like two ideas merged into one, and perhaps more foreshadowing and clues in the first part might have made the exposition seem less rushed and difficult to follow. That said, I did like the multiple confrontations between the Doctor and the Master in the different time periods and the set design of 1943 Paris was very atmospheric. I always enjoy stories that transition across multiple locations or time periods as it gives the story a real sense of scope.
This episode gave viewers a bit more insight into this latest incarnation of the Master, suggesting that his decision to revert back to evil was related to the “Timeless Child” mystery that was first mentioned in “The Ghost Monument”. Apparently, the secret dates back to the very foundations of the Time Lord society and is devastating enough to cause the Master to commit mass-genocide after almost redeeming himself as Missy. This incarnation of the Master seems to be reset back to factory settings and even uses a lot of his classic strategies such as his Tissue Compression Eliminator and the sound of drums. While fans of Missy might lament the official demise of that incarnation of the character, I happily welcome the return of a morally-void ‘greatest hits’ version of The Master and Sacha Dhawan provides a chaotic and Joker-esque foil to Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor. The scene with the Doctor kneeling before the Master was particularly thrilling to watch, and the dynamic between the two seems to benefit from the gender-swap. I was shocked when the Master grabbed the Doctor by the throat and dangled her over the edge of the Eiffel Tower.
The reintroduction of the “Timeless Child” mystery not only gives this series of Doctor Who a much needed ‘season-arc’ but it also allows Jodie Whittaker to inject a bit more gravitas into her performance as the Doctor. Weighed down by the loss of her home planet (again!), we get to see the Doctor standing still and dealing with her past rather than moving forward into adventures with her companions. It is also interesting to see that her companions want to learn more about her, as it feels like this second series for this Doctor will introduce more and more of the series’ mainstays. We already know that the Cybermen are due an appearance, and while I thought that while the last season was a breath of fresh air and immensely accessible for new audiences, it felt like something was missing from its DNA with its “no classic monsters” rule.
Cluttered with too many ideas, “Spyfall – Part Two” is something of a mixed bag compared to its stronger first half. While I loved the push towards an ongoing season-long mystery, the destruction of Gallifrey and threats of “everything you know is a lie” does make me fearful about the eventual reveal and the potential damage it might do to the series continuity. While it feels like The Master and Gallifrey were both rebooted to their original statuses (mad and destroyed), this two-parter does do some much-needed world building for the series and caters to all fans of the series, both new and old.
Score – ★★★ ½
Next Episode: “Orphan 55”
The Doctor and her friends discover that the luxury resort where they are holidaying is hiding a number of deadly secrets. What are the ferocious monsters attacking Tranquillity Spa?