Doctor Who – “Praxeus”

Doctor Who: Series 12 – Episode 6
Written by: Pete McTighe & Chris Chibnall
Directed by: Jamie Magnus Stone

Synopsis: What connects a missing astronaut in the Indian Ocean, birds behaving strangely in Peru and a US naval officer who washes up on a Madagascan beach? Team TARDIS investigate.

It was always going to tricky to follow up on a mind-blowing episode like “Fugitive of the Judoon”, especially since there were so many loose ends left dangling, but “Praxeus” proves itself to be an interesting diversion to keep us distracted until the season finale. Embracing the globe-trotting possibilities of the TARDIS, this adventure takes place across three different continents and benefits from the overseas filming in South Africa to give the episode a cinematic feel. The set design is amazing, particularly the Hong Kong and underwater locations, and the constant travelling between destinations highlights the extent of the global catastrophe that the team are up against. This split approach to investigating the problem also allows writers Pete McTighe and Chris Chibnall to explore the dynamics of the companions in greater detail, giving them some much-needed spotlight.

Mandip Gill’s Yaz has always felt a bit under-developed, especially in comparison to Graham and Ryan, but this episode gave her a bit more independence as she broke away from the Doctor and attempted to explore on her own. This sudden confidence and risk-taking reminded me of Clara and how she became more like the Doctor the longer she travelled with him, and how it eventually led to her death, and I wonder if we will see a similar narrative here. It also ties in with her profession as a police officer, and it makes sense that she would be more willing to put herself in harm’s way than the other companions might. Bradley Walsh manages to be effortlessly charming in his role as Graham, using his everyman persona to cut through some of the Doctor’s scientific jargon and delivering meaningful advice to the supporting characters. Ryan seems to occupy the same position at times, although I do enjoy the subtle vulnerability that comes across in Tosin Cole’s performance.

Central to this episode was the relationship between Warren Brown’s Jake Willis and his astronaut husband, Adam Lang (Matthew McNulty). Subverting expectations multiple times, the pair triumphed over certain death to reunite in a surprisingly emotional pre-watershed gay kiss that felt more boundary-breaking than the cheeky pecks between Captain Jack and the various male members of the cast. Warren Brown has been a favourite actor of mine since his days in Hollyoaks and Luther, and he has got history with Doctor Who through his appearances in the UNIT series with Big Finish. While it is a shame that his appearance in the televised programme is a one-off appearance, he really elevated the emotional gravitas of this episode with his estranged relationship with his husband. Jake was such a well-realised character that I’d have quite happily have seen him stick around the TARDIS a bit longer as a gritty ex-cop with anger issues.

Chris Chibnall’s era of Doctor Who is often accused as being “too woke” and shoe-horning social and political issues into stories, and while I don’t mind this recent trend, I must admit that I did roll my eyes at the reveal that the Praxeus virus was brought to Earth because of the excess plastic in our environment. Following too closely to “Orphan 55” and its message on climate change, it seems like pollution is as much as an ongoing threat to the Doctor as ‘The Timeless Child’ and ‘The Lone Cyberman’. While I recognise the importance of using science-fiction to shine a light on real-world problems, it feels like a mandate on Doctor Who that is overwhelming the show and being used by critics as an “easy insult”. Perhaps if the messaging felt more organic and less preachy, then it would be better received by the fan-base and critics. It will be shame if Jodie Whittaker’s time as the Doctor was just remembered for its “very special episodes”.

Even though Praxeus itself was an alien virus, the episode still featured some engaging physical threats in the form of the gun-toting gas-mask wearing troopers and the horde of aggressive Hitchcock-esque birds circling the skies. I was extremely impressed with the way that the virus reduced its victims into a sand-like substance and the sudden transformation was terrifying on-screen. The sequence where the birds swarmed into the Madagascan laboratory was thrilling and they made for a deadly enemy, where a single scratch could infect and kill within moments. Given the current fears of a global epidemic, the idea of an alien bacterium that could wipe out humanity felt particularly prescient and timely. Although, of course, we will have to solve corona-virus without the help of the Doctor.

Overall, this was a strong single episode that managed to keep me entertained despite my intense desire to get to the bottom of the mind-boggling mystery of Jo Martin’s Doctor and the Master’s scheming. With a strong supporting cast, and an intriguing mystery that kept the episode moving at a fast pace, “Praxeus” was a solid installment of Doctor Who that managed to straddle the balance between style and substance.

Score – ★★★★

Next Episode: “Can You Hear Me?”
From ancient Syria to present day Sheffield, and out into the wilds of space, something is stalking the Doctor and infecting people’s nightmares.

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