Doctor Who: 12.02 Spyfall Part Two
Welcome back Doctor Who, we've missed you. The show certainly came back with a bang in its twelfth series with Spyfall Part One. It wasn't perfect, but it was Chris Chibnall's best episode to date and it did give us one hell of a cliffhanger with the surprise return of The Master, now played by the terrific Sacha Dhawan. Spyfall Part Two was even better. Without the cheesy James Bond parodies, the story took a darker turn with flavours of both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat's eras.
There was a lot to to digest this episode. After the simple, stand alone adventures of series 11, Chibnall threw a lot into the mix. The Doctor's conflict with the Master, the mystery of the alien threat, two trips into the past, a mix of historical figures and even a tie back to the Timeless Child referenced in Whittaker's second episode The Ghost Monument. Not to mention a new arc surrounding Gallifrey, which feels curiously like the Gallifrey storyline established in the Russell T Davies era (though series 11 established that Chibnall is heavily influenced by the Tennant episodes of Doctor Who).
So where to start? Well continuing the riproaring adventure feel of last week, Ryan discovering a hidden message from the Doctor and using an app to save the plane was boatloads of fun; the sort of time wimey twist we've come to associate with modern Doctor Who. My only gripe was with the end of the episode where Chibnall had the audience see the Doctor building every step of the plan. Laminated gag aside, it felt a little too self-explanatory. I wish Chibnall had faith in the audience to work things out from themselves. Not every piece of information needs to be explained or shown. It's a clunkiness that holds his show back.
Fortunately, gripes like this were small. Far more subtle than his (admittedly fun) Bond pastiche was his twisted reflection on modern society's obsession with technology. Spyfall Part Two literally had humanity replaced by phone apps in an interesting take on the classic alien invasion storyline. Again, it felt very Russell T Davies, but in a good way.
Spyfall Part Two was a more measured, well paced episode, really making use of its core theme; time travel. From mid nineteenth century England, the Doctor picked up the future pioneer of the computer Ada Lovelace, before jumping into war torn Paris in 1943 to meet Noor Khan, the first female British wireless operator to be sent into occupied France in World War II. I'm ashamed to say I didn't know anything about Noor and like Rosa last series, shined a light on an important historical heroine. Aurora Marion delivered a strong performance as Noor, while Sylvie Briggs was wonderfully adventurous as Ada. If the TARDIS wasn't already so crowded, she would have made a great companion for the Doctor.
As for Graham, Ryan and Yaz, it was interesting to see them work as a unit against Kenny Henry's Daniel Barton. After the thrills of the crashing plane, the episode took the well-trodden path of turning the companions into fugitives. Sadly, there a lack of tension at times - and Barton's role got a little lost in the mix this episode - but Graham's laser shoes were light-hearted fun. Better still, was seeing the three work together, in isolation of the Doctor, while beginning to question the still-mysterious traveller they have found themselves with. It all felt really natural, the quitter exploration of the group's dynamic contrasting the high jinks in the rest of the episode.
Sacha Dhawan was brilliant as the Master this episode, hamming up the evil as he shrunk his victims on a whim in Nineteenth Century England or consorting with German troops on occupied Paris. There was no mention of his predecessor Missy and the reason for reverting back to his truly evil self, but the interplay between him and the Doctor gave Jodie Whittaker some meaty material to work with after a rather simple, light series 11. The confrontation on the Eiffel Tower was a real episode highlight.
While Spyfall certainly the Doctor on the back foot, the climax to part two certainly gave her, her finest moment yet. The triumph defeat of the Master and the alien invaders, was pure Tennant, saving humanity at the very last moment with some clever time travel tricks. Whittaker was also served very well with some strong humour - being stuck in the floorboards to escape German soldiers - and some emotional trauma in the discovery of a devastated Gallifrey. In the quieter, mournful solace of the Doctor alone on the TARDIS, Whittaker really showed what she can do as an actress.
I find myself extremely torn by Gallifrey's fate. Along with the eradication of UNIT and Torchwood last week, it really feels as if Chibnall is cleaning house. And while the 'timeless child' mystery is a good hook - just what did the Master discover to make him turn so terribly against his people? - it feels just a little like a retread of the planet's destruction in the Time War. The return of the Time Lord in The Day of the Doctor felt so huge, it's dismissal here undoes much of that heroic storyline. I'm intrigued, but also approach with trepidation.
Spyfall Part Two was a confident, epic conclusion to Chibnall's best story to date - the season finale seemingly missed off last series used instead to kick off this series in style. The ambition in the story, the set pieces and the big story arc is a million miles away from Chibnall and Whittaker's debut series. Will this newfound confidence continue next week? I'm cautiously hopeful...