By George Mellowship, Third Year, Geography
New Year’s Day offering of Doctor Who (1963-) ended on a major cliff-hanger. With fun nods to the spy film genre, it was an interesting premise and a solid first opener of the new series.
The main question that has always been an issue for the series is whether the second half of the two-parter can live up to the problems and questions set up in first. Unfortunately this episode cannot be discussed without spoilers. I cannot stress this enough, if you have not watched Episodes One or Two yet, DO NOT READ ON.
Still here? Good, there is a lot to unpack! Episode 1 ended with the surprise reveal of the Master, The Doctor’s former childhood best friend turned ‘best enemy’, played by Sacha Dhawan, with the Doctor separated from her three companions that were seen being left hurtling to the ground on a crashing plane. The cliff-hanger is unsurprisingly resolved quickly, but that doesn’t matter too much as the Episode has to get through a lot.
The plot follows the Doctor marooned in time without her TARDIS being chased by the Master, whilst trying to foil his latest scheme to destroy the human race. The Master is in league with Lenny Henry, a CEO of a global tech company and the white-glowing-walking through walls creatures from another universe, known as the Kasaavin. The three different forms of adversary unfortunately feel more than is required and apart from the Master, the other two feel surplus to requirement.
Despite being two hours long as a whole, the world ending plot is foiled within a couple of minutes! The Master is left trapped in the reality of the Kasaavin, who fail in breaking into our universe, and Lenny Henry just sort of... walks off. This is how the episode doesn’t quite live up to the first half of the story, despite some genuine highlights that perhaps stop me from minding the rushed conclusion.
Dhawan’s Master is nothing short of a triumph. He’s menacing, mad, and brings a presence to the screen that steals every scene that is in. He plays off Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor really well and shows how desperately she has been crying out for an adversary to bounce off. Despite a lack of explanation on how The Master is being back after Michelle Gomez’s Missy was seemingly killed off in 2017, he immediately feels like a threat and, well, The Master.
Having The Doctor and companions separated allows them to be further developed, not just there to ask questions to further the plot
The on-screen chemistry between the two characters sizzles and both equally shine. This is Whittaker’s best performance as The Doctor to date and feels as if she has finally made the role her own. This may not have been possible without reintroducing The Master.
The Doctor’s journey to get back to the present day makes the episode feel distinctly different to the first half. She travels to Victorian Britain in 1834, meeting Ada Lovelace, the first person to publish a computer algorithm, and Paris, meeting Noor Inyat Khan, the first female operative of wireless radio to be deployed behind enemy lines.
Both women are female icons and heroes in their own right, but ones that the audience may not be familiar with. To the show’s credit, this brief education and history provides a good contrast to the action between The Doctor and The Master.
Having The Doctor and companions separated allows them to be further developed, not just there to ask questions to further the plot. Whilst Yaz (Mandip Gil) still feels like the least fleshed out companion and is at the moment looking like a carbon copy of former companion Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), at least writer Chris Chibnall is trying to show that the companions are starting to think for themselves, without the hand-holding of the Doctor.
If the real strength of the first half was the ending, this feat is repeated here with the ending of 'Spyfall Part 2', potentially throwing the latest series and the entire history of the show in an interesting direction. The Master has discovered a lie told by The Time Lords - his and The Doctor’s species - and tells The Doctor that Gallifrey, their home planet has been destroyed.
This is familiar territory for fans as this is how the 2005 series began, but the Doctor saved the planet in the 2013 50th anniversary special. The moment when The Doctor sees Gallifrey is especially heart-breaking, with Jodie Whittaker putting in a whopper of a performance in the last five minutes of the episode.
Dhawan’s Master is nothing short of a triumph
The destruction of Gallifrey, its salvation and The Doctor’s reactions to this have been one of the few overarching, driving story arcs since 2005. The Master claimed culpability for the destruction as he was so infuriated by the Timelords, and this leads to a predictable scene of this series: the reintroduction of The Timeless Child, a plot point dangled in 2018, but ultimately playing no role.
The introduction of The Master, Gallifrey and the mystery of The Timeless Child are welcome, as what last season desperately lacked was a driving story arc. The other good news means that it is inevitable that Sacha Dhawan’s Master will surely reappear later in the series.
The role this episode plays in setting up plot for the whole series makes up for its unsatisfactory notes, and leaves the viewer with lots of intriguing questions that will hopefully make for a brilliant series. The episode is still a fun, atmospheric and dramatic hour of television. The first two episodes have been blockbuster Who and the strongest story of the Whittaker era.
If the series story arcs set up aren’t enough of a treat for fans going forward, next week features James Buckley from The Inbetweeners (2008-10) in a green wig on an alien planet. Surely a spin-off of Jay Cartwright as an alien sex pest is definitely on the cards?! You heard it here first.
Featured: Courtesy of BBC
Where do you anticipate the series going from these rollercoaster New Years episodes?