***MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD***
The second part of “Spyfall,” the two-part season 12 opener, is just as exciting as the first! In particular, there are two aspects of it I really enjoyed. The first is the Master chasing the Doctor through two separate time periods, 1834 and 1943, and the second is the introduction of the Doctor’s temporary companions, the real-life historical figures Ada Lovelace and Noor Inayat Khan. They make such a good, enjoyable team that when the three of them return to the present day, Graham asks what I was already wondering: “Are we being replaced?” (No disrespect to Graham, but I would have been a-okay with that!) Of course, the memories of their adventure with the Doctor have to be erased at the end so that time can take its proper course, but I seriously wouldn’t mind seeing them again at some point. There was instant chemistry between all three of them, and Sylvie Briggs and Aurora Marion managed to bring an enormous amount of life to characters who ultimately only have a few scenes.
There’s a quiet moment when Graham, Ryan, and Yaz are resting while on the run from Daniel Barton and the police that I quite liked, too, especially because it’s the moment where it sinks in that none of them really know anything about the Doctor. It’s a scene that really should have happened last season, but I’m glad it’s finally here. I was also happy to see, at the end of the episode, that the companions confront the Doctor with their questions. Longtime readers of this blog know I’ve been dying for this new Doctor to talk about herself in a way that isn’t just a throwaway joke, and it looks like we’re finally going to get that. (Maybe Chris Chibnall reads my blog? Okay, probably not, but a man can dream!)
There’s a funny moment where the Doctor once again forgets she’s a woman now and calls herself the “Marvelous Apparating Man” before correcting it to “Marvelous Apparating Lady,” followed by a mutter of, “Every time…”
I have no real gripes, but there are a couple of parts I thought fell flatter than the rest of the episode. There’s a little bit of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure at the end when the Doctor goes back in time to put several important things in place for when they will be needed, such as the sabotaging of the Silver Lady device that was helping the extradimensional Kasaavin come through, and setting up the way Graham, Ryan, and Yaz survive the crashing airplane. Also, the Master and Daniel Barton’s plan involving the Kasaavin didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Something about rewriting human DNA and turning people into supercomputers. It all felt rather handwavy, as though Chris Chibnall, who wrote both episodes, realized he needed a good reason for the alliance and threw together a “humanity is in danger” plot. I thought it was much scarier when the Kasaavin say they want to take our universe for themselves, perhaps creating some kind of interdimensional empire, although that’s thwarted, too, by some technobabble at the end. It’s not a very compelling climax to an otherwise exciting two-parter, but since the Doctor often resolves things with smarts instead of violence, or at least usually tries to, I’ve grown used to climaxes that rely on a lot of button-pressing and quickly delivered pseudoscience.
For all the excitement, this episode is 100% about the Master and the Doctor, and it’s in their scenes together that it really shines. Particularly their conversation atop the Eiffel Tower, which really did feel like two old friends talking, and that wallop of an ending, where the Master reveals he has razed Gallifrey in revenge after discovering everything he and the Doctor were taught about their civilization was a lie. It has something to do with the Timeless Child, which was first mentioned back in season 11’s “The Ghost Monument,” and which I was worried would be completely forgotten about. (I think I still have a little PTSD from the Steven Moffat era, in which plotlines were frequently raised and then dropped just as quickly. Remember when the Doctor was going around removing himself from databases all over the universe, usually between episodes, but it went nowhere and came to nothing? Or when the Doctor learned Gallifrey was saved after the events of “The Day of the Doctor” and vowed to go find it, but then spent the whole next season not bothering to? But I digress.) Anyway, I’m excited to see where this leads. Although Gallifrey is in ruins, I suspect this isn’t quite like the Time War and there will be Time Lords out there who still survived and whom we may run into down the road. (Bring back Leela and Andred, you cowards!)
And now for some Doctor Who neepery, and for a change this episode if chock full of it! There’s a lot of talk about regeneration, as Graham, Ryan, and Yaz discuss what they do and don’t know about the Doctor. When the Doctor wants to get the Master’s attention in 1943, she taps out a quick succession of four beats on the Morse code machine. She calls it the “heartbeat of a Time Lord,” which harkens all the way back to season 3’s “The Sound of Drums” and season 4’s “The End of Time.” The Doctor and the Master speak through telepathy, using the word “contact” just like the Doctors did with their other selves in 1973’s “The Three Doctors” and 1983’s “The Five Doctors.” (Time Lords are telepathic, mostly just with each other, which is how they’re able to recognize each other despite regenerating into new bodies. However, it seems the Master learned long ago to shield his mind from the Doctor, since the Doctor didn’t immediately recognize him as either Missy or O.) There’s a discussion between the Master and the Doctor while they’re on top of the Eiffel Tower that seems to be a callback to the events of “Logopolis,” where the Master caused the Fourth Doctor to fall off a radio telescope and regenerate. Except the Doctor accidentally calls the radio telescope “Jodrell Bank,” which is the telescope the miniatures for “Logopolis” were based on. The actual events of “Logopolis” took place at the fictional Pharos Project. A simple mistake, or a missing adventure? We may never know for sure, although the dialogue (“Did I ever apologize for that?” “No.” “Good.”) seems to point toward an erroneous reference to “Logopolis.” We get a mention of Gallifrey “hiding in its little bubble universe,” which is a reference to the end of 2013’s “The Day of the Doctor,” and of course the Doctor finally telling her companions that she’s a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous, and that she stole the TARDIS and ran away. This era of Doctor Who finally doesn’t feel so separate from the rest anymore.
The next episode looks like a standalone rather than a continuation of this story arc, but something tells me we haven’t seen the last of the Master, which is good because 1) Sacha Dhawan is doing a great job in the role, and 2) I’d really like some answers. The implication seems to be that this is a post-Missy incarnation (his asking if he ever apologized for Jodrell Bank could be seen as a reference to when Missy wanted to make up for all the evil she caused), but it’s disturbing how quickly he seems to have undone all the hard work he did as Missy toward redemption in season 10. Also, Missy wasn’t supposed to be able to regenerate after she was stabbed, and if I recall her body was still on that Mondasian ship that the Cybermen were crawling all over. I want to know what happened!
Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.