Less an episode than a trailer for some still unannounced finale, which is less of a problem than it should be. In many ways it benefits, not so much from the diminished expectations of the Chibnall era as from the specific pathologies the era has led us to expect. Sure, it can only narrowly be described as having a plot or being about anything, but that’s practically every episode these days. This one at least filled the vast chasms of space between it and a point with a lot of quality what the fuckery.
Well. It filled the space with a lot of fan-trolling continuity porn. There’s a definite “what on Earth did the normies think of this,” feeling here. That said, Chibnall (who was surely behind the big picture decisions here) made reasonably savvy choices in that regard—a character who, while he hasn’t been seen in a decade, anchored a hit TV show in his own right and a reveal that’s long on implications for the series’ history, but that also plays as Big News in is own right even if you’re not the sort of person who goes “is this another Morbius Doctor or some sort of Season 6c thing?” The only thing actually likely to be normie-puzzling are the Judoon themselves, who were offered as the announced premise with plenty of time for Googling.
Which leaves the spectacle of continuity shit. Your mileage may vary, but you’re reading Doctor Who reviews on a site that did a story-by-story blog of the entire freaking show, novels and all, so presumably this hits you in the same lizard-brain recesses that have a favorite opening sentence to a Terrence Dicks novelization and an unjustifiable fondness for The Five Doctors. Whether or not this is a particularly worthwhile pleasure is largely beside the point: it’s a concrete pleasure—a sense of there being a thing the show is for—in a way that the Chibnall era has previously not really had. That it’s an emptier masturbation with continuity than anything the Moffat era ever did is ultimately besides the point.
Of course, saying much more than that is also difficult. A secret past Doctor, Cybermen, the Timeless Child, the Master, Captain Jack, and the re-destruction of Gallifrey are all just bibs and bobs of a premise right now that we haven’t seen stitched into an actual story yet. It’s like if you reduced The Day of the Doctor to “a secret past Doctor, Zygons, David Tennant, Billie Piper, a barn, and the Time War,” or The Two Doctors to “Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Sontarans, location filming in Spain, and a fish called the gumblejack.” And while you can argue that both of those stories really do basically reduce down to those lists, at the end of the day the gulf in quality between them makes it clear that there’s a lot of ways this can turn out. Of course, in the end it’s being done by the writer of The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos, so cause for actual hope remains thin on the ground.
But that’s another review, or more likely two of them. For now we have a story where the Doctor spends most of it outsmarting villainous cops, where a middle-aged black woman gets to be the Doctor, where we get to see Whittaker’s Doctor on the back foot in a justified way instead of because she’s mysteriously unwilling to actually stand up for anything, and where all the plot beats feel basically earned. I’ll take it.
Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror