Spyfall Part One Review
It is fair to ask what, at this point, we want from Chibnall-era Doctor Who. Obviously I want $800 a week to watch it in the first place, but since you’ve all decided to give me that, I suppose here we are. (Thanks, by the way. You’re all ridiculously generous, and I’d have felt terribly sad not reviewing this.) But more seriously, we should discuss what a successful Chibnall episode would be. After all, if we draw the line at “be at least as good as Dracula” then we’re just going to be depressed for nine and a half weeks. We’re going to need some sort of notion of what a good Chibnall story might be in the same way that one needs a notion of a good Eric Saward story or a good Bob Baker and David Martin story.
Spyfall, after all, gets a lot of things not wrong. For instance, it has a coherent point and a sense of itself as being about something. There’s not a lot of follow-through on it—no real substance to its sense of “vastly powerful tech companies are dangerous and scary” or engagement with the materiality of these things—but it has a point. There is also no particular reason for this point to be wedded to a James Bond pastiche, but it’s certainly not inimacable to the genre the story is playing with. And certainly the presence of a genre to play in is a good thing, giving the story a clarity of focus and purpose that, say, The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos or Arachnids in the UK did not really have.
Obviously this consists of setting an extremely low bar and allowing the show to step over it. And the show doesn’t even manage this without stubbing a toe on the way, with its middle section being curiously unmoored from the James Bond pastiche in favor of a ghost story in the Australian outback. But there’s a minimum standard of competently constructed television being met here in a way that was in no way routine last year. And there’s a certain acceptability to it—if Chibnall at his best can come in around the level of The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky (since he nicks a set piece out of it and all) then all right. That’s basically fine, y’know? Especially if the other writers—and it’s a pretty tasty-looking set of them in the middle six episodes this season—can provide some high points.
All of which is to say that things might basically be OK. Series 11 might turn out to be an unfortunately awkward blip before Doctor Who settles into something that’s not as scintillating as either of the eras before it, but that’s at least not so infuriatingly crap that one is left wanting to charge exorbitantly high amounts for reviews in the desperate hope that you won’t have to actually do them. On the basis of part one, Spyfall looks like it belongs to a perfectly adequate era of Doctor Who.
Look, following Michelle Gomez was always going to be a heck of a big ask. And it’s impossible to judge off of a handful of minutes of over the top reveal. Maybe Sacha Dhawan will surprise everyone and I’ll delightedly eat my words next week. But on the early evidence, he’s aping John Simm and doing it badly. More broadly, though, Chibnall’s bringing back the Master feels reactionary. For one thing, there’s the fundamentally unfortunate logic of “well we brought the Doctor back as a woman so we’ll make the Master be a person of color,” which entails finally making the character into an actual shifty foreigner. But that’s a particular bum note in a much larger pile of “ooh, that’s not great.”
I’m going to get around to An Increasingly Inaccurately Named Trilogy IX eventually, but one of the biggest problems with The Rise of Skywalker is the way in which it feels like it’s an active rejection of The Last Jedi, going to childish lengths to undo that movie’s innovations. And it’s hard not to worry that Chibnall is doing much the same thing. Missy was a tour de force—a version of the character that simply worked in a way that no previous iteration ever quite did. She was the first version of the character where you went “oooh, a Missy story” instead of “ah well.” And she had an arc that actively developed the character and tried to make her interesting and give her interiority. Reverting her to a homicidal megalomaniac in the wake of all that work feels unusually egregious. At best Chibnall is cutting off his nose to spite his face. At worst, he’s genuinely oblivious to what made Missy good, idly manipulating tropes in the dark without any real understanding what they mean or how they work.
But we’ll learn more about that in a few days. For now, things look reasonably sunny. Which isn’t something I expected to be able to say on New Year’s Eve, Let’s call it a win.
- Since Chibnall has obviously decided that classic monsters are not only allowable but desirable, it’s difficult not to be tempted by the idea that he’s brought back the Vardans. If so, credit due for taking a relationship with the past that’s interested in things other than the greatest hits.
- I mentioned the The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky riff, but note also how the not-Vardans are being used in a way that visually riffs on Army of Ghosts. Chibnall really does have a specific era he’s modeling himself after.
- I do like what is presumably the Master’s TARDIS whizzing alongside the plane. That’s a nice touch.
- Segun Akinola sounds like he’s having a lot of fun finding a variety of ways to rip off the James Bond theme.
- Stephen Fry clearly only had one day free on his schedule and spent it being blandly Stephen Fry, but Lenny Henry is proving delightfully compelling as the human baddie. So far a case of getting a way better actor than a part requires and then studiously making the most of it.
- My family, as you might imagine, basically lost it at the various uses of the word “vore.” “Vore seeps into every corner of modern technology” is probably my favorite. Here’s hoping part two continues to give us delightful jokes about extremely niche fetishes.
- On a bum note, Graham’s reaction to “the Doctor used to be a man” sure isn’t great, is it.
- Whatever else we might complain about, let’s all smile about the fact that the Master is shrinking people again.
- Realizing as I wrap this up that I’ve said nothing at all about the companions. As I stare at the screen racking my brain, I’m beginning to see why. They have more or less defined personalities, or at least more or less defined tropes, but they’re not really doing anything besides dutifully poking a second strand of the plot.
- Spyfall Part One
January 3, 2020 @ 2:17 am
Pretty much summed up my view of the episode., especially re Stephen Fry , who just seemed to be reciting lines and not much else in places, in contrast to Lenny Henry who was very good; and Sacha Dawhan’s John Simms impression – I’m hoping that this was to ramp up things in the cliffhanger and make a huge deal about that Master being back and very mad and dangerous, etc and that things will settle down in part two. Overall though it was more entertaining than I expected.
As far as the monsters go I suspect you’ll be disappointed and that it’ll turn out to be the Cybernen especially with the tech theme and the similarity to Army Of Ghosts.
January 3, 2020 @ 3:44 am
I’m thinking that the presence of the Master will be there to hopefully give some interiority to the Doctor, so I guess Missy’s interiority will have to be a price worth paying. But I have completely accepted that each new Master is completely different from the last and I liked this one.
Some people on Gallifrey Base were pointing out how weird it is for the Doctor to acquiesce to authority and consent to being summoned to work for the British secret services. I thought you might have something to say about this.
January 3, 2020 @ 1:22 pm
I found it really odd when the Australian Secret Service agent asked the Doctor to go back inside the house when the monsters were attacking… and she did. When was the last time the Doctor left somebody else to do their job when she could step in and do it better – especially as she must definitely know they the agents are wildly unprepared for this encounter.
January 3, 2020 @ 3:00 pm
I read the interchange as very much the agent telling the Doctor “I am here to die buying you enough time to do the important work only you can do, so please go back inside and do it” and the Doctor honoring that. This Doctor is a lot better at reading subtext than the last one.
January 3, 2020 @ 6:39 pm
The agent’s line itself and the delivery were so poor that it was a mystery what it was supposed to mean. My boyfriend, watching with me, mentioned at the time: “Did a child write this?”
January 3, 2020 @ 3:47 am
I’m baffled a bit by the Master’s chronology here. He claims to have met one of the prior Doctors. I can only assume it was Five because he was the only one ever taken in by the Master’s ridiculous disguises. Surely not Ten who was certain that he’d recognize the Master on sight even though he didn’t know what Simms looked like yet.
Is it possible (as some have theorized online) that Dhawan is actually a pre-Jacobi Master? Which would at least have the benefit of being something we haven’t seen before.
Also “everything you know is a lie” has enormous potential to spin the Master off in a new direction, assuming Chibnall doesn’t drop the ball. Which, as we all know, he probably will.
Thirteen is still distressingly ineffectual, reduced to yelling at the aliens who simply ignore her. And I cannot imagine ANY prior incarnation of the Doctor being totally flummoxed by what looked like a bog-standard IED with a full minute on the timer. Is “dead lock sealed” just a magical incantation that makes something immune to the Doctor’s powers?
The whole bit about whether O used to be a sprinter was weird and contrived. The Doctor was in O’s home for the better part of a day and observed his use of advanced tech, but didn’t spot anything off until he inexplicably forgot that the person whose life he stole used to be a champion sprinter. So (a) we have the Doctor know the Master’s cover story better than he knows it himself despite living that guy’s life for god knows how many years and (b) the Master not being quick enough to cover for a minor slip up like that. Maybe he just got bored with the Doctor’s inability to recognize him and decided to reveal himself at the first dramatic opportunity. There is precedent, after all, for the Master (a method actor to be sure) maintaining a fake ID for YEARS before revealing himself in the last five minutes of the episode. At least this time he wasn’t wearing a rubber mask. Or was he? He implied that he found the real O and assumed his identity, presumably for quite a few years. Does the Master now have enough spare regenerations to simply turn into anyone he chooses? Or has Chibnall forgotten how regeneration works too?
And why was the Doctor baffled by the idea of parallel universes? I swear, if the glowy aliens do turn out to be Cybermen ,,,.
Sigh. The more I think about this episode, the more I feel it’s not very well-written at all and I was just taken in by the cinematography. (The show does LOOK better, tbh, than the prior eras, though it may just be a bigger budget.)
January 3, 2020 @ 4:24 am
Master had to reveal himself on the plane because the bomb was already installed here. So maybe he slipped intentionally? It doesn’t make much sense but there’s something you can headcanon out of it.
About the real O – my understanding is that he regenerated looking Sacha Dwahan, and O looked just different. I think script implied that MI6 didn’t know how O looked before he joined the organization… or something.
January 3, 2020 @ 6:14 am
There’s a potentially biting bit of satire here if we assume MI6 didn’t recognise their new employee looks different than he was supposed to because everyone there is massively racist.
And I totally assume the Master slipped on purpose because he really wanted to reveal his identity by that point.
January 3, 2020 @ 9:38 pm
He implied that he found the real O and assumed his identity, presumably for quite a few years. Does the Master now have enough spare regenerations to simply turn into anyone he chooses?
I’d assumed that he’d used the same body stealing techniques he’d used to be Anthony Ainley and Eric Roberts. Just because he might have spare regenerations doesn’t mean he can’t also body thievery
January 7, 2020 @ 10:03 am
I was expecting him to say something along the lines of “I worked for MI6, practically none of my biograph is true”.
Instead we get the Master.
January 4, 2020 @ 11:29 pm
Alan — the Master’s chronology gets further complicated by the fact that Harold/Yana claimed to have been resurrected by the Time Lords during the War, suggesting that he might have been an entirely separate creature from the Delgado/Ainley Master.
I’d always thought that Missy’s line to the Doctor in “Dark Water” was a reference to having escaped the cat people planet at the end of Survival (and thus not part of Harold’s timeline), but if Moffat had had any interest in playing with that idea he’d clearly discarded it by the time “World Enough and Time” rolled around. (And fair enough, it’s pretty fan-wanky.)
January 3, 2020 @ 5:23 am
It’s sort of poignant to watch Chris Chibnall struggle with keeping even the simplest plot moving forward. As usual, though, he seems to have had no energy left over for dialogue with any more character than just reading out stage directions.
On the plus side, I agree that the return of Tissue Compression Elimination is unexpectedly delightful.
January 3, 2020 @ 5:35 am
In keeping with El’s established nomenclature for Masters, will this version be ‘Waris’?
January 3, 2020 @ 6:11 am
I think people took to ‘O’ much too strongly for that.
January 3, 2020 @ 12:22 pm
Indeed “O”came across as instantly and continually likeable. We still have to see what his Master is like apart from the “cliffhanger” acting he had to do for the last couple of minutes of the episode.
January 3, 2020 @ 12:18 pm
There’s also “the Spy Master”.
January 3, 2020 @ 9:14 am
The other thing about the reveal which upon reflection felt a bit off is that there have only been 12 episodes aired since ‘The Doctor Falls’. Sure it’s been longer chronologically than might suggest (two and a half years) but given how Missy ended it feels a little speedy to revisit the character already.
January 3, 2020 @ 9:30 am
Not sure why having the Master played by Sacha Dhawan, a british actor playing the part with a british accent, makes the Master a ‘shifty foreigner’? Does that make Lenny Henry’s character a shifty foreigner as well?
January 3, 2020 @ 11:14 am
The Master was more of a shifty foreigner when he was played by Delgado.
January 3, 2020 @ 12:01 pm
I agree, mostly because this Master is connected directly to the British establishment. The only one more so was Harold Saxon.
Holding off any opinions about the Master until next episode, but I think making the Master an MI6 employee goes quite a way to avoiding the shifty foreigner status. Especially since no-one makes a big deal about the Master being anything but a spy.
Now, that might have its problems, at least in the form of Cushy Liberalism, but the only Master that straight-forwardly worked as political commentary was when he was Prime Minister.
January 3, 2020 @ 1:11 pm
Yes, this feels like a distinctly poor choice of words to me. I choose not to read it as malicious, but certainly unfortunate.
Sacha Dhawan was born in Stockport. Roger Delgado was born in Whitechapel. Answering very carefully, why is casting Dhawan rejigging the character as a “shifty foreigner”, unlike casting Delgado?
January 3, 2020 @ 1:34 pm
Most of the companions look like “shifty foreigners”…
January 3, 2020 @ 6:46 pm
Yeah, I read it as putting a Northern Master against a Northern Doctor.
Unfortunately a quick check reveals Stockport isn’t quite in historic Lancashire, so we have no opportunity to call it the ‘time war of the roses’
January 3, 2020 @ 7:30 pm
Forgive me if the minute analysis of how this phrase works tips into condescension—you did ask for a very careful answer after all.
The first thing to point out is that “shifty foreigner” describes a trope, and it does so with a measure of disdain for the racism implicit in the trope. This is obviously a game to play carefully—to stick entirely to words I have some license to use, “scheming bitch” is an acceptable way to refer to a stock trope in a way that “manipulative cunt” is not. But I’m willing to lean on the at this point pretty aggressively asserted leftism of the site to warrant that a phrase like “made the character into a shifty foreigner” is implicitly critical of this, and even if one wants to strip that out, one can’t exactly avoid the sentence-level context that makes the criticism explicit.
So we’re dealing with a trait that is informed by racism. In which case, objections that are framed in principled rejections of racism’s principles such as “he was born in Stockport” rather miss the point. Do you imagine that being born in Stockport has insulated Sacha Dhawan from the day to day microaggressions of racism? Do you imagine that the sort of person who views foreignness as grounds for suspicion gives a shit that he was born in the UK? Do you imagine that the ugly tropes implicit in making the villainous and manipulative spymaster a racial Other are in any way dimmed by trivia facts about the actor’s place of birth?
Of course they aren’t. And so fretting about my observation that the dynamic is in play as though it’s discriminatory in a way that leaning into racist tropes of dangerous Asians is not seems foolish, disingenuous, or both.
January 4, 2020 @ 3:37 am
I’ll say at the top that I’m not sure how well wading on on this topic is going to go, but I’m going to give it a go anyway,
I completely agree that the context of the post and of Eruditorum as a whole makes it clear you’re not straying into being discriminatory when you talk about the ‘shifty foreigner’ trope, but I’m not sure how applicable it is with Skyfall 1.
Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, I feel it does apply with Delgado, for reasons that you’ve previously outlined. However, I don’t think the Master here is written in the same way.
It might not necessarily be a meaningful distinction (by which I mean I’m really not sure myself), but the way in which the trope leans quite precisely into xenophobia rather than racism, I feel, means that reading Dhawan in this way is entirely the work of a viewer who comes to it with a sense that non-white Brits aren’t real Brits – and there are definitely people who do feel this way. The Master here, meanwhile, as far as we’ve seen so far, is written and performed as British, even if they did arrive at the casting the way you describe (which might well have been flippant anyway).
It’s not really a very important argument, but I’m not sure how much the trope is actually present here.
Anyway, hopefully that doesn’t tread on any toes whilst confessing that that bit did read a bit odd to me too.
January 4, 2020 @ 11:25 am
To me it was also not clear enough in the text how you are using the trope. If a person of colour would read it without knowing your blog and its other content, maybe all they would get is the racism, without any further explanation on how it was meant? To be sure, why not make it more explicit in the text, and not only in the comments?
January 14, 2020 @ 12:15 am
I suspect that the air of condescension stems more from setting oneself up as an expert on the British Asian experience, or indeed the experience of anyone of colour. “Bum notes” would seem to be inevitable.
June 15, 2022 @ 3:29 am
Just makes you sound a bit racist and out of touch with the UK.
January 3, 2020 @ 9:40 am
Watching it, I did actually think that Chibbers seems to have been more inspired by Moffat than RTD this time around, actually trying to draw from his era rather than treat it as “That Which Must Not Be Invoked”. An everything-and-the-kitchen sink two parter to kick the series off in which the Doctor works with a government to stop an alien invasion that’s already infiltrated Earth certainly feels like it’s trying to recreate “The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon”, while The Master reveal and the idea of them having caused an invasion seemingly just to get a rise out of the Doctor both seem to come pretty directly from “Dark Water”. At the very least, it does feel like Chibbers is looking at the high points of all previous years of NuWho and trying to throw them together as opposed to going “Can we just do the RTD era again but without the scripts being about things?”
January 3, 2020 @ 9:45 am
I’m really struggling to see how casting a POC in a role that’s mostly been played by white men is somehow more reactionary than casting another white actor in said role.
January 3, 2020 @ 12:46 pm
Yeah the Master presenting recognizably as “shifty foreigner” hasn’t been a thing in almost fifty years. Honestly if we’re going down that path I was more bothered by Lenny Henry’s character being “only 93% human” being hammered home as a sinister plot development.
January 3, 2020 @ 7:08 pm
For much the same reason that making the main antagonist of Mr. Robot a trans woman is something of a mixed blessing.
January 5, 2020 @ 12:12 pm
I mean, 1) following that logic you could say the same of Gomez as the first woman in the role, at least in “Dark Water/ Death in Heaven” and 2) while I’d agree with you if he was the only POC in the cast, he’s not – there are heroic and villainous BAME characters in this episode, and the Chibnall era is easily the most racially diverse of Doctor Who’s history (the percentage of speaking roles for BAME actors is way up on the Davies and Moffat eras, and there are more POC writers and directors than any previous era), so I feel there’s very little sense in which non-white people are being coded as villainous in this episode, or the era as a whole (I think the Master and Lenny Henry’s characters might be the first poc villains this era has had). I’m not saying there are no critiques to be made of the handling of race in this era – I think your critique of Rosa was valid, for example. But I don’t think a non white villain whose villainy is never linked to his race and appears in an episode where two of the four heroic leads are also BAME characters is meaningfully reactionary.
January 5, 2020 @ 8:09 pm
Okay, having just watched part two:
January 3, 2020 @ 12:08 pm
Liked the episode for what it was, but want to see where it goes. One of my issues is that showing the first thing to happen is an alien kill a sniper makes me want to support the alien.
I’m really not surprised the Master is back as a bad guy. Would I prefer some explanation of why they aren’t conflicted? Yes. But am I expecting it, or even think it would be the right move for the show to reference an already continuity-dense episode from a different Doctor and showrunner? No.
January 3, 2020 @ 12:18 pm
I think there is enough space if the Master’s timeline to fit a novel regeneration. In “The Deadly Assassin” he was in his his thirteenth life and since then has started a whole new regeneration cycle. Missy could easily still be the last Master.
January 3, 2020 @ 6:19 pm
Missy was never going to be the last Master, because there was always going to be more Doctor Who which wanted to use the Master. That doesn’t stop her death from being brilliantly placed and charged, but I think that getting caught up on continuity is silly.
Here’s my no-prize explanation if nothing else is given. An Alien species abducted the dying Missy using the blackhole and then used stolen technology to regenerate her into “A Villain” the way the Sisterhood of Karn can. A typical Master story happened where O then betrayed everybody and fled with his TARDIS at the end.
Is that a good story? No. Is it a story I think needs to be told? No. Is it a story I was extremely aware had to happen because retcons/escapes like that are essential for the Daleks and the Master? Yes.
January 6, 2020 @ 11:34 am
To be honest there’s still an even simpler answer – World Enough and The Doctor Falls are deliberately unclear as to whether Simm regenerated directly into Gomez or not. We can still have Missy and her redemption as the end of the Master’s story from her point of view, and just assume Simm regenerated into Dhawan (and anyone else who ends up playing the part) before becoming Missy.
January 3, 2020 @ 12:24 pm
Thanks for the review, as always it was entertaining and thought provoking; I’ve been saying that for something like eight years now.
I nearly didn’t tune in for this episode, especially after the special last new year’s. But watch it I did… and found it very ho-hum. It passed the time very slowly. The exciting bits didn’t feel that way, and the story barely kept my interest, which is an improvement on most of last series, I suppose, which didn’t even manage that.
Watchable except for one thing. I find Jodie Whittaker abysmal as the Doctor. My wife calls it “seeing them act syndrome”. She has it with Denzel Washington, and, unfortunately she had it with Peter Capaldi. She tuned out for the whole of his run, pretty much, and hasn’t bothered to return. I have it with Jodie. Every moment she’s on screen all I see is someone desperately trying to ‘act’ and ‘play’ the Doctor. She’s never convinced me yet that she’s the real thing; I never see the Doctor, only Jodie Whittaker doing her damnedest to play the part. It takes me straight out of the story every time she’s on screen.
I had the same visceral reaction/rejection to the first couple of episodes of McCoy, where every move and line delivery appeared calculated, forced and over (or under, I can never make up my mind) rehearsed. With McCoy he settled into the role for me pretty quickly after that and went on to be a favourite. This has not happened with Jodie. It looks like I’ll be sitting out most of this series.
January 3, 2020 @ 12:29 pm
I actually ended up really enjoying Dhawan as the Master – I had oddly missed the leaks about him, so I was surprised by the reveal. Though I guess we’ll have to see how things develop in the next episode.
January 3, 2020 @ 2:17 pm
Something’s off with the pacing in this one. The opening scenes should have been cross-cutting between each other; instead we’re forced to watch the same basic scene play out three or four times back-to-back. That goes for the spies being taken out (a city, a spy, a tense situation, attack – a city, a spy, a tense situation, attack, again and again) but also for the reintroduction of our characters (their one character trait, sinister agents – their one character trait, sinister agents – etc.).
In the case of the TARDIS fam this might have been acceptable had the scenes had dramatic content but it’s just them summarizing what’s superficially interesting about them (Dyspraxia, Cop, Cancer, Goofy Nerd). You could have traded these out for a scene of them together, packing maybe, and just had MI6 roll up on them simultaneously, letting you reestablish not just who they are but what their group dynamic is.
Also odd that Lenny Henry’s character is being set up as a quasi-Bond villain but does nothing to demonstrate his villainy (aside from being a tech baron, but for a family audience that’s hardly a bother). In fact the thing that seems to mark him out as being definitely one of the Bad Guys is that he’s “only 93% human”, which is a worrying use of that sort of revelation.
Plus if you go down the Bond route, why would you include a gambling scene and NOT have the Doctor interrogate Lenny Henry under the guise of polite conversation over a game of cards? A goofy lady twist on the opening testosterone-off.
(As an aside: this isn’t Chibnall-specific, but as a non-Western viewer who hates the US government’s use of the word “aliens”, I’m getting more annoyed by the day at how the show chooses to frame aliens on Earth. Whittaker says “we both know you’re in league with a race of alien creatures” as an accusation. Like we don’t know non-humans already live on Earth and coexist with humans. Like she ISN’T AN ALIEN HERSELF.)
The casting of Stephen Fry is a bit baffling. They could have made something of playing him as a George Smiley type, harmless-looking but masking a kind of ruthlessness. Instead Fry plays the part as, well, himself, entirely too wimpy to convince as a key player in the kind of spycraft implied in the opening scenes. It’s hard not to draw some uncharitable conclusion about the show trying to make UK intelligence seem like warm, cuddly, inoffensive people.
As for O’s character – I’m not bothered about the casting, the continuity or even whether or not they should have waited longer to bring the character back. But I am bothered about the way they handle O as the Master’s alias.
I’m reminded of basically the only time a Master disguise worked properly as a narrative device, which is Utopia. The reason being that even though the character wasn’t consciously the Master, he was still in most respects the same person. So when the Yana consciousness falls away we’re still left knowing something of the character – his intelligence, his inventiveness, his resilience and persistence – and the bits that fall away are the lovable parts, which give it a certain tragic dimension. The point being, the Master’s “disguise” is an unintentional insight into his true character. Yana’s death gave the Master size.
“O” as an alias demonstrates very little characterization other than having worked for the UK government and a passing facility with contemporary human technology. Thematically relevant perhaps (the Master as an agent of the UK government was and is still fertile ground) but when the mask drops there’s very little for us to go on as to what sort of person he is beyond the obligatory Master stuff. Had O been a more Doctor-ish goofy crackpot, or a bitter outcast, or basically anything more vivid than a plot device, it would have provided more foreshadowing or contrast with which to read this incarnation of the Master.
Honestly if we’re trying to figure out what “good Chibnall Doctor Who” looks like, this is missing some of the ingredients I liked the most from S11 – atmosphere over plot, characters with real-life challenges, the occasional earnest educational bit about some scientific concept. In terms of actually existing episodes the closest thing I can see to a model for a good Chibnall run would be Series 10’s “Smile”.
January 3, 2020 @ 6:43 pm
“letting you reestablish not just who they are but what their group dynamic is.”
But then someone would have to write lines for them that could actually show characterisation AND different kinds of dialogues between different combinations of characters!! Who is going to do that?!
January 3, 2020 @ 6:46 pm
“Plus if you go down the Bond route, why would you include a gambling scene and NOT have the Doctor interrogate Lenny Henry under the guise of polite conversation over a game of cards? A goofy lady twist on the opening testosterone-off.”
I didn’t get it, either. Maybe because I have probably only watched half of a James Bond movie at most. But what purpose did gambling serve for their plans? They needed to infiltrate the party and find information, but they literally didn’t talk to anyone. Then the Doctor walks up to the antagonist and CONVEYS information to him instead of extracting it.
January 3, 2020 @ 8:54 pm
Sort of ironic for a casino-themed party that the Doctor just shows Barton her hand from the start.
John G. Wood
January 3, 2020 @ 2:43 pm
I’d call it a hit, on average. Our viewing was a bit interrupted, partly because the dog wanted to play/eat/go out and partly because of the whole vore thing – my children just had to keep pausing it while they got their laughter under control.
Regarding Graham: from a human point of view his reaction to “the Doctor used to be a man” isn’t great, sure, but I think it makes sense from a character POV. It fits with his comment last season complaining about Ryan blaming everything on his disability. It cuts against his nice guy image, and in a particular way that makes sense from an older character. Not all older people are so set in their ways, but it does get harder to shed old prejudices as time passes; and having him be a dick about some things helps him seem more real. Though I can understand why you wouldn’t be so dispassionate about this incident (I wasn’t about the disability comment at the time).
Anyway, glad you you made the target, both for your sake and ours!
January 3, 2020 @ 3:17 pm
Very wild guess: this could be an alternate universe Master. Which would at least not ruin the Missy ending and would allow for a red-haired man named Merlin to show up later on.
The “past incarnation” seems more likely. Unless the Master has somehow rewritten his own timeline to edit Missy out and the Doctor has to undo the changes and rescue her, which would still be derivative and possibly awful but not as bad as ignoring Missy’s character arc.
Meanwhile, Daniel Barton being a “double or triple agent” pretty much gives the game away that he may not be a villain after all, which might work as a twist if it weren’t going to implicitly undo another criticism of megacorporations.
We’ll see if this set of invaders remain interesting, but so far they’re a massive improvement on homicidal cheating tooth-face guy and I wouldn’t mind them being an ongoing threat.
January 3, 2020 @ 6:46 pm
I was thinking VOR sans “O” is VR. Although I doubt Chibnall has the imagination to do anything akin to a Black Mirror style twist, so sadly, the most banal and predictable linear option is most likely.
January 3, 2020 @ 6:54 pm
The BBC posted a video of Sacha Dawan going over the whole of the Master’s timeline all the way to Missy. It sounded like they’re treating this Master as coming right after that.
I’m thinking Barton will have to turn out to be a good guy because I think there is no way the companions will be able to sort anything out by themselves. So someone will have to play a Doctorish role and lead them. Could it be the Master? Maybe he’s actually a double agent himself and is trying to stop the aliens. Or maybe this will be his attempt at convincing the companions that he is a better “Doctor” to them than the Doctor herself.
January 3, 2020 @ 7:41 pm
Well Barton’s going to get them out of the plane crash, isn’t he? That’s why they spend so long talking about him as a pilot.
January 3, 2020 @ 4:37 pm
I can’t really watch Doctor Who anymore because I find something about it not really being about anything at the start of a decade when the sky is on fire to be very depressing, although also this episode looks pretty fun and clever so it seems a bit unfair of me. I think the dissonance between its view of the world and mine are now just a bit too big, which I don’t think is really a criticism as much as a statement that I’m very sad.
January 3, 2020 @ 6:57 pm
I was thinking that maybe DW is such weird sci-fi that it simply cannot be produced/written by such an “establishment” person like Chibnall. RTD and Moffat – gay and mixed race – were able to endow DW with a necessary iconoclastic force. Chibnall seems not even remotely capable or interested in doing that.
January 3, 2020 @ 8:22 pm
Moffat’s mixed race?
January 4, 2020 @ 12:21 am
Unless you’re counting Scottish and English as different races, Moffat (despite the hair) isn’t mixed race; perhaps this stems from confusion with Peter (Moffett) Davison who is
January 3, 2020 @ 5:37 pm
Such a pleasant surprise to see this review. I genuinely thought we wouldn’t hit the threshold.
January 3, 2020 @ 5:43 pm
I don’t have TV and will have to wait for the DVD or maybe stream it but since I don’t really care much for Chibs Who spoilers I’ll just read this and be happy, and thank you. I was hoping the patreon would make this happen.
January 3, 2020 @ 6:42 pm
I know we had Missy destroy a plane a years back at the end of Capaldi’s first season – so it was in essence unimaginative anyway – but repeating the trick by having shifty Asian Master blow one up struck as me as a tasteless piece of dog-whistle racism. Awful.
January 3, 2020 @ 8:38 pm
I guess it’s possible that Sacha’s Master is somewhere between Simm and Gomez, if not pre-Jacobi. I hope they keep it vague enough to allow for Missy’s arc to still be the end of the character’s journey.
January 3, 2020 @ 9:26 pm
I thought the Michael Bay-ish direction was an appropriate counterpart to the Chibnall script. They had the same level of nuance and set-up.
January 4, 2020 @ 12:27 am
Was the house in the Outback only there to give them the Wizard of Oz gag btw?
January 4, 2020 @ 1:37 pm
I’m always bothered by the Master’s regenerations. The Doctor is different people throughout regens, but there’s an arc there as well, a reaction to things that makes sense. One was too stern, so Two becomes a lot friendlier. Two was too friendly so becomes more stern again in Three. Five was too nice so Six becomes mean. Six was too obvious and loud, so Seven becomes a schemer and so on and so forth. The Man who Remembers and the Man who Forgets is also an “arc”. Yet the Master always seems more reactionary to the Doctor, rather than to him/her/it?self.
Anyway, I think the highlight of this episode is the Master reveal, sadly spoiled to me by the Doctor Who facebook page, because god forbid I don’t watch Doctor Who the day it airs. The companions stay a problem; Graham fills the classic role of asking questions, Ryan is pretty much just comic relief and Yaz is ye olde Nyssa, completely forgotten and ignored by any writer. At least she gets a good scene here with the aftermath of her teleport. Hope they build on that.
January 4, 2020 @ 4:39 pm
I think there can be some links if you want to do a bit of a jokey go at it.
Delgado is similar to the 11th Doctor: He’s the last incarnation and he’s just having fun but going harder than he should at times.
Crispy is all the fun, suave charm of the Master lost to being someone desperate for life and willing to do everything he was doing before, but in a more nasty manner.
Ainley is a Master whose trying to recapture his old glory days before the trauma of being Crispy, but failing at it. So he’s clumsier (see Logopolis) the plans become stupid (see Time-Flight and The King’s Demons), opportunistic and servile (The Mark of the Rani and The Trial of a Time-Lord) before finally just collapsing into toxic aggression.
Roberts is mainly falling apart because he’s a goo snake that’s been executed.
Jacobi is scared and old and seen way too much. His attempt to escape the Time War is going to the end of the universe
Simm is the end result of having seen way too much. The Master as a totally unrepentant, nihilistic, spiteful murderer who would rather die than admit a single inch, and seems to be downright sadistic.
Missy is recovering from this. She comes from a place of shooting Simm in the back and seeing mechanical horror and so wants to reconnect with the universe and the Doctor. A far more personal Master.
Dhawan will probably get to fit in as another relapse Master. They seem to crop up a lot. Most of this I think is unintentional. RTD definitely wanted a Master who was worse than ever before because of the Time War, and Missy was an attempt to redeem the Master, but my interpretation of Ainley is just rejigging naff scripts and a campy, self-conscious performance as a naff period in the Master’s life.
January 4, 2020 @ 6:46 pm
on the early evidence, he’s aping John Simm and doing it badly
While I agree completely with your comments about (possibly) undoing the Missy era—that’s my main complaint about the episode too—I think more of Dhawan’s performance. He wasn’t aping John Simm before the big reveal, after all. The Simm ticks at the end felt more like his way of drawing a contrast with how he’d behaved in the rest of the episode.
Needless to say, we’ll find out in part two whether he’ll continue the Simm impression or do something more interesting. But I can say I definitely have more hope for what Dhawan does with the character than I do for what Chibnall does with the character.
January 4, 2020 @ 7:13 pm
That was… as good as we’re ever going to get from Chibnall, I guess. Ultimately empty, but nicely shot and mostly entertaining. It still breaks my fucking heart to see Doctor Who in such a shape, but at least it’s better than series 11 and doesn’t look like it’s gonna get cancelled. So at least there’s that.
I still can’t fathom how some fans I know can claim that this version of the show is more focused on characters and relationships than the previous era. For me the beginning of this episode was the perfect encapsulation of why the companions are cardboard cutouts instead of people: they can each be reduced to the one character trait they’ve been given a season ago. No, not even a character trait. A fact. Like Kaan Vural said in their comment: “Dyspraxia, Cop, Cancer”. Twelve would’ve been bored to death after 30 seconds of talking to them.
On the other hand, the action scenes were fun, the music was very good, the plot mostly made sense and the production values were amazing (our era of bad DW can at least look good). I even liked the Master, although of course he’ll be a letdown after Missy. So in general it was much better than I expected. Here’s hoping Chibnall can manage to not screw up the landing.
One more general observation. What makes me dislike Thirteen possibly even more than her ineffectiveness is the fact that the Doctor seems to have lost their epic side. This is no longer a mysterious cosmic figure with vast knowledge and deep secrets, it’s just a weird human who likes to mention historical figures she’s met. (And rarely a brilliant one these days – she mostly defeats her enemies with simple tricks instead of clever plans). There’s just no depth to the character anymore. A real pity in my opinion.
January 9, 2020 @ 12:07 pm
You mention An Increasingly Inaccurately Named Trilogy, and so I figured I’d ask if far in the future we were likely to get a new A Consistently Inaccurately Named Trilogy, for Knives Out?