Welcome back, my brilliant fam! It has been a WHOLE. ASS. YEAR. since we had any new Doctor Who so without any further ado I will dive right into this joyride of an episode.
I have to say, I think the tradecraft genre is a very good look for Doctor Who and, with the 25th installment of the James Bond franchise due this spring, the theme of this episode is very well timed. Bond films share a similar timeline to Doctor Who, having begun in 1962 and 1963 respectively, and there’s been a lot of fan speculation about the similarities between the lead characters, both of whom are seemingly invincible— they have both saved the world multiple times over, been played by various actors throughout their runs, and are both seeing their iconic character being played by a woman for the first time (Lashana Lynch is set to take over the 007 moniker in this spring’s No Time To Die, though Daniel Craig will retain the name James Bond). So it’s only fitting that Chibnall & Co. make it official by inviting Team TARDIS inside MI6. I was satisfied with their answer about why we haven’t seen this before; it makes sense that up until now, extraterrestrial threats were handled by UNIT and now that they’ve been axed due to budget cuts, the Doctor has a new agency to deal with.
But let’s back up a bit and take a look at the lives of our Earthlings since last we left them. The modern lifestyle of a companion, who maintains their life on Earth while simultaneously travelling with the Doctor, is nothing new; they’ve been doing this since midway through Amy and Rory’s run. What I don’t understand is why we need to bother explaining their absences on a time travel show. It’s a minor gripe, but in a 59-minute episode that felt just a little slow for fans who’ve been waiting so long, I could have done without it (though I’m happy to have it confirmed that Graham’s travels haven’t had a negative impact on his health).
The overall plot was pretty fun, I thought. I’m already a big fan of the spy genre, so it was an easy win for me, with all of the sneaking about, using neat gadgets, and high-speed adventures. Plus, the antics of the gang at the casino party added a bit of much needed Whovian humor and fun to a classic element of the typical spy story. Not to mention, I’ll never complain about seeing my favorite characters in black tie (please someone buy me Yaz’s tux) and 13’s interpretation of the dress code was so spot on for her, right down to the bow tie. The monsters were pretty scary, albeit a little confusing. I still don’t get who they are, what they want, or how they work, though I expect that will clear up in Part 2. I still spent a lot of the time they were present on the edge of my seat, especially during the siege on O’s place in the Outback, fruitlessly telling my TV how much I don’t like jump scares.
Much has been made of the guest stars that have been revealed for this season and they all live up to the hype. I was a tiny bit bummed to see Stephen Fry killed off so early on. He was a brilliant pick for the head of MI6 and a major “get” for the show, but I understand that they couldn’t hold on to that big of a star for very long. Lenny Henry, CBE and co-founder of Comic Relief, is a similarly big deal in the UK, but less well known outside of it, so I guess he had a little more time to devote to his role. He is serviceably creepy as justifiably paranoid tech magnate and alien co-conspirator Daniel Barton. But the guest star who really steals it all away is Sacha Dhawan, who you may recognize as Davos from Netflix’s Iron Fist.
While watching the episode, it was bugging my husband and I as to where we’d seen him before, but I couldn’t be bothered to dig into it during the episode and he couldn’t find him listed in the episode’s cast on IMDB. I speculated that the identity of his character was most likely a spoiler mere moments before he was revealed to be THE FREAKING MASTER. This show spent all of Series 11 avoiding old tropes of Classic Who to gain new viewers attracted by the revolutionary casting of Jodie Whittaker. Then, once they’d proved themselves, it was safe to take on a classic villain in last year’s Resolution. That single episode gave me at least the confidence to hand over the keys to the canon and let them do whatever the hell they wanted. They have yet to disappoint. When John Simm left, I was sad to see him go, but I ended up loving Michelle Gomez even more, and I’m sure the same will be true of Dhawan. I’ve seen some criticism that it’s too soon for the Master to come back or that they don’t buy a vengeful Master after the Missy arc, but I don’t buy any of it. Missy was last seen in mid-2017, and although she had a redemption arc in her final story, the Master is and has always been a mentally ill psychopath who has regenerated since we saw them last, and I can only imagine what kind of havoc being murdered by one of your former selves wreaks on a person like that. In short, I will always buy a crazy, evil Master and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
So, speaking of cliffhangers, that would be my other minor gripe with this episode. You mean to tell me this show has been off for, as previously stated, a whole ass year and you’re going to come back and give us half a story then make us wait a few days for the other half? I mean, I guess this is Doctor Who and we should all be grateful that the season proper isn’t starting a couple of months from now, but still. Be kind to us, we get so little new Who per season. According to next week’s teaser, the Doctor is left with “No exit strategy, in the unknown, all hope lost,” which is exactly where Doctor Who shines brightest, so I couldn’t be more excited.