Warning: This episode recap contains spoilers.
Welcome back, fam! After the bombshell of last week’s episode, anything was going to be a letdown, so I guess it was as good a place as any to drop this just OK episode. As message episodes go, it was far less preachy and more informative than “Orphan 55”, and the skipping around the world was fun, too. I’ll take it.
The plot and the villains were basically fine. An alien virus spread by microplastics brought here by non-malicious aliens who were searching for a way for themselves to survive is the sort of mundane story (by Doctor Who standards) that’s almost refreshing. Throwing aside the notion that this is all fiction, I’d bet there are a lot more threats to Earth from regular species in a bad situation making a worse choice than there are super-evil species bent on world domination and/or destruction. That is part of what makes this story resonate with the audience. We’ve all been or seen that guy who commits a “victimless” crime, but in this case the human race is the actual victim. It’s sort of a nice parallel to, for instance, the “victimless” crime of throwing a recyclable item in the trash and the show had the good sense this week to not bash us over the head with that message, making it all the more meaningful.
The companions had a good amount of business to do this week. This is a great example of how to use a large cast. Though the Doctor can do a lot of things, she can’t be everywhere at once, so it’s handy to have a group of allies who are in on the cosmic WTF of it all when stuff is happening at different places all over the world at the same time. It really helps keep them from setting too many alien incidents happening in and around Sheffield. Whereas in other episodes there’s been too much going on to really give everyone a meaningful task, here everyone is a useful part of the team. I have tiny gripes here and there (dude, Yaz, you can be in constant communication with the Doctor, so maybe tell her before you go through a teleport to God knows where?), but overall I’m chuffed.
I enjoyed the new characters as well. Doctor Who continues to do a good job presenting a universe peopled by nonwhite, non-straight people. I really cared about Aramu, Gabriela, Adam, and Jake, and didn’t want to see any of them die; they were all interesting and fully realized, which is not an easy job in such a short space of time. Suki was a decent baddie as well. I didn’t see her turn coming and I felt for her when she explained her plight. Shame she had to go and explode like that. I was a bit annoyed by Jake’s decision to sacrifice himself to save everyone (running away to pilot a ship that’s going to explode doesn’t scream “not running away from life” to me) and was relieved that the show remembered the TARDIS has the capacity for last minute rescues. Also, it meant that both our LGBTQ+ characters lived, because straying away from the “Bury Your Gays” trope used far too often on TV.
Visually, it was a pretty good-looking episode. The sets, costumes, makeup, and special effects work were appropriately creepy and cool-looking. Even the lighting was stunning and made use of so many colors. Storywise, it was fine. Anyone complaining that it wasn’t as big and bonkers as last week needs to take a step back and ask themselves if that’s really what they want. To me, this was about as good an episode as we could expect at this point in the series and I’ll be curious how it stands up to rewatching, out of context of the episode order of the season. The only thing I could ever ask for is more Captain Jack, because I will always want more Captain Jack (according to Chibnall, we’re not going to get more Captain Jack this season and if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge for sale). See ya next week, fam!