Warning: This episode recap contains spoilers. Proceed with caution.
Welcome back fam! This week, our show takes on a pair of God-like figures using human fear to entertain themselves, spreads it a little too thinly across all our companions, leaves the Doctor looking not so great, and wraps it up in a way that didn’t quite feel right. Let’s get into our deepest fears, shall we?
Is it me (or maybe just the shows I watch) or are omnipotent, immortal, authoritarian characters always just total dicks? These Immortals were no exception. The actors themselves did a fine job. I enjoyed how they were presented as a linked pair but not as a romantic couple, romance seems a bit puny for these two. The character design also worked, except I’m not too sure about the detachable fingers; they were proper creepy but seemed a bit of an analog way for a creature that powerful to siphon nightmares. Zellin did explain how the human form delighted him, it just didn’t really work for me. The animation that explained how Rakaya was trapped was a bit off-putting as well. Part of it was its place in the episode, appearing as we came back from a commercial made it feel a bit like we were watching something else, but I also felt like that exposition would have had greater impact coming from one of the inhabitants of the two planets that trapped her. Not getting to meet anyone involved in that original scheme seems like a missed opportunity and instead we got a 14th-century Syrian nun for some odd reason. No offense to the character of Tahira, she just seemed unnecessary and cutting her out would have given the story some much-needed room to breathe.
Speaking of being packed too tight, I feel like the companions got the short end of the stick collectively. It’s not that there were too many people to get to, it’s just that the episode could have spent more time with characters we already know and care about, especially since conquering their fears was crucial to defeating the villains. I will say we got some hella-great performances out of Gill, Cole, and Walsh this week, I just wish we had more. I take it this was meant to be the episode where we got some of Yaz’s backstory about why she became a cop, it was just barely there. Ryan’s interactions with his friend Tibo were sweet but, aside from an unmemorable brief appearance in Spyfall Pt 1, we’d never seen this dude before. I felt like it would have meant more if Ryan had gone back to visit his father, since the two seemed like they were going to try to repair their relationship when we last saw them. The only one that hit hard at all was Graham’s nightmare about his cancer. By comparison, Yaz and Ryan saw decent closure to their stories, whereas Graham showed real growth sharing his fear with the Doctor and got not much back from her for his trouble. It’s true that conversations about cancer are never easy and that the reality of the disease is that it’s ever-present and scary, but the people who write this show are professional writers and surely they could have come up with something comforting for her to say.
The Doctor felt uncharacteristically weak in this episode. She’s smarter than to have fallen for Zellin’s trap and to have stumbled into freeing Rakaya. Surely, our hero would have asked more questions about why she was trapped and who she was. Not to mention, these Immortals seem awfully powerful for the Doctor not to have heard of them. It’s possible the show is trying to make a larger point about the Doctor being off her game because of the Master’s parting words, the warning from Jack, and the destruction of Gallifrey, but if that’s what they’re doing, it’s not terribly clear. In this episode, her purpose was more to provide the means for the humans to defeat the enemy than for her to be the hero and outsmart them. I’m all for giving the human characters more agency, but let’s not have it come at the expense of the traits we’ve already established in our lead.
It seems likely that they’re setting up someone to leave the cast at the end of the story. Ryan is the most obvious, given his speech at the end. Graham would be a good bet, since Brad Walsh is the most famous of the companions, he might want to be freed up for other opportunities. I could see Yaz’s commitment to her family and completing her police training being a reason for her to depart, but personally I hope she stays, she’s still my favorite. Either way, though I really do like all these characters, I really wouldn’t mind seeing the group broken up and remixed. Having a group of companions split up by the choice to stay with the Doctor or go home is very Classic Who and a longtime companion paired with a newcomer (if they chose to take on someone else) is a fun dynamic we haven’t seen in a long time.
So, next week, we seem to have another fun historical romp on tap. Maybe it’s meant to be a comment about how, having conquered their individual fears, there should be nothing scary about a Frankenstein-themed trip, but I feel like a more relaxed setting would be appropriate to follow up the trauma Team TARDIS just went through. Is it just the Doctor being obliviously off her game again? We’ll have to see next week!