Warning: This episode recap contains spoilers. Proceed with caution.
Welcome back to TARDIS, fam! My goodness, you can really feel how long the break between seasons was in this episode. There was SO MUCH packed into the back half of this two-parter, as if they’d had a LOT of story built up during the year off that they were just bursting to cram in as soon as they came back. So, let’s get to it, shall we?
It seems a bit odd to me to dispense with the basic plot first, but that’s actually the least interesting thing about this episode, which isn’t to say it wasn’t interesting at all. I felt like they came up with a pretty brilliant solution to getting out of the plane crash. That bit at the end of Part 1 where the Doctor panicked and couldn’t come up with a solution before the bomb went off started to bug me in the interim between episodes since, during Capaldi’s era, they made a point of going into how the Doctor can slow down time inside his mind to make it appear as though he could think faster than his enemies. But I like when the show remembers its main character is a time traveler, so the “Bill and Ted” solution works for me too. The only part of it that bugged me is that the companions never figured out that the Doctor must be fine, because she would have set-up the whole rescue scenario in the future. As for the villains and monsters, the trope of using your data against you is, if not played out, at least well-worn territory, but Barton and the Master sell it, so it’s fine.
Some of my most favorite parts of the episode were the guest stars. They may have introduced the more heavy hitters in terms of star power last week, but the characters I really loved came into the story this week. I knew where they were going the second they revealed that Ada was the name of the Victorian lady whom the Doctor met in what looked like an alien version of the inside of a computer. I fell in love with this show’s version of Lovelace, I wish she could be a companion. Her shade when Babbage says all great ladies are designed more for decoration than purpose was Ev. Ery. Thing. She kicks ass by taking initiative and jumping in to help the Doctor just like a good companion does. If only it wouldn’t completely crash history to have her travel in the TARDIS. I was less familiar with Noor Inayat Khan prior to this episode, but I loved her as well, nonetheless (and I wonder whether the fact that she and Yaz share a last name will end up meaning anything). The show has always been inclusive, but it seems to have gone out of its way to bring in feminist icons that would, intentionally or not, piss off the “fans” who never want anything about the show to change and I am here for it. Those fans are right, at least on some level, this is not the Doctor Who they grew up with. It’s better.
One thing I’ve always liked about having multiple companions is the opportunity to split up the group in different ways. Here we get a chance to see all three companions together on their own without the Doctor (except for a little digital assist in the sky). It was a great opportunity for them to practice what they’ve learned from the Doctor, i.e. using what they have to their advantage to outsmart the enemy. The parallel between Yaz asking the gang what the Doctor would do and the Doctor talking to herself as if the gang were there at various points in the episode was lovely; they need her and she needs them. After all, when separated from them, the Doctor immediately found herself some new, albeit temporary, companions. The separation also spotlighted how blindly loyal they’ve been without the Doctor giving them any info on herself and their reunion afforded them to present that with concern instead of hurt, beautifully and carefully emphasizing the development of their relationship and the love between them. It’s really nice seeing how far our little Team TARDIS has come. And still, in all, Ryan is still Ryan, having a good idea but being dumb enough to share it with the enemy. And God bless Bradley Walsh and his comedic laser soft-shoe. I don’t care how hokey you thought it was, his gleeful grinning made it goddamn hilarious.
Oh, this Master, though. Sacha Dhawan has proven himself in the role this episode after just a taste in the last one. The first thing I noticed was a subtle but inherently different dynamic between the Doctor and the Master, this being the first time we’ve seen them in this combination of genders. There was something much more sinister about the Master making the Doctor kneel and say his name. Even though they are equally powerful and smart, even though they aren’t human and the gender bias shouldn’t and doesn’t exist in their species, the visual of a man subjugating a woman is still incredibly unnerving. That aside, I found everything about their dynamic in this episode delightful. I adored the cat and mouse chase through time, particularly the resulting unironic delivery of the Master’s line about having to live through the 20th century. I was thrilled they brought back the four knocks rhythm, a staple of any modern Master story, and that they explicitly spelled out its meaning, the rhythm of two hearts. Giant Whovian that I am, not even I know if they ever stated that before, but it makes so much sense that even if it wasn’t always intended that way, it seems like it was. And, as always, the key to defeating the master taking advantage of his arrogance, which this Doctor did, as only she can, brilliantly.