Doctor Who Season 12×02 “Spyfall: Part 2” Review

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TV:
Christian Bone

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4.5
On January 5, 2020
Last modified:January 5, 2020

Summary:

Ambitious, intelligent and thrilling, "Spyfall: Part 2" is arguably the most accomplished episode of the Jodie Whittaker era of Doctor Who so far.

You wait a whole year for Doctor Who to come back and then two episodes reach our screens in one week. After debuting on New Year’s Day, season 12 continued this Sunday with the second part of “Spyfall.” It’s a good thing that we didn’t have to wait long for this episode, too, as the last one ended on a heck of a cliffhanger – with Sacha Dhawan’s O revealed to be the Master, the Doctor trapped in another dimension and her friends caught on a crashing, pilot-less plane. Thankfully, “Part 2” keeps up the adrenaline that the premiere injected into the show and ends up delivering one of the most robust installments of the Jodie Whittaker era so far.

In my review for “Part 1,” while largely positive about the episode, I noted that the pace dragged and it felt hard to justify the 65-minute runtime. Though “Part 2” clocks in almost as long at 60 minutes, there’s no such issues this time around, as writer Chris Chibnall’s script never lets up, throwing new concepts at the screen every few minutes. After last Wednesday’s spy caper, “Spyfall: Part 2” turned out to be a period-hopping historical, featuring not one but two famous female faces from history – 18th century computer pioneer Ada Lovelace (Sylvie Briggs) and wartime British spy Noor Inayat Khan (Aurora Marion).

Last season, there was some criticism that the large group of leads prevented Whittaker from really standing on her own as the Doctor. Chibnall really seems to have paid attention to this though, as he keeps the Time Lord and her “fam” apart for nearly this entire episode, which allows the actress a chance to define her character apart from her friends and bounce off other actors – she works particularly well with Briggs’ Lovelace. Though of course, the most interesting dynamic of the outing has to be Whittaker and Dhawan’s rivalry.

Some fans were already blown away by the “O” Master in the first half, while others needed some convincing after he only got to play “Master 101” last time. Fortunately, “Part 2” really gives Dhawan the space to put his own stamp on the villain and he’s never better than when he’s sparring with Whittaker. The scene in which he forces the Doctor to bow before him and call him “Master” is something we’ve never seen before, an act with sickening, sexist connotations which just adds to his evil. Their confrontation atop the Eiffel Tower is another highlight, with the dialogue touching on the Master’s dependency on “playing” with his old friend turned enemy. On the other hand, his final appearance via hologram almost makes you feel sorry for the maniac, even as he admits to destroying his home world (more on that in a moment).

With the Doctor otherwise occupied, Ryan (Tosin Cole), Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) are left to fend for themselves, which becomes even harder when they’re made public enemies number one – yet another concession to spy thriller tropes – by Lenny Henry’s malevolent tech billionaire Daniel Barton. First, though, they have to get themselves off a nosediving plane. This escape sequence was one of the highlights of the episode, with the timey-wimey nature of the Doc’s rescue feeling like a tip of the hat from Chibnall to his predecessor in the showrunner’s chair, Steven Moffat. All in all, this was a solid hour for the trio as a team, though they didn’t get much space to shine as individuals. Yet again. But hey, “Part 2” pulls off enough corrections of some of season 11’s mistakes, so we can forgive it for one dropped ball.

The marketing for this run had seemed to suggest that a dark season-long story arc would come into play this time around, a contrast from season 11’s very standalone nature. And sure enough, that was confirmed in a big way this week, with the story arc turning out to be bigger than any of us could have predicted. The Doctor’s past was hardly mentioned in Whittaker’s first year, yet this episode not only returns to Gallifrey but reveals that it’s in ruins (once again). Apparently, the Master laid waste to the planet when he found out the shocking secret the Time Lords have been keeping for millennia. And it’s all to do with the Timeless Child…

Yes, if you’re one of those fans who’ve been theorizing that the mention of “the Timeless Child” from 2018’s “The Ghost Monument” was something important, give yourself a pat on the back. Who knows who or what exactly they are right now, but the Master confirms that the Child is a hidden key figure in Gallifreyan mythology. As thrilling as all this stuff is, the 180 degree shift from season 11’s “all-new” ethos is almost comical. Chibnall said many times back in 2018 that he wanted to ease in new viewers by cutting out all the continuity. Now, he’s teasing the reveal of the secret origin of the Time Lords – possibly the most fannish thing ever attempted in the modern series.

The only major flaw with “Part 2” is the way the Kasaavin/Barton plotline doesn’t coalesce as it should have done. The concept of Barton using data-hacking to hack people’s genetic data is a fun one, but it’s hard to unpick the logic and motivations of his and the aliens’ overall plan. Why does Barton want to wipe out humanity, and what do the Kasaavin actually need the DNA-drained people for? There was also a whiff of Richmond Valentine’s scheme from Kingsman: The Secret Service about it. But I suppose if you’re doing a spy pastiche, then why not crib from one of the best around?

All in all, “Spyfall: Part 2” is arguably the most accomplished episode of Chibnall’s tenure we’ve yet seen. In fact, with its enormous scope and ambition, you could say it’s one of the most accomplished stories Doctor Who has ever pulled off. Not a bad way to start off a new season, eh?

Doctor Who Season 12x02
Fantastic

Ambitious, intelligent and thrilling, "Spyfall: Part 2" is arguably the most accomplished episode of the Jodie Whittaker era of Doctor Who so far.

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