After last week’s mind-blowing installment, things returned to your typical Doctor Who fare for season 12’s sixth episode, “Praxeus.” While it might not have the kick of the surprise-stuffed “Fugitive of the Judoon,” this effort from Pete McTighe – who previously penned “Kerblam!”, one of the better episodes of season 11 – and showrunner Chris Chibnall is a perfectly enjoyable installment of an increasingly reliable season.
With a plot encompassing Peru, Madagascar and Hong Kong, as well as a few other pit stops sprinkled in there for good measure, “Praxeus” reheats the idea of an episode stretched across multiple locations, which has become a recurring trope of the Chibnall era. While it’s not as successful in its execution as the “Spyfall” two-parter that headed season 12, the constant bolting around the globe still serves to give the episode a snappier pace than certain other recent hours. Plus, Jamie Stone, already a veteran of the Thirteenth Doctor’s tenure, provides his usual sturdy direction.
As the plot focuses in across the first 15 minutes, it becomes clear that the Doctor and company are dealing with a lethal virus that’s spreading across continents. And at this point, through no fault of its own, the episode gains a bit of a sour taste. Given the current Coronavirus outbreak, the timing of this outing is highly unfortunate and makes for a slightly uncomfortable watch. But seeing as it was produced months ago, there’s nothing that can be done about that.
The real-world topic “Praxeus” actually wants to engage in is plastic pollution in the oceans and atmosphere, with the titular alien pathogen feeding off the microplastics in the air. As always, the impact of the message will entirely depend on your own mileage for the direct way Chibnall likes to tackle the theme-of-the-week. There’s no speech delivered straight down the camera this episode at least, which should appease some. Once again, though, Who should definitely be grappling with these issues. Whether it can do so in a more nuanced way is the question worth discussing.
The only thing is that having a virus as the main threat robs the episode of any major confrontation for the Doctor to engage in at its climax. Swarming, violent birds are always a rich font to draw from when attempting to increase tension and unease – just ask Alfred Hitchcock – but not enough is done with that concept. The plague doctors also aren’t up to much snuff. Though the eventual reveal of their jagged faces might have wrong-footed a lot of fans into thinking the Stenza were back.
Much of the success of the episode’s premise, though, is down to its characters. The guest cast, for starters, features a couple of standouts. A few weeks back, I criticized “Orphan 55” for having far too many characters than it knew what to do with. Honestly, “Praxeus” isn’t flawless in this regard, as there’s not enough time spent with Molly Harris’ Suki Cheng to make her treachery have any impact, but it’s still much improved.
Warren Brown’s Jake is nicely well-rounded for a one-off Doctor Who character who’s not based off a real person, with his personal insecurities and eventual heroic sacrifice – which is thankfully undone by the Doctor saving him. And hooray for the reconciliation kiss between Jake and his astronaut husband at the end – is that the first gay kiss we’ve got in this era? What’s more, I really wouldn’t mind more from Joana Borja’s Gabriela in future. How about having her as a companion in season 13?
Speaking of the companions, this was one of the stronger weeks for the fam. I hypothesized in my review for “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror” that this TARDIS team is always stronger when they’re apart rather than when they’re together, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. “Praxeus” is another example of this as the episode opens with the foursome scattered across the world as they investigate the various instances of the Praxeus outbreak. This allows Ryan and Yaz to show some independence. In particular, the latter.
Yes, praise the Who gods, Yaz actually gets something to do this week. Despite Mandip Gill’s spirited performance, Yaz is routinely underused episode after episode. Here, though, she finally shows some gumption and goes out on a limb, teleporting into danger when she gets on the trail of the mystery herself. Giving Yaz a moment to demonstrate her ingenuity is good enough, but you can also read into this that she’s so desperate to prove herself she’s willing to take reckless risks. More exploration of his potential character flaw/room for growth, please!
All in all, “Praxeus” is a puzzle that doesn’t quite fit all of its pieces together well enough so they form a masterpiece, despite the wraparound narration attempting its best to convince us it’s all connected. And yet it’s still a thoroughly entertaining yarn all the same, with fine pacing, strong guest cast and good use of the regulars. Not every week can be about returning faces and new twists to the mythos, nor should it be. Sometimes you just need a spoonful of classic Doctor Who to cure a case of the Sunday night blues.
While not quite as cohesive as the episode thinks it is, "Praxeus" offers another perfectly enjoyable installment of an increasingly reliable season of Doctor Who.