The new series of Doctor Who has (finally) started with a two-parter named “Spyfall”, which is at east an actual pun on “Skyfall”, unlike a certain episode last season that set me off… ANYWAY, Spyfall is Chris Chibnall’s best effort so far, which comes as a big relief after his rather poor track history in the last series. Throw in an unexpected twist and it’s a good near-two hours. Let’s take a closer look!
The security of the entire world is at stake, so head of MI6, C, enlists the Doctor and her team to investigate business mogul Daniel Barton to see if he’s been turned against them. Meanwhile an alien threat that can pass through walls, even those of the TARDIS, known as the Kasaavin is wiping out spy organisations all over the planet. Can former MI6 agent “O” help them, or is he not who he claims to be?
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
I love how The Doctor is just wearing a Tux’d version of her regular outfit, rather than a flat-out tux.
Spyfall mixes a lot of stuff: there’s Bond parodies, Bond-like action set pieces, and a mysterious alien threat that you can’t quite see as they’re from another dimension and “breaking through” into ours, but the main point I have to applaud is Sacha Dhawan as a new incarnation of The Master. I was a little worried at the end of Part 1 as he was just acting over-the-top and excited as John Simm / Missy, and I was thinking “The Master is just going to be like this forever now, isn’t he?” but in Part 2 he was actually more reserved and his old snarling and smug self, only losing his cool when things don’t immediately go his way. Sacha plays is perfectly, and I have to tip my hat to the returning Tissue Compression Eliminator as well. Great stuff.
Graham, Yas and Ryan once again play off of each other well, they spend most of Part 2 away from The Doctor, and it works. Graham still has the best lines (and scenes where he tries out his “laser shoes” he got from MI6 were a good laugh), with Yas and Ryan being more hit and miss but generally believable characters. Hell, even Jodie Whittaker is playing a better Doctor here, more confident and less “funny Matt Smith lines”, well, with one or two exceptions.
Oddly Lenny Henry plays a good tech billionaire villain, even if his big speech at the end of Part 2 was far too on-the-nose with what message was trying to be conveyed. I (and most I assume) know him more as a comedian, so it was surprising he managed to settle into the role so well. Stephen Fry was good as the head of MI6 as well, for how briefly the role lasted.
A car / bike shoot out and mid-air exploding plane scene both were fun to watch, and the mystery of who the Kasaavin are (along with their cheesy booming voice) were fun too. Finally The Master revealing that not only has Gallifrey been destroyed (again!) but there is some big mystery to reveal was … something, at least. Gives the series a bit more impact and urgency than last time anyway.
“Historically important women: Assemble!”
The Doctor’s first female incarnation happening to come across Rosa Parks is one thing, but to have the Thirteenth Doctor run into Ada Lovelace and Noor Inayat Khan in the same episode was a bit much. Fair play both ladies are important historical figures, and Ada makes sense in the whole “first lady of computers” way (as she did last year in a Fourth Doctor audio!) but yeeeeah, still seems a bit too on-the-nose.
A scene where Daniel Barton watches his own mother get killed with a big grin on his face was going too far in the “make sure people know he’s not a nice man” way. If he even showed the slightest bit of regret or hesitation I would have brought him more as a character rather than a caricature.
You just can’t move for Masters at the moment, being a fan of Audio as well as TV… Still, at least this one’s a great one!
The Master was last seen as Missy in “World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls”, where she was severely hurt but not seen to actually start to regenerate. The TCE was used by his original self all the way through to the Ainley Master in the 80s.
Speaking of the Ainley Master, The Doctor mentions that the top of the Eiffel Tower reminds her of Jodrell Bank, where the Fourth Doctor ended up falling to his death while stopping one of the Master’s plots in “Logopolis”. The Master asks whether he ever apologised for that, which The Doctor says he didn’t. The Master amusingly replies “Good”.
As previously mentioned, the Fourth Doctor meets an older Ada Lovelace in the audio story “The Enchantress of Numbers”, though Ada has her mind wiped at the end of this story, so there is no contradiction. The Doctor and The Master use the old “Contact!” telepathic communication that was used predominantly in multi-Doctor stories in the past.
Apart from a bunch of more general stuff, that was it!
An evil Lenny Henry… Now I’ve seen everything.
Spyfall was a well-written two-parter with a fun new incarnation of The Master at the centre of it all. Lots of good set pieces spread about as well, and some good banter between the companion team and a better performance from Jodie Whittaker. A couple of “far too on-the-nose” scenes, as I apparently like to put, with historical women and “look at all the technology you use!” evil tech company stuff took me out of the story a bit, but it doesn’t hurt it too much. A fine debut story for Series 11!