Doctor Who: Spyfall Part 2 (S12E02) Review
There’s something quite reassuring about how the cliff-hanger is resolved, especially for Ryan, Yaz and Graham as it taps into one of the strongest themes of previous seasons of the show: the Doctor always assumes she’ll win, so of course she’ll already have taken care of the plummeting aeroplane quite nicely, thank you. There’s even something of an echo of ‘Blink’ in the don’t-talk-back-to-the-recording shtick. Your mileage may vary with the idea that it would be possible to land a plane using automation and a mobile app and while it may seem a bit convenient but I’m not really in the mood to quibble over something like that given the huge leaps of narrative convenience Who has taken in the past.
Besides, the ‘fam’ plot in this episode is notably less interesting (or relevant) to the story Chibnall’s intent on telling. Having used the Kasaavin to bring the Doctor and Master together again, he clearly loses virtually all interest in the Daniel Barton/ Alien Invasion storyline, relegating it to a background detail, an obligation even he can’t let slip thanks to the decision to explicitly make this a two-parter.
There’s a cracking Doctor Who v The Master story in here trying to get out, but it’s delivered with the break-neck pacing and disregard for well-structured storytelling of “The Rise Of Skywalker” as Chibnall tries to have his cake and eat it. The Doctor’s journey using the Kasaavin to jump through time, first to the early nineteenth century and then to the darkest days of the twentieth century is great fun, as are the friends she makes along the way. I’m always a sucker for real historical figures popping up in “Doctor Who” and this time around we get three to enjoy, even if one of them’s almost immediately side-lined (‘bye ‘bye Babbage).
As if the indignity of being diverted into a comedic and largely irrelevant side quest wasn’t enough, the real bad news for ‘the fam’ is that within a few minutes of screen time, Ada (Gordon/ Lovelace) establishes herself as a far better companion for this Doctor than any of them. Thanks to her being a ‘real’ person, we know she’ll never join the TARDIS crew but it does show how much fun it can be when the companion is not a common or domestic contemporary human. By the time the pair of wide-eyed science sisters land in World War II-era Paris and encounter Noor Inayat Khan, it becomes pretty clear that Chibnall’s assembling his own version of “Avengers: Endgame”’s archly feminist hero-shot, and to be honest it’s pretty great.
Sacha Dhawan settles into the role of the Master a bit more (although he’s still a little too prone to hamming it up when he decides it’s time to be crazy) and he’s certainly the most tissue-compression-trigger-happy incarnation to date – which makes sense if this incarnation comes after Missy. He’s an over-correction; a violent backlash against his predecessor’s brush with redemption. Dawan’s much more effective, though, in the character’s quieter and more sinister, almost urbane, moments atop the Eiffel Tower as he and the Doctor spar and circle each other in a verbal fencing match.
Clearly, the series is feeling more confident about acknowledging its own past again, with “Logopolis” and “The End Of Time” (and, most bizarrely, “The Curse Of Fatal Death”) getting referenced which makes it all the more baffling that in other aspects, the episode seems to be a bit confused about series canon.
Having all but abandoned the ‘Bond’ theme which underpinned the first episode in favour of a more “The Secret Army”/ “’Allo ‘Allo” vibe, everything that happens without the Doctor feels disjointed and disconnected from the main story. Lenny Henry continues to be decidedly flat and entirely unthreatening as some kind of global villain mastermind and while there’s a chilling topicality to his run down of the ways in which technology and social media have enabled us to surrender our details, the idea of using humanity as some kind of data storage system makes very little sense. Neither Barton nor the Kasaavin put forward an explanation of what they’ll use the storage space for. It’s evil for evil’s sake, much the same as when there’s a scene of him testing it on his own mother, just to underline how evil Barton is (because there’s very little in Henry’s performance to support it).
Of course, the Doctor’s already thwarted Barton’s plan (in the same way she resolved the cliff-hanger), rendering everything Yaz, Ryan and Graham did utterly pointless and it becomes clear the point of this second episode was not to complete the story from part one but to introduce us with mallet-like subtlety to this season’s overarching mystery: ‘The Timeless Child’ (last referenced in “The Ghost Monument” and never mentioned again until now where it’s revealed with a flourish as something which had been planned all along </sarcasm>). Oh, and re-destroying Gallifrey? Massive eye-roll for that cliché, although at least it explains why the Time Lords weren’t intervening to prevent whatever it was the extra-universal Kasaavin were up to although it doesn’t explain why the Master seems to get the location of Gallifrey a little muddled (going by “Hell Bent”).
Despite being notably less coherent than the season opener, “Skyfall Part 2” is still a lot of fun and it’s fast-paced and frenetic enough that it manages to cover the increasingly bumpy ground without jostling the audience too much. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of The Master this season and the while the series still has a real problem of too many companions and not enough dialogue/ action to go around, the real improvement is that “Doctor Who” feels fun again.