An out of control spaceship attempting re-entry, a shoplifter being arrested and a pair of Peruvian hitchhikers find that they’ve paved paradise and put up a garbage dump. What’s the connection? None of them will provide answers to the questions you have after last week’s barnstorming episode.
Opening with an unnecessary monologue – as if co-writer Chris Chibnall feels the need to explain to the audience what Earth is – we get introduced to three sets of characters and before we know it, the Fam find themselves on three different continents, encountering our new friends and investigating a mystery that seems to connect them all. While Ryan finds himself down in the dumps in Peru, Yaz and Graham get to go all Hong Kong Whoey while the Doctor herself braves the sun-drenched beaches of Madagascar, where her ‘too short trousers’ come in handy during what must surely be Who’s first ever “Baywatch” moment.
Interestingly, by splitting them up so early, it becomes the first episode that manages to give the companions enough to do. Unfortunately, the story’s a bit slapdash and far too rushed to tell its story and use its characters to their full effect. There’s a lot of jumping from location to location, a fair amount of running around but the actual plot developments are abrupt and clunky. The cure is developed too quickly and too easily and the whole virus plot – and the aliens who brought it to Earth – is woefully underdeveloped, sacrificed to give more time for the show’s inexplicably globetrotting ambition. Again we see the Doctor’s carelessness in letting her companions go off on their own into massively dangerous situations as, for the third time this season, Yaz is teleported to a hostile alien environment – at least this time it’s of her own volition. The Doctor’s even noticeably glib about the prospect of Yaz getting killed when they are reunited. If Chibnall’s foreshadowing the death of a companion, he’s not doing it very skilfully.
Still, props for the accidental serendipity of telling a story about a global pandemic centred on some shady goings-on in eastern Asia. The virus’ effects are quite creepy (and reminiscent of Tzim-Sha’s skincare routine) but we don’t really get to see them for very long because the virus almost always immediately kills the host and turns to dust (which is apparently not infectious in any way, thankfully).
Ultimately, “Praxeus” is a companion piece to “Orphan-55” in that it’s an environmental allegory, this time specifically microplastic pollution, with a side order of the morality of animal testing as it turns out humanity are the animals on which the unnamed aliens are testing potential cures for the virus. Where is differs from “Orphan-55”, is that it doesn’t hammer home its moral – it just drops it into a single conversation then doesn’t really mention it again. If “Orphan-55” was too heavy in its approach, “Praxeus” could be accused of having too light a touch but then it’s another symptom of how rushed everything is to keep to the single episode run time and devote enough time to the reconciliation of the estranged married couple.
This would have made a great old-money Doctor Who story, split into four twenty-five minute episodes and, fitting in well with the nascent ecological awareness of Jon Pertwee’s era but instead “Praxeus” is a breathless Wikipedia plot summary of the “Doctor Who” story it could have been.