Doctor Who: Spyfall – part one

Spyfall has arrived!  It’s the first new episode of Doctor Who for a year, and the first two parter for even longer than that–indeed, since the end of Peter Capaldi’s last full season, when the two Masters were on screen killing each other and farewelling the character forever…right?

Doctor Who Spyfall part one c

Spoilers, naturally.

I haven’t actually watched the second half of Spyfall yet, but my in general I’m feeling pretty positive about it.  It’s a breezy fun adventure which does some fun stuff with its whole “spy movie” trappings.  It’s got some lively performances from the likes of Stephen Fry, Lenny Henry and Sacha Dhawan.  The aliens are fresh and have an intriguing sense of menace to them.  And the cliffhanger, with the Doctor trapped in the Upside-Down (or wherever) and everyone else on a crashing airplane, is pretty gripping.

Unfortunately, though my overall impression is pretty upbeat, a lot of my individual impressions are a bit more disappointing.  The characterization of the Doctor and her companions is serviceable, but nothing more (with Graham in particular not having much to do this time around).  The dialogue is often flat and routine, with little of the  engaging spark that we want from this show–Chris Chibnall is definitely the weakest of the series’ three head writers in this regard.  It’s got one of those ridiculous “I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you” speeches at one point, from Ryan to Yaz, which feels like it came straight out of an episode of a WB Arrowverse superhero show (to be clear, that is not a compliment).

Doctor Who Spyfall part one b

And the plot loses a lot of its zing in the scene where the Doctor confronts Daniel Barton at his birthday party:  instead of a James Bond-style trading of quips and veiled threats, we get the Doctor displaying no conspicuous intelligence with a barrage of direct questions which results in nothing but moving the story along to a chase scene.  It’s like the scene was written by someone who’s only ever seen a trailer for a classic James Bond film, but not the film itself.

This brings us to the episode’s big twist reveal, for which the jury is still out…though I am concerned.  Having “O” turn out to be the Master was certainly surprising, in that the episode gave zero hints to him being a Time Lord or a villain at all.  Indeed, it spent a lot of time on him being the Doctor’s friend, trying different methods to help capture one of the aliens, helping the Doctor to reason things out, running around and chasing after Barton, and so on.  Now, maybe in Part Two we’ll get some sort of rationale for that–something in the plot that necessitated the Master stringing the Doctor along.  Because if the answer turns out to be “just so I could have fun tricking you”, its painfully obvious that that is just code for “just so the writer could have fun tricking the audience”, which yes can be fun, but story-wise is a bit let-down.

Doctor Who Spyfall part one a

I’m waiting to see what happens, but I’m not confident because taken on face value the Master’s plan was to keep up the pretense for only about five minutes more, or the time it would have taken for that bomb to go off.  However, if the rest of the episode is able to make sense out of all of his antics in a compelling but surprising way, I will gladly concede my error.  In fact, I’d love nothing more from the rest of the story.

I don’t know if I’d have felt differently if I hadn’t been spoiled about the Master-reveal.  It was a disappointment that I guess I can only blame myself for, but when I heard the Doctor talking about “Horizon Watcher” (O’s former codename), I wondered if it was a character I was supposed to be familiar with but had forgotten.  So I quickly googled “horizon watcher doctor who” just to find out, and this disheartening result popped up at the top of the search:

Doctor Who screen shot

…except this was just hours after the show came to Australia, not days.  Sigh.  So the Dhawan’s Master goes up there with Darth Vader’s identity and the villain of the Great Darkness Saga and the true identity of Ash Tyler as big reveals that I didn’t get to experience fresh.

Oh well.  Put it behind me.  Onward to Part Two!


2 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Spyfall – part one

  1. I actually got to see the whole two-parter back-to-back in a screening at the local movie theater.

    On the whole I found it to be a lot more satisfying than I was expecting. And on reflection, I think it’s a matter of Chris Chibnall maybe starting to find his stride as a showrunner. Moffat and Davies were both very idea-driven writers, and there was something refreshing in having a Doctor Who episode (especially a two-parter) that was more about spinning an engaging story.

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