Doctor Who #1008: Spyfall: Part Two

"You’re not the only one who can do Classic."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.5 2020.

IN THIS ONE... As the spy game fords several time periods, the Doctor learns news that could shake her to her core.

REVIEW: If I felt the Spyfall Part One was riding off the rails, Part Two feels better paced (I dare say even takes its time at points) and takes the Bondian globe-trotting adventure to its Doctor Who equivalent with full blown history-trotting. Now that the Master has outed himself, we can have proper Doctor-Master scenes, and it of course leads up to a major reveal (or tease of a reveal) that will affect our understanding of Time Lord history. A lot to unpack, give me a minute. The one thing that really CAN'T be unpacked is the bonkers plot. What can be understood is that the Kasaavin have been spying on Earth at least since the 19th Century, mostly by taking people to their realm (and yet leaving an earthly body behind) and studying them, but they cannot stay on our plane for long. This changed when the Master encountered them and built an automaton sculpture thing that helped stabilize their presence here, making it possible to fast-track their invasion. They've been killing spies because secret services have started noticing them (and yet, MI6 didn't believe in aliens). But then comes the revelation that they've been specifically spying on the people responsible for the development of computers, from Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage on... and that's where they lose me. The implication is that they've been learning to turn DNA into rewritable hard drives, but one wonders why they would need to spy on 19th-Century forerunners rather than the people right now working on such things right now. And it is also only implied that they will inhabit the bodies they've converted, but Barton speaks of the few spared being able to rebuild while everyone else becomes a hard drive, so... are the Kasaavin not gonna stick around? Unclear. Throw in the sonic being able to force the aliens to send her to other time periods, silliness with laser shoes, and the Master's TARDIS being parked in a plot hole somewhere at the end, and you have an episode that leaves you with more questions than just the final whopper. Sure, it thematically stays on point (Barton's end of things is showing how social media and our devices spy on us all the time, and the Doctor ensures the Master's downfall through spying), but is that enough?

While the Fam takes care of business in the 21st, the Doctor gets bonus historical companions Ada Lovelace and Noor Inayat Khan, one the first person to see computers' potential as more that calculators, the other Britain's first Muslin heroine, helping the Resistance in 1943 Paris. This is totally in line with the 13th Doctor era's interest in historically significant women, and both take part in the Bondian theme - Ada by using the gallery of gadgets at the science expo to help the Doctor escape the Master's clutches, and Noor being a spy herself, being instrumental in the Master's exposure to his Nazi "allies" (a mirror of what Barton is doing to the Fam in the present, using the power of the internet to make them fugitives). What the episode does not address is that both women with die at a tragic age, Ada at 36 from illness and Noor in a concentration camp after being captured. I don't think it would have helped the tone of the show. What seems tragic instead is the Doctor wiping their minds of their adventure, which is controversial for sure. Perhaps important to protect the timeline in Ada's case, but what would Noor do with the information given she dies within a year?

The Doctor otherwise does well, indulging in some Moffatty tricks like saving her friends out of normal sequence (Curse of the Fatal Death style) and leaving them a video that seems to know what they're going to say (Blink). As for the Master, he gets caught on the slow path when the Doctor steals his TARDIS, and spends an infuriating 77 years breaking out of places, suggesting that he spent all that time in and out of German, Soviet and who knows whose prisons instead of meeting up with himself and creating problems for Pertwee's Doctor. See if you believe it. Sacha Dhawan here gets to fully play the Master, and he's a broken thing with great sadness and pain behind his eyes. Yes, he's angry, and irrational, and relishes the evil things he does, but it comes from a place of trauma. As Missy, he might have started to see the light, but whatever secret he learned on Gallifrey sent him reeling. If he is to be believed, he killed everyone, destroyed everything, and went off to cause more mayhem, especially if he could get the Doctor's attention. I love his reading of "Why should it stop?" when asked about the killing. He just cannot understand where the Doctor is coming from. Another stand-out scene is him asking the Doctor to kneel, a scene made more disturbing by the Doctor's new gender. It's a nasty visual and feels more threatening than it otherwise would have.

And then of course, there's the revelation that he destroyed Gallifrey, sadly spoken in a holographic message where he's dressed as the First Doctor. Why has to do with the Timeless Child referenced in the previous season's The Ghost Monument and is enough of a game changer that it pushed the Master over the edge. Something about the founding of Gallifrey, a lie that they've been told and that relates to who they are either as a race, or as individuals. This one's gonna have the fandom talking for a while, though for now, most are focused on whether it's a good idea to yank Gallifrey away just as it had been restored. I've never really cared about the Time Lords as an ally/enemy race, quite frankly, so I'm up for it if it can be mined for new drama. I do say "new" drama, because it can't be a rehash of the post-Time War years. See Theories for possibilities.

As the Doctor reflects on all this, the TARDIS' big crystals turn blue, which is a very nice look, thanks. Is it me, or is the TARDIS interior bigger this season? I like the hexagonal platforms where the hologram is projected too. The Doctor's got the blues is one way to look at it, and in the coda, the Fam wonders why she's been so silent for the past five unseen adventures. And then they ask who she is, more for new audience members than for themselves, it seems. And for the irony because "who she is" (or rather what a Time Lord is) has a big question mark over it. Because it doesn't have much of an impact on the characters, doesn't reveal anything new, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who figured she'd told them all this in between episodes.

THEORIES: What secret did the Master learn on Gallifrey that would make him go bad--I mean, worse? Yeah, he doesn't need much of a reason to commit genocide (they even reference Logopolis where he took out a sizable portion of the universe). We know it has something to do with the founding of Gallifrey and Time Lord society, but otherwise, the phrase "the lie of the Timeless Child" could be interpreted many ways. In Ghost Monument, the Remnants could see the Timeless Child hidden somewhere in the Doctor's mind (which jibes with what the Master says here) and describe it as "the outcast, abandoned and unknown". In Spyfall, we see a glimpse of the child looking up at a tall structure. The most likely solution is that this is a continuity implant that doesn't connect with the rest of the mythos, so it may be futile to fret about it too much. In terms of story-telling, "white guilt" may be the theme and so we'll find out the Time Lords built their empire on the suffering of another people, or this one child. Someone who unlocked time travel or regeneration for them. TARDISes, like Soylent Green, are people, something like that. Then the Doctor will have to go on knowing her gifts come from a dark place, and how she can honor that. But would the Master really care about that? At one point, he exults in the killing and says it's "what [he] was made for". Is that a clue? His speeches are very focused on him and the Doctor as opposed to the entire race, so could the revelation be more personal? That he and the Doctor were somehow "engineered" to play out this battle across the universe, as a kind of balancing act (or contest?) between good and evil. He goes to Gallifrey, finds out he has no control over his nature, dives deep into the nihilism of it all. Not that this addresses the Child. Another long-held theory, that the Time Lords are really humanity in the far future, could explain a lot, from the 8th Doctor's human DNA to why Earth seems so important to the universe, and that might shake the Master (whose nihilism requires he destroy his own people in their far past, which is this episode's plot). So long as Time Lords are only an offshoot of humanity (so the - ugh - Toclafane are okay), contradictions would be minimal. And finally, there's of course the possibility that the Master is lying about all of this. That perception filter that makes people see what they want to see? He might have used his hoodoo on the Doctor to make her see the ruins of Gallifrey. Not that I think her so suggestible...

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Despite an important revelation that could decide the series' direction, the more evenly paced Part Two still doesn't have a coherent plot. But don't look at that too hard and you'll find plenty of things to like.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

If I had to posit a theory, I suspect a Gallifreyian re-run of Ursula K. Le Guin's short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas", as ripped off wholesale already by Moffat for The Beast Below. Possibly with Omega as the unwitting, time-sensitive child, or given recent history possibly Riversong. Although the ying-yang Doctor/Master elevation is just as likely, it feels hard to retcon at a later date. It's hard to get too involved in the meta-narrative of Gallifrey in any event, it's just that asset that keeps getting retconned ad infinitum, there's a point where you just couldn't care less. As for the Master, I don't think it's a nostalgic nod the shrinking of people, I get the feeling it's a signifier of where Chibnall is intending to posit where Gallifrey's history goes wrong. As I say, Omega looms large in that era, but it's really the point at which Timelords as a race are established too, so it seems the apposite place to target in terms of establishing that particular break. Perhaps its evidence for the Doctor/Master elevation theory, given the last Master story Dicks/Letts had in mind before Delgado's untimely death seemed to embrace that logic.

LiamKav said...

Apparently every scene set in the TARDIS last year had to be colour corrected because the big yellow pillars ended up looking pink on camera. They've now fixed that so maybe that means shooting in the TARDIS is easier as they don't have to worry about the cost of all that post production fixing.

It's a step up from last season, but I'm still mildly underwhelmed. Destroying Gallifrey seems a step back for the show, and lots of bits just seem like reheated RTD/Moffat plots. I'm still not sure of the best way to deal with historical figures like Khan (or Rosa Parks from last season) that don't end up with the Doctor looking ineffectual or heartless. And, finally, I can't believe that no-one watched the scene where the Doctor weaponises Nazi racism against the Master and said "hold on, this is a bit tasteless, isn't it?"

Andrew said...

When I hear talk about the origins of the Time Lords, I immediately think about the Cartmel Masterplan and Lungbarrow.

 

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