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Doctor Who - Spyfall - Review

© BBC Pictures
Episode: "Spyfall, Part 1" & "Spyfall, Part 2"
Directed by: Jamie Magnus Stone & Lee Haven Jones
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Air date: 1 January 2020 & 5 January 2020

After watching this two-parter I have to say I'm feeling cautiously optimistic about this new season. The previous one had a few truly great standalone stories, but overall didn't feel as engaging as I would have hoped. These first two episodes have already featured a familiar (and masterful) villain, genuine threat, a couple of memorable guest characters and a game-changing event. It appears that we've lost Gallifrey (again), even though it feels like we'd only just got it back a short while ago. It's rather heartbreaking to see this beautiful planet being described as "pulverised, burned, nuked". On the other hand, this is a very different kind of loss than the insurmountable one that the Doctor has been introduced with in New Who. There's a big difference between the current situation and the Doctor carrying the burden of being the last of his kind AND the destroyer of the whole world and race. This time the Doctor isn't the one responsible, but instead there's an enemy to be confronted and a mystery to be solved. And the planet isn't completely gone. It's been attacked, greatly damaged, but there might still be life on it, or perhaps somewhere in the universe there are those who managed to escape before the Master's attack.

Speaking of, welcome back the Master. Unfortunately this huge surprise was (accidentally) revealed to me right before I got a chance to see the premiere. So it didn't have such a powerful impact on me as on most of the viewers. Instead I spent the whole first episode waiting for the reveal to happen and hoping for a chance to understand it. We haven't actually learned all that much about this Master's timeline during these two hours. However, I can see multiple possibilities of his placement (both pre and post-Missy) play out. I was a bit hesitant at first, to accept such a sudden change in his behavior considering how things went with Missy. I'm definitely a fan of her story arc back in season 10, especially thanks to Michelle Gomez's wonderful interactions with Peter Capaldi. Such a great duo! However, seeing what's happened to Gallifrey and the mystery of the Timeless Child, I can certainly imagine a scenario where an unexpected betrayal hurt Master to his core and broke apart all the work that's been done with Missy. That is, of course, if the story is done right and also if this Master really is the next regeneration after Missy. Regardless, I'm very impressed with the work Sacha Dhawan has done with the character so far. His Master already feels truly unpredictable. He can be terrifying in one moment and then crazy (or equally charming) in the next. Finally, I'm glad his final appearance here is left open. Coming back from the dead really is the Master's specialty, but it's good to have such a familiar (yet new) character around to face the Doctor another day.

The Doctor has been through quite an emotional journey during this two-parter. She's forced to process the surprising return of her oldest friend and fight for her life in the next minute. She's separated from her friends (her fam) and ends up stranded at two different points in the past. Luckily the Doctor truly knows how to choose her companions, so not only do Ryan, Graham and Yaz manage to carry on without her for a while, she also meets a few new impressive friends - Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage and Noor Inayat Khan. Exceptional individuals who help the Doctor find her way back home. The Doctor was definitely honored to meet Ada and Noor, and if it wasn't for all the potential history rewriting, I wouldn't be surprised to see them stick around for a bit. That's the tricky part with the Doctor travelling with well known figures from the past. There's a point that they need to get to, to keep the story in the right place. I would love to have someone from the past (and the distant future) join the TARDIS crew, though. If only to see a different perspective to our present times, a story worth exploring. The Doctor's interactions with the Master worked really well in all their shared scenes. They both got to have the upper hand at one point and just knowing their shared history adds such an important emotional impact to every conversation. But ultimately, nothing hits the Doctor harder than seeing Gallifrey again. She refused to believe the Master's words, so the view of the destruction of her home is that much more painful. After everything she has done and sacrificed to protect this place, the Doctor now learns that her oldest friend has burned it all down. Thirteen is definitely doing her best to keep her emotions in check, not letting her fam see her pain. However I am actually looking forward to seeing the full extent of her reaction. Jodie Whittaker is such a great actress, I'd love to see her shine as the Doctor.

Finally, a few words about the companions. I liked seeing a bit more context to their lives outside of the Doctor. Though it does make me wonder how long they can carry on like this. Graham's main connection to the "regular world" has been gone for a while now. But things are getting a bit more complicated for Ryan and especially for Yaz. The balance between her family, her job and her adventures with the Doctor are clearly making an impact on her, in a way she might not have expected. She's also very close to death at one point during the premiere and I'm interested to see if her perspective on travelling in the TARDIS will change in a significant way from now on. I continue to enjoy Graham's character the most, but I realize that big part of his charm are the interactions with the rest of the fam, so the three work together really well for me. All the MI6 gadgets in their hands lead to the main comedic aspects of the episodes. They were rather ridiculous if you pay close attention, but I kind of loved them, especially in the "dance, Graham, dance" part. It definitely added some humour to a serious story and that's always something I enjoy about Doctor Who. Otherwise we'd be at "they cut out all the jokes" and that just wouldn't be the same. The entire opening of the second hour, on the plane as the three companions are about to crash, was definitely unbelievable but the actors did such a great job in this moment. Graham's panic and the whole "conversation" with the Doctor was one of my favorite parts for sure.

Overall, I'd say we're off to a great start, a better one than last season already. I'm very excited to see what's next.

Whovian notes and questions:
1. It's been quite a while since the last season, so I had to remind myself about The Timeless Child mystery after watching the episode. What are your thoughts about it? Any theories to share?
2. Do you think we might be approaching a departure of one or more of our three companions? If yes, who do you think would be the first one to leave the show?
3. What's your first impression of the new Master? How are you enjoying the actor's performance? Where do you think this Master is placed in his own personal timeline? After Missy? Before?
4. Gallifrey's destruction is such a significant event. Are you excited or worried about this storyline? Are you assuming that the entire planet has been damaged or only parts of it? Do you expect to see any Time Lords meeting the Doctor somewhere else in the universe in the near future?

The Doctor: "These are the dark times. But they don't sustain. Darkness never sustains, even though sometimes it feels like it might."

What did you think about "Spyfall"? Any favorite scenes, quotes or theories? Feel free to let us know in the comments. As always, thanks for reading!

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