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Doctor Who - Dot and Bubble - Review - Monsters, Monsters Everywhere

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Dot and Bubble takes social commentary in Doctor Who to all new heights, dropping Doctor Who on a social-media dominated world where the concept of the real monsters is explored, and only so much can be done to save them. I loved 73 Yards last week – an ambiguous folk horror, and it shows that Who has become more of an anthology this week, with Russell T. Davies dipping his toes into the messy waters of the concept of always online. Welcome to Finetime – you may not like what you find.

Lindy Pepper-Bean is our protagonist, an alien rich-kid, with all the kids played by actors who look a lot older than their actual age, deliberate casting choice, as much as her deliberate casting choice for a friend group is all white, with no room for diversity. Callie Cooke plays the immersive; 80s-stylised character with gutso and enthusiasm, but is so reliant on her technology that she loses the ability to walk without it. It’s obvious that things are not all as they seem with this alien paradise – Lindy keeps waiting for updates from her mother from the motherworld, and space slugs are constantly eating her friends one-by-one. It’s counting down a ticking clock until it reaches their space on the surname – and Lindy knows her time may be numbered.

But can The Doctor and Ruby save the day? And will – more importantly, they want to? A lot of the episode explores the concept of whether everyone deserves to be saved no matter what they are, and Cooke’s parody of the always-online Lindy is so tremendous her line delivery of where she hasn’t had a hug before and it’s a thing that they do now is so well-executed it’s hard not to love. Cooke makes you care about her naivety at the start and you want The Doctor and Ruby to rescue her – but it’s a testament to her acting that there is something not quite right about her from the start, right from when she dismisses The Doctor but is more welcoming of Ruby; and instantly takes more of a liking to the traditional hero-archtype of Ricky September, the charming and instant match for everything she has idealised – played wonderfully by Tom Rhys Harris. It’s hard not to think Ricky is a Doctor-in-waiting – but deliberately created by Russell to fit Lindy’s ideas. “Lindy Pepper-Bean, I will get you out of here, I promise” he states, and this noble mirror image of The Doctor further clashes with Linda’s ability to trust him. Ordinarily this would’ve been a Doctor-saving the day moment of happiness and hope – but here; Dot and Bubble skirts around that.

But when the finale comes, and come it does – their friendship cannot last, and we learn with a stunning revelation that Charlie Brooker couldn’t match even in his best days of writing, that Ricky’s surname is ahead of Lindy’s in the alphabet, and despite their match made in heaven, Linda is willing to throw him under the bus for her own survival; desperate as she is. If you didn’t hate Cooke before, you do now – and when she walks into The Doctor and Ruby’s awaiting arms – its with the realisation that no matter what The Doctor can do, he can’t save them – because the Finetimers don’t want to be saved, their religious viewpoint stands in the way of everything that The Doctor believes, and they – believing themselves to be superior (remind you of anyone?) – head into the land that can never be tamed to try and tame it regardless of The Doctor’s pleas to come with them.

It's a tremendous scene for Ncuti Gatwa and reportedly one of the first that he filmed. Who has a history of shooting scenes out of order but one casualty of this means that the bulk of these Doctor-lite episodes have been a victim of circumstance – we previously used to have one a season in a thirteen episode run; but it feels like we’ve barely had any time to know Fifteen, having arrived fully-formed out of Fourteen, we don’t feel like we’ve grown with him, gotten the chance to learn who he is – and with the constant time jumps we don’t even get the bonding of Ruby and The Doctor’s relationship either. But what this episode lacks in character building for The Doctor it allows the doomed colonists to betray the Finetimers’ ideological ambitions – and if anything, Dot and Bubble should have stuck with its original title – Monsters, Monsters Everywhere – because it’s a perfect distillation of these themes.

Gibson, in a brief role, turns Ruby into someone capable of competing with Gatwa’s charm when both are pining, like with Lindy, over Ricky September. It’s a masterful bit of chemistry between these two in such the short moments when they’re not even on screen together it reminds you how little screentime they’ve actually shared this season – and if anything I’d like to see more of them on the same page for the back half, because make no mistake, we’re very much in the back half now. It feels like Who may be over just as it started – but warts and all, this may end up being one of the stronger episodes of the series all the same.


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