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Recap: Doctor Who (Season 12, Episode 2)

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Gallifrey falls once more

Last week, we were left with the Doctor in a precarious position. She was trapped in a mysterious place. Meanwhile, her companions were in a plane moving rapidly towards the ground (and without a cockpit, to boot). This week, the Doctor is in a far worse state. The Doctor has been truly defeated.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There is much to discuss. This week was an exciting conclusion to the two-part premier known as Spyfall. We began with the Doctor trying to understand where she is. I was wrong last week. She definitely didn’t recognize this place. But she began immediately to look for clues. Before long, a strange woman appears, followed by a being of light. The Doctor and this mystery woman (who we learn is named Ada) are whisked away to the 1800s, and they soon find themselves doing battle against the Master. When the Doctor tries to escape, Ada follows along. They end up in the year 1943, in Nazi-occupied Paris (quite probably the worst time imaginable to visit the City of Lights). The Master is hot on their heels.

Interestingly, the Master’s Australian cabin from the prior episode isn’t a cabin at all. It is, in fact, a TARDIS. He has been using it to bounce across time as he plays his game of espionage. He agrees to meet the Doctor atop (where do you think?) the Eiffel Tower and we finally get some answers. Firstly, this is definitely the Master. It isn’t a trick or illusion. He’s here. Secondly, he didn’t bring the Kasaavin (the light beings) to Earth. He simply found them. They’ve been here for a long time. They send spies throughout time and space, slowly preparing for the day when they’ll strike and conquer our universe. The Master is smart enough to see their potential as tools. He teams them up with Barton to set a plan in motion to obliterate humanity. He has not lost his genocidal edge. Of course, he also reveals that he plans to betray his new partners in the end.

The Doctor has apparently watched Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure in preparation for this adventure. She uses her borrowed TARDIS to jump around through time and set counters to the Master’s moves. She creates fail-safes in Barton’s plane, which later allow her companions to land safely. She creates a pre-recorded message for them, in which she argues with Graham. She wore her sassy pants for that recording, and I loved it. After preparing for the plane situation, she gets to work on Barton’s computers. She plants a virus that will cause the Kasaavin’s plan to fail. This is all very reminiscent of the climactic sequence where Bill and Ted remember a garbage can. It’s a brilliant use of time travel. When you have a time machine, there will always be enough time to solve a problem.

At the climax of this episode, the show takes a sharp turn into a message about computers, data, and privacy. Barton spends a great deal of time talking about how humanity has handed over every intimate detail of their lives to computers. Companies like Google Vor can take advantage of that for their own gain. It’s a sobering thought (I say as I type this recap on my laptop). We have instant access to limitless resources at our fingertips, but we pay a heavy price. We surrender our intimate lives to corporations. I doubt if the CEO of Google will ever partner with extra-dimensional aliens to wipe out all of humanity (and all because of mommy-issues, no less). But one has to wonder what the long-term consequences will be from this lack of privacy.

Speaking of consequences, at the end of the episode, the Kasaavin lose. However, they also learn of the Master’s intent to betray them. They don’t take kindly to this prospect. They take him back to their own dimension. We don’t know what will happen to the Master after this, but surely he will be seen again. I’d wager large sums of money that the Kasaavin will return as well. Perhaps even at the end of this season. Who knows?

This wasn’t actually the last time we saw the Master in this episode. We see a recording of him, after the Doctor visits Gallifrey. Earlier in the episode, the Master indicated that home planet of the Time Lords was destroyed. Their whole race was obliterated and the surface of Gallifrey was burnt to ash. Although the Doctor suspected the Master of lying, she had to be sure. She pops over to the bubble universe that contains her home. It’s unclear how she does this. The Doctor hasn’t shown the ability to do this before, at least not that I can recall. But she does find a way. She sees that the Master did not lie. Gallifrey has fallen. Her people are gone. The Doctor is, once again, the last of the Time Lords.

This is a really interesting direction for the show to take. It very nearly reverts us back to where the Doctor was at the start of the revived series in 2005. The Doctor is the sole survivor of her species, and her home planet has been wasted. There is one crucial difference, however. This time, she is not responsible. She didn’t pull the trigger. She didn’t kill billions of her own people. She does have to live with the knowledge that one of her oldest friends did, however.

After her trip home, she sees the recording from the Master. She learns that he killed all their people. He purports to have a reason. The Time Lords have lied. Everything about the entire existence of their race was a fabrication. It all has to do with a myth called The Timeless Child, which the show has mentioned previously. The Master refuses to give any more information, because that would be too easy for the Doctor, and for us. And there wouldn’t be much of a plot for this season, would there? I have no idea where the writers will take us from here. It looks like we’ll start to learn more about the history of the Time Lord race, which I would love. I’m really hoping to see that Bill and Ted were the founding fathers of the species.

I can’t say I’m thrilled about the writers killing off all the Time Lords again. It nullifies The Day of the Doctor, for starters. I love that story and hate to see it diminished. It really seems like the writers just couldn’t come up with a compelling way to use them in their stories. The 12th Doctor’s run almost entirely ignored them, and now they’re all dead again. The saving of Gallifrey in The Day of the Doctor promised stories involving this planet in the future, but that promise has been completely unfulfilled.

When I look at this two-part premier as a whole though, I am impressed. It was a thrilling start to the season. It quickly brought us back up to speed with the characters. It gave us a compelling mystery for this story and set up more questions for the show to answer in the future. I did have a hard time tracking everything that happened in these two episodes. I didn’t always understand why our heroes went where they went and did what they did. But frankly, that’s standard for Who. This show is much more about the experience of the adventure than it is about tight storytelling, broadly speaking. Ultimately, I can say that I had a lot of fun watching these two episodes.

We saw the return of fan-favorite villain, the Master. While I was conflicted about his return at first, I’m on board now. It was only a matter of time before we’d see him again. He’s just too great for the writers to permanently walk away from. Imagine if the writers at DC Comics killed off the Joker and just never used him again. It’s the same principle here. We’ll never say a permanent goodbye to the Master as long as Doctor Who is around. Most importantly, I think they did the character justice. Sacha Dhawan puts in a great performance. He sells the mania, psychosis, and genius of the Master.

I loved spending more time with the Doctor and her companions. Every second that Graham is on screen is a treasure. It feels good to have these friends back in my life and I cannot wait to see what adventures we’ll embark upon next.

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Jordan Bracken
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