Doctor Who TV review: Doctor Who Season 12, Episode 3
Ivan Radford | On 13, Jan 2020
The opening of this year’s season of Doctor Who gave us globe-trotting spy hijinks and the return of The Master. Next episode will bring us Nikola Tesla. In between, you can’t blame the show for taking a brief rest in a spa – but, of course, this spa in question (the Tranquility Spa) is far from relaxing.
Graham (Bradley Walsh) is the one who whisks the fam away by piecing together a teleport device from shopping vouchers, taking Yas (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) to the off-world resort. There, they find staff members dressed as Cats, a vending machine with a virus, and a whole planet of monsters trying to break in.
The episode’s strength lies primarily in those mutant creatures, with their not-quite-human appearance, protruding, werewolf-like jaws, grey, hole-ridden skin and gutteral growls. Known as “the Dregs”, they’re the ones left behind that managed to adapt, after some kind of planet-destroying event. The Daleks, of course grew out of exposure to radiation, these new monsters have their own horrifying origins story, but one that’s much closer to home, and all the more impactful because of it.
The monsters’ motivations are gradually revealed throughout the 45-minute episode, and writer Ed Hime paces it just right, allowing for enough low-key confrontations before a wider showdown, and peppering the whole thing with tiny character moments. “It ain’t the aliens that are gonna kill me, it’s worrying about you!” cries Graham, with total sincerity, after he and Ryan are split up. Ryan, meanwhile, promisingly continues to find romantic interests away from Yas, with a brief connection blossoming with Bella (Gia Re) a loner who has her own reasons for visiting the spa. And there’s the always-excellent Laura Fraser as Kane, the tough-as-nails security chief a back-story just waiting to tug on your heart strings.
Director Lee Haven-Jones does a neat job of maintaining suspense, showing just enough of the monsters to creep you out and keeping things just daft enough to feel recognisably Doctor Who – because people in rubber suits running about a quarry never fails to ignite the imagination (even when it’s in the unforgiving daylight). So rooted is this story in familiar horrors, though, that little imagination is required to tap into the full nastiness of the Dregs and their goals.
Doctor Who Season 12 is available on BBC iPlayer until January 2021.
Doctor’s notebook (spoilers)
– What was the point of James Buckley being in the episode? That’s the biggest mystery of the episode, as the Inbetweeners veteran is under-used as the engineer Nevi, whose main character is that he has green hair.
– Because, for all of the episode’s intrigue and superb world-building, the actual answer to the central mystery should have been guessable for any Who fans: the planet Orphan 55 was Earth all along. Before you can say “Planet of the Apes” or “Greta Thunberg”, The Doctor explains that the whole planet was wiped out by climate change, which led to political tensions, no food and nuclear war. The Dregs? They’re the dregs of humanity, scrapping about for survival – no wonder they’re angry.
– Everything’s wrapped up rather neatly, but emotionally, as Kane sacrifices herself in a gun-toting showdown so that the others can teleport back to the TARDIS. Kane is joined by Bella, her estranged daughter who originally wanted to blow up the resort as revenge against her mother, but the duo reconciled come the closing credits, because who doesn’t love a bit of catharsis?
– There’s no affection from The Doctor, though, when it comes to Earth now, and Jodie Whittaker, not unlike David Tennant in Blink, accompanies the end credits with a short monologue about the importance of acting now to avoid one possible timeline. For some, it might be a bit much to have a geography lesson, but Doctor Who has always been at its best when wearing its heart on its sleeve, and Whittaker does that better than most. The result is an episode that feels ripped right out of the Russell T Davies playbook, and it’s all the more effective because it reminds us what might happen to the Earth – and us – in generations to come.
– “If I had crayons and half a can of Spam I could build you from scratch, now get out of my way!” The Doctor gets the best line of the episode.