UK TV review: Doctor Who Season 12, Episode 2 (Spyfall Part 2)
Ivan Radford | On 09, Jan 2020
Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen the Spyfall two-parter yet? Read our spoiler-free review of the first part.
Nothing sets your nerves on edge quite like a Doctor Who two-parter. The good ones are gripping mysteries or thrillers that hook you in with a cliffhanger and something new and impossible – and then make you even more nervous that the second half won’t be able to live up to it. Spyfall, the opener of Season 12, is undoubtedly one of the good ones, as not only Jodie Whittaker blasted back onto our screens but so did The Master in a brand new incarnation.
Sacha Dhawan was an electrifying presence, unveiling himself at episode’s end while leaving The Doctor, Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yaz (Mandip Gill) on an burnt-out airplane without a cockpit heading for a collision with the ground.
Part 2 picks up with them plummeting out of the sky, and The Doctor stranded in a netherworld, and it’s par for the course that things are resolved a little too quickly and neatly. Borrowing a page out of Blink’s book, the airplane shenanigans are resolved with a video message recorded by The Doctor, who manages to get out of her alien limbo and end up far back in time enough to be able to build instructions (and set up her video) on the plane when it’s manufactured.
It doesn’t help that The Doctor’s rescue from the electrical void comes by chance from a woman in the 1800s. But it does help that showrunner Chris Chibnall chooses the inventor of the computer to help save the day – yes, up pops Ada Lovelace (a rousing turn by Sylvie Briggs) to help out, alongside Noor Inayat Khan (Aurora Marion), the first female wireless operator to be dropped behind enemy lines as a secret agent during WWII.
They’re soon joined by The Master in all time periods, and Dhawan is great both as a Victorian inventor – who brandishes his old-school tissue compression eliminator with a manic glee – and even as a Nazi officer in the 1940s. He’s having a whale of a time, and it’s fun just to watch him monologue, talk nonsense, laugh cruelly and generally taunt Whittaker’s Time Lord – especially when they get to have a quieter one-to-one up the Eiffel Tower, which gives both actors a real chance to delve into the nuances of their characters and relationship. Whittaker, out of the 007-esque tux, reminds us why she rocks her rainbow clothes so well.
The Doctor’s fam, meanwhile, get out of the plane fiasco with an enjoyable amount of bluster, as they have to go on the run from Daniel Barton (Lenny Henry) and the surveillance tech of VOR. Henry, though, is underused, given a chance to lecture a roomful of journalists about his evil plan to wipe human DNA and effectively reformat people to become a gigantic hub for data storage – he delivers cautionary declarations (unsubtle but timely) about data privacy and our rights in the modern, digital age, with an ominous deadpan, but is swiftly forgotten about come the end of the episode. (As is the fact that he kills his own mum for apparently no reason.)
The fam do have some fun, though, with Walsh, in particular, impressing as he gets the chance to use his laser shoes to shiny – if not especially deadly – effect. Cole and Gill, meanwhile, do nice work in highlighting how differently they react to such circumstances, with one focused on staying calm and one focused on fighting back.
Now what of that plan? Well, Barton was working with the alien race known as the Kasavin, with The Master spotting the chance to interfere and cause havoc. But that’s not the focus come the end of the two-parter, as it instead emerges as a way for Chibnall to drop something of a truth bomb: Gallifrey, we’re told, has been wiped out. It’s a one-two punch of emotion, as this is the first time The Doctor has really talked about where she comes from – only for that feeling of home to be yanked away.
Given that it’s only been a short period of time since Peter Capaldi’s Doctor went back to Gallifrey in Haven Sent and Hell Bent, it seems a bit sudden to have it all destroyed after such a long quest to bring it back into the show. But it’s equally exciting to have Doctor Who, after Whittaker’s relatively safe and heavily Earth-bound maiden season, start to tackle the programme’s mythology more – especially if it ties into more appearances from The Master. He tells The Doctor the genocide was because of what he discovered about Gallifrey, that everything she knows about their home planet is a lie, so you can expect that to form the overall arc of Season 12 – something that feels much larger than the smaller focus of Whittaker’s initial run. (She is, we’re told “The Timeless Child”, whatever that means.)
The promise of that slight refocus in scope is backed up by some wonderful little touches that remind us how much of a fan Chibnall is. First, the reference on the Eiffel Tower to Jodrell Bank, which featured in a Tom Baker episode. And second, The Doctor using the old four-times knock in morse code to get The Master’s attention. The result is a bit of a rushed, almost underwhelming conclusion to the new season, but it’s one bursting with ideas and surprises, acted excellently and, with the first part still ringing in our ears, announces Whittaker’s Doctor is back and means business.
Doctor Who Season 12 is available on BBC iPlayer until January 2021.