Doctor Who: SPYFALL Part Two Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Doctor Who: SPYFALL Part Two Review

Tony clicks ‘Agree.’

The trick to delivering a solid, thrilling two-parter – the kind of thing people, and especially fans, will be talking about the morning after, and weeks later, and in the best cases years after it aired – is to build up a tidal wave of questions in the first part, and then not let the hooks, the must-knows, the what-the-hell-was-that -about questions dissolve into disappointing froth in part two.

Spyfall, Part 1, delivered questions aplenty – Who were The Shiny Gits? What was their spy-killing deal? How come some people got killed, but both Yaz and the Doctor got zapped to some weird dataverse instead? What was Barton up to? Why was he only 93% human?...and then of course things went totally tonto in the last ten minutes when the Doctor’s old MI6 pal ‘O’ turned out to have been the Master all along, in a hot new incarnation that was raging and childish and impulsive and scowly and somehow darkly sad all at the same time. And then he blew up a plane and exiled the Doctor accidentally to the dataverse, while the Fam went hurtling to their fiery, plane-exploding death.

There was lots of meat there. The question was whether Part 2 could keep up, pay off the questions with satisfying answers, and stand as an episode people will rewatch in its own right.

There are two ways to go if you drive Part 1 to screaming crisis-point, as Chris Chibnall did with Spyfall. You can either pick it right up and use the additional run-time of a second episode to keep the tension escalating, or you can take a detour and come back around to hit the heights of your evolved crisis in time for a Part 2 climax. Chibnall took us on that second path with Spyfall, Part 2 – solving the impending plane-explosion with some wicked, Steven Moffat-inspired timey-wimey chicanery, and driving the companions along a storyline more or less filleted out of Russell T Davies’ The Sound Of Drums – the Master turns ordinary Britain into a hostile environment for three fugitives, though here it’s Lenny Henry’s Barton who’s in control of the data and the threat, while the Master has other things on his mind.

The other things involve the Doctor time-hopping and picking up a pair of extraordinary one-episode companions, in the form of Ava Gordon (later Lovelace), latent computer genius, and Noor Inayat Khan, World War II spy and radio operator in occupied Paris. The story, at least as far as the Shiny Gits – alright, fine, the Kasaavin if you insist – are concerned, gets a touch convoluted along the way, and more or less parts company with sanity, internal consistency or even to a large extent what passes for logic in Doctor Who – there’s a dancing statue which allows Kasaavin projections, they’ve been kidnapping Ada since she was a child (another hat-tip to Steven Moffat there and his Girl In The Fireplace), in an attempt to improve their stability in our universe, they’ve got bridgeheads throughout the timeline of the planet, yadda yadda yadda – it’s actually quite difficult to care about the Kasaavin until quite late in the day because in the main, they’re not the ones carrying the threatening dialogue. They just turn up, shine a bit and mostly bog off back home again. The point is, you also don’t care that it’s difficult to care about the Kasaavin. The Kasaavin are tools, in almost every sense of the word, and we’ve just had enough time to come to terms with the Doctor and Ada in the 19th century when he arrives – rocking a kickass, moderately demented new outfit, the Master goes Victorian and starts viciously shrinking people with his new-style tissue compression eliminator.

And here’s the thing about that.

Sacha Dhawan is utterly, utterly hypnotic – just as the Master should be. More than any spy-based plot, Part 2 of Spyfall is about the characterisations, and they sing. And no-one sings higher or shriller or deeper or darker than Sacha Dhawan. We’ve been insaaaanely spoiled in New Who with our range of Masters – from Derek Jacobi, who understood not a thing about who the Master was, but brought him chillingly to life in the space of ten minutes, through John Simm, who gave us three very different interpretations as his Master encountered different challenges in his life, to Michelle Gomez, the Missy who wanted her friend back. But Dhawan? Ooooh, Dhawan’s something else again. Something that raises hairs on your arms and the back of your neck, in a way not really felt since the original incarnation. And in Spyfall, Part 2, he gets the chance to show us the sides of his ‘genius toddler’ Master, raging and laughing on the turn of a dime, banging his head in frustration when his plans go wrong, very much ‘dressing for the occasion’ and able to bring the presence of ages and a dark, physical threat into a room, despite not being the most physically imposing of actors. This is a Master with a much twitchier hair-trigger than the Simm or even Gomez incarnation, and a Master who revels in horrible, degrading gestures – the whole ‘Kneel and use my name’ thing is creepy in a way that’s probably borderline for a family programme. Likewise, his stalking into Noor’s room, making his presence felt and having his soldiers shoot up the room, merely it seems by way of intimidation – this is a personal, ragged darkness we’ve not seen in quite some time.

When you have a Master like the one played by Dhawan, and a Doctor who seems finally to be getting the scripts she deserves, like Whitaker, the lack of apparent logic in the plans of the Shiny Gits falls into the background because, as we mentioned, they’re the tool-villain, they’re Azal in The Daemons, they’re the Cheetah People in Survival – the real threat here, the real game, is between the two Time Lords. Who will win the game of temporal leap-frog is the real question – the new, arrogant Master, or the newish and actually equally arrogant Doctor?

The moment of contact, the meeting on the top of the Eiffel Tower, shows these immensely powerful beings, the Doctor and the Master, simply talking together about the plans that have been afoot to destroy humanity, and it’s in that scene that the moment that will live in people’s memories takes place – Whitaker delivered plenty of goofballing fun throughout her first series as the Doctor, but in that scene, faced with the newly-revealed and dangerously unstable incarnation of her old enemy, she’s utterly present, utterly powerful, utterly Doctor.

Which is probably why so many people are shocked by what happens next. The Master-of-colour has been using a simple perception filter to stop the Nazis he’s been commanding from killing him as a member of a lesser race. The Doctor alerts them to the fake news that he’s been a double-agent for the British, then turns off his perception filter, so they’ll see him as he really is.

That’s upset fans all over the Twittersphere and even had the Guardian’s knickers in a twist – the Doctor ‘weaponizing the Master’s skin colour’?

Honestly though, this is probably overthinking things. Firstly – he’s not a human of colour being left at the hands of the Nazis. He’s the freakin’ Master! Secondly, in case you forgot that moment of dialogue between them just seconds before, he’s just been ‘revealed’ as a double-agent for the British, so the approaching Nazis probably have one or two more pressing things on their mind than the colour of his skin. And thirdly, because this really can’t be said often enough, he’s the freakin’ Master! It would be a matter of thirty seconds before that hypnotic alien psychopath had the Nazis eating out of his hand, irrespective of the colour of his skin. It feels like several moments in Roger Delgado’s debut story as the Master, Terror of the Autons, from the telephone wire of death to the potential bomb in UNIT HQ – a Time Lord distraction to allow the plans of the one to advance while the other deals with an additional inconvenience. The Doctor knows the Master of old, there’s no way she expects any harm to come from him as a result of her perception filter move – it’ll just keep him occupied for half an hour or so while she makes good her escape.

While we’re talking about characterisation, witness the bond between the Doctor and her Fam in this episode. While she’s stranded in the dataverse and devoid of hope, she asks herself what she’d be telling them if they were here, mostly to calm and strengthen her own mind and get it thinking. Meanwhile, when the Fam find themselves isolated, hunted and friendless, they reflect on what she’d tell them to do in this situation, and decide that if she’s gone, if they never see her again, they’ll carry on doing what she would have wanted them to. This is a group growing legendary in each other’s eyes, but also, underneath, a group of 1+The Rest, a group that need more information to cement their trust in their friend.

And then there’s Barton. The business about punishing his mother for her lack of appreciation is a little on the nose, but Lenny Henry absolutely brings the Bond Villain in his speech announcing the end of humanity, while also doing the classic Doctor Who thing of reflecting the fears of the modern world. With The War Machines, it was greater computerisation. With The Tenth Planet it was the loss of humanity through technological transplants. With Peladon it was the uncertainty of joining a big trading bloc, and with The Green Death it was pollution and its impacts. With Spyfall, Part 2, the great fear is data protection, and Barton’s gloating speech reflects a frighteningly accurate portrayal of the world as it is – as we’ve already found to our cost in both US elections and the UK referendum. Data mining, data harvesting is a power in its own right, and we keep clicking ‘agree’ or ‘consent’ without reading the small print, because we want access to the latest apps.

And now, Barton claims, the latest apps will kill you. It works gloriously as a bridge between the worlds of Doctor Who and James Bond, because it’s mad enough to have its own crocodile pool, but tinged with that worrying connection to reality.

The ending is very, very Moffat – it’s more or less the finale to The Curse Of The Fatal Death with mercifully less companion-snogging, and it leaves several plot-threads dangling in terms of the Shiny Gits, Barton and the Master. If and how those dangling threads are resolved – we hope later in this series – will have a big impact on how Spyfall is regarded years down the line. But as a fresh watch, Part 2 is a thing of sheer beauty that leaves you unable to tear your eyes off the screen for the power of the characterisation – Whitaker’s Doctor coming more and more firmly into her own way of dealing with the more difficult threats in the universe, Sacha Dhawan exploding into character as a Master to never take your eyes off, the companions growing in their understanding and their questions, and Lenny Henry’s Barton Tobias Vaughaning his face off. It’s a story of character delights – and that’s before we even take Aurora Maurin as the understandably sceptical Noor Inayat Khan or Sylvie Briggs as the compassionate, eventually trusting Ada Gordon into consideration.

And then – oh, and then…

That knowledge. That itch of knowledge that leads us all on into the series, with a Doctor more angry, more uncertain than we’ve seen her before – Gallifrey destroyed, but in retaliation for the lies of the Time Lords?

Buckle up, Who-fans, Spyfall, Part 2 set us off on a darker ride with the Thirteenth Doctor than we’ve had so far. Here’s to it!

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad