Doctor Who: PRAXEUS Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: PRAXEUS Review

Tony keeps one eye on the birds.

Some Doctor Who stories develop their menace over long, slow, creepy, hair-raising sequences.

Series 12 has so far not proved itself to be a fan of this approach – Spyfall was positively dripping with dash as it ran or drove or biked or zapped or Tardised both around the world and through time. Even within the pre-credits sequence we got three worldwide locations to show us the nature of the initial threat with which we were dealing. Bang, bang, bang – it showed us the fundamental smallness of the world, and that many things were going on in various places at the same time.

Praxeus, written by Peter McTighe and Chris Chibnall, seems if anything determined to beat Spyfall at its own game. Some soothing voice-over about connected lives from the Doctor and then Bang! British astronaut Adam Lang (Matthew McNulty) is falling out of the sky. Bang! British supermarket security guard Jake Willis (played by eternal script-helper Warren Brown) is rugby tackling a cheapskate, getting sacked and having a Philip Marlowe-style solitary drink. Bang! In Peru, two young women are backpacking when they discover a beautiful river has become Lake Garbagio, a dump site for plastic waste. So far, so intriguing. The wheels start to get a little wobbly when one of the women, Jamila Velez, declares there’s no way they’re camping in what is essentially probably a vermin-crawling, insect-ridden toxic, filthy, stinking mound of plastic and waste. The very next scene shows they’ve done exactly that. Funny, maybe, and briefly, but there’s no logic to their decision, when they could at the very least have backed away from the fly-infested dump. Jamila wakes up, takes a walk outside and it absolutely Hitchcocked – in a scene that will probably go down in Who history as among the more disturbing attacks, the birds flock and peck and seem to hack at her.

After receiving a message seemingly from Adam, who – spoiler alert – is his husband, Jake the non-policeman has flown to Hong Kong, and is intercepted in the middle of giving a door a right old kicking by Graham, Yaz and a bunch of skeleton keys.

Meanwhile Ryan makes himself known to Gabriella, the other of the two young women in the rubbish dump, and tells her the birds are falling out of the skies, handily taking away a sample for when he meets up with the Doctor.

The Doctor? Running along a mostly deserted beach in Madagascar, since you ask, lugging a submariner out of the ocean and introducing herself to researchers Suki and Aramu.

The submariner’s name is Zach Olsen, and he’s…had better days. Days which turned into nights, for a start. He’s not on the beach long before succumbing to some sort of infection, and in one of the most disturbing sequences in quite some time, the infection overwhelms him, and he explodes.

We could go on, but you’re probably both exhausted and stress-eating already. The pace and the push and the mystery of this story is intense and breathless, which means there’s a lot thrown at the screen, and even more that needs to be explained in relatively chunky infodumps. The idiot’s guide is: alien bacteria that eats plastic. Plastic everywhere on Earth. Yummy. Sadly, makes birds viciously attack humans (thus spreading the plague), and makes humans…explode. Less yummy.

Breathing is entirely over-rated during this episode, and there’s some very effective use made of Team Tardis, rather than having them all clumped together – at first, they’re all split up on different strands of the mystery, and even when there’s more clumpy motion, with an extra-heavy extended Fam, Yaz and Gabriela get to go off on a side-quest to recover a bit of important tech, but instead discover a teleport station and disappear to who-initially-knows-where, leaving the tech in situ, in time for a reunion, 20,000 leagues under the sea and one of the world’s biggest oceanic plastic conglomerations. Along the way, there’s quite the death toll – Zach, Jamila…Aramu gets birded to death, Suki succumbs to the infection (which, as is more or less thrown in in the second before a teleporting, is named Praxeus) in a scene that’s even more disturbing than Zach’s death, and which might in a different era have had viewers writing angry letters to the BBC. The Doctor and the Tardis working in tandem is a growing theme the longer this Doctor has to get to grips with her machine, and here, the two are in almost perfect harmony, formulating a cure for the Praxeus bacteria – at least, one that works on humans. Despite immunising herself with it, Suki (really an alien, did we mention? Might have missed that in the torrent of info-updates) explodes. Despite that not being the reaction of her species to the bacteria, but the reaction of humans. So…hang on, how does that work? More to the point, the Doctor’s spacecraft-based worldwide immunisation plan uses the version of a cure which is tested on Adam, and works for humans. So what we end up with surely is human immunity, which presumably doesn’t stop the birds from succumbing to the violent, co-ordinated behaviour-patterns they develop when infected. Nor, presumably does it stop Praxeus in other non-human forms, though it’s possible I missed the solution to this inherent in the idea of the super-duper boosted version of the antidote…which still doesn’t work on the alien Suki after a double-dose of Praxeus.

Quibbling? Maybe. In an episode that runs at the speed of a laser blast though, and includes lots of good elements, it feels like an important, success-draining detail that the solution only works on one species, and then in an ultimately unclear way. It feels like there’s lots of running, lots of drama, lots of death and a solid eco-message, but the solution only really works because we say it does.

Nevertheless, there’s plenty to love about Praxeus - the split-up of Team Tardis to deal with bigger issues across numerous continents, the abbbbbsolutely creepy visual of the Praxeus infection, the Hitchcock vibe of the attacking birds, the different eco-message to the less accomplished Orphan 55, focusing on the reality of micro-plastics, the innovative notion that our ecological self-timebombing make us interesting to aliens, that kiss between the astronaut and the ex-cop, the Doctor and the Tardis in harmony, saving Jake from his moment of self-destructive heroism, and the full-on pace that is so far characterising Series 12. Whether it falls into the Spyfall camp of powerful pacing while still making sufficient sense to satisfy, or the Orphan 55 camp of powerful pacing while making less sense than necessary is ultimately up to each viewer to decide. Overall, I’d say it’s in the Spyfall camp, with significant niggles. Ultimately for me it earns its place by packing enough into the episode that lets us care, connect with and understand. Whereas in Orphan 55, practically no-one cared if anyone lived or died, in Praxeus enough work’s done in rapid characterisation to make us care when people rapidly, horribly die. In that, and for all its other positives, Praxeus makes it into the top half of Series 12 episodes despite the slight garbling of the solution.

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

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