Doctor Who: Spyfall, Part 2
January 5, 2020 7:17 PM - Season 12, Episode 2 - Subscribe

I'm torn. I really liked Part 1, but I think Part 2 bungled the resolution - the invasion plot was needlessly complicated and also felt like stuff we've seen before. Introducing two interesting historical figures in Ada Lovelace and Noor Khan in the second part of a two-parter seemed like an odd choice - though I did love watching all three women running around solving things.

The Master was great - performance wise. I guess the set-up for the series arc was interesting, though knowing Chibnall it'll probably only come back in the finale and not weave through the season. I'm not sure if destroying Gallifrey again was a great move, nor is re-writing the history of the Time Lords again. But I'm happy to see how it plays out.
posted by crossoverman at 8:00 PM on January 5, 2020

Part 1 didn't work on me at all, I watched it completely checked out up until the Master reveal. But Part 2 kept my attention the whole way through. I don't know how I feel about any of the continuity as far as Gallifrey's existence and/or re-destruction, or the Master's level of villainousness, and I definitely don't like the Doctor erasing people's memories. But it felt like a Doctor Who episode at least.
posted by oh yeah! at 8:23 PM on January 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Someone desperately needs to hire an editor and have him/her stand over Chris Chibnall with a bullwhip. The first two episodes of this season have been overcrowded and all over the place with about four more plot threads than they actually needed to have.

As a result, the whole Lenny-Henry-hands-over-the-world-to-aliens thing wound up being only about a quarter-baked at best. "Here is my evil plot, which doesn't really make a tremendous amount of sense, but anyway BWAHAHAHAHAohwaititgotfoiledalreadyBYE."

The spy thing didn't really go anywhere except for laser shoes, Stephen Fry was criminally wasted, the whole Victorian England/World War II Paris digression was pretty much pointless, the impending end of the human race got resolved completely offscreen, and the aliens were just a mess.

They're killing spies. Oh, wait--they're rewriting their DNA. (But still killing them.) Now they're spies themselves across multiple dimensions time periods. Oh, hey--they're sending people to...a very large carpet or something, for reasons. They keep kidnapping Ada Lovelace, which seems to be pretty much the opposite of spying on someone. Lenny Henry talks them into killing his mom. They want to turn the entire population of Earth into...hard drives? Through phones, but too much? Somehow?

They should give Chibnall a concept quota or something. "These seven ideas, can have three. If you flesh them out a bit, maybe four. That's it."
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:05 AM on January 6, 2020 [10 favorites]

I just... this isn't the show for me, folks. It seems the fans really enjoy it, at least judging from Reddit and Guardian comments, which is fantastic for them! But the plotting is dreadful.

I realise this is a "new series" Who tradition, but the reliance on getting the Doctor (or the villain) to monologue the plot, however energetically, is so tiresome. I was halfway into ep 2 – 75% through the two-parter – and I still didn't really understand what was going on. Putting aside the fact that humans aren't the only things on Earth with DNA, why did the aliens need more storage space in the first place? Was that really their whole plan?

What did Lenny Henry get from killing all of humanity? I guess it was nice to see Ada Lovelace and Noora Khan, but did they have any agency other than blindly trusting the Doctor? Meh.
posted by adrianhon at 2:17 AM on January 6, 2020 [1 favorite]


This needs to be a tag.
posted by homunculus at 4:11 AM on January 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

Well I'm glad to see I'm not alone for not feeling this season opener, for a number of reasons:
- The whole VOR thing felt very preachy (Big Tech is BAD, mmmmkay?), not to mention the on-the-nose-ness of the nazi thing
- Ada/Noora felt like hashtag girlpower but not much more? Also, the Doctor wiping their memories felt EXTREMELY wrong
- I guess Missy raised the bar way too high because I just really wasn't feeling this new Master
- Seconding the variness of the timelord stuff. I guess it can turn out well, but I don't know
- Overall plot was just a big ol' mess

On the plus side:
- As someone who is, let's put it mildly, not a fan of Stephen Fry, I was glad he got killed pretty fast!
- The doctor looked amazing in the opening scene with the goggles and all that
- I kinda like the villains from the other dimension/whatever, and hope to see more of them

I'm still looking forward to the rest of the season but I'm disappointed.
posted by KTamas at 4:45 AM on January 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

(I watched both episodes at the same time.)
posted by KTamas at 4:46 AM on January 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think the problem was Lenny Henry, or rather his character. No idea what his motivation was (I guess he was offered a chance of working with them or death?) and the more I think about it, the less sense it makes (they did the experiment to turn people into living hard-drives on him because? He kills his Mum because? His relationship with the Master is?).

The story probably works better if the person behind VOR, the world's leading technology firm, and is living the high life, and is working hand-in-hand with the aliens is The Master. (Rather than the Master spending years working as an undercover intelligence analyst, and then getting sacked, and then living in the Outback in preparation for umm?).

Obviously if you do that, the big reveal is less of a shock but you could it as a nice throwback to all those Victor Magister/Professor Thascalos identities.

And yeah, am not really sure why Ada was in Carpet World. Was it to examine her? I was trying to work out if there was some sort of "aliens can only exist by swapping places with people" trope, but that didn't seem to be it.

And talking of carpets: the scene where the Doctor and Ada are hiding under the floorboards (under a rug which is 100% where you'd expect a hidden floorboard compartment to be below), then the floorboards get shot, and then they're fine: that was super badly directed. How did they survive? I assumed the fake out was they were in the roof or something instead, but no, either it was a bulletproof rug or they just missed? It seemed a bungled way to introduce the fact she was a spy.

(And also, for things that don't quite make sense: "I've told everybody you're actually a spy! Also I've turned off your perception filter so you don't actually look like the person they're after! So I guess they'll just arrest you for cosplay? Bye!")
posted by Hartster at 5:18 AM on January 6, 2020 [6 favorites]

So I guess they'll just arrest you for cosplay?

To be fair, German sumptuary laws in occupied Paris were extremely strict.

I think that's the nerdiest thing I've said all day...and I work in IT.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:54 AM on January 6, 2020 [8 favorites]

My complaint was that the Doctor was effusive to young not-quite Lady Ada - you’re going to kick start a whole new thing it’s going to be incredible, in fact at the end of the day it directly leads to the very thing the bad guy attempted to use to complete his plot! Errrr, uhhh.
posted by Kyol at 6:05 AM on January 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I mean, in addition to pretty much all the same complaints as above. If anything, I can say that the action in the second half looked far less phoned-in than it did in the first half? So yay?

Let's see - the sound mix was also well and truly back into "the soundtrack is at least as important as the dialogue" territory, too - I dunno if the first episode was as bad or not, but it had subtitles, so I'm less bothered by it.
posted by Kyol at 6:14 AM on January 6, 2020

I thought this was a bit of a mess.

I liked part 1, even with some weak moments, but it entertained me. Part 2 just seemed like a jumble.

I'm still not completely sure I understand how all the plotlines hang together. I also feel like The Master seems too mean, compared to previous incarnations.

And the Gallifrey bit which then seems to be thrown away at the end of the episode.

I agree with the thought above that someone needs to edit the number of plotlines allowed per episode.
posted by wittgenstein at 10:51 AM on January 6, 2020

The evil plan has the same exact problem that The Matrix had: it works better with cows.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:53 AM on January 6, 2020 [7 favorites]

Why did the Doctor memory-wipe these two historical characters and not any of the many, many other historical characters she's met in the past? Why the Doctor do the Bill & Ted "we'll go backwards in time to set up stuff that will save us/which already saved us" NOW, not the hundreds of times previously when it would have helped? Why did Lenny Henry want to destroy humanity for no apparent reason? Why did they cram three plots into two episodes when any one of them would have worked fine as a single episode?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:28 PM on January 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

The aliens were the genesis of the timelords. Once upon a time in a pocket dimension/universe a mad alien scientist managed to cross the barrier and achieve stability and begat the timelords. The Master discovered this faction/division and was pissed and now on a mission to somehow stop it from happening at all.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:25 PM on January 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Interesting theory, zengargoyle.

I agree the motivation for Lenny Henry's actions seemed a little lost in the muddle of too many plot lines. To some extent the concept that human beings were somewhat superfluous in light of the greater efficiency of computer systems reminded me of Rassillion's plan for the Time Lords to transcend their physical bodies.

I have to admit my heart sank when the Master's comment about Gallifrey turned out to be true. I got really tired of The Last of the Time Lords by the end of Tennant's era. I did very much enjoy the look of the new aliens. The play of light and dark made for very dramatic cinematography.
posted by LeftMyHeartInSanFrancisco at 4:18 PM on January 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I am kind of disappointed that the aliens were defeated - they had a really cool, spooky look to them. I don't really know why people are complaining about the plot - this is Dr. Who we are talking about.

Chibnall has basically reset the series back to the start of the Tennant era in terms of plot and pacing. So we get some silly, enjoyable adventures instead of the fake gravitas of the later-Moffet era. I find it a nice change of pace and am willing to go along for the ride to see where it ends up.
posted by AndrewStephens at 6:22 PM on January 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

I don't really know why people are complaining about the plot - this is Dr. Who we are talking about.

I mean, sure, but the best episodes manage to work. The plot is always a bit handwavey and silly, but good writers can make it matter. Characters should have to make choices. They should make mistakes, and learn from their mistakes. They shouldn't just be there!

Once again we have the companions basically being there. If they hadn't been there, the plot wouldn't have actualy changed at all. Incredibly, in the one moment when they could have had an impact, when the master walked in and two of them were carrying weaponary capable of defeating him, they just stood there looking dumb.

And the Doctor wins via bill and ted mechanics again? Every now and then it's a neat trick for Dr Who to do this, but in this instance it looks even more stupid... why did the master who had to live through time wait until the last moment to appear anyway?

And Lenny Henry randomly murdering his mother? Was she meant to be possessed by aliens like him? Or was that not the plan? I didn't really understand exactly what the aliens goal here was anyway. And then he just walks off, making the Doctor's record of just letting evil millionaires wander off at the end of the story tick up one.

I think we notice how hokey the plot is on Chibnall episodes because there's nothing else to it. There's not much about character, the dialogue is uninspired. You include two great women from history to mostly just stand around looking surprised. And, as has been pointed out elsewhere Noor Inayat Khan died a year later in Dachau, so for the Doctor to just say good luck and head off is kind of tone deaf.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:13 AM on January 7, 2020 [11 favorites]

Yeah, this two parter had way too much dumb. I swear I thought the big reveal was that the aliens were going to be cybermen from another dimension. I mean, their heads... the name. They still may be, the season's just begun.

I've been watching this show since 1982... so I'll watch... but it's so dumb sometimes.
posted by Catblack at 7:14 AM on January 7, 2020

Charming actors portraying fun characters hamstrung by an overstuffed mess of nonsensical plot and frenetic pacing. Oh hey, that’s also my review of Rise of Skywalker!

I really like Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor, and I really like Yaz, Ryan, and Graham, but it seems I just don’t enjoy Chris Chibnall. Looking back at last season, I only really enjoyed 4 episodes out of 11, none of which were written by Chibnall. (For the record: Rosa, Demons of the Punjab, Kerblam, and It Takes You Away.) So I’ll continue watching this season for the characters and be appreciative when an episode winds up a gem.

As great a visual as the Kasaavin were, I found them quite boring. Only one ever even spoke, and even then what he was or wanted was not well established. “We take these forms to mock you.” Oh cool, can you expand upon that? Oh what’s that, you have to kidnap Ada Lovelace into your realm again for no evident reason and then resume standing motionlessly? Okay, sure.

The Bill and Ted gambit was really needlessly complicated. You had to install parts in the plane while it was being built? Why not just show up on the plane in the TARDIS and bring them to safety before vanishing again? And yeah, “I foiled your plan by going back in time a year and sabotaging your machine” is a slippery slope toward unsatisfying narrative conclusions.

At least I liked the shrink ray. Most horrifying weapon since “Empress of Mars,” the Ice Warrior weapon that turned Redcoats into crumpled-up balls.
posted by ejs at 6:29 PM on January 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

(The Master's Tissue Compression Eliminator, a name which appears to make no sense - as it introduces compression rather than eliminating it, and compresses things other than tissue, or else the victim would be a sort of messy but fully-dressed skeleton and this is a teatime show - stems from The Terror of the Autons in 1971. Old-school Delgado shit, as it were.)
posted by Grangousier at 12:52 AM on January 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I sort of miss when the Tardis was incapable of acting as a specific time-and-place Plot Restoration Tool. Bad aim? Limited temporal resolution? Cranky at being stolen? I can't remember what the official excuse was that the Doctor used to explain why he couldn't just bop up and down the length of a planet to solve a problem - it was just a way to deliver the Doctor and companions into a scene aaaaand go!
posted by Kyol at 9:38 AM on January 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

It does raise questions about why more things can't just be Bill-and-Ted-ed.
posted by Marticus at 1:45 PM on January 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

All your criticisms are valid, but few of them bothered me. I enjoyed these two episodes a great deal more than much of last season. For me, modern Doctor Who is at its best when the Doctor is a lonely, tortured enigma weighed down by 2000 years of trauma, while wearing the mask of a jovial goofball (see, e.g., Waters of Mars, The Snowmen, most of the Ninth Doctor). The Thirteenth Doctor of last season was too happy-go-lucky for me, too genuinely good, and too disconnected from her history. In this episode, the way she blew off Graham's questions at the end was so great. And her interactions with the Master (Dhawan is fantastic, btw) gave us a real glimpse into those characters. I look forward to seeing where they go with it.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 2:17 PM on January 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'm also generally able to roll with whatever this show hands out. But I am concerned about there being a secret origin to the Time Lords. I'm hoping this is either a trick of The Master or somehow leaves Gallifrey even more mysterious than before. I'll be unreasonably upset if it ends up that Time Lords are advanced humans, Earth is special for some reason, or it was actually Rose all along.
posted by Gary at 10:51 AM on January 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

> And, as has been pointed out elsewhere Noor Inayat Khan died a year later in Dachau, so for the Doctor to just say good luck and head off is kind of tone deaf.

Last Week's Doctor Who Cut a Death Scene That Could've Been Real Rough
posted by homunculus at 4:45 PM on January 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Given that they filmed that, I gotta wonder what they thought they were doing during the WWII section. There's hope, but the Doctor will wipe it from your brain

and then you'll get shot, like History said you would?

bit weird!
posted by BungaDunga at 4:21 PM on January 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

As with almost all Doctor Who, everyone's criticisms are totally valid and I don't really care. I had fun with plots A though G but lemme tell you I AM HERE FOR some Master/Doctor and Gallifrey angst. I always have been. I'm weak for it. I have no excuse for myself. I had to mentally sub in my own soundtrack of "Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home" though. Had that theme actually played? I would have burst into tears. I know, this is silly, you don't have to tell me.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:04 PM on January 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

> Last Week's Doctor Who Cut a Death Scene That Could've Been Real Rough

Wow homunculus, thanks for the link to that article.

I don't know what the plan was re: Noor's death scene but yeah the final cut did feel pretty bumpy. I agree that the WW2 elements (the Master pretending to be SS, and finding Noor) and Ada and Barton and the Master felt like too much for one episode, although I did really like that Noor and Ada were in the episode) and wish the plot had made better sense. Did not like the pretending to be SS.

Missed opportunity for Yaz Khan to talk to Noor Khan!

Even though the plot was everywhere, I admit I enjoyed seeing the Doctor in her tux, Ada in her 19th c. dress, and Noor in her 1940s beret/suit, all working together. That's a time travel mashup that was a neat idea.

I enjoyed most of the moments of humor, even the doesn't-make-sense Bill-and-Tedding of the clues the Doctor and Noor and Ada helped leave on the plane -- "I love a laminator" made me laugh.

But I'm pretty sure I said, "What?!" when the Doctor disabled the Master's perception filter and left him there. As Hartster mentioned above, I also felt it didn't make sense. The whole scene was done in a way where the Doctor carries out this trap and speaks in a casual way -- almost as though it's a prank ha ha, rather than having him face an inevitable severe punishment, if not being murdered.

It was incredibly jarring and if the episode had ended there with a "To Be Continued" I would have speculated that the Doctor was not really herself and was under the influence of something. Unfortunately the episode confirmed quickly that it really was the Doctor in that world, under the influence of the writing. Felt very off for Thirteen.

Contrast that with Barton leaving his mother to die, and smiling about it -- yeah that was super random and disturbing and it's portrayed as something that is Not Good and that we should not root for him at all. Or the times the Master keeps trying to kill the Doctor or asks why she isn't dead.

The end of the article gets at some of what I was feeling and why I found it so jarring:
The episode has faced considerable criticism for other elements of its World War II scenes, most notably the fact that the Master—now played by Sacha Dhawan—openly collaborates with Nazi forces in the episode to hunt the Doctor down, embedding himself as an SS Officer. To hide the fact that his current regeneration is not white, the Master projects a psychic perception filter into the minds of the Nazis around him. But in her escape (having had Noor send an easily-traceable message outing the Master’s officer as an alleged Nazi traitor feeding information to the British) from his clutches, the Doctor disables this filter, exposing the Master to his Nazi captors as a person of color.

It’s an extremely disconcerting moment, considering the Doctor’s escape plan already assured the Master would fall foul of his “allies,” an incredibly cruel and out-of-character moment for a show and hero that has always championed diversity in the face of hatred and bigotry. Combining a moment like that with the needless presentation of another prominent person of color’s execution at the hands of the Nazis would’ve been a step even further in the wrong direction. At least, somewhere down the line, that particular decision was left on the cutting room floor.
On another note... One of the most touching scenes of the episode for me was when the team's wondering if they'll ever see the Doctor again, and they agree to keep going and are trying to convince each other she's okay. And then Yaz says the Doctor would ask, "What do we have at our disposal?" That got to me a little. That and later when Graham calls Ryan and Yaz a couple of doughnuts, but that there's no one else he'd rather be on the run with.

Then when the team sees the Doctor again at the end, and Yaz says the Doctor needs to explain, and Graham asks "Are we being replaced?" - that was a nice touch. (I appreciated the Doctor's clear "No.") Being bewildered and wanting answers from the person you were scared to lose felt very honest.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 10:02 PM on January 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

The Thirteenth Doctor of last season was too happy-go-lucky for me.

I have to agree with this. There was a jarring moment in "The Ghost Monument" where The Doctor gives into despair because the "monument" isn't just sitting there when the group arrives. It was so out of character for her that I wondered if the writers were trying to give her a moment of angst. She has certainly lacked the edge of her immediate predecessors.

(I was watching "The Dead Don't Die" over the weekend; terrible film. But Tilda Swindon was in it and it struck me that she'd be perfectly cast as The Doctor, maybe as an earlier regeneration on a par with John Hurt's War Doctor.)
posted by SPrintF at 4:44 PM on January 13, 2020

A Shocking Truth Has Brought Doctor Who Back to Life
... Although the companions’ similar arc concludes with them putting their faith in the Doctor, the Doctor’s quest for knowledge ultimately puts her on a much more self-destructive path. In hunting down and foiling the Master—after a truly foul team-up he has with the Nazis, for seemingly little reason other than he’s the Master and that’s the sort of foul thing he’d do to really get at the Doctor—the Doctor isn’t rewarded with hope or faith, in either her former friend or herself. She’s handed a nightmare scenario, the revelation of a new mystery for her to chase after cut through with a horrifying premise: Gallifrey, thought safely preserved in its own pocket of Time and Space since her prior incarnations banded together to undo its demise in “The Day of the Doctor,” lies burning.

The Time Lords are dead. And it’s the Master that put it to the torch, so enraged by his own revelation that everything Time Lord society taught itself has been predicated on some unseen lie that he has been completely undone, left unhinged and driven to genocide.

The shock of the reveal is twofold. Not only do we have a major undoing of a trauma Steven Moffat’s era of the show had itself sought to undo—giving the Doctor a chance to heal and reflect on the loss of their people, a specter that had lingered over several incarnations of the character since Who returned in 2005—itself an interesting “takeback” on a premise that the show hadn’t really done much with since Gallifrey returned in the first place (outside of the incredible “Heaven’s Sent,” that is). But we have this reveal being catapulted at an incarnation of the Doctor who, so far, has been marked by a sort of innocence and naiveté—relatively untethered to her past lives, seemingly remembering little of them or the sacrifices made by her immediate predecessor to bring about her incarnation in the first place.

And what does it do? Immediately sets her on a dark and dangerous path.

After trapping the Master in the Kasaavin’s alt-reality and being goaded by one final message from him, the Doctor takes her new friends Noor and Ada and quickly, almost callously, robs them of their memories of their time together in order to preserve the timeline. The Doctor does this without second thought and with no regret—and while there’s an obvious horror to Ada’s wiping (given that, just like Donna Noble before her, it happens as she begs the Doctor not to take her memories), there’s something even more chilling about the fact that she robs Noor of her memory after telling her the Nazis won’t win the war, and that fascism, no matter how and when it arises, will always lose.

The Doctor finds herself isolated and cut off from her closest friends after going to Gallifrey and confirming the Master’s account, keeping herself coldly distant and already beginning to lie to Graham, Yaz, and Ryan, even with half-truths, as she lets slip the tiniest details about her past and her home as they press her for details. There is suddenly now a trauma to this Doctor that has otherwise not been there, and its impact on her persona is felt immediately. If Dhawan’s Master truly is a post-Missy incarnation (it’s not confirmed here, despite it being an ongoing question brought about by his return), it creates a remarkably fascinating foil: a Master of cruel vindictiveness born from the death of a redeemed incarnation, played against an incarnation born from the redemption of her past self, both driven to their own darknesses by the revelation that their existences have been built on a falsehood.

So with the day saved from a Google gone wrong, we come into this new age for Doctor Who with grim shades of the past—Gallifrey is once again no more, bringing a tragedy and darkness to the 13th Doctor that has otherwise been absent since her regeneration. In Dhawan’s Master, trapped as he is for now, she has a compellingly personable foe to stand against, a foil for us to really explore just what this incarnation of the Doctor is truly capable of with her back against the wall. And with the thread of the Timeless Child being established as an ongoing concern, we once again have a mystery for the show to chase, one that asks us to challenge and reconsider the countless mysteries thrown at us and seemingly solved in Steven Moffat’s tenure of overexplaining the Who in Doctor Who.

After spending a season in trying to find itself, the Chibnall era of Doctor Who has a mission statement of its own: What will the cost be of learning the truth, whether it’s for the Doctor or her friends who really have no idea of who they’re involved with? We can’t wait to see how this series goes about answering it. It may have taken some time, but Doctor Who feels truly back in action once more.

Assorted Musings

So, speaking of the Doctor immediately moving toward deeply messed up actions upon learning of Gallifrey’s fate, we should probably consider the wildly grim optics of the Doctor not only exposing her frenemy to his new Nazi allies as a traitor, but removing his psychic perception filter so that said Nazis will see that this incarnation of the Master is a person of color on top of that. It’s not only extremely overboard—the Nazis were already going to turn on him thanks to the Doctor’s scheme with Noor’s communiqué—but what in the actual fuck? The generous read is that this is the Doctor telling the Master he made his swastika-covered bed by working with Nazis in the first place, and now has to lie in it, but also! Subjecting a person of color to imprisonment at the hands of the holocaust’s architects as a “haha, gotcha!” moment while the Doctor escapes down the Eiffel Tower is...quite a thing for the show to just brush past! It’s horrifyingly cruel, no matter how compromised the Doctor was in the moment.
posted by homunculus at 9:37 AM on January 16, 2020

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