The Doctor returns, fam in tow, to deal with a global spy crisis and an old enemy.
All around the globe spies are suddenly being killed. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Yaz (Mandip Gill) are summoned to MI-6 by C (Stephen Fry), the head of the clandestine organization. C is quickly killed, but after telling the Doctor and the Tardis Trio to find O (Sacha Dhawan), the spy tasked with monitoring aliens, and to look into Tech CEO Daniel Barton (Lenny Henry). Yaz and Ryan discover that Barton is partially alien while the Doctor and Graham find O. Yaz is pulled into another dimension by aliens called the Kasaavin, only to pop back out after exchanging places with another alien. The group, including O, follow Barton onto a plane, only for the Doctor to realize that O is not who he seems. It turns out that he is actually the latest incarnation of the Master. He abducts the Doctor via the Kasaavin and leaves the rest in a crashing plane.
The Doctor leaves a message from the past in the plane that saves the group and emerges from the Kasaavin’s dimension in 1834 along with Ada Lovelace (Sylvie Briggs), the first computer programmer. The Master attacks the Doctor at an inventor’s convention, only for Ada to shoot him. The Doctor and Ada meet with Charles Babbage (Mark Dexter), who inadvertently gives the Doctor a way to travel in time through the Kasaavin. Ada grabs her, throwing off the trip and bringing them to 1943 in Paris, where the Master is commanding the Nazis. The Doctor and Ada are saved by spy Noor Inayat Khan (Aurora Marion).
The Master reveals that he had the Kasaavin kill spies to draw out the Doctor. He also reveals that Gallifrey, the Time Lords’ home planet, was destroyed, before the Doctor reveals his non-Aryan nature to the Nazis and frames him as a spy. The Doctor, Ada, and Khan all return to the present using the Master’s own TARDIS. Barton reveals that he made a deal with the Kasaavin to rewrite humanity’s DNA to use as data drives. The Master, having lived through the 77 years since the Nazis, helps set the plan in motion until the Doctor arrives and reveals, in the nick of time, that she used his TARDIS to create a failsafe. The Kasaavin, now aware that the Master was planning on betraying them, abduct him. The Doctor returns Ada and Khan to their times and visits Gallifrey, finding that the Master destroyed it. He left a confession saying that all of Time Lord history is a lie, citing something called the “Timeless Child.”
Upside, this was a well-done episode that managed to feel a lot more like an old Doctor Who episode that still has the updated sensibilities and motivations of the more recent series. Downside, Gallifrey is dead again for reasons that are not yet revealed and the “does it, doesn’t it” nature of the planet is starting to get old for me. Still, this was the most I’ve just enjoyed the show in a while.
The spy aspect of the episode, while ultimately mostly only the inciting incident, does provide an excuse for both a wardrobe change (which everyone rocks) and also a reason for Graham, Ryan, and Yaz to have high-tech gadgets independent of the Doctor. I also would be lying if I said I didn’t relish any opportunity for a few James Bond references. Stephen Fry’s appearance as C, though brief, was a nice throwback to the original M from the Bond series. It’s made only a little more meta if you know that M was a position named for Mycroft Holmes, the supposed original spymaster for England, who was portrayed in Sherlock Holmes by… Stephen Fry.
The main improvement in this episode was how seamlessly it worked in the themes that Chris Chibnail seems to be trying to put out there with the narrative. It celebrated the achievements of women while also never coming off as “preachy” or aggressive with it. The narrative was also paced much better than most of the previous series, where there often was a feeling of rushing to the conclusion.
The return of the Master was pretty much inevitable, but I admit that I thought he/she would stay dead longer this time, particularly since the Master was not present for either of the previous odd-numbered Doctors. This incarnation, though, appears to be able to blend together all of the best aspects of previous Masters/Mistress, with elements of humor, madness, and ruthlessness, but also adding an amount of seeming introspection that he only showed at the end of his last run as Missy. Having him destroy Gallifrey for apparently moral reasons is a good way to set up what I assume will be the central story of the season, because what could be so bad that the Master finds it morally reprehensible?
Overall, I thought this was a good return to the series. I look forward to seeing if the show has really now found a way to be different enough while also still the same.
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