The Doctor and the TARDIS Trio deal with a global plague that is not related to coronavirus (this entry will be dated in August 2020).
In space, Adam Lang (Matthew McNulty), an astronaut, is thrown off course on reentry and deemed lost. In England, his husband Jake (Warren Brown), an ex-cop, receives a text from Adam with a location in Hong Kong. In Peru, vloggers Gabriela and Jamila (Joana Borja and Gabriela Toloi) discover a pile of garbage along a formerly pristine river and blackbirds swarming overhead. That night, Jamila is attacked and disappears. Ryan (Tosin Cole) appears, investigating the situation, and he and Gabriela find Jamila only to watch her turn into a bizarre crystalline husk and disintegrate. Ryan picks up the unusual corpse of one of the blackbirds.
In Hong Kong, Jake runs into Graham and Yaz (Bradley Walsh and Mandip Gill), who help him find Adam hooked up to a strange machine. As they try to help Adam out, Yaz attempts to grab a panel nearby and the group is attacked by two masked figures. Jake kills both of them. In Madagascar, the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) finds an American submarine officer, Zach (Tristan de Beer), along with two local biomedical researchers Suki and Amaru (Molly Harris and Thapelo Maropefela). Zach washes ashore and dies in the same way as Jamila. The Doctor picks up Ryan and Gabriela then meets up with Yaz, Graham, Adam, and Jake. Yaz and Gabriela go back into the alien facility to get the panel and end up following another teleporting humanoid, ending up on what appears to be an alien world.
In Madagascar, Adam has started turning into the same crystalline husk as the other victims. The Doctor finds out that the bacterium that is causing the condition attaches itself to plastics, including the microplastics that permeate most life on Earth. Evaluating Ryan’s blackbird, the Doctor finds that the bird’s enzymes are fighting the bacteria, allowing them to be carriers. The Doctor also realizes that Suki’s research is too advanced, revealing her as an alien. She reveals that her race was destroyed by the bacteria, called Praxeus, and that she brought it here to use Earth as a live testing facility to find an antidote. She steals the Doctor’s prototype antidote and flees just as birds kill Amaru and attack the lab. The survivors flee to Yaz’s location in the TARDIS. It turns out they’re not on an alien world, it’s only the bottom of the Indian Ocean, where the bacteria had made a building out of the trash gyre. Suki dies from the Doctor’s antidote (because it was designed for humans), while Adam is cured. The Doctor sets Suki’s ship to detonate in the atmosphere to distribute the antidote.
So, last week was a high point, but they clearly decided not to continue along those plotlines in this episode. Moreover, while this episode did it less, they also fell back into the habit of having the Doctor do heavy exposition. For example, the Doctor literally expounds, mostly blandly, about what pathogens and the plastic gyres are. It also is starting to reflect poorly on the Fam that the show keeps having them not know terms like “Pathogen” or people like Tesla just so that the Doctor can do the explanation. In a show that frequently has unbelievable technobabble, almost always done by the Doctor himself/herself, you’d think they’d be better at making explanations of actual concepts or people less dull. Or maybe they are trying to qualify for a grant for educational shows, I dunno.
The one thing that I did enjoy about this episode was Yaz going against the Doctor’s wishes yet again and trying to do the right thing in her own opinion. I’ve kind of been surprised that she’s been so passive in many of the episodes with regards to the Doctor because she A) was extremely assertive in her first appearance and B) was a fairly dedicated cop. While Ryan and Graham both are naturally prone to listening to others (mostly Ryan’s grandmother), Yaz always seemed like she was ready to take a position of power. I’m hoping that, in the future, maybe Yaz and the Doctor will actually start challenging each other for real, which would be a nice change of pace.
While this episode was a little bit of a dip after the last one, I do still feel a bit encouraged. Also, can we acknowledge again that the production values are way up this year? The shots of the people being overtaken by the bacteria and exploding were horrifying and that’s impressive.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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