So, series 12 of Doctor Who started with the double-header Spyfall. The name of the two-parter is a reference to the Bond movie Skyfall. It’s a weak pun… and ends up describing what is ultimately a fairly weak start to the overall series. It’s such a shame, because the first part had such promise too! We have Stephen Fry, Lenny Henry (as a convincingly evil and straight-faced Zuckerberg type character), a bunch of white-light baddies called the Kasavin (from beyond our universe) and Sacha Dhawan wonderfully playing an old nemesis of the Doctor (very good acting). Chuck in some Bond-type science fiction technology and a few twists and turns, and it was all sizing up to be an utter triumph.
Yet the second episode was pretty nonsensical, sadly. Quite unnecessarily, even more was thrown into the plot – Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Nazis, Gallifrey (honest!) and… other stuff that flashed by without any true explanation. It was a case of ‘more is definitely less’. There were action scenes that didn’t move the plot along, and which had no genuine consequence or jeopardy. So what’s the flaming point to watching them?People are getting miniaturised (and killed), and the Doctor (quite-out-of-character) simply doesn’t have time to care about murders. It left me numb too. Then we’ll get a talking-heads scene in which the characters are trying to make sense of what the hell’s going on. There are umpteen reveal moments that leave us none the wiser. And we wait for things to coalesce into something meaningful. And we wait. And we scratch our heads and wonder if we’ve missed something important, or dropped off at some important moment, or drunk too much wine. Maybe we’ve missed a crucial clue. But the final explanation of what is going on (after two whole episodes) was unguessable anyway, so the clues weren’t actually clues. And the big showdown finale… when the baddies flick the switch… is a complete and utter anti-climax. Computer says no. WTF?! One of the fundamental rules of writing good drama is that we must not deny the audience any of the ‘riches’ that they’ve been promised – if we have described a terrible threat, we must not simply abort the threat before the bad thing happens!
I watched episode 2 through a second time… and it was no more coherent on second viewing either. Jodie Whittaker was as brilliant as ever, as was Bradley Walsh. Honestly, they deserve better scripts. Still, there was so much thrown in that there were tantalising promises of what’s to come in the other eight episodes. They’d better not deny us those riches!
Well, the Weeping Angels don’t take the real Manhattan. The story starts in a Raymond Chandler type novel – a detective is employed by a mob boss to go investigate the angels. The detective sees himself die of old age in a bed in this building which is like a battery that feeds the angels. It’s never quite clear why the mob boss is interested in the angels – maybe it’s explained, but I must have missed it. We then cut to the Doctor reading the self-same novel. Amy, Rory and the Doctor then end up in the novel – not sure why, but they do – something to do with the fact that River Song wrote the book and if you read what happens it can’t be changed. Why the angels are in a novel, I’m not sure, but maybe it’s a way to trap them. The Doctor and his crew go to the battery building and see Rory as an old man. To create a time-paradox, Rory and Amy commit suicide – so he can’t die of old age, see. And that ‘pings’ everything back to how it was. Except there’s now an angel outside of the novel and it zings Rory and Amy back in time so that they die of old age. The end. The Doctor doesn’t like endings, we are told, but it is the end, apparently. It’s not clear to me why the Doctor can’t go back in time to pick up Amy and Rory again, but it’s something to do with it having been ‘written’ on a gravestone. Hmm. Go over why real life events have to follow those of a fictional book characters again?
So, we have a strange conceit with the novel, the ‘death’ of the Ponds, the Weeping Angels and a River Song subplot all going on in 45mins. Too much. It can never remain coherent. Plot holes all over the shop. And explain to me why the Doctor can’t just push the angel statues down the stairs and have them break into bits. For me, this episode should never have been allowed to be a single episode. As it is, the entire series is now finished and only five episodes made. What’s going on? They need to go back to basics: give me a monster that makes me hide behind the sofa, give me the Doctor in genuine jeopardy, give me the Doctor doing something clever to get out of a seemingly impossible situation, and then give me a joke to reassure me that all is well with the universe. Stop with the DIY psychoanalysis of what makes the Doctor tick, stop with time dwelt on sappy assistants, stop with the whole ‘domestic’ Doctor vibe. Get back to the core of the Doctor Who experience, please. Thank you. This is the end.
Imagine all the Rubik’s cubes in the world suddenly became active alien weapons that could stop your heart. Surely there’d be enough of them lying about the place to wipe out most of humanity. That’s kind of what this latest episode of Doctor Who is about. And it’s a strong episode indeed, because it has original insights into the nature of modern human behaviours, etc. It’s a fascinating and hypnotic watch. It’s about how we like to collect things and we are endlessly curious (remember what curiosity does to poor old cats), but how we also get bored and casual about things far too easily.
Amy and Rory wake up to find that the world has been covered in curious black cubes. People bring them into their homes and workplaces, devising all sorts of everyday uses for them. The Doctor turns up, concerned about what the cubes might actually be, but goes bonkers waiting for something to happen. Meanwhile, people get on with their everyday lives and get used to having the cubes everywhere. There’s a great comedic subplot of Rory’s dad keeping a daily ‘log’ about his inactive cube, as the Doctor’s asked him to keep a careful watch on the cube.
Eventually, the cubes wake up and set about exterminating us. It turns out an alien race (the Shakri) that not even the Timelords were sure existed are behind it all. They are intent on wiping out the contagion that is humanity before we can begin to populate the wider universe.
Definitely worth the watch all in all. Next week: the return of the Angels.