Title: Spyfall (Parts 1 & 2)
Release Date: 1 January 2020 and 8 January 2020
Network: BBC One
Genre: Science Fiction, Drama
Spyfall (Part 1)
On New Year’s Day 2019, Chris Chibnall breathed new life into the Daleks. The end result put the New Year’s special Resolution on the map as one of Jodie Whittaker’s best. One year later, and the show returns for its twelfth series. It hits the ground running with intelligence operatives around the world meeting their fates at the hands of wall morphing shapes of light, the Kasaavin.
As a result, the Doctor, Graham, Ryan, and Yaz are promptly summoned by MI6. Following a near-death experience in a self-reversing car and killer Sat-Nav, they meet C, played to perfection by Stephen Fry. I’d hoped he’d have had a bigger part to play, but unfortunately, he’s bumped off within fifteen minutes.
After only five minutes of screentime, he’s gone but will foreshadow the big reveal of the first episode as he utters his final word, oh…
Beyond the sad demise of C, we meet Lennie Henry’s Daniel Barton, the CEO of the search engine media company VOR, with the story jumping radically between San Fransisco and the Australian Outback. Here they meet Sacha Dhawan’s O, a former agent struck off by C tasked with investigating alien activity.
Ryan and Yaz investigate Barton and discover he’s only 93% human. At this point, it feels slightly exhausting considering the number of plot lines at play.
Yaz is forcibly pulled into the Kasaavan’s dimension, an alien landscape reminiscent to the upside-down in Stranger Things. Her character left a lot to be desired last season. This year, however, it appears this might be changing, as Chibnall provided a couple of intriguing moments of conversation between her and Ryan.
The birthday party delivers enough promise as the episode nears a conclusion but sadly falls flat of being remarkable once the Master reveals his hand.
The highlight of the first came in the form of Sacha Dhawan’s O, who was revealed at the end of Episode 1 as The Master. Right on cue, the girlish squealing noise erupts from me and everyone else. Yeah, you all did it. Sacha Dhawan’s performance was as maniacal as the great John Simm during the Tennant years. His incarnation of the iconic Time Lord renegade bought to mind his performance as Manish Prasad in Line Of Duty.
He exiles the Doctor to the ominous upside-down realm, seen earlier by Yaz, detonates the cockpit with a bomb, leaving the Doctor with the ominous warning: “Everything that you think you know, is a lie”.
Spyfall (Part 2)
As the Doctor remains trapped within the Kasaavin realm, Graham, Ryan, and Yaz prevent their plane from crashing. With the help of an app and prerecorded messages from the Doctor, everyone survives.
The story shifts to London in 1834, leave the Doctor stranded at the mercy of the Master. He gatecrashes the Adelaide Gallery with his shrinking device and begins mercilessly…, shrinking…, people, killing indiscriminately because he believed someone moved.
There’s a charm to Dhawan’s unpredictable egomaniac performance that makes me hope he’ll stay around for many more years to come.
Meanwhile, Daniel Barton forces Graham, Ryan, and Yaz into hiding, manipulating modern technology to his advantage. We further come to learn the Kasaavin are alien spies infiltrating Earth through multiple time periods.
Later on, Graham, Ryan, and Yaz discuss what they truly know about the Doctor, from her regeneration to O’s comments about her past as a man. It certainly makes me believe they’ll expand on this arc further down the line. This scene was as enjoyable to watch as the Doctor and the Master communicating through Morse Code, repeating that ever-familiar rhythm of four beats.
Tap tap tap tap…
The Timeless Child
So the alliance between The Master, Daniel Barton, and the Kasaavin culminated in a plan to rewrite the DNA of the world to utilize its storage capacity as hard drives. It’s a satisfying, well-rounded plot that justifies the two-part format.
The Master is smartly double-crossed by the Doctor, who records him betraying the alliance with the Kasaavin before they exile him in their realm and leave him there. Of course, he’ll be back…
As well as Sacha Dhawan’s erratic portrayal of the Master, the strongest moments came at the end with the heartbreaking revelation of Gallifrey’s destruction. Previously assumed safe in its bubble universe, it appears no more, as the Doctor watches on, horrified.
The final Doctor/Master interaction was a marvel to watch. He makes reference to the ‘timeless child’, first mentioned in last year’s The Ghost Monument.
Jodie Whittaker has certainly matured into her role as the Doctor. From her return to a devastated Gallifrey and the interactions with Sacha Dhawan’s Master, these serve as particular highlights. Furthermore, the brilliant Dhawan is contracted for the final two episodes of Series 12, so there’s hope the Gallifrey story will continue with answers to the timeless child.
Other highlights include Chibnall’s ability to create powerful female characters, (Ada Lovelace and Noor Inayat Khan) and the introduction of entirely new adversaries with the Kasaavin, a trend set last year with the absence of recurring villains.
Verdict: Spyfall then is a strong return to form for Doctor Who. The scope of the story is to be admired, but sometimes less is more. It appears Chibnall tries to juggle too many plot elements and as a result, it’s a very busy two-parter.
In a standalone Doctor Who story, Lenny Henry would have had enough time to really come into his own villain. Daniel Barton was certainly relevant enough in the context of the story, but ultimately just felt a tad underwhelmed.
Spyfall is a fantastic story full of laughs, surprises, empowering messages on feminism and also, the Master as a Nazi. Can’t say much more than that.
For more from the series, check out Doctor Who Infinity, launched by Tiny Rebel Games last November on mobile, PC and Mac.
- Strong performances from Jodie Whittaker and Sacha Dhawan
- Interactions between Ryan and Yaz
- The eerie Kasavaan
- Stephen Fry suffers from a lack of screentime and dies
- Feels as if the story tries to juggle too many plot elements