Spyfall, Part Two

Story No. 315 Sieg heil
Production Code Series 12, Episode 2
Dates January 8, 2020

With Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill
Written by Chris Chibnall Directed by Lee Haven-Jones
Executive Producers: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens

Synopsis: The Doctor assembles a team of computer expects from history.

Note: The one-year moratorium on spoilers will be strictly enforced.


"Sweet Dreams, Ada Lovelace" by Jason A. Miller 28/3/20

"When I kill them, Doctor, it gives me a little buzz right here. In the hearts."
-- the Master, Spyfall, Part Two

The end of Spyfall, Part One was one of the most interesting and effective cliffhangers of the New Series. We learned that 0, having infiltrated MI6, was now working with an American tech giant (a 60-something cross between Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, only British) and a strange glowing extra-dimensional species of ghosts identified in the end credits as the "Kasaavin".

The Internet wasn't used to having to unravel surprise cliffhangers like this -- we really hadn't had one since the end of World Enough and Time over two years ago. So Fandom quickly set to work telling us that we weren't really seeing what we were seeing. Fandom theorized that because Daniel Barton's company was called "Vor", that these white ghosts were really the Vardans from The Invasion of Time (even though they were called the Kasaavin in the episode credits).

Chris Chibnall obviously wasn't thinking like a Fan. Absolutely none of the predictions that I saw from Fandom were true. Not even one. Instead, Chibnall used the language of Doctor Who eras past to tell his story, continuing to change the course away from isolated Season 11 stories. But Spyfall Part Two, made in a different production block and with a different director than Part One, is different in tone from Part One. Gone is the Pertwee, and in its place is a familiar bag of tropes (good tropes, mostly), from the two previous show-runners.

The crashing-plane cliffhanger was resolved with a trick out of Blink (and it's always a good idea to borrow a plot device out of Blink). Fandom, incidentally, has decried this as a Bill & Ted trick rather than a Blink trick. I'm not even so sure why that would be a bad thing, but it feels more Blink to me.

Taking a page from Steven Moffat's frenetic, a-new-set-piece-every-five-minutes storytelling style, Chibnall then moves away from the linear Part One, and starts shaking up the locales. The Doctor winds up in the Royal Gallery of Practical Science in 1834 Adelaide. After a stop in his own TARDIS -- last seen flying through space next to Barton's plane in an acknowledged debt to the Gale farmhouse in The Wizard of Oz -- O lands in the same gallery and starts murdering people with a malicious glee.

After a meeting with Charles Babbage and (the future) Ada Lovelace in Adelaide, it's off to 1943 Paris and an encounter with the spy "Madeleine": Noor Inayat Khan. Because he's allied with the Kasaavin (who are revealed to be cross-temporal spies), O is able to pursue our heroes, briefly posing as a Nazi officer in Paris. Apart from the Blink homage, Chibnall also borrows Russell T. Davies' use of the Doctor Who theme melody to serve as a code, and it's how the Doctor can use Noor Inayat Khan's wireless to communicate with O and arrange a showdown atop the Eiffel Tower.

The climax is pure Davies. As in Rise of the Cybermen, humanity's attachment to personal technological devices makes a convenient bridgehead for the Kasaavin invasion, and the Kasaavin army does kinda resemble the Army of Ghosts. We see several random people throughout the world affected by the cell-phone invasion, comparable to several Davies-era montages.

Jodie Whittaker is right at home in this script. It's funny watching her figure out how to take over the room at the Royal Gallery, forgetting that she can't introduce herself as a man anymore. She acts concerned and maternal over Ada and is properly David Tennant-esque whimsical in the Blink homage. Her Eiffel-tower confrontation is peppered with a quick reference to Logopolis -- "Did I ever apologize for that?" "No." "Good.". The end twist also allows her to show true angst and discomfort for the first time, which we already know Whittaker as an actress can play so well.

Sacha Dhawan is a revelation. After his calming and flirtatious turn as O in Part One, Dhawan goes full over the top, showing barely-controlled glee and barely-controlled rage all at once. He takes an openly pathological joy in killing. But why?

The writing is intelligent. Chibnall places Babbage and Lovelace and Madeleine as pegs on a technological ladder, at which Barton, the evil tech genius who kills his own mother for having failed to ever praise him, is the unfortunate conclusion. Ryan instructing Graham and a reluctant Yaz to smash their phones is a bit of a mission statement against the intrusive perils of modern technology. But not all technology is bad. Lovelace is descended from Byron, so the Doctor tells us twice, and Madeleine is a pacifist. They have soul. It's Barton who lacks the humanity (in his case, literally) necessary to manage new technology. And Graham with his tap-dancing laser shoes, a comical moment in an otherwise fairly intense story, is the essence of humanity.

The continuity references are back, after taking a vacation for most of Series 11. We hear the phrase "artron energy" again, and I have to say, I love it any time that the much-maligned Four to Doomsday achieves immortality.

There are two possible weaknesses in this script. One, the Nazis. O heading a presumed SS patrol takes some whimsy out of the character, and the Doctor cruelly using Dhawan's skin color against him is a bit tone-deaf, like her intentionally mispronouncing "Tim Shaw"'s name last year. The other is the ending(s). The invasion plot is thwarted about seven minutes early. With the extra time -- Spyfall is the longest Chibnall Doctor Who script -- we have time for two extensive denouements. First, the episode plot concludes on a grand optimistic note, as the Doctor returns Ada and Madeleine to their home eras. But she erases their memories first, which is something we didn't see the Doctor do even when he literally had Albert Einstein in the TARDIS.

"Answer me one question. The fascists. Do they win?"
"Never. Not while there's people like you."
Um, not yet, not in 2020 we haven't defeated the fascists yet. A little help, Doctor?

Following that, the Doctor is distracted with a crisis all her own. O, in a parting video recording (in which Dhawan appears to be wearing William Hartnell's trousers and clutching his lapels), delivers a message and a riddle. The Timeless Child, a seemingly throwaway reference buried in The Ghost Monument (buried so deeply that I've seen it twice but don't even remember it), is not what we think it is (if we thought of it at all). This revelation is almost certainly what triggered O to become so, so murderous. How will it affect the 13th Doctor?

Now Series 12 has something that Series 11 always lacked: a purpose. Chibnall didn't deliver one in the Series 11 finale but now has set a big task for himself in Series 12. In two months, we'll find out if he succeeded.

2 Review by Matthew Sorflaten 8/7/20

Hmm, I have to say, I was disappointed by this one, right after I was starting to think Doctor Who was getting back on track. It was nowhere near as bad as the lows of Series 11, but still a long way away from Doctor Who at its best.

The best parts of this episode for me were the bits between Thirteen and O. I wasn't sure what I thought of him after his brief, but maniacal appearance at the end of part 1, so was pleased to see Sacha show a bit more restraint in part 2. He's definitely not my favourite by a long way, but I definitely believed him as the character, killing people needlessly, forcing the Doctor to show him respect. I especially liked the bit where he gto so angry he grabbed the Doctor's throat. The rivalry between himself and the Doctor definitely felt real: it was as though he was determined to prove to the Doctor the brilliance of his schemes, that he was the Doctor's superior. I liked the line 'That's low, even for him' and 'We went down very different paths'; these were definitely the best bits of the episode, and I am relieved that Chibnall hasn't ruined things, as I feared he would. Sacha gave a fine performance, portraying O as vicious, unstable and occasionally vulnerable.

The rest was all very average. I wasn't interested in what was going on with Ryan, Yaz and Graham. It was basically The Sound of Drums, just not as good (and I don't even like that one much). Daniel Barton proved to be something of an anticlimactic villain after showing promise: the scene where he killed just seemed slotted in, as though just to show us how evil he was, and it didn't really work for me. Barton's speech about everyone giving all their private information online to companies who promise they won't do anything with it did interest me, though, as I've wondered about that myself, but it didn't really go anywhere.

The Kassavan were also disappointing. I was very interested in them in Part 1, but nothing at all was revealed about them in Part 2. I was convinced they were Cybermen at first: their outline resembles the Cybermen, it reminded me of Army of Ghosts, and Barton was going on a lot about conversion. When the humans started transforming, I thought they were all going to be turned into Cybermen and we'd be getting an epic cliffhanger. I actually thought Chibnall had cleverly promoted this episode as a 2-parter when it was in fact a 3-parter and we were getting a surprise cliffhanger... but no, the Doctor just turned up, saved the day and that was that. Just a bit too neat, and gave the episode a bit of an aimless feel, after providing a lot of anticipation in the first part.

All in all, if I were to watch this episode again, it would be for the Doctor-O scenes and nothing else. I quite liked the inclusion of the historical figures. I know some didn't, but although the episode would have worked fine without them, it was good to see some strong female figures of history in the show.

Quite good, but very flawed, is the best I can say about this one. I prefer this to anything in Series 11; it's good to have the Doctor Who lore book opened and be shown that Chibnall actually does know his Who (I was really starting to doubt he'd even seen the classic series). The reference to Logopolis was nice, although didn't he refer to the place it was filmed? Shouldn't he have said the Pharos Project? That's a very geeky nitpick, though. I'll give this 6/10, which is pretty much what I think it deserves