This review contains spoilers for Spyfall, Part Two (and by extension, Spyfall, Part One). If you haven’t seen either episode yet, come back after watching.
These are the dark times. But they don’t sustain. Darkness never sustains…even though sometimes it feels like it might.
With the Doctor gone, Graham, Yaz and Ryan are trapped on Daniel Barton’s crashing plane, whilst the Doctor encounters a lady called Ada in the mysterious realm she has been transported to. Meanwhile, Barton, the Master and the Kasavin are putting the finishing touches on their plot to destroy humanity.
Well, my brain is indeed ‘fizzing’. It’s always a bit of a lottery with two-part stories to see whether or not they stick the landing, and by and large, Spyfall, Part Two really does this. There are some elements that again are unsuccessful, however, this is probably my favourite Chris Chibnall story to date. Series 12 so far feels like it is the same show as those from the Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat eras of the show, with Series 11 increasingly feeling like an outlier. Where Part One was a Bond movie, Part Two continues the spy motif but feels as though it almost transforms towards Le Carré or the Bourne films with some moments including moments of a looming sense of dread.
You’re not the only one who can do classic.
The Doctor and the Master
It is safe to say that Chibnall has certainly achieved something with a strong and confident opener for Series 12, even if some of his ideas may seem borrowed from Doctor Who’s back catalogue – the signs for Ryan onboard Barton’s plane feel like they have been heavily lifted from Blink for instance, which enable Ryan, Yaz and Graham to avoid crashing, but I still enjoyed the execution. Additionally, I don’t like the fact that the explanation for the resolution to the Part One cliffhanger is just a case of the Doctor going back and fixing it after the event, although I do prefer it to a theory that I saw floating around about the whole of the first part happening in a virtual reality, so it does bug me, but not massively. I do like the fact that the story actually serves to further wider continuity, and I think Chibnall deserves some credit for making this series feel a lot more connected than Series 11. As much as I enjoyed the last series, the moments of ‘fan service’, like the four knocks in Morse code, ‘contact’, the Doctor and the Master talking about, and the Doctor visiting Gallifrey is really lovely for people who have followed the show for a while, but it is dealt with without feeling overbearing. The story is focused on humanity’s trust in technology, cleverly seeded right at the start of the first part of this story with Yaz’s dad struggling with setting up his Alexa device. It is no mistake that Barton’s conference towards the end of this story feels like an Apple press launch, right down to what Lenny Henry’s villain is wearing. Whilst I’m not happy with the way that this plot thread gets thrown away to explore what has happened to Gallifrey, the story element works really well.
When I kill them, Doctor, it gives me a little buzz. Right here. In the hearts. It’s like…How would I describe it? It’s like…It’s like knowing I’m in the right place, doing what I was made for.
After his dramatic unveiling in the closing moments of the preceding part, Sacha Dhawan’s Master feels completely unhinged, beyond perhaps what we saw with John Simm’s Master in The End of Time. He feels unstoppable, going so far to set up a lot of leg work to allow him to go undercover with the Nazis during World War Two, rather than being the almost thoughtless killer he is in Industrial Revolution era Britain. Nowhere is this better highlighted than his entrance into the Science Fair in 1834 where he indiscriminately fires his Tissue Compression Eliminator at innocent people and taking glee in this. This is a drastically different Master to Michelle Gomez’s and Chibnall does start to sow the seeds of what has happened to make him this way at the end of this part and I think that he really does understand the character of the Master. He is ultimately not interested in the Kasaavin or Barton, knowing that he will be able to ‘get rid of them’ once his plan has come to fruition – he is in it for his own gain and to get one over on the Doctor, which ultimately leads to his downfall. I love how pleased he is in the immediate aftermath of his big reveal that he’s got one over the Thirteenth Doctor. Despite the fact that the Master does try to kill the Doctor and on his pursuit of her through time, there are hints of the previous friendship that the two characters shared, compounded by the Master’s message to the Doctor telling her why he felt compelled to destroy Gallifrey and seemingly kill all of the Time Lords. Dhawan completely sells this unhinged Master who feels like he’s never going to stop hunting the Doctor as she travels through time and I feel confident in asserting that, despite the conclusion of the story with the Doctor leaving him to the mercy of the Kasaavin, we haven’t seen the last of this incarnation.
Speaking of villains, Lenny Henry’s Daniel Barton feels threatening here too, even if he understandably takes a bit more of back seat to Sacha Dhawan here. His use of technology to make the companions fugitives and his treatment of his mother really sets him up as a nasty piece of work and Henry does really well here. There are similarities between his character and the Master, as underneath it all, there does seem to be a pathological desire to be noticed – the Master certainly feels it towards the Doctor and Barton explicitly states it to his mother. The Kasaavin also still feel quite mysterious although we do know that they are spies from another dimension, and they are in an uneasy alliance with both the Master and Barton to wipe out the human race.
This is not designed for use by a young lady!
Nothing is. And yet, I find myself more than capable.
Inventor and Ada
One of the story’s best moves is to split up the Doctor from her companions. Throughout Series 11, it felt like they were all on a lead and could not possibly stray too far from the Doctor which really inhibited all four’s development as characters. Here, we get to see what this incarnation of the Doctor would get up to without her ‘fam’, as well as allowing the companions a moment to shine without being in the Doctor’s shadow. Whittaker’s Doctor shows as much resourcefulness as her predecessors, recruiting people that she believes will be able to help her as she jumps from London in 1834 to Paris in 1943, recruiting Ada Gordon (later to be Ada Lovelace) and Noor Inayat Khan, Britain’s first Muslim war heroine, whilst trying to evade the Master. Both of these characters are great one-off companions to the Doctor, although I can imagine the reactions from certain sections of the internet to the Doctor pairing off with two strong females from history. In my opinion, the story handles these historical figures well and there are two solid performances here. Whittaker is also in superb form here, especially in her scenes opposite Dhawan’s charismatic Master and especially in her reaction following on from her visit to Gallifrey and on hearing that the Master killed the Time Lords.
If you’re seeing this…you’ve been to Gallifrey. When I said someone did that…obviously I meant…I did.
Graham, Ryan and Yaz really benefit from this separation too. It is interesting to see their reactions when they realise that they have stay safe and prove that they too are resourceful. Yaz looks to take charge from the beginning, but equally, I don’t feel that any of them are very shortchanged. It is also nice for them to be able to interact with each other and speak about the bonkers world of being a friend of the Doctor. Their discussion about the Doctor in the building site is great – these companions only have a vague idea of regeneration and no idea of where the Doctor comes from. It is nice to have some elements of this addressed by the end of the episode, even if the Doctor avoids telling the truth about Gallifrey’s current state, almost reminiscent of the Doctor talking to Martha about his home planet in Gridlock. There’s part of me that only wishes that this moment had come sooner.
Verdict: Spyfall, Part Two nails the setup and delivers on Part One’s promise. Dhawan looks to be inspired casting as the Master and the callbacks and references allow this to feel much more connected than the previous series. 9/10
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Sacha Dhawan (The Master), Lenny Henry (Daniel Barton), Struan Rodgers (Voice of the Kasaavin), Sylvie Briggs (Ada Lovelace), Aurora Marion (Noor Inayat Khan), Mark Dexter (Charles Babbage), Shobna Gulati (Najia Khan), Ravin J Ganatra (Hakim Khan), Bhavnisha Parmar (Sonya Khan), Andrew Pipe (Inventor), Tom Ashley (Airport Worker), Kenneth Jay (Perkins) & Blanche Williams (Barton’s Mother).
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Lee Haven Jones
Behind the Scenes
- The gap between Part One and Part Two of this story is the shortest since The Twin Dilemma Part 3 and Part 4.
- Sacha Dhawan learnt of his casting as the Master whilst starring in a play opposite former Doctor Peter Capaldi in January 2019, but was sworn to secrecy.
This might be split this week between the Morse Code sequence, with the four heartbeats – the combination of the score picking it up and Dhawan’s reaction make this so great.
The second is the Doctor’s reaction to the Master’s video message about Gallifrey and the blue TARDIS interior!
That’s your name. Don’t wear it out.
The Master and the Doctor