Doctor Who Review: Spyfall Part One

by thethreepennyguignol

“God, I hope this isn’t shit,” My partner remarked next to me as the credits for the Doctor Who festive special, Spyfall, began to roll.

“It’s supposed to be shit,” I countered, through a mouthful of nachos and probably also some cat hair. And I’m right, dammit! The festive specials, as I’ve written before, are for consumption under the low, heady fug of drunk-hungover-overfed haze that comes in the netherworld between Christmas and the start of real life once more. It should be silly, rollicking, and mostly possible to absorb without running at one-hundred percent. So, with that in mind, maybe my standards for the first part of this double-header were a little reduced – I was really expecting not much more than a jolly standalone adventure with some British thesps, much like last year.

So perhaps that’s why I was honestly so impressed by this hour of television. Look, I have missed Doctor Who like I have missed a hole in the head, which is to say, I need to it to breathe, eat, and generally live, and honestly, any injection of Jodie in this role into my life is the red-hot life-force I need to make it through another miserable year unscathed. If anything, she’s just continued to grow into this role in the time away from it, and the writing has grown more around her – she’s witty, she’s charming, she’s compassionate, she’s not afraid to laugh in Stephen Fry’s face like he never mattered in the first place (and she’s wearing a suit and that one Special Gay Earring that was signalling to me directly so 2020 is looking more and more like the year I’m going to come out as Lesbodoctorual, so jot that down).

And I think she’s well-supported by the rest of the cast here, particularly Mandeep Gill as Yas, who gets some real emotional stakes to land in this episode and delivers them perfectly; Toisin Cole as Ryan also seems to have settled a little more into his place in the cast, with his inept goofery a fun side-note to this outing. Bradley Walsh is solid as ever, and Lenny Henry, noted thesp and Elder God, turns in a suitably sinister villainous performance here, too.

But it’s really the energy of this episode that I appreciated more than anything – it’s a chaotic, overstuffed caper, a spy mission that leaps through countries and settings and tones, that juggles ridiculous villains and motorcycle chases and brilliant gags and manages to somehow keep it all together for the big twist. In fact, it only feels right that an episode this ridiculous, this contrived, this pointed ends the way it does – with the re-introduction of the Master.

Ah, yes, it might be an obvious cliffhanger, but damn, Chibbers managed to hold off on delivering it at least this long. Sacha Dhawan as the new Master pulls a fabulously Gomez-esque heel-turn and reveals himself at the end of the episode, and honestly, even just these few minutes we get with him are a treat: he’s expressive, childish, petulant, totally evil, and knows the Doctor better than anyone else in the world. The difficulty with any new version of the Master is finding the line between “panto villain but with the ability to end the universe” and “abjectly annoying tosspot”, and, while we’ve only just caught a glimpse of how this one operates, I’ve got to say I like it.

It is to my great surprise that I can say that this is a really good episode of Doctor Who – and one that promises to have major impact on the series as a whole. Normally, I would be against cramming this much solid plot into a festive special such as this one, but Skyfall manages to land the goofy jollity and just nudge in a little actual plotworthiness right there and the end, so it slides by for now. And frankly, I can’t wait to see where we’re going next week – and how Sacha Dhawan will play out as the newest version of our favourite bad gender-non-conforming villain/ess.

And now, the whousekeeping! If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to check out the rest of my Doctor Who recaps right here and hey, how about checking out my movie blog, No But Listen? If you just stop by for these recaps, then might I draw your attention to the fact that my first book, Rape Jokes,was released in between the previous festive specials? And, should you be one of those gluttons for punishment who comes for the Stephen Moffat-roasting a-plenty, please check in tomorrow, when I’ll be starting my recaps of his new take on the Dracula story.

(header image via HITC)