Posts Tagged With: spyfall

God Is In The Detail (12-02)

Good morrow, fair citizens. Perchance you tuned in here for the latest in our round-up of HIGHLY IMPORTANT CLUES AND REFERENCES in this week’s Doctor Who? You did? Well, that’s marvellous. Pull up a chair and let me tell you about all the stuff you missed in the second part of ‘Spyfall’. Today we’ll be dealing with hidden signs, fake numbers and the return of an old companion. Anyone bring biscuits?

We’re off to Jodrell Bank first. You’ll recall that, in war torn Paris, the Doctor alluded to a previous encounter she’d had with the Master, which ended in a large fall from a radio telescope and a regeneration. Never mind the fact that ‘Logopolis’ wasn’t actually filmed at Jodrell Bank, or even set there – that’s either Chibnall demonstrating ineptitude or carelessness or deliberately trolling the fanbase, depending on whom you ask. The implication is obvious: it’s supposed to be about the Fourth Doctor’s tumble from the tower, and one of the most moving handovers ever committed to film. It doesn’t take an idiot to figure that out, even if you can quibble about whether the idiot himself is the current chief writer.

So the Master asks if he’s ever apologised for it, and the Doctor says no he hasn’t, and the Master simply replies “Good”. And this seemingly innocuous exchange means nothing at all, until you figure out that it’s actually foreshadowed EARLIER IN THIS EPISODE. And if you doubt me, look at the numbers on Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine.

Note two things: first, the presence of the large black rod that marks the place where the number 5 is supposed to be; second, the number of teeth (12) that sit across the bottom part of that cog, which refers specifically to the number of times the Doctor regenerated before reaching the end of his first cycle. The significance of the numbers of the right I will leave for you to fathom. Be warned that the discovery is not a pleasant one.

From 1830s London we’re shifting gears to contemporary Essex – well, it’s not Essex, but I’ll explain why in a moment. Here’s Bradley, Tosin and Mandip, examining maps in the middle of a bustling town.

I did Google it, without success, but the Facebook Hive Mind has confirmed that this was shot in Barry, specifically at King Square – location map as follows:

There are several things to note, not least of which is the large human figure sitting on top of a gym ball (see below). But it’s the geography of the neighbouring streets that I want you to examine, because believe it or not it’s all tied up with none other than Martha Jones. A quick Street View perusal of the area reveals the following, within close proximity:

Superdrug
Cats Protection
Guardian Jewellery

Hmm. Cats? In a story with drugs? On a street that’s been designated one way for more than half its length (southwestbound) in order to alleviate GRIDLOCK? You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? But why Martha specifically? Well, that’s tied up partly with street names – one of the roads leading off King Square is the B4294, which relates DEFINITIVELY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY to ’42’, which also starred Martha. But I also want you to think back to ‘The Infinite Quest’, in which the Doctor and Martha embarked on a series of adventures to recover various items of jewellery From this we can conclude that Martha will return in a story featuring the Black Guardian, who seeks a magic ring that will allow him to wield ultimate power unless it is melted in the fires of Mount Doom a trinket of some sort.

Oh, I promised you that gym ball, didn’t I? Here it is.

Next, a phone number.

For those of you who have yet to look this up, let me save you the trouble: 01632 pertains to a fictional area code that is, for the present, the exclusive domain of TV and film. In other words, it’s when they want to show a phone number but they don’t want everyone freeze-framing the TV and trying to call the Ghostbusters Firehouse, or Torchwood Three, or God. Try it. You’ll get nowhere.

But it’s the number that follows – ascribed to that payphone in the middle of ‘Essex’ – that is curious. Because 960470 actually refers to something very specific. It’s not a pantone reference. It’s not a Nissan part number. It’s not an Amazon product code. Well, actually it’s all three, and then some, but that’s not why we’re here. It actually refers to a photo uploaded to Geograph, taken by a chap named Tony Aitken, on the Camel Trail near Nanstallon in Cornwall. Not far from Bodmin, home to a substantial Masonic Hall, several nice churches and an enormous mythological cat. And if you’ve ever wondered why Doctor Who hasn’t done Bodmin Moor yet, now you know. It’s coming next year. We called it.

Finally, we’re back at the start of the episode, during the scene where Ryan’s crawling across the burning plane to find…this.

You didn’t need me to tell you, but this is all connected with anagrams. ‘SEAT POCKET’ can be rearranged to form the words ‘CASKET POET’, clearly alluding to a story in which the Doctor encounters a deceased writer. That’s about half the poets on the block, and then some. It’s a good start, but where do we go from there? Which poet is he talking about? Shelley? Keats? Byron? Shakespeare?

Oh look, there she is again. You’ve had your turn, Martha, now sit down.

No, actually, stand up. Because the truth – stranger than fiction – is linked to the words ‘Dead Poets Society’, the 1989 coming-of-age drama starring Robin Williams as the unorthodox Mr Keating. In other words, this doesn’t just refer to one poet: it’s a whole bunch of them. But it’s the initials I want you to examine, because DPS is not only the abbreviated form of Peter Weir’s Oscar Nominated Magnum Opus – it also stands for Descent Propulsion System, a rocket engine used in the Apollo moon landings. An event which was witnessed by Martha. In a story that’s just featured in a crossover comic starring the Thirteenth Doctor. You’re welcome.

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Have I Got Whos For You (series 12 edition, part one)

Halloo! There will be fresh a conspiracy theory roundup very soon – of course there will – but to tide you over until then, here’s the first bi-weekly edition of memes from this year’s Doctor Who series, along with topical stuff that simply couldn’t wait. I am tapping this while waiting for the shopping to arrive, and Tesco do have a tendency to be early, so let’s crack on, shall we?

‘Spyfall’ first: and, in a joke that is probably going to appeal to a maximum of three people, there’s a major upset when the Doctor tries to decode the Kasaavin signal.

In the year 200,000 there’s much hilarity on Twitter when Billie Piper botches an easy question.

Taking refuge during a Kansas cyclone, young Dorothy Gale gets a nasty shock when she looks out of the window.

And fresh from his appearance in a Japanese TV trailer, Baby Sonic dashes from the Green Hill Zone to the fields of Provence to give his flower to a very special painter.

In a Trenzalore cemetery, a whispered conversation reveals the truth behind the controversy around last year’s Christmas blockbuster.

And stranded on Earth and forced to live through most of the twentieth century, the Master takes a job at the BBC.

“Do you know any sci-fi?”

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Review: Spyfall (Part Two)

Spoilers follow.

It’s 1988, and Keanu Reeves has just stepped into a phone box. It will be over a decade before he does this to escape from a hammy Man In Black; on this occasion it’s strictly academic, in the most literal sense. Keanu, you see, is playing one half of a time travelling twosome who need to pass a history test in order to save the world. In the company of Alex Winter (who did Freaked and then dropped off the radar faster than Change UK), Keanu travels back and forth through time picking up various historical figures, getting in and out of scrapes, and playing air guitar a lot. Towards the end of the film, he and Alex are in something of a predicament: how, the two of them ponder, can their report be salvaged when there’s no time left to break people out of the lockup? The only solution is to go back and do it afterwards and leave everything they’ll need lying around, so that’s exactly what they do. Three years later, while waging war with an unpleasant P.E. teacher / would-be dictator in the middle of a Battle of the Bands contest, they win by using the same strategy. It’s cheating, really, but it works.

By and large – and this is not a criticism – Doctor Who doesn’t do it. Oh, there are moments. ‘The Curse of Fatal Death’ builds its entire opening episode around the conceit, as Rowan Atkinson and Jonathan Pryce trade insults and wave metaphorical tackle over opposing sides of a castle banqueting hall. It’s something apparently dear to the heart of Steven Moffat, and there would be periods, much later on, where it would become a convenient escape device from a seemingly impossible situation (cf. ‘Blink’, ‘The Big Bang’), or even a multi-episode plot device (hello series 6, pull up a chair and have a custard cream). But stories in which time travel is used as a plot device, rather than a convenient method of establishing a setting, seem to be on the wane in this bold new vision of the show. For better or worse, it seemed like these were days we’d left behind: that the complicated bootstrap paradoxes of ‘Before The Flood’ were largely – and do excuse the pun – a thing of the past. And so they were, until tonight.

That Chibnall uses it twice in the same episode (once to resolve a cliffhanger, once to save the Earth) isn’t necessarily a problem. A surreptitious rewiring is the sort of thing the Doctor does all the time; it’s how he cheats death in ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ and ‘Evolution of the Daleks’, so why shouldn’t it work when it’s applied across multiple time periods? It doesn’t even feel like Chibnall’s out of his depth, particularly: there are undoubtedly holes in the blanket but you could say that of any of Moffat’s stories, and thus it seems churlish to look for them. And for those of us who were expecting a last-minute spiriting away to the Master’s TARDIS, accompanied by the words “I’d much rather enjoy the satisfaction of watching the Doctor’s friends die while she was here to witness it” (which is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect to happen) it came as a pleasant surprise when Ryan crawled commando-style up the floor of the jet only to see his name written on the wall, like discovering your name on a gift underneath an explosive Christmas tree that’s now caught fire. Landing a plane with a mobile phone? Well, Bond did it with a car. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, particularly when it can spirit you away from white glowing aliens, or men with guns.

No, the problem with ‘Spyfall: Part Two’ has nothing to do with silly plot devices; it’s simply that the pacing is off. Having the Doctor travel two hundred years into the past to pick up Ada Lovelace is absolutely fine. The pages of exposition seemingly necessary to explain her importance, however, are downright tedious. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in 1830s London with Charles Babbage or war torn Paris with the cast of ‘Allo ‘Allo; Whittaker paces and monologues and gushes about the admirable pioneering qualities of the people whose memories she will eventually wipe, reeling out the history, seemingly unaware that she’s left her mates in 21st century Essex. It’s like watching a BBC Schools presenter on crack. I’m being unnecessarily unkind, but there is a reason why the Doctor is not allowed to travel alone; occasionally she needs someone to tell her to shut up.

The story – such as it is – concerns a secret conspiracy by tech guru Daniel Barton to wipe the minds of most of the planet’s populace (presumably with some sort of temporary infrastructure on standby to compensate for the socioeconomic cataclysm that would inevitably follow) in order to satisfy the whims of an alien race who, it is hoped, we will see again, if only so they can give us something by way of character motivation. There are plans to enslave the Earth, but we don’t know why; nor are we particularly concerned about any of it. The mysterious non-space between worlds is given no decent explanation, even though it is clearly crying out for one; nor do we get any real clue as to why the Kasaavin were tracking the development of technology, not least a prototype computer that never really worked to begin with. Considering they’re clearly up for teaching a bit of history it would have been nice to include at least a couple of lines about what Lovelace and Babbage were actually doing, but we don’t even get that, which makes it all the trickier to work out why the otherworldly beings were sniffing around 1830s Marylebone. Even the Gelth – as featured in Mark Gatiss’ greatly troubled ‘Unquiet Dead’ – had more of a backstory.

It’s left to the companions to fill in the gaps, which they do with varying degrees of success: Graham is clearly enjoying his laser shoes, operating them with pixel-perfect precision even in the absence of a manual (seriously, did none of this lot watch The Greatest American Hero?), while Ryan whoops and tries not to clap too loudly for fear of launching a missile from his forearms. Yas, on the other hand, has clearly been on one secondment too many, as she seems to have forgotten that she’s a police officer: finding jobs for three companions is tricky at the best of times, which was why Nyssa was always getting headaches, but Gill’s role this week is to sit in darkened warehouses looking clueless while the men have all the fun. There is a melancholy about Yas as she does this; perhaps she’s seen the scripts for the rest of the series and realised that they’re establishing a pattern.

While all this is going on, the Doctor is travelling back and forth (but mostly forth) throughout history, pursued by the new Master, adorned in any number of period costumes in the manner of a recurring Highlander villain (his induction into the Aryan-fetishising Gestapo is, at least, explained, although you can’t help thinking it didn’t really need to be). Unmasked, unleashed and quite possibly unhinged, Sacha Dhawan once again proves himself to be the best thing about this new series by a mile, trading insults with the Doctor atop la Tour Eiffel and getting trigger happy with his Tissue Compressor in polite company. The two of them even get to indulge in a bit of telepathy (after repeatedly spelling out the letter ‘H’ on a Morse transmitter) in a scene that will either make Classic fans cheer or howl with rage, depending on whether we’re talking about Gatiss or Ian Levine. Deadly when roused and even deadlier when quiet, Dhawan wears the skin of the Master like a well-fitted suit, toning down the craziness of his brief introduction last week in order to gloat and glare, before smouldering with rage when he reveals exactly who was responsible for Gallifrey’s apparent destruction.

Ah yes, that. There’s something slightly amateurish about the sight of that ashened, ruined wasteland some ten or fifteen minutes after we’ve heard the Master talking about it. It gives the Doctor a reason to pop over there (something she can apparently do at will now, even though the Time Lords are seemingly unable or unwilling to reciprocate) – still, how much better might it have been for us to first glimpse the ruined citadel completely unwarned? ‘Show, don’t tell’ is a maxim that gets thrown about far too much, but it still feels as if this was the perfect opportunity to use it – as it stands there is no shock value to the scene because we know it is coming, and the BBC presents only the most cursory of vistas, prompting only the mildest of reactions from the person looking at it. Would it have been too much to see the Doctor cry, or at least show some visible signs of upset besides sitting against a TARDIS wall, looking as blank and forlorn as Yas did earlier in the story?

Or perhaps that’s the point – perhaps this, too, is the calm before the storm, a storm the Doctor can only weather with the help of friends she is currently content to leave in the dark, thus setting the stage for six or seven episodes of skirting around the question of who she really is before a final, explosive confrontation. And perhaps that’s the only way to reinvent Gallifreyan history – something, it seems, Chibnall is about to do – without it becoming tedious. And it is destined to be tedious, this game of gods and monsters and prophecy. It is an awkward fact that stories about Time Lords – the anomaly of ‘Deadly Assassin’ aside – tend towards dullness, and it is difficult to see how the current regime could reinvent them. But it does, at least, give us something to ponder as the weeks unfold and the awkwardness in the console room builds towards an inevitable crescendo. Like it or not, we’re going back to Gallifrey, and all that remains now is to see how much of the fandom Chibnall can poke with a stick without losing the casual viewers. It’s a dangerous game, but so is getting out of bed, so one more step along the road we go.

Maybe Graham could bring along his laser shoes. That’d be fun.

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God Is In The Detail (12-01)

Rejoice, Doctor Who fans! After a year-long break – and then some – we’re back with another round of unearthed conspiracies, wild fan theory and VERY IMPORTAND AND SECRET INFORMATION, as we dissect and discuss the episodes in this year’s series.

For the uninitiated – and there may be a few of you – this aspect of Brian of Morbius all stems from a single episode of Sherlock – or, specifically, the interviews that followed it. Questioned, after the events of ‘The Reichenbach Fall’, as to how Benedict Cumberbatch could possibly have survived his topple from that roof, Steven Moffat replied that there was “a clue that everybody missed”. It prompted a flurry of speculation and enough wild goose chases to fill an Anna Paquin movie. But there was a truth to it, because Moffat did this sort of thing all the time, particularly when he was running Doctor Who, loading his stories with clues and signs as to the fantastical directions they were destined to take.

And so I set about finding them. Seven years later, we’re still going strong – it’s a mantle Chibnall seems to have inherited – and that’s why whenever a series comes out, you’ll find this blog filled with discussion about the SIGNIFICANT AND CLEARLY SIGNPOSTED CLUES AND HINTS as to where the series arc is going. Today we’re looking at part one of ‘Spyfall’, so I advise you not to read any further if it’s a story you have yet to see – but if you have, you may not have realised that it was full of hidden references, some of which took some considerable time and effort to dig up. Join us now, constant reader, as we take a tumble down the rabbit hole. Be warned that this way lies temporary madness, but also blissful enlightenment. And did you bring a tin opener?

We will start, as we almost invariably do, with a control panel.

“BE ALERT!” the monitor readout doesn’t quite say. “THE WORLD NEEDS LERTS!” I nearly compiled an annotated version of this, but there’s not an awful lot to do: note, however, a couple of things that may not be immediately obvious, particularly the 1959 in the top centre. 1959 was, of course, the year that the Seventh Doctor and Mel landed in Shangri-La, the Welsh holiday camp hiding a dark secret (no, not Michael Barrymore) – a CLEAR AND TRANSPARENT indication that Sylvester McCoy is set to make a return appearance, presumably alongside Belinda Mayne. There are a number of reasons why I’ve reached this conclusion, but one thing at a time.

Of significantly more interest is ‘G-BGUX’ on the right hand side, below the display. ‘Gux’, according to the Urban Dictionary, is a Swiss German colloquialism both for ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’. GB – referring, of course, to Great Britain – thus exists in a quantum state of both unification and division (did we mention Sylvester McCoy was Scottish and that parts of the show are still filmed in Wales?). Time is in flux, and our actions over the next twelve months could be crucial. And you thought Chris Chibnall was done with Brexit jokes.

The GR-AH reference, of course, should be self-explanatory, so I won’t waste my time unpacking that one. Now, have a look at this.

There are two key themes to this week’s collection of signs and portents: the Seventh Doctor (more of him in a bit) and the Master, whose sudden appearance at the end of the series 12 opener shocked and stunned the fandom. At least, it shocked and stunned those of us who didn’t know it was coming – something that was obvious in hindsight, or if you were simply paying attention. For instance, the computer monitor above contains three eye-shaped maps, corresponding DIRECTLY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY to the first three Doctors – and it is during the reign of the Third Doctor, the highlighted map, that the Master first appears. Moreover the shape of the maps is significant on a number of levels, pertaining as it does to the Eye of Harmony, the portable black hole that powered the TARDIS, first seen in full in ‘The Deadly Assassin’, which featured the Master, and then later in Doctor Who: The Movie, which featured the Seventh Doctor and also…well, you can see where this is going.

But if you watch ‘Spyfall’ properly you’ll find there are clues to the Master’s return hidden right at the beginning, notably in the secret message that the unnamed agent reads in the toilet in the pre-titles teaser. I had to tinker with this to get the clearest image, but it was worth it, because there is a wealth of information embedded in those numbers.

You see? It was right there in plain sight, and you all missed it. Look carefully next time. I can’t do all this on my own.

Next: a map. I love maps. [Affects Yorkshire accent, does slightly leery grin]

So far, so so-so. Alas there is no way of actually ascertaining the precise coordinates to which this map refers: you will be reassured, constant reader, that I spent many fruitless hours perusing the internet, the London and Sheffield street atlases and the Ordnance Survey archive at my local library in order to glean this information, but to no avail. I got through six bottles of Ribena last night trying to figure this out and I really need a wee.

Hang on.

Right, back. No, listen: there’s a good chance that the location is important, and I’m still waiting for my network of Dark Web contacts (who go under the pseudonyms of Lamster, Hedgehog and Glumpy) to dig up the goods. But in the absence of that, I did a little drawing of my own, and look what happens if you connect the occurrences of the word ‘DIE’.

Bad…WF? WF? What does that refer to? Bad Wolf is an obvious answer, if we were to find an O and an L from somewhere (probably down the back of the sofa; that’s the last time I saw the TV remote). But here’s a thing. You may be interested to know that Ian Lavender, star of Dad’s Army (and once seen by this reporter in pantomime in Canterbury, the winter of 1994) celebrates his birthday on 16 February – a Sunday, and the same day that the as-yet untitled episode 8 of series 12 is due to air. And if we insert the initials IL into WF, we get…Wilf.

What could could this mean? Is an ageing Bernard Cribbins set to return to Doctor Who taking the role of a darkened, decaying version of Donna’s grandfather, perhaps someone who’s had his body stolen? Is there some sort of crossover coming involving the heart of the TARDIS and Billie Piper’s teeth? Do we take any significance from the fact that this is episode 8, and that the Eighth Doctor made his debut in 1996 – fifty years to the year, incidentally, after Ian Lavender was born – facing off against Eric Roberts? Do we further take any significance from the fact that the aforementioned Lavender starred in Eastenders alongside the aforementioned Bonnie Langford?  I don’t know, and neither do you. But lest we forget, Wilf made his final appearance at the beginning of 2010 – that’s ten years ago, folks, TEN – in which he urged the Doctor to take up arms and kill the Master. But you’ll have to draw your own conclusions, I’m afraid. I know I have.

We’re almost done but there are two more things to show you. The first is this.

 

Two things to note: the fact that ’89’ is clearly visible on the readout, referring UNAMBIGUOUSLY AND EXPLICITLY to the year that Doctor Who was cancelled, right after ‘Survival’ (which featured, as we have previously noted, both the Seventh Doctor and the Master), and also the two pale orange lights near the top of the dial. Because here’s how it works: taking these as season numbers, and where the very first blue light at the top of the dial refers to 1963’s season 1, these two amber lights refer respectively to seasons 38 and 39 – in other words, taking into account a continuous numbering from Hartnell through to Whittaker, this year’s series and next. In other words, constant reader, this is a long game, and one that won’t be over until Whittaker’s third and likely final run of episodes, and episode 10 (which may be denoted by the percentage sign, if you examine it at just the right angle) is going to end on a massive cliffhanger.

And it’s worth remembering, of course, precisely where Ryan and Graham’s roulette ball chose to land.

Anyway, the tea’s getting cold. See you next time.

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Review: Spyfall

   

Warning: a plethora of spoilers follow.

The other night, my family and I sat down to watch Johnny English Strikes Again. It’s been on the to-do list for a while and we had a spare ninety minutes, which is all it takes for David Kerr to tell his tale of a haphazard secret agent pulled out of retirement when all the other active agents across the globe become suddenly and inexplicably compromised. The man responsible? A seemingly benevolent tech billionaire from Silicon Valley with designs on taking over the world. And only Rowan Atkinson, with his reliance on old school techiques and prowess with a baguette (if you’ve seen the film you’ll know what this is about) can stop him.

I can’t help thinking that such recent exposure to a swiftly flagging franchise renders me incapable of supplying an on-point and unbiased review after the spectacle we all just witnessed. Because it was hard not to feel a sense of already seen as we watched Jodie Whittaker bumble her way through an hour of awkard gags and mildly tedious chase sequences. Bond 25 is due in April and it was clear from the very first shot – a glorious African vista with a secret service operative hiding behind an oversized title card – that this was going to be a jetsetting tour-de-force of espionage and intrigue, with gadgets and guns and sharp-dressed villains. It was obvious enough from the trailer, which featured Lenny Henry shooting out the back of a moving car while Whittaker dons a tuxedo in the middle of a vineyard. This was clearly about cashing in on 007 while it’s hot – like the garage of a kleptomaniac roadworks operator, all the signs were there.

Still, needs must. I’m not sure I can say with a clear conscience that this was any sort of classic, but neither was it a car crash (although it features one or two). ‘Spyfall’ strides the awkward middle line between haphazard fun and mediocre buffoonery, equal parts cringe to crowdpleasing, and there is a sense, as its closing credits roll, of having watched something that was basically candy floss: enjoyable while it lasts but flimsily and loosely constructed, and prone to falling apart the second you poke at it. That’s probably OK: some people like candy floss.

When we last saw Team TARDIS, they were dematerialising into the sunset after the events of ‘Resolution’. A discarded calendar later, the three companions are about to go travelling again: Graham, winner of this year’s “Most likely to have his backstory sidelined” award, is having a check-up; Yas is explaining away yet another secondment; and Ryan has bunked off work for months by faking a series of health scares, including but not limited to a detached retina. (It’s played for laughs, but I had an ex-colleague who used to do this and it’s no joking matter when you spend half your working day covering someone else’s paperwork.) Meanwhile, the Doctor is in the process of changing a spark plug, or something. It’s not exactly a grand entrance, but at least she still has the steampunk eyewear.

Things kick off when the intrepid foursome are all but kidnapped by a bunch of government agents whose job it is to drive them from Sheffield to London: this being Doctor Who, the sat nav goes awry and tries to kill them en route. Before long they’re in the office of C (Stephen Fry, phoning it in from SW1), an MI6 executive whose job it is to look very grave just before he’s shot in the back of the head. It’s so sudden, Ryan almost has a facial movement. The assassins are strange, multi-dimensional chameleonic beings who can seep through walls and even into the console room, and once it becomes apparent that they’re all in danger, the Doctor decides that the best plan is for the four of them to pair off so they’re not as well protected. Thus, she and Graham fly the TARDIS to Australia to catch up with an old friend, while Ryan and Yas visit San Francisco to grill the shady internet mogul (Lenny Henry) who may be responsible.

We ought to say at this point in proceedings that for all her champing at the bit, the Doctor makes a rubbish spy. Her stratagem for getting results at Daniel Barton’s birthday party is to directly confront its host, with not a shred of tangible evidence beyond a couple of readouts, and she then wonders why he immediately jumps into a Bentley in order to escape from the crazy woman on the patio. Such a clumsily presented scene can only be there to lead us into yet another set piece, and indeed ‘Spyfall’ is full of such moments, jumping from one locale to the next with barely enough time to breathe or explore. A single scene with Yas and Ryan, perched outside an Australian cottage hiding a deep dark secret, is about the only real character-advancing moment we get: all the rest is sound and fury, signifying nothing.

It’s a shame, because Whittaker really is quite good: self-assured and endearing with just a pinch of the darkness we were hoping for. Whether it’s confusing Pontoon with Snap or using a wing mirror to deflect laser blasts in a malfunctioning vehicle, she approaches the role with grace and dignity and seems more Doctor-like than she did last year, even when Chibnall’s script hands her another clunky monologue. She even manages to make the technobabble work, just about. Likewise, the supporting cast do their thing well enough, although it’s a bit tiresome they all get on so well. No one wants another Adric and Tegan, but can’t we at least have a bit of an argument about the TARDIS lighting or something?

Two minutes from the end, the Master shows up. This isn’t strictly true, of course: he’s been there all the time, hiding beneath Sacha Dhawan’s amiable exterior. Dhawan (no stranger to Who, having played Waris Hussein in 2013’s ‘Adventure in Space and Time’) is already a likeable sidekick, but he makes for an even better villain, sneering and angry and possibly quite mad, all the things the Master should be, embodied in a single blazing sequence on board a booby-trapped passenger jet. We were promised a big bang to Episode 1, and for a change this one actually delivers, largely thanks to O’s abrupt heel turn into a character we all know, in an incarnation who is at once new and yet instantly recognisable, even if the fans are going to be arguing for weeks about the chronology. Having been set up as a feasible romantic foil for Yas, the renegade Time Lord engineers a sudden (some would say rushed) cliffhanger, with the Doctor spirited abruptly away from proceedings as her companions face almost certain death – although there’s a TARDIS with a functioning chameleon circuit just outside the window, so probably not.

There are good things about this besides Dhawan. Certainly the whole thing feels like Fleming on a BBC budget; it’s just a question of whether that’s the sort of thing that tickles your fancy or leaves you wondering why they bothered. There are briefcases full of laser shoes and near misses in plush corporate offices (although are we really supposed to believe that Barton didn’t see Yas and Ryan poking their heads three feet above that sofa?). The plot may be nonsensical but this is, at least, something that’s trying to entertain us, even if it’s occasionally trying much too hard. The visual style carries a flair of its own, matched by the score: composer Segun Akinola, having paid tribute to nineties-style Bond orchestrations in ‘Resolution’, delves into outright pastiche here as the camera pans up over the vineyards surrounding Barton’s birthday shindig. It’s ridiculous but it does the job, just like everything else.

But the giggles and surprises can’t mask the pitfalls of last series creeping in. Whether it’s the nondescript villains, the awkward social commentary, the pedestrian dialogue or Chibnall trolling the fandom as the Doctor explains her gender switch with the words “I’ve had an upgrade”, there’s a sense here that some lessons have been learned, but perhaps not quite enough. As hard as it tries, ‘Spyfall’ (at least this part) can’t help but feel like something that was so desperate to be Bond it forgot it also had to be Doctor Who. It’s gift horse and mouth territory so the temptation is to be kind, and it’s still the beginning of the run, so there’s time to get this right – and perhaps with Dhawan’s Master at the helm (or at least in the cargo bay, planting explosives), the series can get back on track without lapsing into tedium. Certainly by bringing him back in this manner Chibnall’s paved an avenue worth exploring, with a new Master / Doctor relationship ready for the harvest, like the grapes in Barton’s vineyard. “Our paths crossed very briefly once,” the Master explains to Graham, a few minutes from the end, referencing a scene that dearly deserves to be written, “when she was a man”. That’s the sort of backstory that deserves a bit of flesh, if only to find out which Doctor he was talking about. I can’t help wondering whether it was Rowan Atkinson.

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Have I Got Whos For You (Mandalorian Edition)

Happy December! Did you know that the Master’s hatred of Will Ferrell spawned an unexpected seasonal tradition?

It’s Monday, which means two things. First, I’m entirely failing to finish tidying the lounge. Second, it’s time for our regular roundup of news and gossip from the world of everyone’s second favourite TV show (right behind Stranger Things, which I will get round to seeing one of these days). So what’s been going on in Whovania this week?

Needless to say, Jodie Whittaker has dominated. It’s not enough that we had two – two! trailers in the space of a week; we also have an episode title and guest cast. (At the risk of implementing a well-worn cliche, Doctor Who trailers are like buses, only they’re like buses in Reading town centre on a Friday night, because you have to wait ages and then two come along at once and you can’t actually hear yourself think on there for all the shouting and food fights and babies throwing toys out of prams. At least you can block these people on the internet; you can’t do that on the 38 to Purley-on-Thames.)

Still. I think we can all agree that ‘Spyfall’ really is a fairly dreadful title, although it did give me the excuse to do this, which almost works.

What happens in ‘Spyfall’? Well, there’s a bit of gubbins about rewritten DNA and Stephen Fry turns up playing a character called ‘C’. Whittaker herself is heard to mutter “The name’s Doctor…the Doctor” in a moment so gut-wrenchingly corny it could only have come from the hand of Chris “HELP ME WITH MY BEATLES QUIZ, MUM!” Chibnall, but this is the sort of thing I’m prepared to let go if I’m watching something enjoyable. ‘The Crimson Horror’ was thoroughly stupid, and occasionally excruciating, but it was also fun. Isn’t that really what Doctor Who is supposed to be about? Fun, and hopefully not too transparently woke?

I’ve been thinking about the word ‘woke’, really. It implies a heightened state of awareness, the notion that all those who are not transparently and overtly tuned in to injustice and equality and political correctness are in some way unconscious. It’s ridiculous terminology because there’s really nothing wrong with being asleep, particularly when you’ve spent a hell of a long time campaigning and fighting and you just need a bit of a rest. You never get the full story, really, do you, from someone who seems to be the opposite of ‘woke’? They’re just dismissed as fossilised dinosaurs who have no awareness of the world around them, rather than someone who has perhaps more awareness than you’d care to realise, and who has learned how to pick their battles, and who has decided that the best thing for their own state of mind is to give the outward appearance of being asleep.

“Yeah, I think we’re gonna have to cancel Christmas.”

While we’re at it, I have another pet hate I’d like to just mention and then talk about another day when I have more time.

Seriously, this is what happens if you let the internet write Doctor Who scripts.

There’s also news about the upcoming comic crossover in which Jodie Whittaker encounters the Tenth Doctor; one that had already given rise to speculation that he would appear in the next TV series for the current Doctor to castigate (in a conspiracy laden video I refuse to link to, because it’s bollocks and I’m not giving them the traffic). After much back and forth between the idiot fans who genuinely thought this was happening in the TV series and those of us who actually read beyond the headline, we’ve finally cleared up that this is a spin-off, and that whatever happens it’s probably not going to be hateful. I almost wish it was, really; you might as well give the haters something to really complain about.

In any case, it’s now emerged that said crossover will actually be a revisitation of the events of ‘Blink’, but from the perspective of both Doctors rather than Sally Sparrow. Unfortunately the most widely-shared link for this story came from Screen Rant, who ran with “BLINK TO BE REWRITTEN” (paraphrasing, but that was the sentiment), in a story I refuse to link to for reasons that should by now be obvious, and then all hell broke loose because many people, it turns out, are too thick to go any further than a fan baiting headline.

I had a near miss with writing for Screen Rant; did I ever tell you? I will spare you the details, but let’s just say there were one or two creative issues with their work ethic, and given the garbage they put out these days I think it was a lucky escape. Teaching piano is far more fun, and nobody tells you to kill yourself.

A little Star Wars news now, because I’ve got a stack of gags, and Jodie Whittaker’s got a bad feeling about this.

There’s also an exclusive press photo from the Episode IX After Party.

And this deleted scene from ‘It Takes You Away’ suggests that the BBC originally planned something quite different for last year.

It’s very easy to knock the direction Star Wars has taken, simply because it’s contemporary. You remember what you choose to remember, which was that the Ewoks were rubbish but at least they were cute rubbish, and that yes, Jar Jar was racist, but I suppose it was a long time ago and anyway it’s NOT AS BAD AS THAT STUPID SCENE WHERE LEIA SHOOTS OUT INTO SPACE. Likewise, there are a bunch of people yelling at Chibnall for producing an overly simplified portrait of racist white people in ‘Rosa’, simply because that was the best way to tell a story which (let’s be honest) was aimed at kids, and every single one of these people has completely forgotten the laboured monologues we used to get from McCoy and Pertwee and Hartnell, mostly when they were slagging off the military, or the lecturing about sweat shops in ‘Planet of the Ood’, or…I mean, if we’re going to throw any shade in the direction of last year, couldn’t we just agree that the monsters weren’t much cop? I don’t mind straight white men being the villains, because that’s kind of the way it always used to be, but the new creations they did include (benevolent or otherwise) weren’t so much offensive as simply dull. But that’s all fine, because Bradley Walsh has promised us that series 11 will feature some “absolutely terrifying monsters”.

Oh well, at least it’s official.

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