*Warning: This review contains some spoilers*
Part Two of “Spyfall” doesn’t quite stand up against the brilliance of the first part, but star turns from Sacha Dhawan and Jodie Whittaker help to make up for the many shortcomings in the episode’s narrative and focus.
Following his shock re-introduction at the close of the previous episode, Sacha Dhawan’s portrayal of the Master is one of the biggest strengths of this episode. Dhawan is bringing out the deranged and psychotic side of this character but is doing so in a way that is not cartoonish like previous incarnations. The rash and violent behaviour occurs when the Master is experiencing a loss of control in his emotions or in a situation, showing that several layers of personality have already been revealed so soon after appearing in this form for the first time. It takes a very good actor to be able to convey all of these on screen and I hope that we see Dharwan appear on the show again soon, as he brought an energy that seemed to carry most of the story’s shortcomings.
Whilst the cliffhanger at the end of this episode wasn’t as flashy as “Spyfall, Part One”, it was no less devastating. The Timeless Child was mentioned for the second time in as many series, only this time viewers are treated to several images, one of which is someone looking up at a tower, potentially on Gallifrey. Who or what is this mysterious Timeless Child and why does it mean that the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and Master’s existences are lies? It’s certainly an intriguing story arc to carry on with, even if I wished it was them and not the Master who destroyed Gallifrey yet again; it would have been more shocking.
As a fan of the classic series of Doctor Who in the 70s and 80s, I was delighted to see several references to older episodes. The central plot, of the Master working with an unknown race to destroy humanity before being turned on by his previous allies is straight out of a Jon Pertwee/Roger Delgado story. We saw the reappearance of an old favourite of the Master, the Tissue Compression Eliminator and there was even a mention to the 4th Doctor falling from a great height, though the writers may have messed up the name of the institution where that took place! The only thing really missing from this retro plot is the comeuppance of Daniel Barton (Lenny Henry), who, bar humiliation, didn’t face any consequences on screen for murdering his mother and attempting to kill most of humanity.
Speaking of the ultimate aim for the villains, it was not as grand as I thought it would be for such a massive build up. Sure, it is a terrifying prospect to be killed by mobile phones since we use them so much, but I couldn’t help but think of The Wire’s plan in the 10th Doctor one-part adventure “The Idiot’s Lantern”. There was a move away from spies and more towards technology as the focus of the second part and I’m not sure that brought out the strengths that made Part One so great.
As for the Doctor’s companions, well they didn’t really have much of an impact in this episode. The only memorable thing was Graham’s (Bradley Walsh) laser shoes, given to him by MI6. Whilst this was a bit of a gag at first that could cause a chuckle, in no way does this work as an excuse for how he, Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yaz (Mandip Gill) were able to defeat over a hundred Kasaavin at once.
The biggest mistake that was made in this episode was how they solved the cliffhanger. It was so good as well, with the companions plummeting in a half-destroyed plane. If this was a classic era episode or even in the Russell T Davies era, someone in that scene would find a way out, using their own intellect or instinct. Chris Chibnall must have gone to the Steven Moffat school for creating a needlessly complex timey-wimey solution that requires characters to go back in time after the adventure to make sure it happens. It robs characters of actually doing something pretty great in my view and set this episode off on the wrong course almost straight away.
To put this review into some context, this episode follows maybe the strongest cliffhanger in Doctor Who for years. It is not disastrous or even bad in any way but it does become murky and not as impactful. If the writers had kept this part as a pure spy episode like its predecessor then it could have been better. Sacha Dhawan was a brilliant bit of casting though.
Star Rating: 3/5
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Next week sees the Doctor and her companions arrive at a luxury resort, yet something monstrous lurks in the shadows. You can read my review of episode 3, “Orphan 55” in a few days when the episode is broadcast.