The new season of Doctor Who kicked off on New Year’s Day with an action-packed premiere episode. Spyfall is the first official two-part episode of Chris Chibnall’s reign as showrunner. It wrapped up on Sunday night in an episode that teased new mysteries for the Doctor. Let’s dive into the first two episodes of Doctor Who‘s new season, and try to untangle some of these threads.
Spoilers (sweetie) for the first two episodes of Doctor Who series 12.
Image via BBC
The Doctor Who Premiere Has Plenty of Fun Spy Action
Spyfall: Part One marked its debut on New Year’s Day with an entertaining global spy romp. It clearly drew inspiration from, and also parodied various Bond films. Bringing in some big guest stars like Stephen Fry and Sir Lenny Henry, it felt incredibly cinematic. The Doctor and her new companions are abducted by MI-6, who need the Doctor’s assistance in figuring out who or what is attacking spies around the world. This adventure takes them to San Francisco where they meet a charismatic (but incredibly shady) tech guru named Daniel Barton who runs a giant Google-like company called Vor. Barton is in league with a mysterious race of alien beings who appear only as faceless, voiceless beings of light. In attempt to find answers, the Doctor also makes contact with a former spy named O played by Iron Fist’s Sacha Dhawan.
This episode was a good opener for the new season, and set the stakes high from the outset. Chibnall has clearly ramped up the action this season. This episode features a car chase, and ends with Yaz, Ryan, and Graham trapped on a burning airplane as it is about to crash. It also brings back the Doctor’s oldest friend and enemy in the form of the Master. In a stunning reveal at the end of the episode, O reveals himself to be the Master reborn. Employing a bit of classic Doctor Who technology, the Master reveals that he used a tissue compression eliminator on the real O. He has since been carrying around the tiny spy in his pocket.
Image via BBC
The Return of The Master In The Doctor Who Premiere
It is unclear how the Master managed to steal O’s face. Did he have some level of control over his last regeneration? In fact, which regeneration is this exactly? The last incarnation of the Master was female, and Missy was on a path towards redemption before she and a previous Master incarnation killed each other in the Capaldi era. At that time, it was implied that the Master could not regenerate again. So how has the character returned now? It is possible that this mystery is tied to the larger mystery of series 12.
Sacha Dhawan is an excellent choice for a new Master. He does a lot of subtle work in this episode working in clues to his real identity, before the big reveal. At one point, he feverishly explains to Graham that he has been tracking the Doctor for years. In another moment, he says that he has never done much undercover work before which is hilarious because he is currently undercover at that very moment. Dhawan channels the manic energy of actors who have come before him like John Simm and Michelle Gomez. He is in parts full of glee and rage, primarily aimed at the Doctor. It is he who drops the hint for the mystery that will sustain the new season. In the final moments of Spyfall: Part One, he tells the Doctor that “everything that you think you know is a lie.”
Ryan, Graham, and Yaz don’t get much to do in the second part of the premiere | Image via BBC
Spyfall: Part Two Attempts A Historical Episode But Stumbles In Its Execution
The second part of the premiere finds the Doctor tumbling backwards in time, via the mysterious glowy aliens. These beings grab her in the final moments of the first episode, and transport her to their home dimension. In this realm, the Doctor randomly stumbles across a historical figure in the form of Ada Lovelace.
Ada reveals that she has been traveling to this realm since she was a child, whenever she suffers from a bout of paralysis. The Doctor follows her back to her time, and finds herself in 1834 where she also encounters Charles Babbage. The Master quickly follows however, and attacks yet again. The Doctor sends herself through time once more, via the glowy aliens that are now being called the Kasaavin. Ada grabs hold of her and travels with the Doctor, this time they end up in Nazi-occupied France during World War 2. It is here that they encounter another major historical female figure, Noor Khan. But the Master is there as well, in full Nazi regalia. He is hunting the Doctor across time, and in true Master fashion he will never give up.
Image via BBC – Photographer: Ben Blackall
The Show Does A Disservice To Ada Lovelace and Noor Khan
The historical elements of this episode were both a strength and weakness of this second part. By traveling to World War 2, it seems like Chibnall wanted to make a statement about the rise of fascism in the world today. But that message is a bit muddled here, as the Nazis are just used as a plot device. At the end of the episode, the Doctor tells Noor Khan (before wiping her memory) that the fascists will never win as long as there are people like her in the world. It’s a nice sentiment, but the episode could have spent more time exploring exactly who Noor Khan was, and why she was important.
Since the Doctor’s companions were left behind (on a crashing plane) in the previous episode, Ada and Noor serve as her companions here. However, this does a disservice to these famous historical figures. Both Ada Lovelace and Noor Khan deserve their own Doctor Who episodes that explore their lives and historical impact. Chibnall did this pretty well last season with his episode about Rosa Parks. The show has done this well in the past, focusing on figures like Van Gogh and Shakespeare. These women are vital to history, but instead of getting an episode that focuses on each of them individually they are relegated to background figures in the Doctor’s struggle with the Master. This was a fundamental mistake on the part of Chris Chibnall, and an insult to the legacy of these brilliant women.
The Doctor and her famous historical companions | Image via BBC
The Doctor And The Master Together Again
It should be said that both Dhawan and Whittaker are excellent in second part of the Doctor Who premiere. Their face to face meeting on top of the Eiffel Tower is laden with their respective histories. There is a nuance and complexity to this meeting that was lacking in the final moments of the first episode. They are both full of pain and anger, and have nowhere to direct it other than towards one another. It is clear that the Master is still desperate for the Doctor’s attention, and creating chaos and mayhem is the only way he knows how to get it.
Their shared history is in fact the reason the Master has been chasing the Doctor around this time. He asks the Doctor when the last time she went home to Gallifrey was. He reveals that Gallifrey has been destroyed (again). I personally groaned at this news. Since the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor, the Time Lord’s home planet has been hidden away in a pocket universe. That special went to great lengths to retcon the destruction of Gallifrey during the Time War. So it is a little infuriating that Chibnall is just casually destroying Gallifrey after all that. At the end of the episode, we do indeed see that Gallifrey is in ruins. And what’s more, it was the Master himself who destroyed it.
Gallifrey in better days | Image via BBC
What Is The Secret At The Heart Of The Time Lords?
The culmination of the second part of the Doctor Who premiere is a bit muddled. The Doctor saves the day again, after finally reuniting with her companions. Daniel Barton is revealed to be a straight up bad guy who wants to help the Kasaavin take over the planet by hijacking human DNA… via an app? It’s not very coherent. (My theory is that the Kasaavin will show up again in series 12, and will be revealed to be the new incarnation of the Cybermen). In the end, Spyfall: Part Two was a bit of a muddled mess of an episode. However, it was saved by the strong acting and by the introduction of a new mystery.
After the Doctor travels back to Gallifrey, she triggers a hologram message from the Master. He reveals that he destroyed the Time Lords and their home planet because he has uncovered a dangerous secret. He claims that the Time Lords have lied to them. “The Founding Fathers of Gallifrey… everything we were told is a lie. We are not who we think, you or I. The whole existence of our species built on the lie of the Timeless Child.”
The Doctor reacts to the destruction of Gallifrey | Image via BBC
Who Is The Timeless Child?
The Doctor clutches her head, reliving a moment from The Ghost Monument. Last season the alien Remnants look into the Doctor’s memories and referenced the Timeless Child. That statement provoked a lot of theorizing in the fandom, but has not been mentioned again until now. In my preview for this season, I predicted that Chibnall would return to the idea of the Timeless Child, and put his stamp on the convoluted Doctor Who mythology. The Master does not reveal too much more about this mysterious figure, but we do get a glimpse of a child standing before spires on what looks like Gallifrey.
“Do you see it? It’s buried deep in all our memories. In our identity.” It appears that the Master has solved the mystery of the Timeless Child. Is it perhaps related to how he was able to regenerate again? Did this knowledge throw the Master off his redemption path that Missy was on? The Master seems to know that the Doctor would remember the Timeless Child. But he won’t reveal more. He won’t make it easy for the Doctor.
The Doctor (JODIE WHITTAKER) – (C) BBC / BBC Studios – Photographer: Ben Blackall
While we don’t yet know who or what the Timeless Child is, we do know that this mystery will likely carry through the rest of series 12. After a season of standalone episodes, the Doctor Who premiere is bringing mythology back. Hopefully Chris Chibnall has learned from his predecessors about how to handle (or how not to) the complicated mythology of the Time Lords. I know that this mystery might turn off some fans who prefer the standalone episodic format of the show, but personally I love a good show mythology and mystery. Here’s hoping the mystery pays off in the end.
Doctor Who airs Sunday nights on the BBC. What did you think of the Doctor Who two-part premiere? Do you think Ada Lovelace and Noor Khan deserve their own character episodes? Join the conversation with Comic Years on Facebook and Twitter today to share your thoughts.
(Featured image via the BBC)
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.