“I told you to look for the spymaster, didn’t I? Or should I say the spy… Master?”
Doctor Who is back with a bang! After a disappointing last season (but a fantastic Jodie Whittaker performance) the show returns with all the fantastic elements of the previous season (Whittaker, a higher budget, great scripts, brilliant music, Bradley Walsh) and seemingly sets a course to correct what the last season lacked. There’s more stuff for Yaz to do, more variety and – most importantly – more classic Who stuff.
Straight off the bat, the episode sets out its espionage theme (Spyfall – sounds like Skyfall! Ugh) and actually, it’s nowhere near as crap as the title would have you believe. Spies around the world are being suddenly and mysteriously killed off by some genuinely creepy and seemingly unknown alien force. Even the doctor isn’t sure what to make of them when she first meets them, not to mention the fact that they can get into the TARDIS (an impossible feat for almost every other foe). I first thought they might be Cybermen; based solely on the fact there are Cybermen somewhere in this series and their ghost-like teleportation reminded me heavily of the Army of Ghosts Cyberman episode from the Tennent era. After the episode had finished I’m not too sure but there are much bigger things going on – more on that in a sec. The new aliens are supposedly in league with Lenny Henry’s big bad Mark Zuckerberg-esque tech-villain, but a meeting between Henry’s Barton and the aliens leaves it unclear who is leading too. Henry is really great as the tech genius Daniel Barton, managing to be convincingly charming and evil at the same time. I do sort of wish he hadn’t fired at our heroes during the chase scene, I was expecting Barton to become a villain we could have sympathy with but I guess he is just an evil wackjob. And where did he go at the end of the episode? The Doctor and her pals definitely got on the same plane as him but then he… disappeared? I’m sure it’ll be a devilish trick orchestrated by the other big villain of the episode – The Master!
I did not see this one coming, although I’m sure not many people did. Iron Fist actor Sacha Dhawan was in the episode supposedly as O, a government agent with links to the Doctor. He clearly had something else going on but I thought he was just a creepy stalker. Things all started becoming clearer when we saw his ‘house’ flying next to the plane. With a camp flourish; it was revealed Dhawan had been playing The Master the whole time. In the small time we had with him, Dhawan’s version of The Master was as fun as the previous incarnations. There was a definite John Simm vibe to the performance too, possibly an indication of where this Master fits into the regeneration timeline. Whether this twist was necessary is a completely different matter, however, and there is always the possibility the show has peaked too early. Would it not have been better and more effective to drop this twist later in the series? Was it necessary to bring back the Master at all after all of the fantastic (and recent) previous portrayals? Only time will tell, but as it stands, Dhawan is a fun and enjoyable addition.
The episode’s cliffhanger reminded me of Who of old. I’m sure the answer to the problem of the gang crashing into the ocean in a burning passenger plane will be solved with Who style psuedo-science but I was on the edge of my seat in a way the previous series never managed. The direction was predictably fantastic and the show continued to show off the budget increase in every frame. I’m looking forward to the next episode a lot, I just hope Chris Chibnall doesn’t squander The Master reveal. I’d love for it to continue through the series like one of the early season’s series-long arcs. See you on Sunday for the review of episode 2.