“An alien bacteria has come to this planet and found a feast.”
After an especially ballsy episode last week, Doctor Who returns to playing it a bit safer this week, as The Doctor and the gang take on a nasty villain – my crippling trypophobia. Ok, not quite. There’s in fact a particularly timely plot revolving around a deadly plague, as The Doc tries to once again save the human race from a problem that they’ve kinda got themselves into (should’ve been careful with those micro plastics, guys). It’s a well made science fiction parable, though fans expecting some more development on the mysteries introduced last week will be disappointed.
This episode began by introducing us to our colourful cast of supporting players for this week. We have an astronaut burning up upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, two travel vloggers who discover a dried-up lake in Peru, an ex-cop who journeys to neon-lit Hong Kong to find a missing person, and a pair of scientists working from a lab on a beach in Madagascar. It’s an intriguing opening, I’ll give them that, and it shows the series’ budget being put to good use. This episode acts as a template on how to utilise a bigger cast of characters, as well as the companions. They all split up, Ryan goes to Peru, Yaz and Graham go to Hong Kong, and The Doc goes to Madagascar. It lets the episode cover a myriad of settings and plot lines and do it coherently. Instead of doing everything herself, The Doctor has the common sense to put her team to good use. And it lets each of them shine, instead of fighting for screen time.
It turns out that there’s a disease out there, killing people off and sending birds haywire. We learn that it bonds with plastics, and due to mankind’s reliance on micro-plastics and general shittiness with recycling, planet Earth is a haven for the pathogen. It’s the plastic the birds are consuming that is sending them all nuts. One scene of a bird autopsy is not unlike pictures you might have seen online or on the news of dead wildlife stuffed with plastic.
Now, we’ve had this conversation in earlier episodes, but there’s a definite message here that some people are going to take issue with. They don’t want Doctor Who giving them preachy messages, which has always struck me as utterly bizarre because that’s what all good science fiction should be; a warning. But let’s be honest, if it was David Tennant asking them to recycle, we probably wouldn’t here a fraction of the complaints we get. A lot of fans of the show (usually of the male variety) seem to have a deep-rooted problem with a woman telling them what to do. For everyone else, the message here shouldn’t be controversial in the slightest.
The plot involves a lot of running around and science-y things shouted very quickly. But this episode does have a lot going for it. Firstly, the effects on the victims of Praxeus are outstanding. The scene in the Peruvian hospital felt like something out of a horror film and it felt that Doctor Who was back to it’s spooky best. The deaths come suddenly too, and although there’s no blood when the Praxeus blows your body to atoms, it feels visceral and surprisingly horrific – I loved it. The villain is an interesting surprise too. Dr Suki is a scientist trying to save her people, just at the expense of the human race. She’s not good, but she’s far from evil. And her being the villain was a neat twist.
The supporting cast really sell this episode, in the opposite way to how the supporting cast ruined ‘Orphan 55’. Specifically, it’s the couple at the centre of the episode that are so great. In the past, Doctor Who has had a bit of a habit of killing off LGBT characters in the first five minutes, ticking a box and then letting them get eaten by spiders or something. But Warren Brown is the standout here, and his relationship with his husband is exactly how it should be handled. It’s not flashy, there are no over-the-top speeches. They’re just two ordinary blokes and they just happen to be married. Hopefully this sets some kind of precedent, because this it how it should be done. And I’m over the moon that The Doctor saved him from his heroic suicide at the end. That sort of thing can work, but it can all too often be the lazy way of tying up a complex character’s emotional arc. Glad they avoided it here.
Overall, it’s a strong episode. Not an all-time great or anything, but there is very little wrong with it. It’s just a shame that it follows on from ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’, one of the best episodes of Nu-Who we’ve had. But as it stands, it’s a good episode with a really commendable message and superior handling of a relationship that television all too often still gets wrong. Bravo.
Reviewed by Jack