Praxeus

Posted in Episode by - February 03, 2020
Praxeus

Aired 02 February 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Seemingly in no hurry to reveal the truth behind the potentially foundation-altering events of the preceding ‘Fugitive of the Judoon,’ ‘Praxeus’ by Pete McTighe and Chris Chibnall finds the Doctor and her friends spread across the globe and racing to find the link among a series of mysteries that signifies a threat to all of humanity.

With birds falling from the sky in Peru, a missing British astronaut being held in Hong Kong, and a submarine officer washing ashore in Madagascar, ‘Praxeus’ unquestionably makes great use of the potential that three companions aboard the TARDIS offers by allowing a truly global mystery to develop on multiple fronts concurrently without overtaxing any of the main actors. Indeed, the jumping between locations is handled deftly by returning director Jamie Magnus Stone who likewise helmed the globetrotting escapades of this season’s opener, ‘Spyfall Part One,’ and the stunning vistas bring an immense sense of scope to the frantically-paced affairs that Earthbound adventures in Doctor Who rarely attempt and even less often pull off so majestically. The trade-off for this sprawling narrative style, however, is that none of the supporting characters truly get the time to develop that they need in order to make this world all the more tangible and dynamic. To be fair, ‘Praxeus’ does attempt to offer some backstory to Warren Brown’s policeman, Jake, but this is tellingly done primarily with Jake quite literally relaying the details of his life to Graham sitting beside him. While the material is certainly poignant, it also provides another example of just how bluntly exposition has often been handled throughout this series while still succinctly providing the groundwork for a heroic sacrifice that the Doctor mercifully prevents in a moment that intriguingly goes quite against her preferred passivity that has guided her to this point.

While it’s impossible to know at this point if ‘Praxeus’ will retroactively fit into some sort of larger arc as a pathogen from space that uses plastic to thrive spreads to humanity while causing an aesthetic that is fairly reminiscent of the Stenza physiognomy, it certainly continues on with Chibnall’s willingness to allegorically confront some of the world’s most pressing issues such as humanity’s ever-intensifying impact on climate and the planet as a whole. Strangely, however, ‘Praxeus’ seemingly takes away the blame that humans rightly own for the intensifying global plastic pollution problem, instead using the pollution mainly as a backdrop to instead draw focus to a completely alien threat for which humanity could never have prepared and even suggesting that Earth itself is fighting back against this problem to further absolve humans of their responsibility. Given that this alien virus is a faceless enemy with the only possible point of contact the sole survivor of another infected species who tries to justify bringing Praxeus to Earth to study its effects in order to find a cure for her own people, there’s a significant lack of big confrontation and moral resonance that these type of message episodes so frequently and impactfully deliver. Instead, chastising Suki’s immoral actions without truly delving into the reasons she chose Earth manages to draw attention to a global plight without necessarily inspiring those watching to take action against it as the immense visuals of an attacking flock of birds and an accumulation of trash in the ocean provide the visual hooks.

Still, ‘Praxeus’ does certainly resonate all the more profoundly given the World Health Orranization’s recent classification of the coronavirus outbreak, and it never fails to grasp and maintain its audience’s attention. And even though this is still a relatively new TARDIS team despite the characters being so well established, it’s nice to see Yaz in particular continue to develop as something of an apprentice to the Doctor, unafraid to stand up to the Time Lord when needed and able to bring out a certain interpersonal communication style that Ryan and Graham rarely manage. Yaz is driven by something far more dynamic than just curiosity as she travels, and her enthusiasm and pride when the Doctor takes notice of her efforts is a brilliant piece of characterization that will hopefully continue in future stories. Surprisingly or not then, given that so many guest characters and the submarine are quickly and permanently sidelined, the astronaut serves as little more than an impetus for the stories of Jake and Praxeus to progress, and a human laboratory is the Doctor’s choice for studying the pathogen rather than the TARDIS, this is a story that still manages to overcome its shortcomings to tell a surprisingly personal and relevant tale amidst the incredible scope of its threat that makes it an enjoyable enough experience that with a couple of tweaks could have been all the more profound.

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