Spyfall Part One

Posted in Episode by - January 02, 2020
Spyfall Part One

Aired 01 January 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Under showrunner Chris Chibnall, Doctor Who’s eleventh modern series with the introduction of the Thirteenth Doctor and friends Graham, Ryan, and Yaz proved to be somewhat more divisive than most. Following a year away from screens during which fans could reflect upon what had come before and what might change and stay the same going forward, ‘Spyfall Part One’ boldly arrives at the start of a new decade to begin to shed light on just what the Doctor’s continuing adventures might bring.

Modern Doctor Who has assuredly never shied away from juxtaposing the Earthbound lives of its companions with the adventures and unexpected personal growth that travels in the TARDIS allow. And while the personal lives aren’t necessarily the focus here, the script wisely devotes a short period of time to highlighting where these characters are as Graham continues with his health checks after going into cancer remission, Ryan attempts to maintain friendships amidst the mounting excuses for his absences while making progress with his dyspraxia, and Yaz struggles to credibly explain away all of her absences from her probationary position. These moments add needed nuance to the characters while again developing the unintended consequences that the Doctor can bring in her wake, and hopefully this is a narrative thread that will continue to be explored as the series progresses.

Of course, the serial even more quickly introduces its central threat, an unnamed species of unknown origins that can pass through solid matter and seems to be hunting down spies all across the globe. With Torchwood and UNIT seemingly out of the picture permanently, MI6 has reluctantly taken to exploring extraterrestrial threats, and Stephen Fry aptly plays the stereotypical spymaster C who calls in the Doctor- whose appearance he funnily knows nothing of- as the only person he can think of who can help. A truly global threat soon unveils itself with even the TARDIS not as impenetrable as the Doctor believes, and ‘Spyfall Part One’ delivers on the possibilities that an expanded core cast can allow as the characters split to tackle the mystery that seems so centred upon technological bigwig Daniel Barton.

Fittingly, Ryan and Yaz are anything but wholly competent investigators, and Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill share a wonderful chemistry as Yaz confidently attempts to draw upon the experience of her police work to ensure they achieve their goals without arousing suspicion. While this story is certainly filled with a few contrivances to speed the plot along, the ease with which Barton gives out invitations to his party and the Doctor’s uncanny ability to slip five people in along with an unaired adventure forming the basis for the knowledge needed for a motorcycle set piece, this is still a confident story that pays loving homage to the espionage genre while remaining wholly true to its science fiction roots. In that vein, Lenny Henry gives a wonderfully understated but powerful performance that paints Barton as something of a dangerous enigma who clearly knows more than he is letting on, and the truth about Barton’s biology and just what his connection is to this otherworldly threat that leaves only husks of humans in its wake certainly provides a captivating hook going into the second half.

Naturally, most of the lasting discussion about this episode will centre upon Sacha Dhawan’s O, a one-time MI6 analyst and acquaintance of the Doctor who has since gone off-grid. Knowing O was the one person in MI6 who took an interest in the otherworldly rumours better suited for other agencies, the Doctor tracks him to the Australian outback just as the creatures appear set to claim another victim. With plenty of research on the Doctor that intriguingly draws Graham’s interest and an array of advanced technology to at least stall the inevitable arrival of the aliens, O instantly becomes a fascinating character in his own right even if he remains more of a background presence through proceedings until the very end. The end, of course, is where O’s true importance comes forth when he reveals himself to be none other than the Master, and although it is a bit preposterous to believe that literally running onto a moving plane was all a part of his latest devious plan, the inclusions of the long-missing tissue compression eliminator and his ability to assume the identities of others are welcome nods to the past that leave an instant impact. Dhawan’s demeanour changes in an instant to showcase something of a gleeful malevolence, and he looks set to quickly become another fascinating foil for the Doctor as an incarnation who appears to blend aspects of every previously seen incarnation except- notably- Missy’s introspective journey. Still, he does ominously warn the Doctor that everything she believes is a lie, and it will be fascinating to see to what depths that truly applies and to whom this man truly is given the madness that pervades this episode from its start.

‘Spyfall Part One’ certainly raises many more questions than it answers with the identities of its aliens and the strange realm they seem connected to still complete mysteries as the credits roll, but it nonetheless confidently brings Doctor Who back to screens with arguably Chris Chibnall’s strongest script yet. With superb direction to bring the globe-spanning adventure to life vividly and realistically alongside truly mesmerizing performances from everyone involved, the scene is certainly set for an emotional and bombastic conclusion, achieving what any good introductory episode should and then some.

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1 Comment on "Spyfall Part One"

  • Ethel Aardvark

    How difficult it is to believe in a Dr Who who is not only female but given to giving way to the male members of her crew. A female Dr. Who, possibly. Not, however, one with so many gender equality issues. She doesn’t seem in the least scientific. She does seem wildly out of context, rather like all those Star Trek actresses forced to wear falsies & skirts back in the day.. And why the strange production issues – the TARDIS now a peculiar shade of Peacock Blue & actors in evening dress, apparently speeding through a dusty desert on motorcycles that can’t outrun a saloon car, yet arriving completely spotless? OK, it’s meant for children. The trouble is, it now looks & sounds as if it is.

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