Mark Watches ‘Doctor Who’: S12E01 – Spyfall, Part 1

In the first episode of the twelfth series of Doctor Who, THIS WAS A LOT SCARIER THAN I EXPECTED. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.

Holy shit, THIS RULED. So much! What a glorious welcome back to the world of Doctor Who after a year and a half break for me. I missed these characters, I missed these adventures, and series twelve wasted no time delivering one hell of a story. Well, the first part of one, that is! Because THIS CLIFFHANGER’D ME, I AM VERY ANGRY. 

It was no secret that I loved series 11, and part of that was because of how much depth the show gave not just to the newest incarnation of the Doctor, but to the three companions. In many ways, series 12 picks up where their stories left off. Ryan is still dealing with his place in the world; we have an acknowledgement early on that he’s getting better at dealing with his neurological issues. Graham exists in the life after the death of his wife, which he’s reminded of at a routine doctor’s visit. Yaz is still in her probationary period and possibly on the brink of a promotion, but…

Well, all three of their lives were changed by the Doctor, something other people notice about the companions. They’re always traveling. They’re always going somewhere.. They’re just… different. It’s a well-known trope for us Doctor Who fans, but like certain things that come with the territory, it never really gets old to me. (One of those being someone getting to see the inside of the TARDIS. However… holy shit, the usage of that in “Spyfall, Part 1” is mind-blowing.) That leads me to wonder: How will these three change over the course of this series? What will their ongoing stories be? 

I don’t know if events are set-up here that’ll be dealt with over the series, though I suspect some of the stuff with Ryan and Yaz is going to be a long-running thing. But before I get there: Wow, this episode was frightening. I don’t want to ignore how fun it was as well, and it’s clear that Chris Chibnall and the production team had the time of their lives putting together a Doctor Who episode that borrowed so much from the spy genre. Seriously, there are so many big AND little things here that are common in the genre: a ridiculous car chase sequence; assassination attempts; hidden messages in everyday items; the reclusive ex-agent; the recon mission at a party, complete with fancy gadgets and tuxes; THE GADGET SCENE. But all of this is filtered through the Doctor Who experience, and thus, it’s all a little strange. But in the best way! And what’s a good spy gadget when compared to the sonic screwdriver, anyway???

So most of this episode visually and thematically falls into the spy genre, but it’s also got that Doctor Who twist. In this case, an unnamed, unknown alien entity is taking out spies all over Earth, which is why MI6 contacts The Doctor for help. I do like when The Doctor works with existing organizations, as she often proves just how inept they are. Here, our experience with MI6 is filtered through C, played by Stephen Fry in a cameo that is shockingly short. But it’s short for a reason: C serves a very small purpose, and the second he’s not needed any longer, he is assassinated. He exists here to be that ineptitude, first by misidentifying The Doctor and assuming she was Graham, and then for a darker manifestation: even the agents of MI6 aren’t safe from the aliens.

So often on this show, aliens often feel like thought experiments brought to life. These creatures fit that bill, too. What if there was a species from outside our universe who were beings made of light and could pass through any piece of matter? What if they could blend in with any known substance? It’s deeply fitting, then, that these creatures act as spies on Earth. They’re literally the most perfect beings to be them! They can hide anywhere, and in one single attack, they can send humans to… that place. That looks like maybe what it would be like if you got sent to the clogged drain in someone’s shower, I DON’T KNOW. What were those things? How those beings travel? Communicate? 

Look, I don’t understand SHIT. That’s part of why this felt so ridiculously stressful to watch. I couldn’t wrap my mind around anything that was happening! Why did they change the DNA of everyone they attacked? What was the point of that? Was that one spy ALSO in the weird nowhere place? How come that one creature that O trapped swapped their body with Yaz’s? Why was she spared that fate? 

Of course, it’s hard to talk about what happened because of that last second twist. I genuinely did not expect this at all, and I must praise not only the script, but Sacha Dhawan’s INCREDIBLE performance. That performance sold me! And it HAD to. We had to believe that the reclusive, paranoid Agent O was doing their best to solve the problem of these mysterious aliens. All the while, Agent O knew exactly what they were. Oh god, how much of what we saw in that house in Australia was all part of the trap? How much of it was designed so that the Doctor would make the choices she did? Was this always meant so that Agent O could get their revenge? I DON’T KNOW!!! But I’d forgotten about the Master since their last appearance, and now I’m remembering how Missy caused them to enter a regeneration phase. (Right? She died, but John Simm’s Master changed.) So this is who he became? Oh, my gods, IT’S ALL SO MUCH.

Obviously, there are a ton of questions I still have. How does Daniel Barton fit into all of this? I did enjoy the thinly-veiled reference to Google and its monopolistic terrors, even if that wasn’t the point of this episode. If anyone were to secretly work with an invading force to their own benefit, the world’s corporate class absolutely fucking would. That being said, I want to know how Daniel Barton fits into this, especially since he has to know that working with these creatures would guarantee the end of humanity. Why would he be willing to sacrifice that?

I also want to double back on the interpersonal stuff we see between Ryan and Yaz. I loved getting to see them try to pretend to be a journalist and a photographer, especially since the show opted to go the more realistic route with Ryan, who had NO experience with either photography or going undercover. He really is a hot mess here in the most adorable way imaginable, but it’s also clear that he’s grown accustomed to the chaos of traveling with The Doctor. Except here, he witnesses Yaz “dying,” and it’s a disturbing, traumatic thing. Hell, it’s even more traumatic for Yaz, who lived through it. Ryan ends up making Yaz a promise to never let something like this happen again, except… that ending!!! How??? How the fuck is The Doctor going to stop that? Also: PLANE CRASHES TERRIFY ME. So no, no thank you, don’t like any of that.

I truly, deeply, desperately need the second part of this. Oh god, please don’t let it be a three-parter. I don’t think I could handle that.

The video for “Spyfall, Part 1” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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