In the sixth episode of the twelfth series of Doctor Who, The Doctor and her companions split up to investigate three simultaneous warning signals on earth, only to discover the horrible thing that is linking the three of them. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
Wow, this got so real? So, in case you didn’t know: we are absolutely saturated in microplastics, and there is absolutely a giant garbage patch in the Indian Ocean. They’re called gyres, as The Doctor noted, and there are indeed five of them: North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian Ocean, North Pacific, and South Pacific. FIVE OF THEM. (For what it’s worth, for many years I believed there was only one of them in the Pacific Ocean. Nope. FIVE.) It’s also very true that many marine animals but ESPECIALLY birds are full of garbage and plastic because they have consumed our waste.
All of that combines with an unintended horror–all of us being in a global pandemic–to create an unsettling episode. Sometimes, Doctor Who is about the escape. It’s about visiting fantastic worlds or amazing time periods. But like “Orphan 55” earlier in this series, sometimes the show takes us to a reflection of our current reality, taking things one step further into a nightmare.
There are things left unexplained by the end of “Praxeus,” but sometimes, that ambiguity works in favor of a Doctor Who story. First of all, I can’t see this outside the context of the previous episode. The Doctor gave her companions a choice when the TARDIS rang those alarm bells, and so this is all an attempt for them to get back to “normalcy.” And normal for The Doctor and her companions is… well, this! But there’s another angle to this that was unspoken but still present: The Doctor is also trusting her companions. She splits them up with just their implanted communicators on hand, and she trusts them to investigate the other sites that she can’t be at. I think that’s partially because of how much time they’ve spent together, but I can’t help but also interpret a little bit of continuity in this, too.
And what an investigation. I could not piece together this mystery until it was spelled out to me. Well, there was one exception, which was when I figured out what Suki and her crew were doing… a whole two seconds before The Doctor said it aloud. Otherwise, this was an expertly paced mystery. Maybe all the pieces don’t fit together exactly perfect–I was a little uncertain how all this affected Adam’s re-entry? The space ship did a thing that changed Adam’s trajectory or something? But as I’ve said before, I can often overlook stuff like this if the emotional component or the story itself is strong enough.
I do think it was. Unlike “Orphan 55,” which also dealt with a life-or-death mystery, Earth, and a large cast of characters, this actually didn’t feel crowded! Most of the emotional stuff was saved for Adam and Jake, but we got a lot of meaty scenes with Gabriella, too, who has to deal with the loss of her friend at the same time as she goes on the greatest trip of her life. The script is remarkably consistent about the latter part more than the former, but I also had to remember how completely trippy this all was. Gabriella has a vlog that is specifically about traveling to weird places all around the world, and she gets to go to THE BOTTOM OF THE INDIAN OCEAN. So Joana Borja had to play a character grieving the loss of her best friend, angry at what had happened, and then overwhelmed by the opportunity of a lifetime. She did pretty fucking great, if you ask me.
Then there’s Suki Cheng, who was an unnamed humanoid species whose people were decimated by Praxeus. I really do like it when Doctor Who treads in these awful moral grey spots because it often makes for excellent storytelling. Suki was antagonistic, but she wasn’t an antagonist. Rather, she was someone trying to survive and desperate to save her species. Her people people made a choice in order to attempt survival, one that clearly felt necessary to them. That doesn’t negate how terribly fucked up it was, though. They could rationalize using Earth as a living laboratory because they weren’t human. And what are a few victims of Praxeus on Earth if it saves another species, right?
But these weren’t faceless victims. Not to Gabriella, who lost Jamila, and not to Jake, who had to watch his husband get slowly devoured by those weird scaly things. Truthfully, the emotional core of this episode WAS Jake and Adam, and in them, Doctor Who gives us a heartbreaking but eventually redemptive story of a man who let his worst tendencies get the best of him. Early in “Praxeus,” we see how Jake can’t fit in to the world after his sabbatical from his work as a police officer. He’s awkward, a little desperate, and then, when he sees that his husband is missing, he doesn’t hesitate. In hindsight, that was such a neat detail. We learn that Jake has a hard time committing, that he doesn’t like doing emotions, and that he “runs” from life. But look what happened when he got that text message from Adam! (I don’t actually understand the impetus of that message. Who sent it? Did Adam somehow text Jake while being experimented on?) There was no hesitation on Jake’s part. He flew to Hong Kong immediately.
“Praxeus” mostly acts as a come-to-Jesus moment for Jake. It’s one of a number of romantic tropes used here to make up their story, isn’t it? We’ve got the character who never wants to show emotion thrust into a situation that ANYONE would be highly emotional over. We’ve got the highly successful partner who makes the other one feel insufficient. We’ve got deathbed confessions, we’ve got last second sacrifices to fulfill said deathbed confessions, we’ve got ALL of this for two wonderfully realized queer characters. Complete with The Doctor saying she is a romantic right before Adam and Jake kiss!!! IT’S PERFECT. The Doctor said GAY RIGHTS FOREVER.
Okay, actually… kind of? These days, I have moved away from the framework of “normalizing” these sort of depictions because it centers heteronormative relations in ways I’m uncomfortable with. But I am bringing this up here because I love how there’s no “gotcha” or surprise about Jake and Adam. Instead, their relationship just is, no one misses a beat as they speak about them or interact with them. It just… is. And I love how that manifested in the way Graham comforted Jake while also nudging him out of his self-hatred, too! So I understand the heart and the intent of what “normalizing” queer relationships means, and I can see the casual way in which this teleplay does exactly that. And while I have complicated thoughts on the concept of “normal,” I love so much that this is a story about two men in love that has no conflict about this being two men in love. No homophobia anywhere.
In the end, “Praxeus” is just so, so solid. It hit all the right notes for companion stuff, The Doctor being extra Doctor-y, it had a tug-on-the-heartstrings romance, and it was thrilling. Am I eager to get back to the Gallifrey plot? Sure. But this was another strong entry into Thirteen’s canon, and I had a great time watching it.
The video for “Praxeus” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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