Saturday, January 4, 2020

Doctor Who 12x01 Recap: “Spyfall, Part One” (Guess Who’s Back?) [Guest Poster: Stephanie Coats]

“Spyfall Part One”
Original Airdate: January 1, 2020

Around the world, spies are being attacked by transparent entities that can appear suddenly through walls, the ceiling, or even a rock formation. Who are these creatures and what do they want? There’s only one woman to call.


The Doctor and her “fam” are back on Earth for the humans to take care of a few things before heading off into time and space once more. But Ryan, Yaz, and Graham hardly get to spend an hour alone before they’re individually picked up by mysterious men in black. The same men come for the Doctor as she’s fixing the TARDIS. “Worst Uber ever!” Graham shouts from one of the cars.

Not long after being piled into a car together, the foursome realizes this isn’t just some shadowy government agency kidnapping. Something weird is going on. The GPS malfunctions, vaporizes the driver, and speeds the car towards a cliff. Then it starts chanting, “Die! Die! Die!” So, not a great sign. The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver is useless (the start of a theme for the episode) and only using a mirror to reflect an energy beam back at the GPS saves them. If that’s not enough excitement, “C” from MI6 suddenly chimes in over the radio to ask them to come in.

As we saw at the start of the episode, spies everywhere have been attacked. Security agencies are all asking the Doctor for her help in solving the crisis. She and her team examine one of the attacked spies, who is now just a shell that looks human. Her DNA has been rewritten. C believes there’s a connection to a former agent named Daniel Barton, who is now a tech mogul. He may even be a double or triple agent. Just as C is about to tell them more, he’s shot through the window. With more shots raining in, Ryan grabs the classic spy gear (think rocket launching cufflinks and laser shoes) MI6 provided and makes a run back to the TARDIS with the rest of the fam.

But even the TARDIS isn’t totally safe. The unknown creatures nearly force their way in, which is a surprise considering nothing is supposed to be able to get into the TARDIS when her doors are closed. The sonic screwdriver has no readings either. All the Doctor has is two leads. First, Ryan and Yaz will go undercover to speak with Barton. Second, the Doctor and Graham will visit a former MI6 agent who has always kept an open mind about extraterrestrial life.


In San Francisco, Ryan and Yaz pose as a photographer and journalist to get close to Barton. They’re also using the spy gear and some of the Doctor’s own tech to aid them. The interview has barely begun when Barton gets a call and leaves. But he invites them to his birthday party as an apology. The DNA scanner shows he’s only 93% human so it’s safe to say, they’ll be attending.

The Doctor’s MI6 friend named “O” has been living in exile in Australia for a while. After hearing about the new and unusual threat, he wonders how the Doctor can be sure they weren’t followed. Cue the movement sensors around O’s house being tripped. The two Aussie agents there for protection very stupidly go to investigate. The creatures attack the agents, and there’s nothing the Doctor can do but retreat into the house with Graham and O. A forcefield fence stops all but one of the creatures, which the Doctor and O are able to trap in a glass box. She interrogates the creature and learns they are from “far beyond” and are in position to take over the universe.

Around this time, Yaz and Ryan have broken into Barton’s office to download files from his computer. When Barton returns, they hide and hear and see Barton speaking with the creatures, whom he has some agreement with. When the coast is clear, Yaz and Ryan try to leave but one of the creatures attacks Yaz and she disappears while Ryan escapes. But she’s not dead (thank God!), only in some other plane of existence that looks like a forest or maybe a central brain for the creatures. All around her, energy is flowing until suddenly it hits her. Just like that, she’s in the glass box in Australia instead of the creature.


While everyone is relieved Yaz is fine, the whole situation is strange. When the Doctor decodes a message between the creatures and Barton, she finds their threat to take over the world is real. They’re already positioned in every country, like alien spies. An odd look flicks over Yaz’s face but no one sees it. O speculates that Barton may be the “spymaster.” Luckily they have invites to his party!

The whole episode evokes classic James Bond films. With all of our heroes dressed in tuxes and playing casino games in a villain’s mansion, the Bond vibes are turned up a notch. Plus, the music sometimes sounds almost like the soundtrack from Skyfall and it’s a nice little touch. The Doctor confronts Barton alone outside about C’s death, the alien code, and the alien spies. Barton denies everything, then promptly takes off.

In classic spy fashion, the team chases him to his airplane hangar and all barely manage to jump aboard while he’s taking off. O’s poor running ability confuses the Doctor. He was supposedly a champion sprinter. His face splits into a crazed grin. The real O was captured on his first day at MI6 and someone else took his place. This O is, in fact, the Master.

The Doctor’s oldest enemy/sometimes friend or convenient ally is back. And just like always, the Master loves to make an entrance. Barton isn’t in the cockpit after all, but a bomb is. A sonic screwdriver-proof bomb. Oh, and the Master is controlling the new alien spies. The bomb goes off and the plane nosedives. “Everything that you think you know is a lie,” the Master says tauntingly to the Doctor right before he disappears and she’s taken to the same strange plane Yaz was in earlier. The others are nowhere to be seen.

Final Thoughts:

  • I did not see that Master reveal coming! After spending an entire season not acknowledging almost any Doctor Who history or lore, to come back in 2020 with the Master right away is gutsy. But I’m here for it. 
  • Sacha Dhawan is an excellent choice for the Master. He was a fantastic foe on Iron Fist and can convey a lot without doing very much. I’d like to see that more going forward because I wasn’t convinced he could pull off the typical manic energy of the Master. 
  • Also, I realize the Master/Missy had to regenerate again but I would’ve loved to have seen Michelle Gomez opposite Jodie Whittaker. 
  • C: “I’ve read the files. The Doctor is a man.”  The Doctor: “I’ve had an upgrade.”
  • There’s definite potential after this first episode for series 12 to resolve some of the issues with series 11. Starting off with a two-parter AND the Master is a huge turnabout from that season. But it’s also surprising to have the Master’s identity revealed right away, rather than a season-long arc like series 3 or 8. So let’s see where things go from here. 


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