I recently sat down with my podcast co-host Dave and knocked over a quick ‘hot take’ episode on Spyfall (Part 1), which you can hear below.
We had a lot of fun making the episode, as always, and I thought it might be fun to take my notes – such as they are – and lick them into shape for a blog post as well. I don’t think I’ll be able to do this for every podcast episode we make this series, but when I can, I will.
I’ll also kick this off with a bonus content section; stuff that I didn’t get to, or didn’t think we needed to address, or didn’t think of until after the podcast for one reason or another. Ready? Let’s go.
First, the mysterious aliens in the episode. On the podcast, we refer to them as aliens, as robots, as things from space, or another dimension. Basically, we’re left wondering what the heck these things are. While no one knows for sure, one idea which has occurred to many fans is that they are the Voord. Even the Radio Times has picked up on this. I had instantly tossed this idea away for multiple reasons; (1) The Doctor says she doesn’t know their language, (2) They seem clearly extra-dimensional, (3) Although Voord-ish in shape, they say they take their shape ‘to mock us’, (4) The Voord are a very, very, very obscure Doctor Who reference for an episode in 2020 to be making. As such, I didn’t even raise it on the podcast. But it’s perhaps worth noting here if the twist really is that these really are off-shoot, extra-dimensional, super-obscure 1960s villians. But honestly, I very much doubt it!
Yaz. Peter on the Jodie into Terror episode for Spyfall has a theory that Yaz might fall for the Master’s charms and become a companion of the Master. That’s an interesting idea, however, my alternate Yaz theory is that she’s one of the alien creatures. Think about it… they seem to have trouble breaking into this dimension, so what if they do it in her body? When she is returned to the Doctor and Co. in Australia, Yaz has a look on her face like an alien getting used to a new reality. Of course, it could also be that she’s just been zapped from the US to some god-forsaken place, then zapped again to an equally god-forsaken place in the Outback. So it’s a long-shot, basically. We shall wait and see!
Another quickie on the aliens and the Voord. In the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip (#127-129), the Voord were shown to become Cybermen later in their evolution. Now, we have seen the Cybermen return before as brightly lit humanoids (Army of Ghosts), like we’re also seeing in Spyfall, so there’s some more fuel for the fire. But I still doubt it.
Theme music. It’s definitely been tweaked for the new series. After a couple of listens, it sounds like the old theme, slightly remixed. Some parts are turned way down in the mix, giving a different feel. I’m not entirely sure it’s successful, as the previous theme sounded a little ‘muddy’ and by turning down the volume on some of the higher pitched parts, it just makes it more muddy, to my ears. I still like the use of older Doctor Who theme sounds in the mix; I think that’s a no-brainer that should have been done long ago. But I think it could be done a little better. Maybe it’s a work in progress. We’ve heard the theme evolve during a series before. It’s currently about a 5/10 for me.
Stephen Fry’s character, C. Why was he killed by a sniper? If he was killed by the Master, which I guess we can assume, why didn’t he use the alien creatures to do it? I guess it might provide some cover for the aliens, except they weren’t exactly hiding when it came to their later attack on the outback hut. So that’s a thought left hanging for me.
Now for the rest
From here, you will be reading slightly updated notes that I used for the podcast. I’ve turned bullet points into sentences, crafted thoughts around single words I’d sketched down, and so on. If you’ve heard the podcast, you’ve heard all of this basically. If not, read on…!
Overall, I was very impressed with Skyfall. Not just because of the expensive look, but also the story. The more I think about it, the story was kind of Pertwee-esque; mysterious beings appearing; the Doctor working for ‘the Establishment’; a corporation head in league with aliens; the Doctor having a chase on a motorbike and perhaps most obviously, Pertwee’s main nemesis! To be fair, I wasn’t sure how I felt during the first 10 minutes… Doctor Who was back and I felt like I was enjoying it, but I knew it had more to go. Towards the end, I started having genuine, “Hey, this is very good…” feelings about it.
Jodie Whittaker/The Doctor
I think Whittaker gave a far more nuanced take on the Doctor than last series, which was to be expected or at least hoped for. Some craziness remains in her portrayal, along with some child-like naiveté (the scene where she shouts, “Snap!” at the card table, for example), but on the whole she was more immersed on the role and I thought her performance was very good. Her confrontation with Daniel Barton at the party was along the lines of her work in Resolution where, faced with a nasty bugger, she hardens up, shows a bit of steel and is less childrens TV presenter, more Time Lord. I’d like to see more of that, please.
Bradley Walsh/Graham O’Brien
Like a comfy pair of slippers, Graham takes off again from where he ended last time. “Worst Uber ever…” was one of the best lines in the episode and he got to deliver it. Not a whole lot to say here as Bradley Walsh has always been very good, very steady in the role so nothing in the performance really surprised me. One character moment I took note of was when O said he had loads of information on the Doctor, Graham seemed unusually interested in that. Does that foreshadow something? Could Graham start delving into the Doctor and would that set up some sort of drama between them? Or maybe it was a one-off moment. Who knows?
Mandip Gill/Yasmin Khan
A day or two before Spyfall was broadcast, a Madip Gill quote went around Twitter, regarding a dinner with the cast and Chibnall. He apparently asked them what they wanted to do in the second series. I joked in my Retweet that she should have asked for something to do! And lo, here she had it in spades. During the last series of our podcast we weren’t the Lone Ranger in saying she was a spare wheel and quite wasted. And here she was given the lead in the B plot. Was this a fluke? Will we see her drop back to Series 11 type roles in the episodes ahead? Who knows. But here, it absolutely needs to be applauded, that Yaz was given a decent role for once. And she really ran with it, too.
Tosin Cole/Ryan Sinclair
If anyone suffered at Yaz’s elevation in Spyfall, it was Ryan and I guess this comes back to a TARDIS team of three being a tricky thing to wrangle. He had some good lines, and I presume he’s being set up for romance with Yaz via the way he’s into her sister (a safe way of saying he wants to be in her life without being with her?), and also the, “I’d never let you get hurt…” line later in the episode. We shall see if that develops. I actually saw a comment a day or so after the episode went out that the O character might have made a great TARDIS team member before “turning”, and while I think that’s marvellous in theory, the way that the crew already doesn’t have enough to go around in each episode would make the addition of a fourth companion really tricky.
My first thought here was, “Ahhh, it’s so nice to have Stephen in Doctor Who on the TV…” because obviously he’s done the Death Comes to Time audio before (which I pondered was the 1990s on the podcast, but it was actually 2001 now that I look at the Wikipedia page for it!), but my second thought came not long after… “What? He’s dead? That’s it?” I kept waiting for a twist! But maybe that really was it? I will add that the voices of the strange alien beings almost sounded Fry like at times, though. Were they copying his voice? Was that part of mocking humanity?
Lenny Henry/Daniel Barton
This is the kind of villain I hate in TV shows and movies – in a good way. Why? Because he comes across as clever and not easily fooled. You always feel like he’s about to wreck things for our heroes, and that makes everything so tense and exciting. Although I’m confused about where he went on the plane? How did he leave? Parachute? Did he turn into the bomb? Did I look away from the screen at the wrong moment and miss something? The Master had a line that seemed to suggest he did it, but until the next episode arrives, colour me confused by that!
My first impressions here were, what an interesting character. Kind of a smart, but nerdy guy. I can see why some people thought he’d fit in with the TARDIS team, at least for a story or two before revealing his true self. Actor-wise I recognised him as a character from Iron Fist, Davos. All of that said, with the earlier foreshadowing in the episode of TRUST NO ONE and this being the only good character the Doctor and Co. were dealing with, I thought, “Yep, this guy will turn at some stage…” What I didn’t know is quite how far that would go! So, the Master is back to being a bloke; perhaps yin and yang, now the Doctor’s a woman. And we have a person of colour in the role, which some might regard as the first time, although Roger Caesar Marius Bernard de Delgado Torres Castillo Roberto wasn’t exactly an Anglo-Saxon Master himself.
The TARDIS at the repair shop was really cute to look at, but not sure how much sense it made. The exterior of the ship and the interior are two different things; that’s how it works. So to have presumably internal cabling sticking through the external shell… I’m not actually sure how that would work. Fan brain engaged, yes, but I think it’s fun to think about. In effect, when Jodie reaches up into the base of the TARDIS, her body is in one dimension and her hand is in another. Of course, this is getting waved away on social with various amounts of mocking and vitriol (hey, it’s online, what do you expect?), but I think it’s still an interesting thought because that cabling doesn’t exist in the base of the external box, it is absolutely in a different dimension. So bringing the two together certainly set off a part of my fan brain into thinking about how that would work… and others, it seems!
Australia as a location (well, South Africa doubling for Australia), looked great. It’s one of only a few times the country has appeared in television Doctor Who. The accents of the “Australian Secret Service” (in reality they’d be the Australian Secret Intelligence Service/ASIS), were almost right. The woman’s was certainly better than man’s. When he had a few lines of dialogue to deliver, you could detect the South African underneath. Dave noted on the podcast that there were very Australian trees and the overall look was very good. I mentioned to him that there are indeed groves of eucalyptus here and there in South Africa. Apparently all through the 19th century there were moves to grow such trees there, the result being that during some parts of the Anglo-Boer War, circa 1899-1902, Australian troops commented on how much it seemed like home when they’d see familiar trees about the place.
The Doctor claims to have lived in the outback for 123 years (I think I boobed and said 124 on the podcast… sorry!). Cards on the table, I really hate references like this. The Doctor’s meant to be 1000 and… something. So for almost 1/10 of his/her life, apparently they lived in the outback? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I know a line like, “I lived out here for a few years once…” doesn’t sound as grand, but it would be far more palatable. And, even then, for someone who can’t sit still like the Doctor, a few years might be a bit of a stretch. He couldn’t even sit still while guarding Missy in Series 10, and kept needing to fly off and do his own thing. So I sometimes wonder what the value of lines like this are in the show when it’s clear the Doctor wouldn’t live anywhere for 123 years, and it doesn’t really fit into their back story at all. Of course people will say this is nit-picking and it’s just meant to be a fun line but, come on, Chibnall can surely write a fun line that still makes sense with the vibe of the character and the continuity of the series… surely? Do I ask too much?
Play of the Week
I can’t go past the Master reveal, primarily because I was unspoiled for it, and it came out of nowhere. Like I said earlier, I had a pretty good handle on Sacha Dhawan turning out to be a baddie, but no idea in a million years that he would be the Master. It just wasn’t on my radar that the Master would be coming back relatively soon to the show.
Foul of the Week
Weirdly enough, this is also Master related. As soon as he’s revealed, there’s a lot of spinning in circles and clapping like a lunatic and for me it was, “FFS, can we have a Master who DOESN’T do this schtick?” I was on Facebook after the episode and someone was saying something like, “He played it mad, just like all the Masters…” and I had to jump in and say, “Hey, excuse me, I just re-watched Frontier in Space in the past week and the Master was nothing like that.” He doesn’t HAVE to be that way. Infact, the Master’s more scary when he’s completely sane.
MVP of the Week
This is so tough. Do I give it to Chibnall for bouncing back in his second series with a better, more exciting, more interesting brand of Doctor Who? I’m half-tempted to do that (genuinely, I am), but I think I have to give it to Whittaker, who I feel has ironed out her Doctor without any massive changes from last series to seem like a different person, but just enough tweaks to feel like she really is the Doctor. And yes, I think this is helped by us being more used to her as well after a year. But I really did find her more interesting and compelling to watch and I hope this sets the tone for all the stories and we don’t suddenly lurch back into her playing the role like a budget Tennant, children’s television presenter in another few episodes. Because, for mine, that’s where her character was at in many Series 11 stories.
I know that my podcast co-host, Dave, is looking for a stone cold classic or two this series. To be frank, I don’t think this was it, but I wait to see what the next episode does. If this goes up another level in the second part – and the trailer for it is quite good – then it may squeak into that sort of rarefied air… just. But, on first viewing, no, this isn’t Blink or Dalek or World Enough and Time. But it’s very good. My heart almost wants to give it a 9 but I know that’s the enthusiasm of a new series messing with my head. So I’d say a hearty, 8/10.
What did you think of Spyfall (Part 1)? Leave a comment below.