Despite some glimmers of the past, “Spyfall: Part 2” feels like it’s trying too hard, and runs the risk of alienating the fanbase further by rewriting decades of continuity.
This recap of Doctor Who Season 12, Episode 2, “Spyfall: Part 2”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
“Spyfall: Part 1” was a mixed bag for me. To be honest, it was probably the best episode of Doctor Who since Chibnall took over, but it was wrapped in a James Bond parody that seemed gimmicky and tonally wrong. Putting the cast into car chases, bike chases and tuxedos became more annoying than clever, as if the show itself knows it is a show mimicking a pop culture icon. On top of that, an unearned reveal seemed more designed to silence critics than further the plot.
However, a cliff-hanger ending will always have me tuning back in, so when “Spyfall: Part 2” rolled in, I was there.
Unfortunately, Doctor Who Season 12, Episode 2 continued the silly Bond stuff, mainly through companion Graham, and the real moments where the drama should have been allowed to shine were somewhat diminished by the paper it was wrapped in.
It’s almost as if an email went out during the year off that the production team had, telling all involved that it might be nice to have returning villains, two-part stories, an arc and episodes that involved the lore of the actual series.
So Chibnall decided that if that’s what they want, that’s what they get, so the result is this, a story that bears an incredible resemblance to Tennant-era stories, followed up by The Doctor traveling through time, meeting real-life historic figures, besting an alien race, saving the day with a timey-wimey Moffat plot device, reminds viewers of the heartbeat of a Time-Lord, visiting Gallifrey and reminiscing with The Master in the Tardis, that is actually a holograph.
Nobody could say that they didn’t cover a lot of ground in “Spyfall: Part 2”. The trouble is, the actual narrative is not as engaging as the subplot introduced in the final act.
The Master returned with no explanation from his previous incarnation and veers madly from wanting to kill The Doc, then forgetting about that in the next scene. There is no mention of the arc of the delectable Missy, then the character slips into pantomime for a lot of this story, and is only allowed to dial it back long enough to tell the Doc that everything they know is a lie and that he’s pretty much destroyed their home planet.
This deliberate call back to the previous outings with Tennant, Smith, and Capaldi shows that the show may have figured out that story is everything and ignoring nearly 60 years of legacy may have been a mistake. The problem here is that it all feels tacked on. So much is thrown at the wall here, it almost comes across as another TV movie trying to explain everything to the casual viewer at once.
Doctor Who Season 12, Episode 2 has so much going on that it starts to creak underneath the weight of the whole thing. There are some choppy scenes at the end of the episode that seem edited to fit a run time. On top of that, I was a little disconcerted at the ease which this incarnation seems to embrace the whole mind wipe thing. Surely there was a better way to do this?
After a first viewing, I have to admit that I was still not sure what the ghost aliens were doing. There was something about sleeper agents, DNA, and portals, but I imagine fans would be more interested in the whole Gallifrey thing. On top of that, it appeared that all the companions were considered criminals (on the run and hiding out in an empty building while trying to stay off the grid away from The Master, or was that another Tennant episode?) but along with the assassination of the head of the Secret Service, I don’t expect anything to come of any of this.
I’m not even going to mention Bradley Walsh with laser shoes on, dancing his way to victory over experienced armed security personnel. Honestly, I like Graham best, but this was an all-time low for the character.
So as far as opening stories go, “Spyfall: Part 2” was better than last time around. However, no matter how you look at it, despite some glimmers of past glory, the show looks like it’s really trying way too hard to be Doctor Who. On top of that, there is a danger that the arc introduced here may be a cul de sac that rewrites the previous decades of continuity for the sake of scoring some dramatic points, and probably alienating what is left of the fanbase. For a program with such pedigree, it just seems a former shadow of itself that has realized its mistakes and is now trying to recapture some of it’s magic, at any cost.