Doctor Who series 12 gets off to a fantastic start with a delightfully entertaining adventure, full of action, laughs, and a truly unexpected returning villain.
***SPOILERS BELOW FOR DOCTOR WHO SERIES 12 EPISODE 1 BELOW***
Jodie Whittaker’s first series of Doctor Who was plagued with bland characters, and generally mediocre writing, with the exception of a few episodes (Rosa, Demons of the Punjab, Resolution), making it one of the weakest seasons of the revival, if not the weakest. Thank goodness then that series 12’s opener is a brilliant, exciting and unbelievably fun episode. It’s not without its flaws, but it’s fair to say that this is easily Chris Chibnall’s best episode of Doctor Who so far.
Several intelligence agents have been mysteriously assassinated, and so the Doctor and her friends are called in by MI6 to help investigate a powerful businessman who may be linked to the killings. From here, our heroes go on an adventure that includes car chases, casinos, and multiple shocking twists. Despite taking a title and many stylistic beats from the James Bond films, the episode feels like a throw-back to the Russell T. Davies era, boasting a fun, often campy tone, with a well-rounded supporting cast, and some really nice character moments. The story moves at a very fast pace, ensuring that the audience is constantly entertained, while the moments where the episode does slow down are very powerful and well played by the cast.
Spyfall boasts a fantastic supporting cast. Stephen Fry’s C isn’t in the episode for very long, but he brings a good level of restrained dignity and class to the story. Meanwhile, Lenny Henry imbues the character of Daniel Barton with all the charm, sophistication and menace that you’d expect from a typical Bond villain. And he’s not the only one throwing himself into the Bond-esque feel of the episode, with Segun Akinola providing an exhilarating score that evokes the atmosphere and sound John Barry’s 007 soundtracks. The alien henchmen are a bit conciliatory and aren’t that memorable, but they do provide some very creepy moments.
In terms of the main cast, this is one of the very few episodes where all four of them feel like they’ve been given a good amount of stuff to do. Obviously, Graham is as wonderful as ever, with Bradley Walsh bringing great wit and charm to the role. It’s also really nice to see Ryan and Yaz get to spend time doing some solo investigating, especially considering how sidelined Yaz was during the last series. Not only do we get to see her actually using her police skills in the story, but she’s put in legitimate peril for the first time, and Mandip Gill gives a great performance during her scenes trapped in the alien realm, as well as her little conversation with Ryan afterward. Speaking of Ryan, the character gets to deliver some wonderfully funny jokes, all sold perfectly by Tosin Cole’s perfect delivery.
And as for the Doctor, there are hints that Chibnall is developing some stronger characterisation for her beyond merely being a David Tennant/Matt Smith throwback. Whittaker is given several moments to act as a childlike figure who enjoys antagonising the people around her, which is clearly the aspect that she played best during the last series. Additionally, we get hints at a dark turn for the character, as her secretive attitude to her backstory is accentuated, and we get to see her display a sense of power and authority in her confrontation with Barton. Additionally, after seeing her act calm and in-control during series 11, it’s nice to see her thrown into a state of panic and fear as the true mastermind reveals himself.
Yes, in one of the best kept secrets of Chibnall’s era so far, the Doctor’s new friend, MI6 agent O, turns out to be none other than a new incarnation of the Master. Naturally, I am going to miss Michelle Gomez’s Missy, but based on what we see in the final minutes of this episode, Sacha Dhawan is going to be phenomenal. His brings a sense of manic energy that feels very reminiscent of John Simm, while also being charming, detached and manipulative, much like the classic series Masters (also, I spent the show’s year off catching up on the classic series, so I was delighted and surprised to see the Master using the Tissue Compression Eliminator once again). This all leads to a brilliant cliffhanger, as the aliens trap the Doctor in the “Upside Down”, and her companions are left on a crashing plane. Suffice to say the bar has been set very high.
Spyfall Part One has been an absolute blast. It provides us with a fun, action-packed story, and deftly remedies many of series 11’s biggest problems. It’s probably too early to call this a return to form, but if Chibnall and his writers can keep up this level of quality, I’ll be very happy.
Doctor Who continues Sunday on BBC One with ‘Orphan 55’. Watch the trailer below.