The Thirteenth Doctor is back in an exciting two-part story: “Spyfall”. Written by Chris Chibnall, this story is the first time we’ve seen Jodie Whittaker and the gang since last year’s New Year’s special “Resolution”. But has it been worth the wait? Read on to find out!
The Doctor and the Fam
First, let’s talk about the main cast. All throughout Series 11, I felt a little ambivalent towards the Thirteenth Doctor. On rewatch, however, I found myself warming to the character and so, as soon as Jodie Whittaker popped up on screen here, I was grinning from ear to ear. With some great material here, both comedic and dramatic, Whittaker is fast becoming one of my favourite Doctors.
Of the three companions, I was particularly impressed by the material Mandip Gill had in this episode. I think it’s fair to say that Yaz was a little (well, a lot) sidelined in the last series, but she takes a bit more of the limelight here, which is incredibly welcome. It was great to see a bit more of Yaz’s family life, and Chibnall gives her lots of great moments during the investigation scenes at Vor.
The highlight of Gill’s performance, though, has got to be when Yaz talks to Ryan about her experiences in the strange netherspace. After series upon series of seemingly-invincible companions in the Moffat era, it’s great to see the show’s characters being a little more affected by their adventures with the Doctor, and Gill plays this scene absolutely perfectly.
Similarly, I enjoyed how Graham (Bradley Walsh) began to learn a little more about the Doctor here. His conversation with O about how she avoids talking about her past makes Thirteen a little more interesting, and I can’t wait to see where this plot strand goes during the rest of the series.
An action-packed adventure
I loved just how action-packed this episode was. After the often-sedate stories in Series 11, it’s great to finally have the gang getting caught up in all kinds of scrapes here. From the car chase and the motorbike shootout to the pursuit of Barton’s plane down the runway, Chibnall fills Spyfall with exciting set pieces, all of which are marvellously directed by Jamie Magnus Stone.
Talking of Stone, I think his direction was some of the strongest the show has ever seen. His rendering of all the episode’s action and adventure were impressive, but I also liked some of his smaller flourishes, like I how, when the Doctor was trying to work out the nature of the creature breaking into the TARDIS, the camera followed her around as if mimicking her confusion.
The scenes featuring the aliens at O’s ranch were also especially good. They’re just so creepy, flickering in and out of existence, and Struan Rodger‘s sinister vocals give them such presence when talking to the other characters. I like how we still don’t know anything about them too; their mystery makes them all the more threatening.
Spyfall features two pretty big guest stars in Stephen Fry and Lenny Henry. The former is only on screen for a few minutes, but he absolutely steals the show as C, while Henry gets a far meatier role as the villainous Daniel Barton. He’s a brilliantly ambiguous character (does he control the light creatures, or do they control him?) and I’m interested to see where the second part of the story takes him.
The biggest star of the episode, however, is Sacha Dhawan. Left uncredited in cast lists and edited out of the trailer, Dhawan’s appearance was a huge surprise to everyone watching… and so was the reveal of his character’s true identity at the story’s close. Yes, the Master is back, and Dhawan gives a masterful (I had to say it) performance, immediately owning the role and leaving me excited to see him face off against Whittaker’s Doctor in part two.
Seriously, I was on the edge of my seat during the big reveal on the plane. The moment where the O facade falls away to be replaced with the manic evil of the Master was just jaw dropping; I haven’t been this surprised at Doctor Who since Missy’s identity was revealed back in 2014!
Segun Akinola returns for his second series as composer, and his music is better than ever before. The return of old motifs, like Grace’s theme during the scene in the hospital or the TARDIS theme when O enters the console room for the first time, gives some nice continuity, but there are some great new compositions as well, like the jazzy, Bondian theme used when the gang approach Barton’s house for his party.
Spyfall: Part One is a stellar premiere for the new series: an action-packed adventure full of twists and turns. The cast are on top form, the direction is marvellous and the music is . And that cliffhanger! I can’t wait to see what happens in part two… and only three days to wait! Bring it on!
Doctor Who: Series 12 continues next Sunday on BBC One.