Spyfall, Part 2.

TV AHistory: An Unauthorised History of the Doctor Who Universe 4th Edition Volume 2 has this to say on the subject of the origin of the Time Lords. It says, "The history of the Time Lords and their homeworld of Gallifrey was shrouded in mystery. The Time Lords knew little of their own past, and much of what was known was cloaked in uncertainty and self-contradiction. It is extremely difficult to reconcile the various accounts of the origins of the Time Lords. The authorities suppressed politically inconvenient facts, although few Time Lords were very interested in politics anyway."  From there it offers a few pointers about how simple hard working Gallifreyans became time travellers, much of it sourced from The Deadly Assassin, The Five Doctors, Lungbarrow what seems like some pretty wild storytelling in the Titan Tenth Doctor comics, none of which really says anything which isn't common sense or knowledge.

So when the Master tells the Doctor everything she knows was a lie what he means is whatever fairy tale the Time Lords passed along to Time Tots to explain their existence, the Celestial Intervention Agency or whoever having classified the secret origins.  Whatever it these are apparently has apparently been enough for the Master to destroy Gallifrey again ("Gallifrey falls no more." "Weeeelll....") so that's a lot for the writers to live up to by the end of this series, whatever "the timeless child" is.  Given the pretty gonzo stuff threaded through the spin-off material, your guess is as good as mine.  But after a pretty vanilla approach to the mythology last year, here we are slap bang in the middle Gallifreyan politics again and the Doctor not even knowing her own origin and although this became a bit tiresome in the Eighth Doctor audios, frankly some of the revivals best stories have revolved around this nonsense so that's all to the good.

The continuing course correction on display in the second half of Spyfall is pretty crazy.  Separating the Doctor from the fam allows both groups to breath.  Finally we see the Fifteenth version (if you use the metric system) in full flow with lashings of agency discovering the horrors of the Master's plan and experiencing her first post-regenerative existential crisis, the audience just allowed to be with her alone in the TARDIS (for the most part) as she considers her immediate future and the fact that she will indeed have to somewhat explain who she is to her friends.  The TARDIS crew also flourish in their own mini-adventure, redolent of episodes when Jamie and Zoe or Amy and Rory would find themselves sans a Time Lord and still commit to whatever mission has been initiated.  Perhaps between her experiences in the other realm and the Grahan and Ryan storyline last year, Yaz will get more of the spotlight this time.

This continues to be an iteration of the show on a grand scale, the Doctor buzzing around in time investigating the mystery of the spies-unlike-us offering us two celebrity historicals for the price of one.  Already online (well alright Twitter) I've seen a complaint about Ada being introduced as Lord Byron's progeny, but that was just context, the Doctor spending the rest of the episode underscoring the future Lovelace's achievements, the direction and writing of her introductory scenes redressing the heinous historical crime which put Babbage front and centre, anonymising her achievements.  His sexist attitude draws withering looks from the two female scientists.  Throughout I thought about friend of the blog Suw Charman-Anderson, who has done much to telegraph Lovelace's contribution and women in STEM in general through Ada Lovelace Day which was ten years old last year.  If anything, this episode is also a tribute to Suw and her colleagues.

A few years into the future and we greet Noor Inayat Khan, Codename Madeline, sometimes Nora Baker someone I hadn't come across, demonstrating the show's continued willingness to be a source of education as well as excitement.  The script perhaps has less time to underscore her historical importance, but fortunately the Extradential wing of the party have published a video detailing both of her biography (along with "Lovelace").  In these fractious times, it's just so right that this silly Sunday night sci-fi series should be front and centre in reminding public the contribution that people of colour have made to our country's history especially at times which have become steeped in nationalistic jingoism.  What the episode doesn't tell us for understandable reasons given the timeslot, is beyond her legacy and posthumous George Cross, Khan personally had no future.  A year after her part of the episode is set, she and three other agents were taken to Dachau and executed.

Would the Doctor have known this?  Probably.  But this is an occasion when the often sunnier disposition of this incarnation is finally eclipsed by the darkness that's usually at her hearts.  Noor seemed to accept the removal of her memories, but Ada's protestations remind us of Donna's pleading, the Time Lord removing these glorious memories for the protection of the time stream.  Again, this is the writer embracing the rich history of the show returning the Doctor to the context which felt missing in the last season and alienated some fans.  If anything its really a shift from the classical approach of last season when the Doctor was an enigma to some degree and barely talked about her feelings to the revival approach of making her loneliness a defining characteristic.  Both are somewhat valid approaches, but the latter provides a connection to those watching, gives us something to latch onto emotionally across shorter episode and season lengths.

In the middle of all that, the resolution of the alien invasion plot is the least interesting element, a reiteration of The Sarah Jane Adventures's Invasion of the Bane and a dozen other stories.  Lenny Henry's Barton really has little do here other than murder his own mother (which is a pretty big step admittedly) and give a TED Talk on the dangers of sharing personal information online for kids not yet old enough to watch films like Antitrust, The Circle, The Social Network or Carole Cadwalladr's actual TED Talk.  Don't do it or you're likely to get a push notification that will try to rewrite your DNA or as is the case in the re-world your political biases.  Plus there's a huge amount of Moffaty sleight of hand utilised by the Doctor to save her friends and end the invasion.  Blinovitch would have if fit if he saw this.  There's a reason why the Doctor doesn't visit the future, discover how the aliens won then drop back in time again to use it against them.  It's anti-dramatic.

And did Sacha Dhawan's Master live up to his initial promise?  Yes, very much so.  Impetuous and devious with a fine line in monologuing, we're back to the old scheme of tantalising the Doctor only to Lucy the American football away at the last moment every ... single ... time.  Dhawan so far seems slightly more comfortable with the larger character based scenes than the cogs and springs of the plot, but there are definitely shades of Ainley as his betrayal of the extra-dimensional spies catches up with him.  Fans of my vintage will have been hanging on every word during the Eiffel Tower sequence, although it was odd that they slipped in a Logopolis reference rather than something from City of Death (especially since it was taking place in a period when Paris was literally just that).  Neither of them mention the events experienced by their immediate previous incarnations, but perhaps that is the Time Lord way, times change and so do they, different people all through their lives.

Much as I enjoyed Jodie's first season, it never did quite gel and in that respect both parts of Spyfall indicate a dramatic return to form.  The deep dive back into the mythology of the show will concern some and probably doesn't have same impact as it perhaps did in 2005 for those of us still knee deep in the wilderness years and requiring RTD in DWM to explain that that in fact his destruction of Gallifrey isn't the same as the one from the The Ancestor Cell novel, even if AHistory later acknowledges this but offers numerous reasons why they might be the same event from different points of view and doesn't the Grandfather Paradox look like the War Doctor (Ninth in earlier editions), he's is wearing a leather jacket, isn't he?  God, I loved this story and somehow I've got to the end of nine paragraphs before mentioning Graham's shoes.  So here's a mention for Graham's shoes.  Graham's shoes are very funny.  See you next week.

No comments:

Post a comment