Playing A Winning Hand
Tripwire’s contributing writer Robert Cave, our man in Los Angeles, takes a look at the first episode of the new run of Doctor Who, which was broadcast this week…
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Jamie Magnus Stone
It’s a new year and so finally, after 365 days of waiting Doctor Who fans the world over finally get what many of them probably wanted for Christmas, if not a whole lot earlier: the return of our favourite show. The previous instalment, Resolution, was one-off special, and the only all-new TV Who we’ve had to sustain us for 12 whole months. Fortunately, this episode signals the start of a new ten-episode series with, according to the RadioTimes (link https://www.radiotimes.com/news/tv/2019-11-22/doctor-who-christmas-special-2020/), a further special to come at some point later in the year.
It may be that Christmas Day outings are, for the moment at least, a thing of the past for our Time Lord and her team, but this episode still has something of a festive vibe about it in the form of its James Bond theme. (Yes. James Bond films are all Christmas movies, not because they make any overt references to the season, but because they have long been a reliable fixture of holiday TV schedules in the UK). It is an entertaining premise and one the Chibnall and co. exploit to the fullest. Each member of the TARDIS crew getting their own tux and a chance to play 007 at the casino and even the show’s composer, Segun Akinola, gets in on the fun with incidental music that evokes the gamut of the Bond film franchise’s various scores.
The story itself opens with a trio of spies being taken down by a series of unusual assassins of unknown origins. All we know is they can walk through walls and are apparently masters of disguise. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her companions are soon swept up to the MI6 building where Stephen Fry is given just enough time to inform us that Earth’s top espionage talent are being abducted and or having their DNA altered by mysterious alien operators. The key suspect is apparently tech entrepreneur Daniel Barton played by Sir Lenny Henry.
The action then continues at a frenetic pace as the gang split up and travel around the globe to investigate. The Doctor and Graham (Bradley Walsh) setting off to Australia to meet up with the ex-MI6 officer “O” (Sacha Dhawan), while Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yas (Mandip Gill) head to San Francisco to interview Barton at the corporate HQ of his search engine/social media platfrom, Vor. Yes, I found the company’s plush gardens and low-rise offices a little too spacious to really to convince me they were really part of San Fran’s downtown tech hub, but It is a tribute to the episode’s pacey tightly-structured script and first-class cast that this was the only quibble I had.
Under Chibnall the show has exhibited no shortage of ambition when it comes to the cinematic locations and this time he ups the ante some more with two action set pieces; a runaway car reversing through traffic towards the precipice of an unfinished bridge and a motorbike/car chase scene that ranges through a vineyard.
And then there is the big plot twist, one that remains hidden throughout not just because of the hard work of the show’s management and press team, but because the mysterious glowing inter-dimensional silhouette monsters and Lenny Henry’s Barton are convincing antagonists on their own. We literally have no reason to suspect that there is anything else afoot. But there was.
At first, I wasn’t sure the show really needed to see Doctor’s best enemy to return again so soon. Michelle Gomez and John Simm had done such great work in the show’s first multi-Master story, bringing the character full circle and giving their character as close to a perfect character resolution as I could possibly imagine. But, as his work on the Netflix series Iron Fist shows, Sacha Dhawan is a great actor and I’m now as excited to see where he will go with the role as I am to see how The Doctor and chums get out of the cross-dimensional plane crash incident with which this week’s episode climaxed.
Doctor Who is back, and so is the Master, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.