Doctor Who – Season 12 Episode 6
Doctor Who features a global mystery and a race against time to find the cure for a deadly virus.
The episode opens with a really strong monologue from The Doctor where she talks about everyone being on planet Earth being connected by the fact that they are all on planet Earth. Every action taken affects other people in one way or another and everyone has a responsibility to do what they can to protect the planet that they share with others. The idea of connection has been an ongoing theme through this era of Doctor Who whether that be the connection the companions have to each other, the connection they have to Earth or The Doctor’s connection to her home planet and the rest of her people as presented early in this season.
Her monologue forms the basis for a globe trotting adventure that is set up by events that appear unconnected on the surface but end up being linked in very significant ways. The first event is an out of control space capsule rapidly descending to Earth, the second is a man chasing down a shoplifter before being summoned to Hong Kong by a text message, the third is a pair of travel vloggers stumbling across a lot of plastic pollution leading to one of them disappearing and the fourth is a body washing up on a beach in Madagascar. These events are given added significance when Team TARDIS quickly involve themselves.
There’s a pattern emerging in the current era of this show; when The Doctor and her companions are split up it generally makes for a better story as it forces everyone to play to their strengths with limited support rather than The Doctor leading everyone around and having them relegated to containers for interchangeable dialogue designed to allow her to explain everything that’s going on. The approach of encouraging the companions to prove how resourceful they can be while The Doctor has to work with whatever and whoever she has to hand is much more interesting.
Ryan has been growing very well over the course of this season. He is a lot more confident and more comfortable dealing with difficult situations. The scene where he meets Gabriela (Joana Borja) and quickly gets her on side by being open with her about his intentions shows how far he has come as well as his comfort level walking into unknown situations. There’s an odd recurring love interesting subplot that keeps creeping in where Ryan’s concerned. It’s always odd because it starts off being lightly flirtatious and never actually goes anywhere which makes Ryan’s contributions to a given episode feel incomplete. Not that I want the show to be overrun with single episode romances but it is becoming tiresome to see back and forth flirting between Ryan and various one shot female characters with nothing actually coming of it. Either the writers should commit to making Ryan a time travelling womaniser or leave the connections he forces as purely platonic.
This is a small gripe that doesn’t derail the episode too much and certainly the least of the problems with that interaction. What appears to be an engaging dynamic at first falls by the wayside fairly quickly and Gabriela becomes a fairly nothing character very quickly. Her reaction to the loss of her best friend and travelling companion is bafflingly unrealistic and she generally feels like a spare part once the narrative really gets going.
Even though it’s inconsistent I’m most interested in Yaz and how she is developing. She consistently challenges The Doctor and appears to want to be on equal footing with her rather than being someone dragged along on on adventures. In this case she insists that her plan to investigate the device in Hong Kong is worthwhile and ignores any accusations of recklessness from everyone else. Even when The Doctor protests she refuses to back down because she has confidence in her idea. The Doctor does accept Yaz’s plan but stamps some authority when insisting on the time limit. There is the slight suggestion of brewing animosity on The Doctor’s part as she isn’t used to companions asserting themselves quite like this. To date nothing has really been done with this but it has become a character trait uniquely associated with Yaz and I’m interested to see how this develops. It perfectly fits with her personality as she has always been ambitious and self assured so it makes sense that she would look at her adventures with The Doctor as an opportunity to learn. A less interesting character trait is that she always puts herself between Ryan and the women he’s flirting with. There’s no given reason why she does this so either she’s interested in a relationship with him or doing it because she takes joy in sabotaging his love life. Either way the show does nothing to explain this behaviour and neither possibility doesn’t endear her in any way.
Graham has less to do in this episode so it appears to be his time to sit in the background. He does have a really strong moment with Jake (Warren Brown) when he relates to him over the pain of losing a loved one. Jake asks Graham if he knows what it’s like to be married to someone impressive and Bradley Walsh conveys Graham’s feelings after that question with a simple look. Without saying a word it serves as a reminder of the grief he is still dealing with following the loss of Grace and reinforces that he is the only person equipped to have this conversation with Jake. It’s a really powerful and understated moment that serves as a reminder that failure means similar losses on a global scale. Quiet moments can serve as reminders of the stakes while offering strong characterisation. It’s a pity Graham couldn’t be used quite so well throughout the episode but this is definitely a standout scene for him.
The Doctor is very inconsistent this season. It makes sense for her to be fully focused on the situation as a distraction from the reveal in the previous episode but this is another episode where someone she encounters isn’t who they appear to be. This is the third episode where a plot has hinged on that reveal and it is now officially overused. In all subsequent episodes I’ll be waiting for this to happen again because of how frequent it has become. There was even a moment where I thought Gabriela might be a secondary reveal based on a suspicious look she gives once the TARDIS lands in the alien construct. Another thing that makes these reveals somewhat tiresome is that The Doctor seems to be aware that they are becoming common but fails to pick up on them anyway. She points out that she should have realised based on the available clues but shrugs it off because she is a sucker for a scientist. This isn’t good enough when considering who The Doctor is. Her recent experiences should be prompting her to be more suspicious regardless of her innate desire to trust people. Having her constantly be fooled by those she encounters weakens her character significantly.
I’ve already mentioned how effective Gabriela is as a side character but this episode has a fairly large number of them. The strong moment Jake shares with Graham I’ve already covered but there’s more to him than that. He has a simple yet strong background with his aversion to going anywhere or doing anything interesting. It’s a good way of quickly establishing the friction in his relationship with Adam (Matthew McNulty) who offers a meaningful contrast to him with his ambition and desire to make his life mean something. It’s unclear what got them together in the first place but it’s easy to see how these significant differences would have driven them apart over time. Despite that their feelings have never diminished as it’s more like Adam is disappointed in Jake and Jake is more disappointed in his inability to push himself outside of his comfort zone. It’s a compelling conflict that doesn’t get enough time to really develop due to the demands of the rest of the episode but it does receive attention and is resolved in a way that works well.
Jake finding it within himself to take a risk that benefits the group is an obvious yet satisfying resolution to his short arc. As someone who wasn’t known for stepping out of his comfort zone it was an important step for him to put himself in such a dangerous situation. It’s also consistent with his impulsive nature as evidenced throughout the episode but the real purpose was for him to prove to Adam that he had learned how much he was limiting himself. Even though this gesture doesn’t end with his death it easily could have and the fact that he was willing to make that sacrifice is significant. It’s also a badass romantic gesture that proves to Adam he is willing to change.
I really liked that The Doctor was able to save Jake as it allows his relationship with Adam to progress rather than ending with his sacrifice. Not to mention the “bury your gays” trope that is all too common at the moment. This was an effective dodge of that and provided a meaningful emotional resolution when with Jake and Adam’s reunion where they are finally on the same page. There’s a real sense that their relationship has become stronger and will be able to progress from here. All it took was a crisis situation and meeting The Doctor for them to get to that point. It’s disappointing that Adam is comparatively underdeveloped and stands out when Jake receives more attention.
Suki Cheng (Molly Harris) is the deceitful alien in hiding. There was an opportunity to make this character more significant than she ended up being. Her scientific knowledge and the fact that her heart was in the right place even if her actions were questionable. Ultimately The Doctor sympathises with what she’s going through while condemning her decision to put an entire species at risk to save what remains of her own. She is able to look past that because there’s an opportunity for two keen scientific minds to work together to solve a problem. It’s baffling that we are robbed of the opportunity to see their intellects combined when she promptly disintegrates as it could have made for something really engaging. It’s rare for The Doctor to work alongside someone anywhere near her level so I’m confused as to why that wasn’t allowed to happen. The reveal also happens too late in the episode to allow any time to explore the tragedy surrounding Sukie. She is from a dying race where a large chunk of the population has been wiped out by a deadly virus which should have really been the central focus because she represents what any of the Humans involved in the story could easily become.
Instead her true identity is revealed, she disappears and then she dies very soon after being found. This leaves no time to really emphasise the tragedy and explore how that makes her feel. Not only that but there was also an opportunity for The Doctor to relate to her on a personal level considering she has recently lost her entire race. In theory she could have been determined to ensure the same doesn’t happen to Suki and Suki could have been a part of that conversation. There are so many missed opportunities for this character in favour of making the episode a more disposable high energy romp.
This episode makes for the second environmental message this season. What sets this apart from “Orphan 55” is that it’s less clumsy in how it goes about making it part of the narrative. Science fiction is a good way to draw attention to modern problems and making plastic pollution in the ocean something that absorbs a deadly virus with birds spreading it all over the planet is far from the worst implementation of the message. It highlights that wasting plastic and disposing of it in the oceans is a huge problem our world faces and uses it as a springboard for a science fiction problem. There are no speeches about how it’s necessary to take care of the planet that feel painfully on the nose nor is there any real preaching. How this could have been prevented is obvious yet left for the audience to conclude and the problem still has an external element to it that makes The Doctor’s presence necessary. This is more along the lines of the right way to approach an environmental message and it works fairly well.
With the threat being a virus rather than a villain a different approach is needed to establish the stakes. The tension hinges on the need to solve the mystery quickly and the dangerous birds circling the characters at key points early on. I would say the end results are mixed as the episode does lose pace towards the end without anything specific to push the plot forward. Many of the clues feel largely incidental rather than a necessary part of the plot. The most glaring example of this is the missing submarine that is set up as being an important part of the mystery but ends up being little more than part of the scenery when the alien construct is found. All of the clues don’t feel as connected as the opening monologue tells us that they should be. It’s not a bad episode of Doctor Who but it definitely needed a few more passes at the scripting stage to iron out some of the rough edges.
A reasonable episode that does a lot of things really well but needed more attention in some key areas to live up to its full potential. Splitting The Doctor and her companions into smaller groups generally makes for a better episode and this is a good example of how doing that improves things. Ryan proves resourceful when he is able to get Gabriela on side fairly quickly even if the constant use of flirty banter between Ryan and one shot female characters is becoming tedious. Graham has a really strong moment with Jake that makes use of his history in a unique way that helps reinforce the stakes on a more personal level. Yaz is really interesting because she challenges The Doctor in ways that nobody else does which suggests that she wants to learn from her and become something of an equal. There is the suggestion of brewing animosity on The Doctor’s part because she isn’t used to being challenged in this way. It is odd that Yaz keeps putting herself between Ryan and his love interests but for the most part her character is being used very well. The relatively large number of side characters are used to inconsistent degrees in this episode. Gabriela largely fades into the background fairly quickly and Suki had far more potential than the episode was prepared to explore. The strongest were Jake and Adam with a really well established relationship as well as an arc for Jake though Adam is comparatively underdeveloped as a character.
The Doctor is inconsistently characterised this season in general. It makes sense that she would want to be distracted by a situation but having another episode partially hinge on the reveal that a character isn’t who they appear to be has officially become overused. It’s so overused now that The Doctor should be more suspicious around people. She even points out that she should have been able to spot the deception but failed to do so. It isn’t good enough considering who The Doctor is and weakens her character. This episode makes for a better application of an environmental message by avoiding preaching to the audience and leaving them to figure out how this could have been prevented. Having an alien portion to the threat adds an important external element that covers it up nicely. The threat is a virus rather than a villain which requires a different approach to establish the stakes. The tension hinges on needing to solve the mystery quickly as well as the birds representing a danger early on. Unfortunately the results are mixed as the episode does lose pace towards the end and some elements of the mystery feel incidental such as the submarine.
- a better application of an environmental message
- good use of the main characters with them being split up
- Ryan showing his greater confidence and resourcefulness
- Yaz openly challenging The Doctor and how she reacts to that
- the strong Jake and Adam relationship with an engaging arc for Jake
- Graham’s quietly powerful moment
- too many side characters meaning that one of them is largely sidelined
- yet another character that isn’t who they appear to be
- the episode losing pace towards the end
- some of the aspects of the mystery feeling incidental
- more inconsistent Doctor characterisation
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