Doctor Who 12.1 – Spyfall: Part One

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) wearing goggles in Spyfall Part One.

Doctor Who is back and so are Tides’s online reviews. Victoria Walker goes looking for spies…

Jodie Whittaker has returned in a smashing start to her second series. Many of the growing pains that I think blighted the first series are no longer present, and the first part of Spyfall is a tense homage to the serious fun of a Bond film.

Anyone who followed my reviews for Series Eleven would be well aware of the many problems I identified with that series, such as pacing, writing, and a complete lack of tension. I will tentatively say that these seem to be mostly fixed. If this had been in the single episode format, it may have felt hopelessly crushed. I remain undecided as to whether two episodes is too long for this narrative, which is a thought that had presented itself. However one can’t judge that until the rest has been seen, and I do slightly worry that it will end up that the narrative is better suited to about 75 minutes, rather than the given two hours.

The writing is a lot better. Despite all the expositing secrets in not secret places, there were no characters who functioned as exposition devices (as Jade did in Arachnids in the UK, the computer did in The Tsuranga Conundrum, and the Doctor did in many other episodes.) That gives the Doctor a notable and much-needed disadvantage, heightening tension as well as cleaning up the script considerably. 

The only critique, with regards to pacing and writing, is that the episode doesn’t let itself slow down very much. There’s a lot of chasing and fast thinking and revelations and spying and it was almost overwhelming. It’s salvaged by a few slow moments that break the script up, such as the O and Graham conversation, or the Ryan and Yaz conversation, or the slow tension between the Doctor and Barton. They are only just about enough and the episode overall could have used some dialogue trimming. One almost hoped that, with the rest of the Bond tropes, they would inherit some of the signature quiet we see in Bond films, instead of talking through everything. 

The production likewise was very satisfying, and thankfully was more reminiscent of the colour palette of Roger Moore’s Bond, rather than the drab greyscale of a Daniel Craig Bond film. While it did look very swish, there are some deserved critiques of the choice of camera direction. I have two words: shaky and narrow. Many of the shots were shaky and close, and this vaguely goes in hand with the oversaturation of dialogue. However, when every shot in the episode is equally unstable, you lose any effect you might have had. There were many portions where the swing around shots and shaky camera were frustrating, and where having a wider shot would have been preferable.

We saw more development of Whittaker’s Doctor in that single episode than in the entirety of Series Eleven. One of my key complaints with Series Eleven was that at no point did I think the TARDIS team might lose. How that has changed! By keeping information from the Doctor and having a bigger power playing cat and mouse is particularly effective. We now see how blunt and honest she is, along with a certain obliviousness and youthful wonder. I’m finally able to begin to separate Whittaker from the rest of the soup that forms generic Doctor traits.

I’ve decided to round out this review with a very pertinent question: why does a luxury private jet have economy class seating?

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