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Doctor Who: Spyfall, Part I (Review)

The name’s Doctor. The Doctor.

Spyfall, Part I offers a solid start to the season, if an unspectacular one.

Of course, Spyfall, Part I is all about spectacle. In some respects, showrunner Chris Chibnall is building off the successful elements of his deeply flawed first season of Doctor Who. Spyfall, Part I capitalises on a number of the core strengths of those first ten episodes. The location shooting in South Africa affords Spyfall, Part I an impressive sense of scale and spectacle. As in episodes like The Ghost Monument and Rosa, South Africa is able to stand-in for a variety of exotic locations that would normally be outside the scope of Doctor Who. Chibnall is able to pitch Spyfall, Part I as a genuinely globe-trotting adventure.

No agency.

More than that, the production continues to look lavish. Chibnall retains the anamorphic lenses and the modified aspect ratio from the previous season, lending the series a polished and cinematic appearance. The guest cast for Spyfall, Part I is absolutely stacked, especially by the standards of Doctor Who. Stephen Fry has had a long a complicated relationship with Doctor Whostarring in audio dramas, writing for the television show, critiquing the television show – and he finally makes his television appearance here. Lenny Henry is a suitably big draw, particularly for the role he ultimately plays.

Spyfall, Part I is a good old-fashioned runaround adventure, consciously built around setpieces and action beats that would have seemed impossible for Doctor Who even a decade ago. However, there is something frustratingly hollow in all of this. Spyfall, Part I is positioned as both a season premiere, a New Year’s Day Special, and the first episode of Doctor Who to air since Resolution. That is a lot of weight pressing down on the episode, a lot of expectation, and a lot of outside context. Spyfall, Part I is a new beginning for the series, but it feels more like another day at the office than a statement of purpose.

What the tech is going on?

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Doctor Who: Resolution (Review)

Despite being positioned as a New Year’s Special and being the only episode of Doctor Who broadcast in 2019, Resolution functions as a season finale to the eleventh season.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing. In terms of working relatively well, Resolution helps to compensate for the damp squib that was The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos. It provides a sense of spectacle and threat that was sorely lacking from the last episode of the broadcast season. It also wraps up a number of thematic threads from the season and even provides a much more effective bookend to The Woman Who Fell to Earth than simply bringing back an underwhelming antagonist.

Calling the Dalek out.

However, there are also problems. Most obviously, the fact that Resolution functions as a slightly-delayed series finale makes The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos seem even more pointless. There was no need for The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos to serve as such a half-assed bookend to The Woman Who Fell to Earth, given Resolution would do a much better job. The storytelling real estate in The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos could easily have been given over to literally anything but the episode that was broadcast. That’s deeply frustrating.

There is another issue as well. Writing a New Year’s Special that also serves as a season finale is a risky move. The End of Time, Part II attempted this, and struggled to find the right balance, mostly be eschewing the holiday elements in favour of providing closure with the larger Davies Era as a whole. Resolution tries to strike a more effective balance between being an epic season finale and an episode that can be watched by the whole family after gorging on a massive dinner. This creates an internal tension that Resolution never quite resolves.

Digging deep.

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