Back in the 80’s, I attended a local stop of the WhoMobile, including an appearance by the (then) newly hired actor Sylvester McCoy. During a Q&A session, a fellow fan asked McCoy if he felt the quality of the scripts was going to be better in his tenure.
I don’t recall what McCoy said that day (I was stoking my courage to ask him if a Dalek story was on its way yet or not), but I vividly recall the fan’s concern over the perceived quality of the scripts.
Somehow in the last couple of seasons, I’ve started to feel a bit like that fan from the Q&A that day. While the rest of social media goes ga-ga over the first installment of season 12, I still find myself having some huge reservations about the overall quality of the writing on display from show-runner Chris Chibnel.
Heading into “Spyfall, Part 1,” I decided I’d give this season a clean slate and try to put aside my preconceptions. But as Chibnel’s pastiche of spy movie unfolded, I found myself thinking that a lot of this seemed to be channeling the series six premiere “The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon,” (unseen alien that menaces all of humanity) and pretty much any time a certain villain showed up during the 80’s run of classic Doctor Who.
If you’re still reading and you don’t know how part one ends, I will urge you to turn back now because I’m going to get into SPOILERS.
There were isolated moments in the first half when “Spyfall, Part 1” seemed to be on the verge of really grabbing onto my attention and not letting go. The Doctor confronting the mysterious light aliens at O’s cabin was one, as was Ryan and Yaz hiding out inside Barton’s office and hearing him talk to the mysterious alien threat. Even seeing that the aliens can somehow get inside the TARDIS defenses ratcheted things up a bit.
It’s just that in-between that, I never quite connected with the Bond-pastiche unfolding on-screen. Yes, seeing Stephen Frye as C was fun (though, again it feels like 80’s Who with a big-name actor in a role for sake of the big-name actor) and the various chases were well done. But I really feel as if this entire installment was one big holding pattern to set-up the return of the Master.
I’ll give you that Chibnel got me. Up until O repeats a line using the name “Master,” I didn’t see it coming. And seeing him return for the cliffhanger certainly feels like a page out of 80’s Doctor Who. And seeing the Master chew up scenery certainly goes along with the Master we saw during the 80’s and we’ve seen until now in the revived series. And yet, I found myself wishing for something a bit more understated and menacing along the lines of what we got from the original Master in the form of Roger Delgado. (If you haven’t seen Delgado in the role, hang out on Pluto for a bit. They’ve got two of his serials and they’re worth your time).
The cliffhanger certainly left things ratcheted up a bit and it will be interesting to see how this all plays out and where things go. I find myself hoping that part one was a lot about putting the pieces into place and part two will be about knocking them all done.
Overall, though I give the season opener a C+. That grade could go up or down based on how part two unfolds Sunday….