In the 70’s, the first few Master stories featured a variation on the same theme — essentially, the Master makes an alliance with some type of alien to conquer the Earth and kill the Doctor. In most cases, he hasn’t necessarily thought the plan all the way through and ends up having to cast his alien allies aside and ask the Doctor for help in defeating them to save his own neck.
During much of “Spyfall, Part 2,” I found myself wondering if Chris Chibnall might be tapping into this trope and vibe for this new take on the Master. And for this viewer, it might have been a good thing, if they did.
And while there were elements of it (the Master forming an alliance with the Kasavvins to inhabit our plane of existence without necessarily knowing their final intentions or the consequences of their plan/the alliance). But, instead, Chibnall continues to borrow a bit from the 80’s in which we see the Master’s plan go awry and he’s hoisted by his own petard. In this case, it’s the Master being trapped somewhere seeming inescapable (the plane that the Doctor was trapped in for the cliffhanger).
This is, of course, after a huge infodump that is huge into the history and continuity of the show.
I can’t help but feel myself wondering if Chibnall is trying to channel Robert Holmes a bit here and have a story like “The Deadly Assassin” that challenges fan notions of Gallifrey. And it was a huge relief to hear him bring up the “timeless child” and point it toward the notion that everything we understand about Gallifrey is a lie because I felt like that was a huge dropped ball in series 11. (And before you get on me for loving the Moffat era, let me say that I never felt like Moffat teased something in a season premiere that he didn’t at least try to pay off by the season finale.)
But leading up to the Eiffel-Tower-top conversation and the Master pursuing the Doctor through history (can’t help but wonder how having to wait for her 77 years might have affected him), there were some other solid parts to the episode. The scenes of the Doctor, Ava, and Noor worked well enough, though I still feel a bit like Jodie Whitacker isn’t offering us her own take on the Doctor and is, instead, doing her own take on David Tennant’s Doctor at his most hyper (and it was when Tennant went hyper or overly talkative that I was the least pleased with his Doctor. Give me the dark intensity of “School Reunion” or the end of “Family of Blood.”)
Again, my biggest criticism of this episode is the same one I’ve had of much of the Chibnall era — it feels like things aren’t paced well. I feel like the scenes of Graham, Yaz and Ryan really slowed things down a bit and the overall plot by Barton ended fizzled out at the end (again, it feels like the main bad guy manages to get away with consequences from the Doctor or being captured. Yes, the Master is sent to the Kasavvins realm, but all we see is Barton slipping away out a door. How much more interesting or entertaining might it be to see the tables turned on Barton and himself the center of a manhunt like the one he puts Yaz, Graham and Ryan through in the episode).
Speaking of the manhunt, does anyone else think that our trio of companions is going to have to do a lot of work to reestablish that they aren’t wanted fugitives any longer and to clear their names? Or is this one of those things that will be forgotten by the time we get them back to modern times again?
I did like, however, how dark and threatening the Master was at various points in his pursuit of the Doctor through history. There was a real sense of dread and menace, especially in the scenes during World War II when seemingly had all the cards. If Sacha Dawan does return as this version of the Master, I’d love to see more of this type of threatening and menace to the character. It really felt like the Master had bested his old friend/enemy and somehow shifted the dynamic between the two and was an actual, real threat. (Again, going back to the 80’s in a way that the Anthony Ainley Master rarely achieved. It felt more like he showed up as an annoyance than anything else)
It’s not that I hated the episode, mind you. It’s just that I found a lot of dangling threads that kind of took away my overall enjoyment.
But, if the season can offer some payoffs and challenge our notions a bit about Gallifrey ala “The Deadly Assassin,” I will be a happy fan.
That said, don’t get me started on how silly and a page out of Bill and Ted it was to get everyone out of the plane crashing in the cliffhanger. I have to admit I rolled my eyes a bit at that one.