When you end your previous episode on a whopping cliffhanger, naturally anticipation will be high for what’s next and, sadly, it can be difficult to keep the momentum going and deliver the satisfying conclusion everyone wants. Spyfall – Part One ended on both a huge shock reveal and a nosediving plane – exactly the kind of edge of your seat viewing that has audiences desperate for more. But is writer Chris Chibnall capable of landing this thing – quite literally?
For the most, Spyfall – Part Two manages to stick the landing. The resulting hour provides a satisfying (albeit oft-times messy) conclusion to the ongoing techno-thriller that started in the previous episode, with Chibnall wisely circumventing story fatigue by relocating much of the action to both the late 1800s and Nazi-occupied Paris. The change of location means a change in style, thrusting the Doctor into a more classic WWII spy setting after the modern Bond tropes of last episode, with Chibnall managing to utilise these settings and styles well within the main plot.
The overall plot reveals are choppy at best though, with much of the exposition feeling like an afterthought and ultimately rushed. The explanation that the Kasaavin are utilising human DNA in order to use the people of Earth as hard-drives for…something, I guess…is perfectly fine, though there’s not much to sell the threat aside from a bit of vague dialogue and a few shots of people being zapped with lightning. Thankfully, guest villain Lenny Henry is on hand to deliver some sinister vibes with a wonderfully cold and unsettling speech about our relationship with technology, which genuinely chills to the bone.
Of course, the real villain fans will be tuning in to see is Sacha Dhawan‘s manic new Master, who debuted out of the blue in the previous instalment. As expected, Dhawan is perfect casting for the familiar role, making it his own within seconds of screen time – a menacing yet petulant and angry figure, entitled and horribly evil to the core. The scenes between him and Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor are electrifying, with both actors bringing out the best in one another throughout their verbal sparring scenes.
Arguably, it’s here where Whittaker gives her best performance as the Doctor to date. Her seething anger at the Master and her subsequent emotional state upon discovery of Gallifrey’s fate are beautifully played, understated and yet brimming with emotion. She’s also incredibly funny throughout, whether talking to herself whilst trapped in another dimension, giving a video message to the companions on the crashing plane, or even in her enthusiastic meetings with Ada Lovelace (Sylvie Briggs) and Noor Inayat Khan (Aurora Marion) – frankly, she nails every scene with the right amount of childish energy and underplayed gravitas.
That gravitas is no better exemplified then in her more sombre, heartbreaking moments towards the end of the episode. The devastating hints of a longer arc plot unfolding are the icing on the cake here though, which apparently stretch right back to the offhand reference of a ‘timeless child’ in 2018’s The Ghost Monument. There are plenty of questions arising in the climactic scenes, as the Doctor discovers the Master has destroyed Gallifrey upon discovering a terrible ancient secret of Time Lords – something which will undoubtedly pose more enticing questions and revelatory answers as this season progresses. Whilst there’s currently little to go on at present, the mere presence of a larger mystery is very welcome after the standalone adventures of Series 11.
Sadly, like in Series 11, the companions are surplus to requirements throughout the episode (which seems to have become commonplace for the Chibnall/Whittaker era). Graham, Yas and Ryan spend most of the episode on the run from the bad guys and do little to advance the plot. Ultimately, they only serve to ask the Doctor the usual questions in the climax, which is frankly a criminal waste of some great actors. This unfortunate result certainly has us worried that this ongoing problem isn’t going to be addressed anytime soon. Plus, the less we say about laser shoes, the better.
These issues aside, Spyfall as a whole is ultimately a winner, if just by the skin of its teeth. Part Two feels a lot more balanced and exciting, despite less action and a more muted visual palette. It’s focus on story (however disjointed it may occasionally get) and the interplay between the Master and the Doctor rightly dominate proceedings, with the end result being highly enjoyable. Yes, there are some comedic moments that fall flat, some character moments that are extremely lacking and the plot hangs together by a mere thread. But those issues never manage to derail what is a fun, well-paced, twist-laden adventure that promises plenty more where that came from.