I’ve come up with a new literary term: Chibnall’s Gun.
It’s what happens when you make a big deal out of the rifle hanging over the mantle in act one, then conspicuously slip a hand gun under the ottoman in act two, then you forget about both of them, and reveal minor character X, contrary to all prior indication and story logic, has been holding a Kalashnikov behind their back this entire time as your shocking twist ending.
I’m not sure if this was the worst Chibnall episode of Doctor Who yet, or I just haven’t built my tolerance back up in the year-long gap since last season. Resolution almost seemed like he was starting to learn from his mistakes. Even considering the extremely low bar set by The Ghost Monument this was pretty rubbish. Somebody needs to tell this man that you can only create tension when your audience has some vague clue as to what they are supposed to be tense about.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a slower pace, classic Who style build-up before revealing the enemies’ fiendish plans, but there’s a big difference the first parts of Claws of Axos, Inferno or The Wheel in Space, where we may not know the alien’s plans, or even their identities, but there’s clearly something ominous brewing, and this drek where the characters fumble around in the dark for 45 minutes, following up on leads that serve no other purpose other than providing new locations and characters that will almost certainly be forgotten in part 2, just to get to the big baddie reveal cliffhanger, which given that they made such a big deal out of having the aliens being formless and not from our universe, might have actually had some sort of pay-off if “O” had stood for “Omega.”
Instead we get BAM... Master out of nowhere.
Muahaha. It was so easy, my dear Doctor! All I had to do was pretend to be a person that you interacted with ONCE a couple of regenerations ago, then assume his life for 10 years, and wait for you to coincidentally get drafted by MI6, and think to phone me up because I was one of the few people within the organization who sort of knew stuff about aliens (by all means, don’t think of bringing in anybody experienced from UNIT or Torchwood, who obviously vanished completely after their organizations were shut down.) Then make you jump through a bunch of hoops to track me down in the Australian outback while your B team investigates my red-herring tech magnate, who through even more coincidences just so happened to invite two complete strangers to his birthday party, and despite being one of the most rich and powerful men on the planet with his own personal security force, inexplicably elects to run away while firing a gun at both you *and* me in an attempt to murder people on his own property while surrounded by extremely important guests, all of which leads us all to an airplane hangar, so I can finally achieve my lifelong dream of getting The Doctor trapped on a plane with a ticking cartoon time bomb and no parachutes. Oh the look on your face!
I’d say that was the stupidest Master plan yet, but then I’m reminded that the Ainley version once dressed up as a racist Arabian wizard in the middle of a Jurassic wasteland, and hung out in a 19th century field dresses as a scarecrow in the off chance The Doctor walked by so he could cackle at him.... so uh... maybe it’s just somewhere in the top 5.
Oh, and the new version is an even more crap and infantile version John Simm’s hot mess, Hooray!
And no mention at all of Missy or the rather nice sendoff that both incarnations got in Moffat’s finally. Just sweep that all under the rug with an “I’ve upgraded” and straight into the Tom Cruise jumping-on-the-couch-cushions level craziness.
But that was only the last 10 minutes of the episode. Let’s take a look at Chibnall’s new monsters, who in standard Chibnallian form, possess a variety of ill-defined super powers that are abruptly revealed from nowhere and then promptly forgotten. Over the course of 45 minutes we learn nothing of meaning about them, their intent, or their culture other than that they probably come from another universe and don’t speak any recognizable language, but we do learn...
- They can remotely control cars and hack computer systems to say “Die” and fire death rays at the occupants, but that’s instantly forgotten after the first 10 minutes of time wasting pseudo-action.
- They can disintegrate people at will, but all the spies they attacked were killed by having their DNA corrupted, except for that one on the plane who for some reason just ended up in a coma, despite having something like 90% of her DNA rewritten.
- They’re stealthily eliminating spies, specifically field agents, from multiple agencies all around the world, all of whom don’t appear to be aware of their existence or any kind of threat to their plans, before very publicly assassinating the head of MI6... not by phasing through the wall and killing him up close like they’ve done on previous occasions, but with an alien sniper rifle from across the street.
- They’re invisible and can relentlessly pursue their prey... even through the outer plasmodic shell of a TARDIS, but apparently can’t walk through an electric fence. Also, while they appear to be able to go anywhere and do anything they want, mostly they just pop out of the ceiling or the sides of buildings and stare at you like Ceiling Cat while glowing and flickering ominously like an angry Lite Brite.
- If they touch you, they can... uh.... wish you into the cornfield... um kelpfield... which is possibly an alternate universe? It isn’t clear.
- Nor is it clear why they didn’t just kill Yaz as soon as they caught her or corrupt her DNA like their spy victims, and/or how they inexplicably zapped her to alien kelp land, and then decided to teleport her all the way to Australia, to presumably exchange locations with the one that was trapped in the box?? Apparently that was necessary... for... um... some reason.
The more I think of it, all this stupidity might have made some vague sense if the baddie was Omega, and these shimmery dudes were slightly souped up versions of his Gel Guards (who could teleported around *and* act as a bridge transporting matter from our world to his antimatter universe) or possibly some goofy new species he bio-engineered like the Ergon. That still doesn’t explain why they needed the help of an ambitious tech magnate or felt the need to call attention to themselves by eliminating spies around the globe.
If you’re hoping these questions will be satisfactorily answered in part 2, remember all the lazy dangling plot threads left over from The Ghost Monument, and realize that it’s probably all downhill from here.
On the plus side, part 2 airs on Sunday, so we can hopefully move past this train wreck as quickly as possible and get on to some slightly better stories written by the guest writers in the weeks to come. (It’s pretty bad when my expectations are so low, I’m just hoping we get one or two stories as mediocre as Kerblam or It Takes You Away so the entire season isn’t a complete waste of time.)