What do you get when you take a barren planet, an intergalactic race, and the Doctor and her gang lost with no way home? Turns out a pretty compelling if not perfect tale.
This is an episode that largely revolves around the story and thankfully it’s one that holds up, literally there to get the characters from A to B. The team are cast largely as spectators in a race as their two saviours go head to head in a race of endurance setup by a mysterious benefactor across a planet where we soon find that everything has been engineered to kill by the same alien race as Tim Shaw, with their saviour’s obvious competitive rivalry/camaraderie eventually leading them to make themselves joint winners rather than leaving the others stranded for death (though their benefactor still leaves the Doctor and gang behind).
The story very deliberately dumps our gang in the middle of an adventure and then leaves us without the conclusion to it which is a real risk to the standard format where the Doctor saves the day and everything wraps up nicely but the writing pulls it off here. For once the team really are just “travellers” and don’t massively alter the effects of a planet or a people, instead just run across a desert over the course of a day and that’s it. Of course we as viewers don’t get no reward though but instead are treated to the first reveal of the TARDIS this series which is something I both enjoyed and disliked. The idea of a TARDIS-less series really interested me but it already now being resolved obviously stops that from happening, but the new TARDIS interior made up for it.
Much like Tennant’s “coral” theme this one is rather spartan in aesthetic compared to the Smith era but the lighting could do with an upgrade however. It also follows the aesthetic this series as a whole is going for with a sleek, metallic vibe that speaks to both older Sci-Fi but with the modern quality of picture. This quality of production was once again on show throughout, really painting the landscape as this picturesque yet empty alien world while still putting together a nice claptrap vibe on the spaceships (which reminded me somewhat of the Space Race episode of Stargate SG-1).
In terms of the characters it really felt like the show was still trying to work out how to balance out the cast, with Ryan and Graham’s issues getting the most time looked at while Yaz was left largely on the backburner which is a shame. It’s clear they’re placing their relationship to Grace at the forefront of their coming together but they still don’t seem to be going anywhere interpersonally, with the slower pace being potentially down to Chibnall’s serious drama history. The humour was also once again largely kept to the dialogue which was more hit and miss this week. I personally enjoyed Ryan’s little run n’ gun moment but I can understand why it might’ve put some off.
If there was one part I wasn’t a fan of it’s the new opening cinematic. I love the theme music itself but the visuals seem a bit basic and confusing at that. The music was once again more atmospheric and while it wasn’t memorable it was at least fitting of the tone of the episode.
Despite that we still end up with an interesting little episode that sees the team dumped in the middle of someone else’s adventure that overall felt more like an extended part of the prologue of the premiere episode, gearing up with the reveal of the TARDIS where next we we’ll see Chibnall try and do Rosa Parks in a way that doesn’t go off very badly. See you then.