The good Doctor goes global in my review of Praxeus.
As always, I like to avoid spoilers, but it’s all but impossible to write about Doctor Who episodes without spoiling something.
So as is my usual style, I’m going to embed a video below this text; scroll past that and you’re in spoiler territory, pilgrim. Head back right now if you’ve yet to watch Praxeus, because I’d hate to spoil anything for you.
Praxeus shares a lot of common elements with every other episode of series 12 so far. You’ve got a lot of moving parts, which is somewhat par for the course when you’re going to offer up an ensemble Tardis cast like this, plus any additional characters.
You’ve also got the central idea of “mystery”, because so far it’s clearly showrunner Chris Chibnall’s favourite motif. The Doctor arrives, there is a mystery, and she spends a lot of time with a furrowed brow trying to work out what the mystery actually is. This can be done well — and has, to an extent with other episodes — and it can be done terribly poorly, as we saw with Orphan 55.
Yeah, I still hate Orphan 55.
Praxeus sits somewhere in the middle of the better episodes and Orphan 55, but sadly it veers a little too close to some of the issues that plagued that story as well. There’s a whole bunch of narrative convenience that really doesn’t play into the characters that we already know for little reason other than to advance the plot.
To pick just one, Yaz demands that she has to stay in Hong Kong to collect the control panel she saw a few minutes ago, and The Doctor — already keenly interested in solving the mystery before her — effectively shrugs and says “OK, whatever”, as though Yaz was entirely capable of deciphering alien technology on her own. I love Yaz as a character — but this wasn’t Yaz as a character. It was Yaz as a writer-needs-a-way-to-get-to-point-B-and-Yaz-is-it, because… reasons, I guess?
It’s a pity in a couple of different ways. I reckon there’s great scope for Doctor Who to do a take on The Birds, but they’re essentially just there to generate some jump scares and not much else. Likewise, Doctor Who can talk around the problems of pollution without having quite so much of a sledgehammer effect overall. In some ways it’s also a problem of scope; I can’t quite shake the feeling that this was a story that could have more simply been told entirely in Madagascar. Saying it was in Peru, Hong Kong et al just muddled the overall plot in an effort to make it feel more threatening. Again, sometimes less is more.
There were some bright spots. I quite liked Jake the disillusioned cop, even if his story arc was moderately predictable (more on that in my random thoughts), and the practical effects for the Praxeus virus itself were well realised. Jodie Whittaker did good work with the script she was given, even if this wasn’t her strongest performance as my favourite Time Lord.
It’s also very jarring to have an episode that seems to feed from last week’s Fugitive Of The Judoon using the very old school mechanic of one episode feeding into the next — my inner Troughton fan rejoices at this kind of thing — only for it to completely ignore all the revelations in last week’s episode entirely.
Maybe I’m just being greedy and it’ll be resolved in time.
Other smaller observations and thoughts
- Elephant in the room time: It’s super awkward for this episode to go out during the Wuhan coronavirus crisis. Not planned of course, but it’s all but impossible not to hear about global pandemics and feel the echo of what’s happening in the real world.
- OK, so why did the Doctor drop Ryan in Peru and Yaz and Graham in Hong Kong? Yeah, I get the “need to investigate things” reason is the explained rationale, but it doesn’t add up, really. Ryan’s not some kind of bird expert — and he’s just as likely to infect himself given his dyspraxia — and if there are strange energy readings in Hong Kong, what is Graham meant to do with them? Sniff them?
- How did Adam get his message out to Jake anyway? It’s never explained.
- Also not explained: Why travel to Madagascar to go to the lab there WHEN YOU HAVE A TARDIS WITH FAR MORE ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY AND YOU’RE ALREADY IN IT???. This would have been easier to explain if (for example) the birds were stopping The Doctor from getting back to the Tardis or something.
- How (and why) did Suki set up her lab in Madagascar anyway? Why not just stay safely under the Pacific Ocean where you’re at no risk from the infected avians?
- I did laugh at the running joke that nobody had seen Gabrielle and Jamila’s web series.
- Added points of course for Jake and Adam’s relationship just being… a relationship. Good and bad, and the underlying sexuality of it wasn’t the point. Like… y’know… real people.
- Aramu — Suki’s offsider — is either killed or super-infected by the birds and nobody even notices. He may as well have been wearing a red shirt all episode long.
- I wasn’t all that sure how comfortable I was with Graham being the comic relief for most of this season, and he did have some moments of that this week, but it was at least counterpointed by his discussion on the beach with Jake. Graham’s a recent widower, and there was a lovely undercurrent of his experiences in how he counselled Jake.
- Final gripe: I kinda like the way that the infected exploded into gravel, because it’s a neat idea (and also suggests that maybe it’s a virus borne out of one of Eldrad’s sneezes). However, what bugged me throughout the episode is that it happens a few times, our heroes are in very close proximity — and yet nobody gets pelted with shrapnel. They don’t even get dusty!
- If The Doctor now has fine control over the Tardis to the point where she can materialise around Jake, why didn’t she go back to save Kane and Bella on Orphan 55 the same way? Oh yeah… because then she’d have to go back to Orphan 55, and none of us want that.
And now of course it’s time to…
Ranking the episodes of Season 12 of Doctor Who!
- Nikola Tesla’s Night Of Terror
- Fugitive Of The Judoon
- Spyfall Part Two
- Spyfall Part One
- Orphan 55
Now, Praxeus has some serious issues in my view, but it’s still well ahead of Orphan 55. It’s quite an average episode and certainly not right up there with the best of this season or indeed the best of Whittaker’s run.
There’s only a handful of episodes left in this season, including a two-part finale. I’m hopeful in some ways that Praxeus will drop even lower in the rankings — simply because it means we’ll get some even better episodes in the coming weeks.
Next time: One of the odder Doctor Who episode titles: Can You Hear Me?
Really, that’s what it’s called.