This review does NOT contain spoilers.
In mid-December, Den Of Geek popped along to an early screening of the Doctor Who series 12 premiere at a top-secret location in London. We are banned from saying anything spoilery, and nor would we want to, until the episode airs on New Year’s Day on BBC One. If you’re after some detail-light thoughts on the episode, though, you’ve come to the right place.
We’re not going to get into story specifics, of course, but it seems okay to explain that Spyfall follows a similar sort of structure to the previous New Year’s episode, Resolution. It has an opening sequence that cuts between three different vignettes, and then Chris Chibnall’s snappy script chucks the Doctor and her fam into a fast-paced global adventure. There are no mentions of New Year’s in this episode, though, with the main thrust of the story being a spy spoof of sorts that plays on the conventions of James Bond and Mission: Impossible movies.
It’s all a lot of fun, with the episode mainly sticking to a light tone and serving up smatterings of kid-happy silliness. It’s especially enjoyable to see just how bad Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is at espionage or even just acting normally. It seems like everyone else is having a good time, too, with Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole getting a refreshingly meaty subplot as Yaz and Ryan, while Bradley Walsh spends most of the episode paired up with the Doc. If we were pushed to pick a couple of standout bits of acting from the episode, we would probably go for a bit of emotional stuff from Gill and a big comedic moment from Whittaker.
You may have already have seen guest stars Stephen Fry and Lenny Henry in the trailer, and it should come as no surprise that both national treasures are on reliable form here. Fry is playing to type a bit more than Henry, but they both seem to be game for a laugh. Everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet here, and the episode rattles along nicely at pace. The packed cinema screen that we were in, with a fair few children in attendance, were laughing at the right bits and everyone clapped at the end.
Another thing that has already been revealed in the trailers is the new costumes that make an appearance here: the whole gang looks great in their spy clobber, with everyone getting their own unique little makeover, and it’s easy to imagine the beautiful black-tie version of Whittaker’s usual outfit becoming a staple of comic-con cosplays.
In terms of scope, there are some properly massive moments in here that make us wonder if the BBC has upped the production budget since last time. And there are also some smaller sections, when the whole gang descends into single locations for some more up-close-and-personal action. It’s a nice mix of big set pieces and more intimate ideas, even if neither side of the coin creates anything particularly tense. This is more of a rollicking romp than a ‘hide behind the sofa’ affair, but there will always be room for both of those things in Doctor Who. (Apparently, episode three is going to be a scary one!)
That’s not to say that there aren’t any monsters in Spyfall. There seems to be a brand new threat presenting itself here, and it is represented in quite a unique way, but we’d be surprised if it gave you any nightmares. That being said, there is one location that may send a little shiver up your spine. We expected to see more of it in the next episode.
That’s because this is the first time since Chibnall took the reins as showrunner that Doctor Who has done a two-parter. And boy is this is a proper part one, building to the sort of barmy climax that Russell T Davies used to love lobbing at David Tennant’s Doctor. And if it was Tennant instead of Whittaker taking part in this episode, you can just imagine him shouting “WHAT?!” repeatedly before the credits rolled.
As ever, it’s hard to form a full opinion based on only half of the story, but we left the screening feeling like Chibnall has brought lots of big ideas this year and instilled a confidence in the cast and crew that should make it possible to realise them. It’s hard to tell, at this halfway point, how much of Spyfall‘s story will be wrapped up in part two and how much of it will bleed into the rest of series twelve, but either way, we look forward to seeing what happens next. After a year mostly devoid of new Who, it feels good to be back.