Doctor Who Series 12, Episode 6
Posted by Sage
Look, whatever came after “Fugitive of the Judoon” was bound to be a bit of a letdown. John Barrowman has spent his entire career striving to be an act that cannot be followed, and then there was the Ruth!Doctor of it all. The promo indicated that “Praxeus” would table the Timeless Child mystery for the hour, and so it did. Still, it might have hit differently if it had landed at another point in the season. At least it wasn’t “Orphan 55” though, amirite?
I don’t bring up “Orphan 55” to trash it. (Kim did that for me!) But it makes an interesting point of comparison to “Praxeus.” In this week’s episode, the companions and the Doctor split up, separately meeting a cast of supporting characters who impact the story. While it’s by no means perfect, the latter does a much better job of convincing us why these characters all need to be there. I also like the way our heroes drop into the action — Ryan in Peru, Yaz and Graham in Hong Kong, and the Doctor in Madagascar — mid-scene, and that their presence isn’t immediately explained.
“Praxeus” also has a more subtle touch with its environmentalism angle than “Orphan 55.” Once the group is all together in Suki’s lab-by-the-beach, it doesn’t take the Doctor long to determine the cause of the spreading infection. The root of it is 100% real and therefore, pretty unsettling. We are filled with microplastics (and Graham with something else, according to Ryan), which is one of those insane facts that should lead to global industrial change, but in reality, only elicits a shrug. An alien pathogen is feeding on those plastic bits, and birds are helping to spread this new plague even faster. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that birds also carry disease IRL, so all in all, this prospect is horrifying. Like Thirteen, I also wish it were autons.
Despite this, the episode doesn’t completely sell me on its opening/closing thesis: that all life is connected. It’s a bit of a cheesy (and not “good cheesy”) button to put on a story about our now unsolvable pollution problems and a fast-acting infectious disease. (Especially given the accidental relevancy to current events.) “Praxeus” also isn’t concerned with creating bonds between those supporting characters, which would have provided some evidence of its point. Gabriela connects with Ryan (Kim: “the galaxy’s most bumbling bachelor”), and Jake and Adam come back to each other, but there’s really no sense of relationships being forged across a literal distance. When the fam drops the three off back in Madagascar (where none of them are from???), they’re treated like a crew, but that familiarity isn’t earned. Also, Emily Post says: do not invite yourself on someone else’s honeymoon.
(However, that sunset scene was gorgeously shot. Kudos to Jamie Magnus Stone for making the whole fam literally glow.)
Of the fauxpanions, Jake and Adam get the lion’s share of the attention. (While the fact that Gabriela just watched her best friend’s reanimated corpse explode into plastic fragments is quickly forgotten.) But it’s difficult to complain with the happy ending they’re given. Of course, my favorite part is that Graham instantly appoints himself the fairy godmother of the estranged husbands. Does he ever know what it’s like to be the hesitant homebody in love with a partner who’s never not jumped into danger feet-first. Both the writing of that scene and the way Bradley Walsh plays it are beautifully understated; the last thing we need is to be pummeled in the head by a hammer labeled “GRACE.”
In fact, Graham doesn’t make his conversation with Jake about him at all, and he doesn’t proselytize. With big granddad energy and significant emotional intelligence, he simply prompts Jake to ask himself why he’s made the decisions that he has. (Which, of course, have to do with feeling like he doesn’t deserve a person like Adam, something Graham has surely struggled with, especially surviving Grace.) I’m really in love with the quiet support he offered both of them throughout. It highlights Graham’s strength as a character and proves why he deserves to be here alongside Ryan and Yaz. We consistently see him reacting to situations counter to the behavior we’d normally expect from an old white dude, but the show graciously never makes a big deal about it.
“Praxeus” does, rightfully, make a big deal about its shamelessly optimistic last-second save. It seems as though Jake is going to pull a Steve Trevor (or a Steve Rogers, your choice) and sacrifice himself to save the planet, but the Doctor is absolutely not having it. And you know what? That he lives doesn’t make Jake’s choice any less heroic. We’re told so often that stories won’t be meaningful or as meaningful if they end happily – suspiciously, this seems to happen more when the characters in question are marginalized in some way. But that’s not true, it never has been true, and in fact, it can be a lot riskier to imagine something beyond the noble death. It’s not as though everything is suddenly fixed between him and Adam; there’s work to be done, and it’s a relief to get to imagine them doing it.
Unfortunately, “Praxeus” is careless with other characters, and Aramu gets the worst of it. On second watch, I was looking for a single good reason why he doesn’t take shelter in the lab instead of staying on the beach, and there isn’t one. He even sends a message to those inside that the birds are becoming more aggressive. He’s killed offscreen and then never spoken of again. And if you weren’t paying strict attention, it’s easy to miss the confirmation that he was human and not a part of Suki’s mission. The episode doesn’t much care about putting him in context, which isn’t a great look.
And the rushed ending doesn’t serve Suki either. The explanation of who she is and why she’s studying the pathogen is muddy and unconvincing. (I don’t believe we even get a name for her planet or species.) If she too is looking for the antidote, for example, why wouldn’t she have stayed with the Doctor after she was found out? She could have easily kept lying about what she was doing on Earth, and they were working towards the same purpose. It doesn’t sound as though she was a scientist on her home planet, which somewhat explains why she injected herself with an antidote formulated for humans. (Which seems like pretty basic biology, but what do I know???) But if that’s the case, how did she accomplish anything in that lab? Why was Adam being held in a separate one in an entirely different country? What were the gas mask guys about (besides referencing the good ol’ plague doctor bird look)? I confess that I also didn’t understand what the actor was going for. Sometimes there’s something sinister happening, other times she seems totally apathetic to what’s going on. When Praxeus overtakes her, she yells, “What’s happening to me?”, and that’s when I officially threw up my hands. Like…we just spent 40 minutes establishing what’s happening to you.
While we’re on the subject of the missed opportunity of Suki, check out this thread by Reality Bomb co-host, Joy Piedmont:
Let’s pan back out, because there are a couple of things we need to discuss about this episode as a part of Series 12. First of all, how in the hell is the Doctor this aggressively fine, mere minutes after the end of “Fugitive of the Judoon”? Either she’s very good at compartmentalizing (And really, she’s not. We have 57 years of history to prove it.) or there was some kind of mandate on this episode to pull back from the Master/Gallifrey/Ruth drama. This was about as plucky and cheerful as we’ve seen Thirteen all series. And while none of us would want to leave any jokes about Ryan and dead birds on the table, it was jarring.
SECONDLY, what is UP with Yasmin Khan? She’s acting a wee bit Clara-ish, if I may say so. She’s more eager than usual to rush into danger. Gabriela only goes with her back into the Hong Kong lab because the Doctor doesn’t want Yaz to be alone, which made me wonder if Yaz had some other task she wanted to accomplish on her own. She’s very salty about not having discovered an alien planet, like she thought. And she very notably pushes back against the Doctor. I’m not saying that those theories about Yaz having been replaced by the Master or having been irrecoverably changed by her time in the realm of the Kasavin are sounding more and more reasonable, but that’s exactly what I’m saying.
Timey Wimey Observations:
- “Why is it always the big lads need rescuing?”
- Speaking of “big lads,” Jake and his policy of “tackle first, ask questions later” are very, very appealing. A potential fuck-shit-up companion in the manner of Ace?
- The creature work, though. Praxeus has such a cool, slick look, and the process by which it finally overtakes a body is terrifying.
- Let Thirteen investigate the case of the talking cat, you cowards!
- Thasmin was off the charts in this episode.
- Gabriela deserved better, but this is a mood.
- H.O.W. did Adam text Jake for help? And with what?
- Direct from my notes: “Graham looks so distinguished in his glasses!”
- “Well, I’m here for you guys, you know.” Tosin’s delivery continues to be golden. Even when Ryan is somewhat sidelined, Tosin imbues every line with so much personality.
- “I said anti-clockwise.” “Just testing.”
- “Adam Lang, your job is so easy.”
Were you whelmed (or otherwise) by “Praxeus”? Give us your thoughts in the comments.
Featured Image Source: BBC