Ok, this is a two-fer-one deal this week. Two reviews for one episode. It’s happened before and it may happen again. Here we go.
Remember when Psychic Bec™ described the 2017 season’s arc in terms of how each episode would edge closer to the main point of the series and how, in another post (if you’ve been following along at home), I decided the theme this year was barriers.
Well I was right. Sort of. The Doctor and Bill have been fighting (even with fists) barriers and exploitative behaviours such as racism, slavery, rampant commodification of people, emotions, giant possibly alien fish, air, and the systematic murder of populations for profit, etc. Meanwhile, the Vault squats beneath the adventures (physically at the university and metaphorically) as a symbol of doom-laden significance. I think most people believe the Master/Missy is inside, but at any rate the being within is sentient, and dangerous. The danger, you see, in Who, is within and without.
However, what unexpectedly upped the stakes was the refusal of the writers/show runners to get the Doctor out of his blindness by voila deus ex machina-ering the issue by waving Gallifreyan tech over his face, for a happy conclusion. After a couple of seasons (is it that much?) of sporting sonic shades, he can now wear dark glasses permanently, it seems. Way to telegraph I guess?
Anyway the usual escalation of NuWho danger is:
Preview: Arrive at Location.
1) Isolate The Doctor and Companion from the Tardis.
1a) Destroy Sonic Screwdriver or minimise its effectiveness (doesn’t do wood).
2) Increase dangers in the environment.
3) Split The Doctor and Companion.
3) Get Companion in Trouble™.
4) The Doctor does the Risky Thing™.
5) Companion and/or The Doctor save the day.
6) The Doctor returns to the Tardis, fixes what was damaged and pouts over what was broken or lost (eg his hearts, the Master, Madame Pompadour, Rose, his shoes, Sonic, his home etc.)
This time, the promised deux ex wielded by Nardole doesn’t work. Hence, the stakes are changed for The Doctor. He is blind and it is a real barrier (even if he can save a space mining station without sight, a sonic, or much air). There aren’t many physical barriers put before The Doctor these days, or if there are, they’re the same ones everyone in the environment faces. This time his behaviour in saving Bill from the Trouble™ has lasting consequences. This is a welcome development, and yes, a natural progression or danger escalation towards revealing the Vault plot.
The upshot of this is that I hope that the first five minutes of the next episode don’t produce the sudden fix lacking in this episode, because this particular barrier is worth exploring. As is the idea he will continue to lie about his new situation to Bill, who would appreciate the motivation to hide (from one perspective), but perhaps not in relation to what it means for his role as Senior Danger Vault Custodian with a cosmic reputation for planet saving.