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Doctor Who: Dot and Bubble – season one episode five recap
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Doctor Who: Dot and Bubble – season one episode five recap

“Oh my hopscotch!”, as Lindy Pepper-Bean might say. The on-screen lead for much of this episode, Callie Cooke, is surely one of the most dislikeable human characters Doctor Who has ever produced. She is vain, shallow, self-absorbed and manipulative, and not afraid to cause her idol, Ricky September (Tom Rhys Harries), to die, and then lie about it. Regardless of the presence of the slug monsters, she is undoubtedly the villain of the piece.

It was strikingly stylised, and unusual to see an episode of Doctor Who mostly colour-graded to be pastel pinks and blues until the final subterranean act. The obvious target was the vacuousness of much of social media, but writer Russell T Davies struck out at wider themes, including the idea that AI might come to hate humans, and the arrogant privilege that comes with being, as Ruby Sunday put it, the “rich kids”. The inhabitants of Finetime had been sent off to a posh offworld boarding school and apprentice scheme for the wealthy and conventionally attractive, where they mostly partied. “Some of us get eaten” was both factually true for the story, and a bleakly observant pun for the viewer. Some people do get Eton.

The episode didn’t take a sideswipe at an entire generation though. Ricky September was heroic, Gothic Paul (Pete Machale) was clearly on the case, and some of the extrapolations of tech dependence applied well beyond today’s gen Z. Lindy’s inability to walk around without arrows directing her may have been played for laughs, with her bumping into street furniture, but we’ve all seen videos of people driving their cars into rivers because they were relying on satnavs rather than engaging their critical facilities.

As Ricky September, Tom Rhys Harries had a heroic heartthrob role.View image in fullscreen

When Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) and the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) did eventually show up in person, the cold contempt, grudging recognition of his contribution to saving their lives – and the rejection of his entreaties to take them away because of the risk of “contamination” – was beyond harsh. The survivors setting themselves up to be new pioneers didn’t need to say a word about race or skin colour – the subtext was clear. Gatwa’s initially incredulous then raw reaction to it will, you suspect, go on to be one of the defining clipped up moments of his portrayal of the character.

Sum it up in one sentence?

Doctor Who makes a Black Mirror episode about social media, but adds alien slug monsters because, of course, it is Doctor Who.

Life aboard the Tardis

Gatwa’s filming commitments with Sex Education after being cast as the Doctor made this a second consecutive “Doctor-lite” episode, with the Tardis crew mostly appearing via the bubble rather than in person. Ruby realising the key to getting Lindy to cooperate was flattery – “I love your top!” – was endearing, as was the image of her trying to forlornly comfort the Doctor with a gentle touch on his shoulder as he was being shunned. The ending cast an entirely different light on why Lindy is so disgusted that the Doctor and Ruby in her social media vision were actually in the same room together.

Fear factor

Who doesn’t love a practical prop of a giant alien slug literally eating people? Location pictures had already revealed there would be giant slug monsters in this year’s series, recalling the Tractators and Gastropods of the 1980s. They weren’t, to be honest, the most frightening or the fastest moving, and they certainly didn’t hold a torch to the chill given by the smug vindictive look of Lindy as she sailed off to certain death, utterly convinced of her moral superiority in rejecting the Doctor’s overtures of help.

Mysteries and questions

This felt rather divorced from the overall series arc, although the pampered inhabitants of Finetime also, in a way, ended up being children abandoned by their parents, both in initially being sent offworld, and then because everybody was orphaned when the homeworld was destroyed.

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Deeper into the vortex

  • Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini joins the pantheon of pop songs used in Russell T Davies’s Doctor Who episodes alongside luminaries like Spice Up Your Life, I Can’t Decide, Tainted Love and Toxic. Originally a hit for Brian Hyland in 1960, the version used in Dot and Bubble was the 1990 recording by Bombalurina featuring Timmy Mallett, which was a No 1 hit in the UK in 1990. That was two years after New Order had released their Ibiza-drenched single Fine Time, which may have inspired the name of the colony. Ricky September’s curtain haircut definitely belonged in that late 80s, early 90s era too

  • Lindy told Ricky September that she had never been hugged. Neither had the Space Babies in episode one

  • Lindy’s reaction to the news of her mother’s death, that she was lucky to have gone to the sky, echoed Splice’s words in episode three, when she said her mother “got gathered up” because God “loved her so much that he gathered her up early”

  • Of course Susan Twist appeared again, this time as Lindy’s mummy, Penny

  • Ricky September’s stylised hero status and doomed attempts to save the day recalled Pex (Howard Cooke) who sacrificed himself to save Paradise Towers in a 1987 Sylvester McCoy-era story with a similar comic-book style to Dot and Bubble

  • The idea of a blissfully unaware human colony being preyed upon by alien invertebrates was also explored in 1967’s The Macra Terror, where the antagonists were giant crabs. That Patrick Troughton story is sadly completely missing from the archives, but was reconstructed as an animation in 2019 from the surviving soundtrack, and Russell T Davies brought back devolved Macra feeding on the traffic fumes of New New York in 2007’s Gridlock.

Next time: Rogue

Millie Gibson has said that next week’s “Bridgerton” episode was her favourite to film, so set your controls for the heart of the Regency era with Jonathan Groff! And Indira Varma! And, judging from the trailer, weird transforming avian humanoids!

Source: theguardian.com