This week on Doctor Who, the team splits up to investigate strange birds and mysterious disappearances, and the show is very not subtle about the state of our polluted earth.
Welcome back to our ongoing Doctor Who discussion. This week, Emmet (still in recovery from surgery) and Sylas sit down to talk about “Praxeus.”
Sylas: I love the team companion format, but sometimes I feel like it can make the episodes too crowded, too quickly. In this case we have three companions and five additional characters, and none of them really get the time they need. If you spend too much time on the new people, you neglect the actual companions. But once you give all the companions their proper due, there’s very little time left to flesh out new individuals and still have time for a plot.
Emmet: I don’t think I’d agree with that. I mean, there were plenty of characters in previous eras where you only get to know a few things about them. Especially when they’d land places and get mixed up with a crew or something. 45 minutes isn’t a long time even if there’s only a few people to get to know. And the thing I love about the team dynamic is letting Ryan and Graham and Yaz have their own “be the Doctor” time, where they basically take on her role for other people.
Sylas: Oh, yeah, for sure. I agree with that. I loved having Ryan pop up just in time to stop Gabriela from touching the dead bird (also, never touch dead birds—they’re probably riddled with at least earth diseases, if not alien ones). It was very the Doctor. And then Yaz and Graham getting to chat with Jake and be all knowingly mysterious like the Doctor always is. So smug, confusing people by just dropping words like “alien tech” and “teleport” and what not. And I liked Gabriela a lot.
Emmet: Yes, and she was such a great companion-type for Yaz. I loved how into everything she was, volunteering to go with Yaz because she wants to punch something, and being in awe when she realizes she’s under the ocean.
Sylas: I mean, she’s the perfect “companion” because she’s all about traveling! And I agree, her enthusiasm was perfect. But she wasn’t as crucial to the actual plot as Adam and Jake, and I feel like that’s where the character development really fell down.
Emmet: That’s because Jake is an asshole, and we’re supposed to believe by the end that he becomes not an asshole? But we never see that happen. He and Adam (his husband) don’t even really get to talk.
Sylas: Jake makes this big deal about talking to Graham about how he’s not a people person and “doesn’t do emotions” but we never get him to do emotions. We just get one mini conversation when Adam’s dying wish is that Jake will stop “just touching” life. And then Jake quickly apologizes for not coming to his launch when he’s about to die. That doesn’t really tell me they’re going to be better about talking, going forward.
Emmet: I thought that it was weird and not good that they open the door with Jake being a really terrible cop like they mean to address that issue, and then they just drop it? He doesn’t know how to act when he’s not on duty, but also… did he aggressively tackle people and kick in doors and fire random weapons like that when he was a cop, too?
Sylas: And why is he ‘on sabbatical’ which I’m pretty sure means suspended? Or fired?
Emmet: Adam corrects it to “ex-cop” and tells them not to trust anything Jake says, so I think he got fired. It’s implied that he’s too violent and he got the boot.
Sylas: And he hates people, and hates traveling, and apparently has nothing whatsoever in common with Adam, but the problem is that he only “touches” life? Which I guess means like, you’re only touching the surface of life and not really living it?
Emmet: Yeah, I guess. I liked that Yaz called him out with her adding that she doesn’t say she’s a cop when she’s not on duty. But then they just drop it.
Sylas: I really thought they were going to kill him off. I mean I’m glad they didn’t.
Emmet: Don’t kill your gays.
Sylas: Right! But it seemed like they would because it was all set up thematically as this redeeming moment. Adam tells him to stop avoiding life, or whatever, and then he’s like “This is me not avoiding it”, but… he believes he’s going to die. So he is avoiding life, because even if this is a noble or heroic act, he’s leaving life behind. Being willing to die, even for an important reason, isn’t the same as being willing to live for one.
Emmet: Which leaves us with this question of what has actually changed.
Sylas: I guess the fact that he’s willing to travel now implies that he’s going to keep working on himself, but I didn’t really see that in anything that happened with him. And apologizing for something when you’re about to do something that will get you killed is kind of a low blow. Adam would have had to live with the fact that his “dying wish” immediately got his husband killed.
Emmet: I think that’s why you’re feeling unsatisfied. It’s not the format, it’s that the episode tries to tell us there was a big change and big development there, but it doesn’t hold up.
Sylas: But you know, yay because Gabriela gets new friends for vlogging.
Emmet: Okay, but Gabriela and Jamila were famous, so famous that Gabriela’s shocked that no one recognizes her instantly, and Jamila just… disappeared? There’s not even a body left to be discovered, and Gabriela’s just going to go off and change the name of her vlog and run it with these two guys? There’s no way she’s not getting seriously investigated for murder.
Sylas: Jake will try to protect her as though him being an ex-cop from England will give him any power over something that happened in Peru.
Emmet: Also, did anyone ever say anything about Aramu getting murdered by the birds?
Sylas: Nope. It was never addressed. It was kind of gross, honestly. Like even Tennant’s Doctor would have said something about how he’s sorry and should have done better by him. And we find out that Suki is really an alien scientist using Earth and all of us for her experiments, so it makes it feel even more gross, somehow. I don’t love it.
Emmet: You know, I really really love how Yaz and Ryan and Graham are this really great team for the Doctor, and they love her and are there for her and tell her that they believe in her even when she doesn’t, but they also don’t really seem aware of the bad things that happen the way that other companions are. They just seem to have accepted the idea that being with the Doctor is like this; it’s dangerous, people die. They never question it, or whether it’s okay for things to work that way.
Sylas: There’s part of me that wants that to be addressed more, to bring back this concept that one of the jobs of the companions is to keep the Doctor grounded and “human” so to speak. Not literally human but, you know, empathetic and connected to people and aware of the small things.
Emmet: Well, she is though. That’s the thing about this Doctor, she’s literally born out of this beautiful moment of self-reflection and understanding. She’s very empathetic and much less selfish and inwardly-focused than most of the other Doctors were.
Sylas: Yeah. The other part of me almost sees her as a reward, for everything that the Doctor has been through, for all the hard work on their PTSD and the bad habits that came with it. Like, you’ve unpacked so much of that and stopped doing so many of those bad and selfish things, and you’ve grown so much: here, be the literal embodiment of a happy rainbow.
Emmet: And I feel like what happened with Aramu was sloppy scripting, not a deliberate thematic thing.
Sylas: Oh yeah, I agree. There’s been those in every episode this season, little bits that fell by the wayside. Some of them bother me more than others. And overall it’s not worse than Russell’s era, and better than Moffat’s later seasons.
Emmet: One thing that the script did handle really well is the theme of plastic litter. They set it up really seamlessly, starting on the beach that Gabriela says was beautiful only three years ago, and then moving on to talk about microplastics, and the fact that it’s in the birds, but it’s also in us, and then finishing it with the Indian Ocean garbage patch. It’s very tight, very neat.
Sylas: I also liked how they structured the whole script around the problem of microplastics and what we’re doing to the Earth, but at the same time gave us a very typical Doctor Who plot that both went alongside it and fit into it. The alien plot part—a scientist from a dying world experimenting on humans and the Earth to save their own home—was a whole Doctor Who episode unto itself, but rather than it just be random, or because the aliens were dismissive of human life in a more general way, it turned on the fact that we have so badly polluted our planets and oceans. And the alien part is still a Doctor problem, while the plastics part is a human problem—she could build some science to fix the plastics, if she wanted to. But she protects us from aliens, not from ourselves. At the end you have Gabriela, Adam, and Jake literally standing on the beach telling the Doctor to get out of here, and “leave the Earth to us.”
Emmet: Also this episode totally implies that Brexit doesn’t stick.
Sylas: What do you mean?
Emmet: Well, it’s a little over a decade in the future and the group Adam is a part of is called the European Space Agency. So maybe when they wrote this they were hoping Brexit wouldn’t actually happen, but now that it has, I guess this means that Britain will rejoin the E.U. again soon, because otherwise Adam couldn’t be a British astronaut in a European spaceship.
Sylas: Oooh, you’re right. Also, in the world of things they couldn’t have known when they were making the episode, I kept thinking about the coronavirus since it’s on everyone’s mind right now and I think they believe that it passed to people from animals.
Emmet: Yikes. Although I do think the bird thing was just so they could homage Hitchcock.
Sylas: That and they’re one of the species most at risk from microplastics. You know, besides fish.
Emmet: I mean, I would have loved if they’d been attacked by fish in this episode instead of birds. All leaping out of the water and flopping around.
Sylas: Trying to bite them with their weird little fishy teeth.
Emmet: That would take it to a very different place, I think!
Emmet Asher-Perrin has eaten so many micro plastics just today alone.
Sylas K Barrett would like to remind everyone not to touch dead birds with their bare hands.