After surviving the machinations of the dog Karvanista, it would be okay for the doctor to shake herself off and get rid of the immediately real Action of the episode. But not this time. Despite his fondness for traps, one Batman Villain blushes, Karvanista isn’t just kidding about the titles – he’s a main character in the episode. On the voyage to the “last hours of planet earth”, which he describes as “the last hours of planet earth”, the TARDIS is forced to set out, except that the ship seems to be fighting, let alone Leaks, for some reason that the doctor can’t pin down.
Chris Chibnall is once again writing the first episode of the new series – this time he co-wrote or co-wrote all six parts – and there are certain similarities here with the first part of ‘Spyfall’. Big, chunky subtitles take us to many seemingly disjointed locations throughout the story, while the characters are introduced with just a few lines of dialogue before we are thrown away to watch the next puzzle piece get fished out of the puzzle box.
This is of course a “new companion” episode too, so we can spend a little more time enjoying Dan Lewis’ debut. He is played by John Bishop, who gives Dan a kind of fragile cheerfulness that hides the sufferings of a disoriented and rather melancholy man – and it is clear that he is not making a fool of anyone. Dan is obviously very proud of Liverpool, but the life he spends there seems as worn out as his kitchen cabinets. It’s a similar feeling of listlessness to Donna Noble’s before reconnecting with the 10th Doctor in Partners in Crime. So let’s hope Dan actually remembers his time in the TARDIS when all is said and done.
Speaking of forgotten things … While wrestling with the TARDIS, the doctor finds her mind trapped halfway across the universe. It is said to testify to the escape of a mysterious alien when he breaks out of eternal captivity and dusts a few guards to revitalize himself. (Scripts during Chibnall’s tenure have a bad habit of leaving significant characters unnamed, but this is ‘swarm’, at least by the credits.) “Trick or Treat!” Swarm explains his escape, eager to goad the Doctor and apparently just as interested in reminding the audience at home of the day as if they weren’t already suffering from Haribo Remorse.
It becomes apparent that the two have a history the Doctor cannot recall, implying that she was once at least partially responsible for Swarm’s imprisonment. Yes, for better or for worse, we are leaning back on the legacy of the timeless child and the Doctor’s past actions as part of The Division on Gallifrey – in fact, we will learn that her pursuit of Karvanista is the search for the Doctor’s answers over their extinguished life.
Karvanista herself arrives on earth while the doctor telepathically writes “new regeneration, who is that?”. and breaks into Dan’s house, apparently looking for an old-fashioned alien abduction. However, Dan playfully tugs at the alien’s dog-like whiskers and comments on what a lovely Halloween costume it is, the exact kind of attitude towards anyone who breaks into your house with an ax. This should be a terrifying scene, but it works, mainly because Karvanista isn’t just one Scooby Doo Villain. He’s a disgruntled professional with a quick-tempered temperament and a job that sets him apart from the landscape-eating crush and their great heralds of universal destruction.