Doctor Who series 14 episode 5 | Dot And Bubble spoiler-filled review

Doctor Who Dot and Bubble
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Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson are in a bright, bright world in Russell T Davies’ latest Doctor Who episode, Dot And Bubble. Here’s our review.

Final warning: this review contains spoilers.

I really like episodes of Doctor Who like this. All bright and breezy on the surface, but simmering with rage underneath.

The ending of Dot And Bubble in particular I found really quite something, and I never really saw it coming. Just as the episode felt to me like it was running out of juice, Russell T Davies pulled out something different. The innate snobbery of the lead character in the episode, turning her nose up at the idea of being rescued, because of who’s rescuing her.

You get so much passive rage in it: them and us writ large, a class system that supersedes even basic survival. You can only listen to the influencers, or the people in power. What does a strange man like the Doctor – with tears in his eyes – and a young woman like Ruby, have to offer? We know better than them, and we’ll prove it with our lives. I reckon I could get a thesis out of this.

Dot & Bubble, then. A Doctor Who episode where Russell T Davies mines popular culture and twists it. Remember all the way back in 2005 when he commandeered Big Brother and The Weakest Link for a bit of Doctor Who? Lowering our defences with a bit of the familiar. This time, it felt a bit more like Black Mirror, as we’re introduced to Fineworld, a place where you get up, activate your dot, pop your bubble on, and spend your waking time with a screen around your head. Try and walk without it on, you’ll struggle. Keep it on, and you’re – not just metaphorically – steadier on your feet.

Here’s a story too where people walk into the monsters in the world, because of what they’re told by this online system. Never mind the fact that the real world has been ripped apart, here in Fineworld, the distraction of colour and bouncy noise is enough for people to sleepwalk into the monsters that will happily kill them. Monsters that, once the algorithm has done its work, can happily just stand and wait. Convince people virtually, and they’ll come to you. The thesis grows.

The creatures here, incidentally, are the first alien monsters we’ve seen this series since Space Babies, and I thought they were lovely and gooey creations. Certainly worth lowering the old bubble to see. As with Wild Blue Yonder, the very slow pace of the foe also increased their threat.

For the second episode running too, Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor – another excellent jumper – took a slight back seat here. In fact, the joyously bright production design meant a lot of the time, we were watching squares against a solid colour background, and we were seeing the world through the eyes of Lindy Pepper-Bean, played terrifically by Callie Cooke.

Both she and her character I was really impressed by, not least the slow pulling away of her mask, to the point where she’ll happily throw someone under the bus to survive. In 43 minutes, her character arc proved to be quite something, and I’d like to see her and her character again in the show. There was no hiding place if her performance didn’t stack it, and I fully bought it.

Dylan Holmes Williams deserves credit too. It’s his second week directing a Russell T Davies script, and he’s done the material justice on both occasions. Tonally, you got a fair amount of contrast too, and even within this one single episode, the countering light and dark was nicely balance.

Doctor Who Dot And Bubble

Running themes? Yep, there was Susan Twist in the cast list again, this time as Penny Pepper-Bean. Thing is, here we got a tacit acknowledgement from the Doctor that she keeps reappearing. Russell T Davies hinted as much a few weeks back, and it seems the Doctor and Ruby are now firmly on the scene of the mystery. Why does the same face keep popping?

There’s more singing too, and for those who have picked up on the fourth wall breaking over the current run and specials of Doctor Who, Dot And Bubble has people delivering the bulk of their lines straight down the camera lens. Still more questions than answers, but answers are surely imminent.

Russell T Davies puts his pen down for next week’s episode, Rogue, which is instead penned by Briony Redman and Kate Herron. But over this fortnight, we’ve been treated to too really good pieces of family-friendly science fiction from his brain and word processor. His second couplet of episodes in Doctor Who series 14 have been more I’d imagine to the taste of the show’s longer term fans (guilty), but I keep coming back to the range of what he’s doing.

On the whole, I think 73 Yards was the stronger of the latter two, but I’d happily sit through them both again. In the case of Dot And Bubble, I really, really liked the first half hour or so of it. It began to lose me a little once we got more of the Doctor and Ruby outside of the bubble, as it started to become a little more familiar. But then it pulled out that humdinger of an ending, and we were really good friends again. Once again, I both admire and applaud what Russell T Davies is willing to do while the limelight is on the show. You don’t have to love everything he does, but you can’t deny he’s going full throttle at this series.

With three episodes left though, we’re coming to the point where at least some of the current run’s mysteries are set to resolve. We didn’t get much in the way of Ruby development in Dot And Bubble, but she seems to be at the heart of where the series is heading. Is she real? Is she an alien with a perception filter on her (they’ve had their mention, after all)? Is this whole series a construct, with the TARDIS going a little bit haywire? And what happened to that talk earlier in the series of the Doctor still not up to full strength?

Onto Rogue then. Given the three episodes of the show we’ve just had, it’s got a fair amount to live up to. Can’t wait…

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