Now, where were we? Oh, that’s right—the Thirteenth Doctor was transported to an odd netherworld and her companions were left trapped on a burning plane. Not to worry, though, as it turns out the netherworld is just Ada Lovelace’s dreamworld. Meanwhile, Ryan finds instructions on how to land a plane via an in-flight video from the Doctor (reminiscent of the DVD Easter Egg scene in “Blink”) and an app. Barton alerts the Master and the two split up to take out the Doctor and her friends.
The Doctor is pulled back into the 1800s with Ada Gordon (who’s not a Lovelace just yet) in the midst of the Royal Gallery of Practical Science only to find the Master hot on their trail. Of course, the Master is simple and wants what he always wants—he wants the Doctor to bow before him, or in this case, kneel. (Time lords have mercy, I can hear the fanfic being written as I write this!) The Doctor obliges him to save all the innocent bystanders (and perfectly played with the slight eye roll from Jodie Whittaker). The Master asks her how she got here and that’s when the Doctor realizes she has the advantage. Not before he tempts her with news from their shared home of Gallifrey, but Ada is able to provide a distraction and shoot the Master in the shoulder (the Doctor doesn’t approve).
Back in the present time, the rest of the TARDIS fam finds themselves on the run and have to go dark, since Barton’s tracing their every move via their cell phones.
Meanwhile, the Doctor’s trying to figure out why she’s been dropped in the 1800s with Ada Gordon. She has a quick meeting with Charles Babbage and a look at the Difference Engine. Also in his quarters is a Silver Lady figurine. (Previously, we saw a similar art installation at Baron’s company in San Francisco.) Now we actually see that it projects the white light figures that have been chasing the TARDIS team. The Doctor asks Ada about her symptoms (aka being paralyzed and sent to the netherworld) and they figure these events have been happening since she was a teenager. The Doctor is able to work out the network they saw in the Master’s quarters wasn’t just a spy map of worlds but also time, so she takes the risk to manipulate the beings to throw her back to the present day—but not before Ada grabs her hand.
Graham, Ryan, and Yaz all head to an undeveloped housing complex and park it for a bit—and start asking questions they should have been asking most of last season. (Who is the Doctor? How can she change bodies and genders for that matter? Who is she really? Better late than never, I suppose). They also try to work out what she’d do and take stock of which spy toys they still have with them.
The time jump for the Doctor and Ada worked, but it only took them as far as war-struck Paris in 1943 where they run into Noor Inayat Khan who hides them both from Nazis and—you guessed it—the Master. (Too bad Rory Williams isn’t there to lock him in a cupboard.)
Fast forward to nighttime at the construction site, the white light forms (now known as Kasarven) surround the TARDIS crew and Graham finally gets to use his gun spy shoes (adding much-needed levity to the episode). Barton, on the other hand, has unfinished family business and uses the tech to kill his mother (who obviously isn’t proud of anything he’s done tech-wise).
Back in 1943, Noor shows extreme courage when the Nazis raid her apartment and plug a bunch of bullets in her floor, whilst looking for the Doctor. Once they leave, she pulls up the floorboards from under her desk, where the Doctor and Ada were hidden. Both Noor and Ada have questions, the biggest of which is why the dark times continue to happen. The Doctor, of course, has the perfect answer (which also speaks to us, the viewers in our current mess of a world).
“These are dark times, but they don’t sustain. Darkness never sustains, even though sometimes it feels like it might.”
It’s then the Doctor works out her next steps, but not before we flip back to the present day. Yaz is still trying to get in touch with her family to warn them, and the gang is met with Barton’s heavies who Graham takes down with his spy soft shoe two-step.
Putting Noor’s radio equipment to good use, the Doctor sends a specific code across telegraph lines, in this case, it’s the familiar sound of drums. (We still don’t know where this Master is from, but I’d love if he predated Simm’s Master making this a retroactively roundabout, timey wimey moment for Ten’s era. Plus the tension between the Doctor knowing where the Master will end up, aka Missy, would be much more interesting. To me, Missy is where the Master will always end up, so fingers crossed this incarnation fits in somewhere before her. Please be clever, Chibnall.)
The Doctor and the Master communicate via telepathy and the Doctor says she’ll meet him alone. So they head—where else?—to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The Doctor calls the Master out for being a Nazi and asks him how he’s gotten away with it (“You’re not their Aryan archetype.”) Turns out he’s been using a perception filter and she goes down the list of crimes over the course of the last episodes.
The rest of team TARDIS ends up finding Barton’s mother and he Skypes in to lay it all out – he’s been the “proof of concept” for the impending roll-out, aka the whole of human race. And while the Doctor meets with the Master, she has Noor sending messages back to London and has equipt Ada with a flip phone. The two run off into the night in search of something.
The Doctor and the Master spar some more, with the Master revealing his fiendish, typical plan (everyone dies or loses except for him), and then the conversation turns to Gallifrey, where the Master describes it as burning. (I took the deepest breath here because I’ll be damned if Chibnall undoes “The Day of the Doctor” because it’s the 50th anniversary special and Moffat’s finest hour, HOW DARE YOU, SIR. HOW DARE YOU TOY WITH MY EMOTIONS.)
The Doctor’s not buying it and the game is up and the Doctor’s painted the Master as a good guy and kills his perception filter (which is hella problematic since the Doctor’s a pacifist but she’s leaving him in the hands of the Nazis—I know the Master brings out the worst in the Doctor, but damn, that’s bad form). She ends up catching up with Ada and Noor and they’ve found the Master’s time machine. The Doctor clears up why the Kasarven are all over time and space—they’re gathering information from the greatest computer geniuses in history.
Barton begins his product launch with a long monologue around the downsides of technology (and giving up your personal information). The Master also shows up to gawk at team TARDIS but within the nick of time, the Doctor shows up, having built a fail-safe in the Silver Lady back in the past. When the Kasarven army grows up, the Doctor also drops a recording where the Master admitted to getting rid of them too, so they drag him off with them and place him in the netherworld.
Team TARDIS isn’t impressed and wants answers, mainly for how they survived the plane crash and that’s when we get a classic Doctor Who twist—she hadn’t placed the clues or software yet, so she runs off to go do that, Ada and Noor in tow to help. She ends up dropping them off at their timelines, but not before doing a quick mind wipe (most famously used on Donna Noble, bless).
Back on the TARDIS, the Doctor is tempted to go back to Gallifrey, and it turns out the Master wasn’t lying. It’s then we learn the truth, via hologram: the Master did it because the Gallifreyans have been hiding something from them for years and years. Thirteen is gutted, seething and numb…there’s a storm a’coming. The episode closes out with the fam finally getting to ask those questions and the Doctor gives the rundown we normally get in any Doctor’s first episode. We end on Thirteen running into the blue shadows of her TARDIS looking shattered for whatever lies ahead.
Overall, this was a jam-packed episode that tied up most of its loose ends and I liked its low key nod to unsung female heroes of the past while not being super on-the-nose historical. (I’m still sad the Doctor wouldn’t let Ada go for another turn in the TARDIS. I’m also glad the episode shone a light on Noor’s efforts since I was not familiar with her backstory and now have plenty of Googling in my future.)
Chibnall’s smart to take from Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat playbook—from the sound of drums, to the mind wiping, and the Easter egg video message—these things feel familiar without feeling like outright fanservice. There’s been classic nods as well (the Master shrinking people, and two time lord telepathy). But then there’s Gallifrey burning and the riddle of the timeless child (which was initially teased way back in “The Ghost Monument.”) I breathed a huge sigh of relief when it was revealed “The Day of the Doctor” hadn’t been undone but heartbroken that the Doctor once again has to carry the weight of being a lonely time lord again. Here’s also hoping the Master pops up again to chew more glorious scenery and that the TARDIS fam keeps pressing Thirteen with questions.
Whatever awaits the Doctor this season, Ada’s words from earlier in the episode echo in my ears:
“She’s wise and unafraid, and I believe in her.”