If this season of Doctor Who has shown us anything, it’s that Chibnall likes splashing off to lush locations—it happened in the opening moments of “Skyfall Part 1” and it’s what the whole of this week’s episode “Praxeus” is all about: connecting the dots across the globe.
Also, if you wanted answers for last week’s explosive, canon-changing episode, you’ll not find them here, so we might as well get on with it: birds are falling from the sky in Peru near blogging backpackers Gabriela and Jamila, a US naval officer has washed up on a beach in Madagascar which is conveniently right next to a beach-side research lab where scientist Suki is working, and there’s a missing British astronaut named Adam Lang, who potentially might have ended up in Hong Kong somewhere (and his copper husband Jake is off to find him).
One of the backpackers disappears but Ryan pops up, doing intel for the Doctor (and takes a dead bird with him) as he and Gabriela search for Jamila. They find her at a quarantined hospital and she’d broken out with the same disease that befell the now-dead naval officer. In Hong Kong, Jake runs into Yaz and Graham who find Adam, who’s also struck with the same malady. Thanks to a few quick turns in the TARDIS, the Thirteenth Doctor comes to the rescue and gets them all back to Suki’s laboratory except for Yaz and Jamilia who stayed behind in Hong Kong to scavenge for alien tech and take a chance to teleport, too.
Back in Madagascar, the Doctor and Ryan get down the business and try to figure out what’s up with the sickly birds, and saving astronaut Adam from the same fate as the others, and keep the virus from spreading. It turns out all the birds are full of plastic, and somehow alien pathogens have infected the plastic (and microplastics, which are very real) and are making humans sick. The Doctor devises a treatment for Adam, who’s trying to say goodbye to Jake, his commitment-phobic husband who’s trying to make good.
The dots are slowly connecting and that’s when we finally get from point A to Z: it’s actually Suki that’s been behind the virus and she teleports away mid-crazed bird attack which takes out her pal and off-screen birdwatcher Aramu, but not before the Doctor finds where—it’s actually where Yaz and Jamila ended up at. Yaz took it for an alien planet, but it’s a weird bubble under the sea.
Turns out Suki’s from another galaxy that was infected with Praxeus and was looking for a cure. Her sunken space ship is what infected the planet and caused Adam’s space capsule to crash. Since she’s also infected with Praxeus, she succumbs right as it turns out the treatment worked on Adam. But they’ve got to get out of dodge and the Doctor has an idea for protecting Earth with the new treatment the TARDIS has reproduced.
They use Suki’s old ship but it starts to self destruct after being put into autopilot. Jake hangs back and steers it up outside the Earth in time to drop the treatment and have the Doctor save him. He and Adam make up (hurray for a happy ending!) and Jamila decides to join them as the Doctor and fam head off to parts unknown.
That was a lot of dots, y’all. All of the plot elements take their sweet time to muddle together and once we’re there, the ending feels straightforward enough. And there’s that whole bird attack that is less Hitchcock’s The Birds and more Birdemic (I might have screamed ‘solar panels’ at the screen when it happened. If you understand why, first round is on me)
Still, I’d lump the Pete McTighe-penned episode over with “Orphan 55” because it suffers from the same issues—lots of new characters who we may or may not care about and an environmental problem (although “Praxeus” takes a solid sci-fi approach to plastic and there’s no lecture from the Doctor at the end because it makes its point clear, as we use way too much of the stuff). It’s a shame because I loved his previous episode “Kerblam!” even if it put me off bubble wrap forever. (I guess there’s a fine line between clever and convoluted.)
While it’s great to see the TARDIS fam out and about on their own, I feel like they’re only there to move this particular story along and I’m not getting anything from them and what their lives are about (although Yaz feeling down because she didn’t discover an alien planet is a nice touch).
Too often Thirteen and her crew are conquering and dividing plot points and we never really see the way they feel about things. This is not to say that all the actors aren’t doing their best—they are. What I’m saying is they deserve better material to work with.
Season 11 was a bumpy ride and I tried keep to the middle of the road with my reviews as the new showrunners worked out the kinks, but episodes like this showcase how little we know about Thirteen and her faithful companions, and how little I care about what’s at stake in these monster-of-the-week episodes. And I cared a hell of a lot last week (and it wasn’t just the bourbon talking).
It’s obvious we won’t get answers on the Master, Ruth!Doctor, the lone cyberman, or the timeless child till finale time, but could they have found a better palette cleanser than plastic-fueled birdemic? Possibly, but then that would mean we wouldn’t have whiplash.