As we begin a new decade, I have been reflecting on the fact that we might need new media for new times. Many of the entertainment franchises that make up pop culture right now are around the half-century mark, and its a very large question whether they can continue to make fresh content or not.
These were my background thoughts, as I watched both parts of "Spyfall", the Doctor Who Series 12 premiere episode, which aired on New Year's Day, and then with its conclusion a few days later.
Last season, Doctor Who made one big change: having its titular character, The Doctor, regenerate into a woman. This caused the expected amount of internet backlash, as some people were afraid the show about a time-travelling alien whose history or ability changes as the plot demands was getting too wild. The first series of Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor was in fact more predictable and traditional that what had come before, as the Doctor managed to reverse polarity and defeat monsters in a manner that was evocative of the 1970s.
Which brings us to our New Year's Special. It is called "Spyfall" as an obvious homage to the James Bond film "Skyfall", and the first part of our two part episode was a James Bond parody/homage as the crew dress up in tuxedos to infiltrate the party of a billionaire tech executive, and find out why secret agents were dying, their DNA replaced with alien DNA...okay, it doesn't make much sense, but that is kind of the point. But the end of "Spyfall, Part I" managed to pull out a surprise. At this point in Doctor Who, it shouldn't have been a surprise, but it was. This led into "Spyfall, Part II", that was in general a bit darker and more serious than Part I. The conclusion of the opener also brought up what looks to be the arc for the series. All in all, while watching, I was enraptured, and after finishing, I am still satisfied.
In a more critical mood, I might question why, in 2020, we are watching Doctor Who, a sixty year old franchise, do homages of James Bond, another sixty year old franchise. Seen through another lens, scenes where people jump onto a moving airplane, or have clandestine meetings on top of the Eiffel Tower, could be seen as clichéd. But for whatever reason, I just let myself appreciate the adventure. Whatever narrative chemistry was used to put this story together, it worked, and I found myself waiting for the next surprise.
This leaves the question of whether Doctor Who, which relaunched in 2005, can continue to impress viewers in the next decade. As always, the complaints abound that Doctor Who has reached its peak and is now coasting, and the pop cultural landscape has changed a lot in the past fifteen years. I still have those questions, but here, I was able to sit back and just enjoy the fireworks.