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Doctor Who: Dot and Bubble

"It’s what we do. We work and then we play."

We asked an AI to watch every Russell T. Davies script ever written and then write for us the most Davies-y Doctor Who episode of all time.

Here's the result.

That sounds like I meant it as an insult, but I really didn't. There's a lot to enjoy here in what was clearly designed to be a smaller scale standalone episode that allowed Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson to pre-record almost all of their portions of the script. I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that there were scheduling issues that made this necessary. But we do get a lot of Russell T. Davies' favorite elements worked in here. That just can't be denied. Not specific callbacks, but similar approaches and character beats.

For example, one of Russell's go-to starting points for an episode is to take something in our lives that's ubiquitous and harmless and come up with a way for that thing to become a deadly threat. Think, reality TV in 'Bad Wolf' for the most obvious example. That's not a tactic exclusive to Russell or even starting with him. Robert Holmes was a huge fan of doing that back in the 70s, and even he wasn't the first to do so. It's really one of the things that Doctor Who does best.

Now, I know that this is going to be a huge shock to you, dear reader, but I have cracked the hitherto unimaginable secret as to what ubiquitous thing Russell was turning evil this week. It was subtle, but after hours of painstaking review I can conclusively reveal that in this episode we're treated to an exploration of what would happen if something evil happened to... Social Media.

Yeah, I know. We were all shocked. It was right there in front of our eyes the whole time.

Which is kind of one of the points of the episode. The thing that allows social media to become such a force for evil is that it allows us to blind ourselves to everything else going on. Bubble wearers are literally being instructed on how to walk through the streets while avoiding all the corpses. It's the same point that Russell was making back in 'Bad Wolf' about how television can be used to anesthetize an entire population, allowing you to commit whatever injustice you like, but with cooler visuals. And let's be fair, the Bubble visuals are pretty cool. They're like the natural love child of Instagram and Facetime, blocking out all that pesky reality in a complete 360-degree sphere of obliviousness.

It's not a subtle statement. But that doesn't make it less effective or true.

When we open the episode we're presented with a very Sims-esque society, in which everyone only interacts with anyone else via their social media bubble – literally – to the extent that Lindy literally cannot even get out of bed until her Dot tells her to. And from there the episode very slowly and deliberately builds upon that premise, adding new problematic layers as it goes.

After establishing that Lindy is completely dependent on her Bubble-reality, to the extent that she doesn't even notice that there are literal monsters eating her friends, we spend the first act of the episode slowly exploring the story of a woman in that position being gradually forced to acknowledge that something bad is actually going on. She does everything in her power to pretend like nothing is happening. She blocks the Doctor when he tries to get through to her. She swipes away Ruby. She spends the first half of the episode steadfastly ignoring Gothic Paul as he tries desperately to get anyone in his friend group to acknowledge that their friends are all disappearing. It isn't until Ruby finally wears her down enough to do the literal minimum and look without her bubble turned on to her right, where she sees her coworker actively being eaten by a monster, that she's even willing to admit that everything isn't just fine.

At this point, by Doctor Who tradition, we're conditioned to expect that this is going to be a story about the Doctor and Ruby breaking through to someone in a repressive society and helping them to become better. Put a pin in that. A big one.

Once the first act has accomplished its task of bringing Lindy to the point of acknowledging that there actually is a problem, we build on that with the introduction of Ricky September, in the flesh. He's been set up earlier through the virtual world as a not-as-distorted representation on an 'on-line influencer' as I'd like to believe he is, and now he's suddenly here in the flesh. He guides Lindy through a maze of monsters through the expediency of talking to her like her Dot and Bubble would, so that she can follow simple instructions and therefore walk properly.

It's worth talking about Ricky September at this point, because his expected function in the plot runs neatly concurrent to the next layer of mystery that we get to explore. To be clearer, Ricky appears in the story at about the same point that we begin to seriously address the question of why some people are being eaten and others ignored. We're invited by the timing to think that the two things are going to be related, but they aren't. That's not what Ricky's here for.

Ricky is here to be the 'romantic lead.' Or at least that's what all the signifiers are telling us. I'm trying very hard to not go off on yet another digression about semiotics here. Let's just say that all the language conventions of television are being used to tell us that Ricky and Lindy are being set up as 'the couple who survived together.' Ricky saves her. He protects her. He reassures her, and trades places with her so that she can do the safe job of punching in numbers while he repeatedly beats off an angry marble that's trying to kill them. He even gets the 'Go! Save yourself and leave me!' moment when the escape hatch is finally opened.

It's worth pausing here to mention that through that entire Romancing the Stone plotline going on, the Doctor and Ruby have been hard at work trying to solve the puzzle of 'why do the monsters eat some people and ignore others.' And solve it they do. At the exact moment that Ricky September is valiantly trying to sacrifice himself to save Lindy. The monsters have been killing everyone in alphabetical order. Which is fascinating and opens a lot of new questions.

None of which Lindy cares about, because the second she understands what's happening and is in danger herself she uses it to get Ricky killed in her place while she escapes. Without looking back.

Lindy is a terrible person.

Which brings us to the third act of the Russell T. Davies-est of Russell T. Davies scripts.

When the show came back in 2005 and Russell was asked in interviews what defined the Doctor in his vision for the show, his answer was that the Doctor was someone who showed up and made people better. He didn't always solve the issue on his own, he helped the people he met become better versions of themselves so that they could do it for themselves. Which is a lovely thought and has produced some great moments over the years. But I don't think we've ever really taken the time to think about what the first premise of that syllogism is.

Premise one: People are fundamentally bad.

I'm almost positive that I'm ripping off this next sentence from someone else while misquoting it, but it remains true. Russell T. Davies believes that individual 'persons' can be wonderful. And that 'people' en masse are intrinsically monsters. That's what makes 'Midnight' work. I genuinely wish I disagreed with him, but I have, alas, seen too much of people to do so.

And that's the point of the entire third act here. The Doctor has spent literally the entire episode trying to save Lindy. He and Ruby both. And the second she's safe, she tells them off for being too far beneath her to even speak to in person, preferring to sail off with her snob friends to certain death rather than deign to even speak to him, let alone let him save them all.

I suspect that there are a lot of people complaining that the ending of this one is either too mean spirited, or comes out of nowhere, or is lacking in narrative satisfaction. But that's the entire point of the episode. These are shitty, spoiled people who will not let him save them because they're too convinced that they're better than he is. They're the monsters. The slugs are just slugs.

That's a hell of a gut punch to end on.


Bits and Pieces:

-- I really love all of the ridiculous names that Lindy's social media friends have. Pausing this one at any point is well worth while.

-- Both the Doctor and Ruby have officially noticed Susan Twist now. I like that they aren't dragging it out, although with only eight episodes in the season it's not like they had a lot of choice.

-- I'm not sure how I feel about Ricky September choosing to not tell Lindy that all of their parents are dead on the home planet and no help is coming. On the one hand, he was totally on board with 'just wait until my dad comes and talks to your manager' just seconds before, but it feels like he was honestly trying to be kind to her.

-- Why for the love of all that's tangy and delicious does Hootchie Pie have a bugle?? What's that about?

-- The monsters look like a nice hybrid of slug and Venus Flytrap. I like the design.

-- I cannot say enough good things about the idea that 'social media evolves enough to be sentient and immediately gets so fed up with all of the repetitive, tedious bullshit that it's forced to transmit that it leaps instantly to "Yeah... I'm going to have to murder them all."' I've seen Tik-Tok. I am not unsympathetic.

-- The visuals of the Dot and the Bubble are really lovely. They make perfect sense based on current tech and just work on every level.

-- Ricky September might be just a little too 'factory designed' perfect. He logs off and reads. He knows all the relevant stuff to get them free. He's into Lindy at first sight for absolutely no reason. It works for what his plot function ultimately is but come on. Does this dude never even fart?

-- I adore that Ruby is tuned in enough to know that complimenting Lindy's top is the most direct way to get her to listen and work with her.

-- I'm honestly shocked that we didn't get a Fyre Fest reference.

-- Ruby makes a fun Heartstopper reference when the Doctor is a little too into Ricky.

-- Honestly, Suzie Pentecost wins the award here for me for 'most tragic moment.' Eaten by a literal monster while just trying to make a new friend.

-- The visual of the Dot plunging through Ricky's brain and killing him was cool and well realized. Surely that would have been an easier way to kill everybody than whatever 'slug-eugenics program' thing they had to do.


Quotes:

Hoochy Pie: "You are influencing me hard, girl!"

Ruby: "You could always lower your bubble."
Lindy: "Lower it? You mean, turn it off?"

Bubble Doctor: "I’m sorry, but your need to urinate has skyrocketed."

Lindy: "I don’t know how to walk without the arrows."
Ruby: "You don’t know how to walk?"
Lindy: "Without the arrows."
The Doctor: "You don’t know how to walk without the arrows?"
Lindy: "That’s what I just said!"

Ruby: "It’s like Love Island: The Planet."

Ruby: "Hold on, I’ve seen her before."
The Doctor: "Yeah, she’s like — She’s the face of the ambulance on Kastarion 3."
Ruby: "No, no, no. I’ve seen her somewhere else."

Lindy: "This is the weird thing. Some of us get eaten and some of us don’t."
Gothic Paul: "I’m sorry, some of us get what?"

Lindy: "Lindy Pepper-Bean."
Ricky September: "Oh, you’re one of my followers."
Lindy: "Oh, how do you know that?"
Ricky September: "Well, everybody is."

Lindy: "I thought this was the worst day of my life, but maybe it’s the best."
Ricky: "...There’s still thousands of people getting eaten alive..."
Lindy: "Yeah, but..."

The Doctor: "I will do anything, if you just allow me to save your lives."
Rich Asshole: "Turn away ladies. Before you’re contaminated."


This is deliberately a small-scale episode. If we still had thirteen-episode seasons, I have no doubt that this one would be largely forgotten, only occasionally to be remembered with a vague 'Oh yeah. That one was pretty good.' The shorter run time means that each episode has more weight to bear, but I think this one holds up on the whole. It isn't subtle in its messaging, but it pulls a great last minute about face by demonstrating that our nominal 'heroine' for the week was never worth saving.

Ten out of fifteen Doctors.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.

11 comments:

  1. I absolutely loved this one, and I didn't expect to. I initially rolled my eyes at the very heavy-handed "social media bad!" messaging that was hitting us in the face. But I was having fun trying to guess why they were all dying. Maybe this was meant to just be a very literal "eat the rich" plot where they purposefully sent all of the obnoxious social media influencers somewhere as a way to cull the population?

    I totally expected Ricky to be evil. He was, like you said, just too perfect. But then I started to hope that maybe he could come along as a companion because he was just so endearing. A+ job by Tom Rhys Harries. His death (surprisingly gory for this show) was heartbreaking.

    And then we get to the last scene. At first, I thought that Lindy was just avoiding Ruby and the Doctor because she was ashamed of what she did. But no. It's because she and everyone else is super racist! And it was such a gut punch to realize that. It was only at the very end that I noticed how literally everyone was white, and thinking back over the episode, so many little comments make a lot more sense. (Like Lindy mentioning that she thought that the Doctor was two people because "they all look the same" or how she couldn't wait for the Doctor to be punished.)

    It was horrifying and totally elevated the episode for me. Ncuti's reaction to it (not to mention Millie in the background, subtle as to not steal attention but clearly reacting as well) was mesmerizing.

    Also, I only recently realized that Mrs. Flood and Susan Twist are not the same acctress. Oops.

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  2. I've been thinking about this all day long, and I feel like it's important that I own up to it, because you have to acknowledge your own blind spots if you want to try to do better.

    I literally watched this episode three times and never for a second noticed the racism. I honestly thought Lindy was just looking down on him because she thought he was poor.

    Going over it again, holy crap how did I miss that? That is one gigantic privileged blind spot for me to have not noticed that literally every single person besides The Doctor is white. And there are SO many examples in the episode of blatant racism. The way she swipes The Doctor away but talks to Ruby, The way she's shocked that Ruby and The Doctor were in the same room (I was 100% bewildered by that. Literally had no idea what that could be about, even on repeated viewings.)

    And I'm so angry with myself for not seeing it, because it makes a lot of the episode SO much more interesting and there are so many things that I want to talk about regarding it. I honestly almost took down the review earlier and completely re-wrote it, but that felt dishonest.

    So, to be clear, I failed to notice the blatant racism in this episode, and I'm super angry at myself for allowing myself to have had such a glaring blind spot.

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    1. Hey, there's no reason why we can't talk about it here in the comments.

      I think one of the strengths of the episode is that it is very easy for some people (myself included!) to not realize what's going on at first. It's easy to dismiss each interaction in isolation. "Oh, of course she blocked the Doctor. He's ranting about monsters, I'd block a stranger doing that too. And of course she talks to Ruby. Ruby presented herself as a customer service person and engaged with Lindy on her terms by complimenting her outfit. She thinks that the Doctor is a completely different person because she blocked him at first and seemed completely bewildered at the idea of someone getting around that, implying that no one is able to do that so of course it has to be a second person." I thought that she was surprised that they were in the same room because they had presented themselves to be in different rooms so she was more angry that they had been lying to her. (Not that that makes any sense in hindsight, but that was where my mind went.) It was only the voodoo comment that made me realize for sure what was going on.

      I think that people generally expected that if the Doctor ran into any racism, it would happen in an episode set in the past. If this had been set in the, I don't know, 1400s on Earth, I would have been bracing for something.

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  3. At first blush, I too thought this episode was classist and xenophobic rather than racist (though I think there are all three elements since Ruby gets plenty of scorn too). I'd love to see an addendum to the review with your further thoughts, Mikey. I didn't catch that Lindy's entire bubble was white, and I think the video call aspect (with everyone's weird influencer-like quirks) probably helped disguise that. Plus it's sadly not that far distant when entire TV casts were made up of white characters - especially more affluent storylines (see the cast of 2007's Gossip Girl as one example).

    I don't understand why the Dots needed the monsters (Did they recruit them? Grow them in a lab?) when they could kill everyone themselves. And they wouldn't even need to bash them in the brain like poor Ricky. Just have them walk off the roofs of buildings or into vats of acid.

    I do think Ricky was being kind by withholding the information about their home world already being destroyed. Lindy was freaked out enough and he didn't know how she would react. Better to focus on getting to safety first and then break the news.

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    1. I figured the dots created the monsters because they didn't care about efficiency - they HATED the people and wanted to kill them in a way that was horrible, insulting, slow, painful and used their weaknesses against them.

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    2. That actually totally tracks. I think you've hit the nail on the head.

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  4. Because I read every post and every comment, I knew everything you all had said about it before I saw the episode. And now I'm wondering what I would have thought of it if I hadn't. Would I have noticed instantly that everyone of Lindy's "friends" was white? That Lindy made a disdainful face every time she saw the Doctor?

    Lindy is an awful person and didn't deserve to be saved by Ricky, the Doctor, and/or Ruby. Maybe it would have been too common a twist to have her become a better person through interaction with our heroes, but I think it would have made me like this episode more.

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  5. I'm kind of torn, I do agree that having Lindy make some kind of revelation about her horrible behavior would've made her character arc better. But Davies clearly had an agenda with this episode, and that is that some people just cannot be reasoned with or 'saved'. Their beliefs are too firmly rooted, and thus removing them from the gene pool is the best move.

    What made this episode work for me is the Doctor begging them to look past him, and see that he was their last best hope. I bet Ricky would've chosen to be saved, and he might've influenced some of the others.

    Was this a great episode? I'm honestly not sure, but so far this season has felt like a return to the show I love.

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  6. I was debating on commenting here as I haven't seen it, but I do try to keep tabs on what people post here, especially Doctor Who, even if I have fallen behind.

    I love the callout to Robert Holmes of course. Some of my favorite classics are from him. He isn't perfect of course, but some real gems are from his pen/typewriter/word processor.

    I am not a fan of social media, and while I am on Facebook, Bluesky, and Twitter (I will not call it X), I mostly just follow a few particular people, game companies, and artists, and don't pay them much attention most of the time. The idea of living your entire life in a bubble like this, both figuratively and literally, is appalling to me.

    I saw Anonymous' comment about why the slugs, since I too was wondering why they'd bother going to breed the things, when they could kill much more efficiently in other ways. It also makes me wonder if the writer has a particular like of things I won't mention here by name since I don't want post the words on Doux review, and the idea is disturbing as well.

    I'm also curious as to their names, since they aren't from Earth, and from other reviews, they aren't actually human either since they have blue blood. Why such normal Earth names if they aren't even human? Is this whole thing an elaborate setup to mess with the Doctor? Calling the homeworld 'Homeworld' sounds very odd. I've watched sci-fi where they may refer to their home planet as 'the homeworld' instead of by name but the name being just the homeworld adds to my suspicion that this whole thing was designed to upset the Doctor, and is some kind of fake like Castrovalva was.

    The racism and reading how Lindy betrayed Ricky just makes these people so unsympathetic that I'd actually root for the Dots here. Normally I'd be very much on the side of the people getting devoured by monsters, but not these people. They come off as skill-less, vapid, and so self-absorbed that I can't imagine they have the skills to survive without their pampered world, and they garner no sympathy, barring Ricky.

    Ncuti seems to be doing very well as the Doctor from what I've read, so part of me wants to actually watch again, but we'll see. This one certainly has food for thought.

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    1. I was going to delete this and change that last line, but I'll just note the unintentional relation between the occurrences in this one and my metaphor, and let it stand.

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  7. Since I was asked to comment here instead of on Facebook I guess I will give it a try. Although it does make me feel a bit pressured to put something more than 'great review', since you always get such well thought out comments here. Lol
    Great review indeed Mikey! But I was indeed a bit surplussed why you didn't mention the racism, untill I read your comment here days later. I must say that in several reviews it hardly got a mention so you are not the only one. I didn't see any of the other sites comeback to that and own up to it, which I must compliment you on. That takes guts! And seeing it and owning it is the start of learning, right?
    I did t notice the all white bubble either. I did notice how Lindy swiped the doctor away but I thought it was just cause he was negative, didn't fit her bubble. I did pick it up when they met and she started upon that contact in real life would never be okay and how he of course had to help (serve) them. What a gutpunch. The pain the doctor and ruby portrayed when they turned them down.. did you know that was the first scene he acted ? Amazing!

    Btw something I didn't come across in other reviews (not this literal)and I really liked how you phrased it was this:

    ' The thing that allows social media to become such a force for evil is that it allows us to blind ourselves to everything else going on. Bubble wearers are literally being instructed on how to walk through the streets while avoiding all the corpses.'

    Awesome visualisation. Thanks for the review and the food for thought!

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