After last week’s globe-trotting exercise, it’s time for the TARDIS fam to take a quick pitstop back in good old Sheffield. Yaz is late for an unexplained anniversary dinner, while Graham and Ryan both drop in on friends. Ryan stops by a mate’s house with chips, while Graham is playing cards. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself, considering this episode started in 1380 Syria, where Tahira is the sole survivor of a monster attack. Thirteen locks on to her distress signal while the fam is gone so she decides to go for a quick spin and solve.
But then Yaz, Ryan, and Graham all start experiencing weird nightmares. For Yaz, it’s a vision related to her anniversary (still to be discussed); Ryan’s mate Tibo talks about seeing a strange man in his nightmares before disappearing in a puff of smoke; Graham sees a woman trapped and begging to be released. With Tahira in tow, the Doctor does a quick companion pick up and, using the visions in Graham’s head, they end up on a space station.
There, they discover the creepy figure in their nightmares is Zellin and the woman in Graham’s vision is Rakaya. Both are immortal gods who have been locked in an eternal game, using planets and their inhabitants for sport. (The whole animated sequence explaining this felt like it was ripped straight out of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but this ain’t the Origin of Love, friends.) Zellin reveals he was looking for someone who could undo Rakaya’s chains (thanks, Doc) and the two decide to feed off of the fears of supposedly weak and fragile humans (with Zellin using his gross five-finger discount trick.)
They leave the TARDIS crew facing nightmares. Yaz is deeper into her worst day, with her sister saying she’s not calling anyone to look for her this time. Ryan sees Tibo as an old man, trapped on Orphan 55. And Graham sees Grace again and she tells him he has hours to live. The Doctor sees the timeless child from a distance and then she works to shake everyone’s nightmares. There’s one helpful hitch—Zellin made the monster Tahira feared into a real animal. The Doctor flips the immortal’s script of humans’ weaknesses, and Tahira is able to conquer her fear and use the monster to trap the immortals for all eternity.
But the bigger question for me is this: is it a good episode? My answer is simple: parts of it are. It’s not like we haven’t had dream-stealing baddies (“Amy’s Choice”) or breached important discussions about mental health before (“Vincent and the Doctor”). This Charlene James-penned episode feels incredibly busy from having to tie all the companions in, but then you also have the ’90s camp factor with the villains feeling somewhere between Sandman and Hellraiser (with the ’90s budget costumes and creepy special effects to boot.)
Back to the companions though. The episode starts with Yaz being dropped off on her anniversary. I don’t understand why Ryan and Graham couldn’t have gone on their way for a bit and had us totally focus on Yaz for a bit, because that’s where the true heart of this episode lies.
When we finally get deep into her past fears, we learn that she was once overwhelmed and ran away (with implied intent of harming herself). Her sister calls the police to look for her and a kind police officer tracks her down and convinces her not to give up because things can change (and she adds a cash wager to sweeten the deal). As promised, Yaz looks her up and delivers her end of the bargain (a 50 pence piece). The cop and Yaz are both obviously emotional, and I found myself in tears. The same happened to a lesser degree with Ryan’s mate going to a support group to talk about his depression and his failed attempts to get out and talk to someone, only to be greeted with self-serve kiosks.
Graham fares the worst of the bunch because when he asks the Doctor about his cancer that has come back and can she help, she simply replies that she’s awkward and fiddles with the TARDIS console. I believe that this was supposed to make her come off as alien, but it makes Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor feel cold and uncaring. (Think of what Ten or Eleven would have done in this situation—they would have danced around the answer or at least offered some distraction.)
Ryan and Yaz also seem to be becoming hip to the truth that their time with the Doctor isn’t forever, either, and that they’re missing out on their actual lives while having the time of their lives. It’s a moment all companions have to face, and I’ll be interested to see who’s left standing when the season wraps up.
If I had to guess though, here’s my bet: Graham will either become ill again or die (or maybe even sacrifice himself for said reasons) and Ryan will head home back to a normal life with his mates (and chips). With a deeper back story for Yaz now established, I actually see her staying on—or I hope she will so she gets the spotlight her character truly deserves, especially after this deeper look into her past. (Can you hear me, Chibnall? Did you see what I did there?)