Dot and Bubble brings Black Mirror-style social commentary to Doctor Who with thought-provoking results – Review

There is one key thing you need to know about this week’s Doctor Who: the titular character isn’t in it very much.

Yep, that’s right – it’s another ‘Doctor Lite’ episode, of a sort. But where last week’s excellent 73 Yards was more in the vein of 2008’s ‘Turn Left’, where the show’s co-star takes the reins for an incredible showcase of their prowess, this is more in the vein of one of the most famous Doctor Who episodes of them all – 2007’s ‘Blink’.

With 15th Doctor Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor Who filming schedule overlapping with his final work on Netflix’s Sex Education, these sorts of episodes were ultimately a necessity of production – but often that need creates something beautiful. Pressure makes diamonds, as the saying goes.

Dot and Bubble is no 73 Yards, though. It’s certainly no Blink. But the way it toys with the template that episode set for an episode low on the Doctor is fascinating, exciting, and ambitious.

Basically, both The Doctor and companion Ruby Sunday spend almost all of this episode on video screens, interacting with the characters of a world that we get to know for the very first time within the confines of this episode’s run time.

Image credit: Lindy, played by Callie Cooke // Credit: BBC Studios/Bad Wolf/James Pardon

The world of Finetime is a bright, vibrant place where everything is fine – thus the name. Except, of course, this is Doctor Who. Everything is not fine. The subject matter is outright bleak, in fact – and comparisons made in the run up to airing between this and an episode of Black Mirror are sure to persist after the episode is released.

The lead of the episode is the sickly-sweet Lindy Pepper-Bean, one of the denizens of Finetime. Callie Cooke does an excellent job of bringing Lindy to life, instilling her with a sense of likeability despite being the relentlessly selfish average citizen of a self-absorbed nation city full of people who live and breathe their social media. It’s difficult to make a character like this work as a lead, but Cooke pulls it off.

The bubble of the title refers to a few things in the story both corporeal and metaphorical, like the Simpsons Movie style dome that keeps Finetime safe from the outside world, or the globe-like ‘bubble’ that surrounds one’s head when they’re accessing their social media interface. But more than anything it refers to Lindy’s ‘social bubble’, the friendship group and great big video call that The Doctor and Ruby ultimately invade in search of answers as to why the people of this world are disappearing. This is Doctor Who, so there’s monsters – but there’s more to what’s going on than first meets the eye.

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Whereas 73 Yards was writer Russell T Davies masterfully stretching one eerie idea to its limits, Dot and Bubble is him spinning many plates at once. The result is an episode that feels a little muddled by comparison. At worst, it even feels a little clunky. Given we barely know Gatwa’s Doctor at this point, it’s easy to mourn how he only appears on a video screen for most of the episode, even if (unlike last week) he does have plenty of dialogue and a strong presence throughout.

The episode’s themes and commentary, which I won’t get into here for spoiler reasons, merits much discussion. The final stretch drives the episode’s ideas home powerfully, as we see The Doctor encounter something he truly never has before. It feels like a watershed moment for this incarnation of the character. It’s a strong finale to an episode that surely carries messages and themes as subtle as a sledgehammer – but it’s in that delivery that Dot & Bubble most keenly works.

As a standard-issue Doctor Who adventure it’s a little less strong – something that continues the theme of this season struggling to offer up fairly standard belt-and-braces romps. In past series’ episodes like that were thought of as ‘filler’, but that filler allowed the stuff like 73 Yards and Dot and Bubble to sing. In this new era, with its lower episode count, the ‘alien of the week’ filler is missed. With Dot and Bubble, what we get instead is idea-rich, if flawed – but I expect in the years to come it will come to be regarded with an increasing fan appreciation.

By admin

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