13 December 2021: not really a review of Flux added.
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When Praxeus finished, there was a silence. Then one of us said "Well, shit."
Pete McTighe's previous Who work is last season's Kerblam!. We liked the Whoiness of that, but not the way the plot was riddled with more holes than a slice of Emmental. Praxeus is the same, but without the part where it was fun.
It's a shame, because we really like the start. An astronaut with a re-entry that's gone wrong! A foot chase! Mysterious bird-based havoc in Peru! Good and actiony, and it's nice not having a clue what's going on. It's also essential, because once you figure out what's happening, it all falls apart.
We know this is the Chibnall era, so our expectations for stories that make scientific and indeed any kind of sense are low to nil. And Praxeus fails to clear even that bar. It's appallingly put together.
This astronaut, right. Who goes missing after crashing to earth. While we enjoyed their hilarious approximation of a space capsule, which in real life is less like a studio apartment and more like sitting in a wardrobe stuffed with your winter coats, none of this story makes any sense whatsoever. The policeman guy is married to the astronaut, making it extremely unlikely he's going to be first learning of his husband's disappearance via a TV in a bar. And how does he disappear anyway? Those things have trackers on them and they're built to float, but the TV broadcast appears to imply the powers that be are pretty shruggy about the chances of finding him.
And he's in Hong Kong. How did he get there? Out of the seven billion, why did the aliens decide to experiment just on him? IN HONG KONG? We can get that Suki might have wanted to build her lab on a Madagascar beach instead of staying onboard her ship at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, because why wouldn't you, and maybe she didn't dare keep Adam there because of her local helper Amano, but why go to all the trouble of finding somewhere to put him in a totally different country? And how did Adam text Jake, especially from an unrecognised number?
Gabriela meets Ryan, who tries to reassure her he hasn't murdered her buddy by telling her he's not armed. Note to male writers: women do not fear potential attackers on the basis that they might be armed. Also, this is the clunkiest flirting we've ever seen. Back in Hong Kong (we can tell it's meant to be Hong Kong because they helpfully string up red lanterns everywhere, even inside the lab), Jake pretends to be from Interpol and Yaz fails to pick him up as a fake even though she's in the police and should know Interpol doesnít have any field agents.
Jake and Gabriela go the hospital. Why is it empty? Is the crime scene-type tape meant to imply everybody else has fled? They had time to string that up but not to lock the doors and put a sign up outside? Confusing, especially when you factor in the red-herring fluorescent bulb that's flickering in horror-movie style for absolutely no reason.
And these exploding bodies. Disintegrating, or actually disappearing? It's not as easy to see on the beach, where the dust cloud is the same colour as the sand, but in the hospital after Jamila explodes, there's a pile of dust on the stretcher just afterwards but in the next shot of the stretcher it's gone. Careless.
Back in Hong Kong, Jake says he's the only one who cares about Adam being found. Did he miss the part about the search and rescue teams? The bad guys arrive and start shooting the place up. Now, we know they're wearing masks, but could these be the worst shots of all time? Our gallant heroes are dragging a sick man yet still effortlessly manage to avoid the laser fire or whatever.
On the TARDIS, Gabriela is (slightly) broken up about the death of her friend, but Ryan assures her they'll put it right. To her credit she doesn't look that impressed, but really. Then the Doctor asks Suki if she can use her lab. Let's try that again. The DOCTOR asks SUKI if she (THE DOCTOR) can use her (SUKI'S) lab. Yep, that's right. You know and we know that somewhere in the TARDIS is a lab that contains every scientific-looking glass jar ever made, all bubbling and some of 'em exploding, and machinery so advanced it's basically magic. Yet she wants to have a go in someone else's bathing hut.
Well, eventually. Never mind Adam, letís stand around and have a jaw on the beach. Why did they drag him into the lab anyway? Why not leave him in the TARDIS? And given what they've just seen, wouldn't a quarantine be kind of a nifty idea? Once they're in the lab, the Doctor asks Ryan to dissect the bird. What? Sonic screwdriver on the blink? And having known Ryan for some time now, what makes her think he's got the chops to dissect anything? Especially as British schoolkids haven't had their hands on a scalpel (not in a lab, anyway) since the olden days.
The Doctor asks whether Suki has broad spectrum antibiotics and tells the crew to set up an IV. We think this implies she plans to pump antibiotics into Adam without a clue as to what's wrong with him. Could be a bacterial infection. Could be a virus. Could be a curse from a vampire. Why isn't she waving the sonic to find out? Oh, she is going to diagnose him! Bafflingly, still no sonic: we're doing it old school by analysing the blood sample. But why did the bit about the IV and the antibiotics come first, then?
At least there's no problem with the gear, because Suki has everything the Doctor asks for. It's not like the Doctor doesn't notice that this is weird, but she takes no notice nonetheless. Sorry, but this just makes her look dumb. Also, can we say again, "Can you use the laptop to download the readings I took earlier" is beyond belief when they just took the poor man out of an advanced scientific machine with no attempt to diagnose, let alone treat, him there. And how does said Earth laptop manage to diagnose alien bacteria?
Yaz, meanwhile, finally has something to do! Huzzah! Open the champagne! Call us picky, however, but we do wish said thing to do was something a little less ridiculously reckless than teleporting into the unknown. Without any means of defence. Without knowing how to get back. Without even knowing if the atmosphere will be breathable. Back at the beach, Graham gets his own thing to do in the form of a heart to heart with Jake about Jake's various failings as a husband. It's nice that they're not making a to-do about Jake and Adam's relationship (almost. The initial mystery surrounding who they are to each other would never have been in there if they were a straight couple), but we just don't believe in these two as spouses. They have all the chemistry of a couple of lumps of suet. Not to mention that the entire speech is several heaping bucketfuls of telling. The scene is at least redeemed by the close-up on Graham's face after Jake asks him if he has any idea how hard it is being married to someone as impressive as an astronaut. Now that is showing not telling, and it's an absolute jewel.
Ryan has made with the tweezers and found that the bird is full of plastic. Don't get excited, it's not Autons. Instead it's another massive environmental lecture. Is this stuff important? Utterly. Is it terrifying? Completely. Do we want to have to grapple with it when we're using entertainment to get away from the horror of twenty-first century life? Absolutely not. Do we have to? And if they must, do they have to sock us in the face with it? It's so preachy preach preachy.
Meanwhile, outside poor old Amano, on discovering the birds are getting angrier, instead of hanging out near the door walks closer to them and they snuff him out. Dammit. This season has an absolute genius for killing off the only characters we like and want to see more of. To add insult to injury, nobody cares or even notices. Back in the lab, they plan to do a little light gene splicing and come up with a virus. A virus? To fight a bacterium? That's Just. Weird.
The Doctor has the plot explained to her by Yaz, then boom! Attack of the birds for no particular reason. If you include birds that attack for no particular reason, you're taking on Hitchcock, and you're going to lose. And they do. In straight sets.
Somehow they manage to run faster than things with wings back to the TARDIS, then there's a stupid argument over whether they should test the cure on the dying Adam. YES OF COURSE YOU BLOODY SHOULD. What's he got to lose? If they wait any longer they're going to be able to use him to grit the path with.
And off we go to under the Indian Ocean. Brace yourself, because here comes another lecture, this time on plastic gyres. They find an alien infected with Praxeus but still in one piece, and the Doctor decides that's because of the different biology. Shame Suki explodes later, isn't it?
Speaking of Suki, they catch up with her and she delivers some exposition about why they're there. Well, we say exposition, but that implies it makes sense. Irradiated bacteria flooded out of their ship and made an undersea world. Really? And they're going to test their cure on a biologically unrelated race. That makes more sense if you assume they were viewing humans as lab rats, but still not a lot, because even a yoghurt could see that there's a hell of a difference between species. Yet when the Doctor explains to Suki that the cure was designed for humans, Suki looks totally confused. She's supposed to be a scientist?
And the Doctor is giving her a run for her money. She's tested her virus on a single subject, and as a result of that is going to flood the world with a novel and more or less untested virus. Forget the body horror - it's this that sends a shiver down our spines.
The autopilot fails, so they go back to the TARDIS, synthesise some more of the virus and make carefully regulated plans for disseminating it in a controlled way that won't pose unnecessary risks to humans, animals and the rest of the ecosystem. Ha! Kidding! Instead, Jake does the noble thing and steers the ship, dooming himself to certain death until the Doctor scoops him up by materialising the TARDIS around him. Which if you ask us opens a massive can of worms, because if it's this easy, why doesn't she do it all the time? She doesn't even talk about it like it's a thing. Anyway, happiness all around. Until you think about the plastic gyres and the birds who mistake plastic for food and the microplastics seeping into us from every direction. Cheers.
What about the Doctor? As one of us pointed out, in the opening scenes, she's the only one to ask for help, first with handling Mr Explody and then to borrow a lab. (HAH!) She's definitely better here than she can be, though, sometimes a bit weird, sometimes a bit sciency, sometimes a bit authoritative. But somebody has to tell her to stop constantly gasping. It doesn't make a scene more exciting and it's no substitute for acting. Still a nope from us.
THE BIRDS AND THE BEES
"Seven billion lives", Doctor? There are a hell of a lot more lives than that on Earth, Doctor, all of which you've just endangered by playing God with your virus. Grr.