Doctor Who: ‘Dot And Bubble’ Review

Dot And Bubble
On the internet obsessed alien world of Finetime, everything is fine all the time. But when Lindy Pepper-Bean’s (Callie Cook) online friends start disappearing in the real world, it’s up to the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby (Millie Gibson) to uncover the truth — and make Finetime’s citizens believe it.

by Jordan King |
Published on

Warning: Contains some spoilers for ‘Dot And Bubble’

For anyone who might’ve found last week’s folk horror-inflected episode of Doctor Who, ‘73 Yards’, a little too ambiguous, you’ll have no such quibbles with the series’ follow-up offering, ‘Dot And Bubble’. A candy-coloured cautionary tale about the perils of tech dependency and online echo chambers set in a world where everybody lives in literal social media bubbles, the fifth episode of Russell T. Davies’ Who reboot is about as subtle as a flatulent Slitheen. But unsubtle doesn’t necessarily mean ineffective, and despite the heavy-handedness of its opening throes, Davies’ Black Mirror-riffing latest eventually builds to a flooring sucker punch of a finale that would stop even Charlie Brooker in his tracks.

After the darkness of ‘Boom’ and the wintry chill of ‘73 Yards’, ‘Dot And Bubble’ sees Davies whisk viewers away to Finetime, a pastel-paletted, domed-in alien idyll populated by rich-kid human colonists. It’s here that we meet the exquisitely-named Lindy Pepper-Bean (Callie Cook), a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, incredibly sheltered twenty-something who, thanks to the immersive VR tech that gives the episode its title, spends her days with her head in the cloud(s) alongside her privileged, influencer-type pals. Theirs is a world where exploring “the wild woods” (or touching grass, if you will) is a big no-no; where apparently ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’ never went out of style (the “How do you do fellow kids?” energy is strong with this one — don’t get us started on Gothic Paul); and where a spate of mysterious real-world disappearances at the hands of very noticeable space slugs (surely a nod to Patrick Troughton’s lost bug-based adventure ‘The Macra Terror’) go, well, unnoticed. Until the Doctor (Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Gibson) arrive in Lindy’s feed to both literally and figuratively burst the air-headed Zillennial’s bubble, at least.

After last week’s Doctor-lite ‘73 Yards’, the effect of Ncuti Gatwa’s Sex Education shooting schedule continues to be felt in ‘Dot And Bubble’, with both the Doctor and Ruby’s presence largely restricted to their appearances within Lindy’s bubble. The duo still share an ineffable energy that’s more than capable of bridging their on-screen divide, and a moment involving the reappearance once again of one Susan Twist (at this point, if you haven’t twigged the actor’s recurrence throughout the series, you quite possibly never will) is particularly fun. But make no mistake – Callie Cooke is this episode’s de facto lead.

Ncuti Gatwa plays two hearts breaking perfectly

Tasked with three-dimensionalising an intentionally paper-thin and profoundly insufferable representation of the terminally online, Cooke does an admirable job of straddling the line between pointed caricature and outright parody with Lindy — arguably a better job even than Davies himself did in writing her. It takes real talent to take an on-the-nose line like, “I don’t know how to walk without arrows”, and somehow affect it in a way that lands sympathetically, but Cook — whose myopic worldview is mirrored in the episode’s claustrophobic, purposely Lindy-centred framing (director Dylan Holmes Williams skilfilly inverts his visual approach to ‘73 Yards’ here) — pulls it off.

All the while, for the knife-twist of the finale to wound so deeply as it eventually does, Cook has to embody the malign power of Lindy’s ignorance as forcefully as the pitifulness of her inexperience. And it’s during an IRL meeting with her ‘Bubble’ would-be beau Ricky September (Tom Rhys Harries), a distinctly Doctor-like hero met with far more warmth than the actual Doctor here, that we really start to see Lindy’s true colours — and Davies’ bigger picture — brought into sharper focus.  In context, Lindy’s “he was born Richard Coombes” is a shocking line, and one loaded with a callousness that reflects how parasocial relationships and follower culture have critically impaired our ability to recognise each other as people rather than clickable, possessable commodities. It’s a dark tonal shift that precipitates an even darker yet dramatic denouement.

As previously mentioned, the Doctor and Ruby spend most of ‘Dot And Bubble’ confined within, well, the Dot and Bubble. But once they’ve figured out the slugs’ MO (an underwhelming but ultimately unimportant reveal), the Tardis team meets up with Lindy in the subterranean bunker housing her fellow survivors. Ordinarily, this would be the euphoric moment in which the Doctor gives a heroic speech, our dumb-but-learning protagonist and their people would learn a valuable lesson, and the credits would roll on another day saved by our friendly neighbourhood Time Lord. But when the Doctor tries to offer the otherwise-doomed colonists salvation in the form of his Tardis, they refuse. “You sir, are not one of us,” Lindy asserts, landing the microaggression that makes crystal clear an uncomfortable ideological truth about the residents of Finetime that many will have long since suspected. That this episode was formerly titled ‘Monsters, Monsters Everywhere’ comes as no real shock; as Who has shown us many times before, rare is the alien species as monstrous and given to hate as humanity.

And Gatwa’s response to the colony’s refusal — their flatout rejection of him, not because he is the Doctor, but because he is this Doctor — says it all. First incredulous, then pleading, then furious, then devastated — a guttural howl giving way to a gutted, thousand-yard stare — all in the space of just a few short minutes, Gatwa plays two hearts breaking perfectly as Murray Gold allows the Fifteenth Doctor’s theme to really take flight. It’s one of the most powerful Doctor moments in the show’s illustrious history, and solidifies this as one of the bleakest tales the show has told yet. If only that level of knife-sharp commentary and rich characterisation had been there right from the start, rather than functioning as a rug-pull finale for an otherwise middling monster-of-the-week outing, then what still now sits as a merely solid episode of Who could’ve been a third classic on the bounce.

Its messaging may be more timely than some of its dated dialogue and heavy-handed delivery, but a truly bold, jaw-slackening final act and a star making turn from Callie Cook help ‘Dot And Bubble’ stick the landing.
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