2.5 out of 5 stars

There’s an intriguing premise behind this episode, heavily influenced by Black Mirror, particularly the episode “Nosedive” with its pastel-coloured society obsessed with social media interactions. “Dot and Bubble” introduces us to Lindy Pepper-Bean (Callie Cooke), a perky but dim resident of a place called Finetime. It’s populated by 17-27-year-olds who are obsessed with devices that create an augmented-reality bubble around their heads, which they live inside for most of the day.

Russell T. Davies has a lot of fun with these high-tech “dot” devices, which are a comical exaggeration of how young people are glued to their smartphones and tablets, barely noticing the world around them. We all know a sullen teenager who barely glances up from their phone screen at home, mindlessly scrolling through TikTok on a glorious sunny day.

There’s even a vague echo of Doctor Who classic “Blink” in the way the episode’s new character, Lindy, dominates the narrative, while The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby (Millie Gibson) are relegated to supporting roles, offering advice from the sidelines. Having two consecutive episodes where the new Fifteenth Doctor barely appears properly doesn’t seem like the best decision for an actor taking on this role in their first series.

The Doctor and Ruby interrupt Lindy’s immersive screen of video calls to her friends with a warning about a danger happening right under her nose. If only she’d turn off her device and realise her missing friends have been devoured by giant slug-like monsters that have invaded the town! For much of “Dot and Bubble,” we’re locked in a close-up of Lindy talking to a hovering grid of faces. The Doctor and Ruby try to wean her off the dot device to save her life, but she’s so accustomed to wearing it that even walking around without its built-in sat-nav proves difficult!

“Dot and Bubble” reminded me of RTD episodes he’d write during his original run; big and silly ideas with enough of a real-world connection to be interesting, but which gradually lose their lustre and ultimately fizzle out. The set-up is amusing and entertaining, mainly because Callie Cooke does an excellent job creating a character who is incessantly chirpy yet somewhat vacant behind the eyes despite her constant grin. The community of Finetime is also interesting, as we learn it’s a paradise built for rich children in the middle of a dangerous forest. They only have to do two hours of work each day and can otherwise fritter away their lives talking to vacuous friends with names like “Gothic Paul”, while dancing to kitsch pop songs like “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”

The threat and existence of the slugs, unfortunately, aren’t explained convincingly. It felt as though RTD once again reached the final act of a story and simply waved them away as creations of the dots designed to slaughter the children they’ve grown to hate after achieving sentience. I struggle to understand how a glorified levitating Alexa could create giant, man-eating monsters, or why they’d target their victims alphabetically.

It felt as though RTD himself knew the ending wasn’t very strong, so he threw in a few unexpected moments to compensate. The first was Lindy revealing herself to be a thoroughly loathsome person. To evade certain death, she threw her famous friend Ricky September (Tom Rhys Harries) under the bus by telling the murderous dot that he was born Ricky Coombes, and therefore should die first if they were following an alphabetical kill list.

This worked rather well. Initially, Lindy was presented as dislikeable because she’s perpetually “online” and therefore lacks basic life skills, so we expected her character arc to be a positive one of change: overcoming the slugs with The Doctor’s help, finding a more fulfilling physical friendship with her music idol Ricky, then helping to save the world and perhaps convince Finetime’s population to ditch their dots. Instead, she’s revealed to be completely selfish, and it suddenly seems odd that The Doctor and Ruby are even bothering to help her over other, more deserving people.

The final twist was less successful. Lindy is safe underground, about to leave town with other survivors on a boat through some tunnels. She lies about what happened to Ricky. However, it then becomes clear—sort of—that she won’t accept The Doctor’s offer of a safer evacuation because he’s an outsider. “We couldn’t travel with you because you, sir, are not one of us. You are kind, although it was your duty to save me. Screen-to-screen contact is just about acceptable. In person,  that’s impossible.”

I say “outsider” because the episode doesn’t explicitly state why Lindy dislikes him. Some viewers interpreted it as a class issue (given the wealth of the Finetime children’s parents). However, it feels more like a racial issue, as Lindy’s friends are conspicuously white and the Doctor is the only person of colour in the entire episode. This struck me as an odd narrative choice. If The Doctor being black is ever going to be a significant plot point, I’d have preferred it to be addressed more meaningfully. It’s disappointing that Ncuti Gatwa isn’t given any witty lines to counter Lindy’s racist rejection. Instead, he spends the next minute laughing and gasping at the absurdity of her decision-making, which mirrored my reaction as a viewer.

Overall, “Dot and Bubble” felt like RTD wanted to bring some dark and twisted Black Mirror energy to Doctor Who, but it didn’t come together in the limp execution. The dot devices were a delightful creation, and the idea of danger and death lurking close to oblivious idiots (literally trapped in a social media “bubble”) was great. I also enjoyed Callie Cooke’s central performance, but how the story developed and the lazy “they were also racists all along!” twist left a bad taste in my mouth.

UK | 2024 | 44 MINUTES | 16:9 HD | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

writer: Russell T. Davies.
director: Dylan Holmes Williams.
starring: Callie Cooke, Ncuti Gatwa, Millie Gibson, Tom Rhys Harries, Niamh Lynch, Aldous Ciokajlo Squire, Eilidh Loan, Pete MacHale, Billy Bradshaw, Millie Ken & Max Boast.