Doctor Who, Dot and Bubble review: the show takes a bleak Black Mirror turn

 (BBC Studios/Bad Wolf/James Pardon)
(BBC Studios/Bad Wolf/James Pardon)

Cross Doctor Who with a sprinkling of Black Mirror-styled dystopia, and you’ll end up with the sci-fi series’ sixth episode, Dot and Bubble.

Meet Lindy Pepperbean. When she wakes up every day, she immediately switches on her ‘bubble’ – essentially, a VR social media feed crossed with a golfball – and spends the entire day immersed in it, with barely a thought for the outside world. Her home? A far-flung planet called Finetime, where everything is indeed “fine all of the time”, and everything comes bedecked in shades of pastel. Hooray!

With all that tech around, she’s been massively infantilised. “Do I need to pee?” she asks her online consultant, as she gets ready for her two hour working day. Apparently not: “urine content is 0 for the 3rd day in a row, well done Lindy!”

And as she dances to a modernised version of the novelty pop song Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, a monster lurks in her bedroom, ready to eat her. Has Russell T Davies been taking notes from Charlie Brooker?

 (BBC Studios/Bad Wolf/James Pardon)
(BBC Studios/Bad Wolf/James Pardon)

This does wears its influences on its sleeve. Think Bryce Dallas Howard as the social media-obsessed Lacie in Black Mirror’s acclaimed episode Nosedive: the twee aesthetics, the technology controlling peoples’ lives, and the sinister undertones that gradually become overtones are all broadly the same.

And as in Black Mirror, Doctor Who also has a lot of fun unpicking these concepts. Lindy lives in a literal echo chamber comprised of her best friends who agree with everything she says – and is too engrossed in her life online to even look where she’s going (her bubble directs her, to the point where she can’t walk unaided). She also doesn’t think to question why those same friends are disappearing.

The comparisons to today are pointed and obvious: look, you too could walk into a silly-looking monster if you’re on your smartphone.

That said, there’s a wonderfully creepy feeling to the episode, that only gets stronger as it goes on, and things start going wrong. In the tradition of some of the show’s best or weirdest episodes (think Love & Monsters, Blink) it’s also light on the Doctor himself. The Doctor and Ruby appear only sporadically as faces on Lindy’s bubble, delivering quips about the world of Finetime (”It’s like Love Island the planet”) or unblocking themselves from her friends list (with a sonic screwdriver, of course).

Fortunately, Callie Cooke, who plays the unfortunate Lindy, is phenomenally watchable, even if she’s not likeable, and carries the episode on her shoulders.

Tom Rhys Harries as Ricky September (BBC Studios/Bad Wolf/James Pardon)
Tom Rhys Harries as Ricky September (BBC Studios/Bad Wolf/James Pardon)

With all that going on, does Dot and Bubble stick the landing? Not really. With so many threads to juggle and Things To Say about the state of modern society, the episode has a slightly muddled feeling that gets more apparent the longer it goes on. And the ending – a dramatic plot twist about who’s actually behind the monster invasion takes some massive logical leaps that left me struggling to keep up.

But at least there’s a happily ever after, right? Well, wrong. The last Black Mirror influence is the bleak ending. I’m all for bleakness in Who, and Dot and Bubble gives it to us in spades, from the callous way Lindy betrays her love interest, Ricky September (Tom Rhys Harries), to the ending scene, where she and her fellow survivors essentially doom themselves despite the Doctor’s pleas that he can save them.

That, in itself, is a wonderful bit of acting from Gatwa, complete with the now-obligatory shot of a tear rolling solemnly down his face – and to be honest, it’s nice to underline the point that the Doctor can’t always save the day.

Doctor Who is streaming on Saturdays on BBC One, and is available to stream on BBC iPlayer