In Review: Doctor Who – Dot and Bubble

Review by Tim Robins


An awful terror is preying on the citizens of Finetime, and it’s up to the Doctor and Ruby to help them save themselves before it’s too late...


The new Doctor Who story almost went where Doctor Who almost went before, in “Rosa” (2018), one of Jodie Whitaker’s best episodes. Yes, we’re talking ‘Space Racists’ – the hate that dare not speak its name, at least in Doctor Who.

Ncuti Gatwa finally gets an “is it because I’m Black Mirror?” moment. And the answer is yes, yes it is, in a twist I never saw coming – even if the evidence was there all along. Russell T. Davies certainly enjoys giving his actors a challenge for their first outings this season. This was Gatwa’s first recorded episode, and was a little on the Doctor and Ruby light side, or at the very least, our time travellers were somewhat distant.

The title, “Dot and Bubble” was a play on the term ‘dotcom bubble’. The “dot” in question was a small, floating sphere that projects a virtual “bubble”, a sort of an augmented reality “zoom” conference room, that engulfs the user. In a domed city, Finetime, itself in a bubble, young workers influence each other and others for a couple of hours a day before partying. Fellow workers, “friends”, may only be a few feet away, sitting in the same office but in the “bubble” the real world can’t be seen, or, at least, is of no interest.

Doctor Who - Dot and Bubble - Finetime
Doctor Who - Dot and Bubble
Doctor Who - Dot and Bubble
Doctor Who - Dot and Bubble

The episode focuses on Lindy Pepper-Bean, a young white woman whose life revolves around herself. Even when her friends fail to check-in with her, she’s irritated rather than concerned. Miss Pepper-Bean was the first challenge of watching the episode. I found it was hard to empathise with her, even when she was re-learning how to walk (the bubble normally provides her with such instructions). Then I learnt that I didn’t have to, because she and her friends were wrong ‘uns through and through. Even their social media technology hated them.

Pepper-Bean, like a follower on YouTube, has a parasocial relationship with a pop star influencer named Ricky September. All is well, until Ruby and the Doctor pop up in Pepper-Bean’s bubble and warn her that things are after her. And what monsters! Disgusting, jelly- like, centipede things. There have been some great location photos of the creatures but, after a CGI make over, they looked particularly horrible.

Doctor Who - Dot and Bubble
Doctor Who - Dot and Bubble

There was plenty of suspense, not least a scene in which The Doctor and Ruby beg Pepper-Bean to look at the real world and then run away. Pepper-Bean’s efforts to run without her bubble telling her which way to go were funny and scary. And suspenseful because, for a while, we could see the monsters around her while she couldn’t.

So far, so okay-ish. I was a little disappointed with the episode’s heavy-handed satire on social media. “Dot and Bubble” seemed like a grumpy old man’s take on “young people today”. But this turned out to be a bit of misdirection. As was the set design. I enjoyed the “Wes Anderson” colour scheme – pastel shades of blue and orange – as a way of emphasising the irony of “Finetime”. But it was colour of a different kind that became the episode’s concern.

Callie Cooke played little Miss Pepper-Bean, and carried the episode. We see her ignoring the Doctor’s help but following her online crush away from a horde of jelly-things. Her performance was perfectly nauseating. I also made a mental note to complement RTD on writing a protagonist who was pretty much unlikable, until she became thoroughly unlikable. And, of course, that didn’t bother the Doctor, because all life matters to him and life isn’t a popularity contest.

Doctor Who - Dot and Bubble - Monsters
Doctor Who - Dot and Bubble
Doctor Who - Dot and Bubble

At one point, Ruby and The Doctor list all the possible demographics that are causing the monsters to kill the people of Finetime in a particular order. Skin colour isn’t mentioned; all the inhabitants of Finetime are white. The significance of that doesn’t become clear until the end of the episode, when The Doctor offers to take the survivors to safety in his TARDIS. They refuse, although they never explicitly state why – because he’s black.

I had been fretting that “Dot and Bubble” was a rather on-the-nose social media satire and blaming the rather frothy story on the ridiculous running time, a mere 43 minutes. But, on reflection, it was enough to deliver the punchline in a way “The Macra Terror” (1967) and “The Happiness Patrol” (1988) didn’t. It certainly burst my cosy bubble. More stories like this please, Mr Davies.

Tim Robins

Doctor Who is available on BBC iPlayer in the UK, and on Disney+ worldwide

Follow Callie Cooke on X

With thanks to Fraser Geesin for his artwork

Categories: Doctor Who, Other Worlds, Science Fiction, Television

Tags: , , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. Linking to actress Callie Cooke’s social media at the end of the article? Well played, Tim!

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