Doctor Who season 1, episode 5 review: "'Dot and Bubble' is like a family-friendly Black Mirror"

Callie Cook as Lindy Pepper-Bean in 'Dot and Bubble'
(Image: © BBC)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

'Dot and Bubble' doesn't hit quite the same heights as 'Boom' and '73 Yards', but Callie Cook's layered performance as Lindy is a stand-out in a shiny episode with a heart of darkness.

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It's no secret that production on the current season of Doctor Who hit a fairly significant snag early on - namely, that star Ncuti Gatwa's previous show, Sex Education, was still in production just as Who was gearing up. This had the knock-on effect that, while new companion Millie Gibson was ready to go, Gatwa himself was busy saying goodbye to Eric Effiong. This meant that Doctor Who was, effectively, lacking the Doctor.

Ever resourceful, the show's production team used this to their advantage. The season's planned 'Doctor-lite' episode, last week's '73 Yards', was pushed to the front of the queue and shot first, alongside this week's installment 'Dot and Bubble'. This isn't technically another Doctor-lite episode - in fact, both Gatwa and Gibson appear quite a bit - but the nature of the episode's premise keeps them at arm's length for much of its run.

Instead, 'Dot and Bubble' is largely focused on a new character: Callie Cook's Lindy Pepper-Bean. Lindy is a resident of Finetime - a futuristic city on an alien world seemingly entirely-populated by fresh-faced 20-somethings, where there's always the pulse of generic Europop in the air. The people of Finetime take being always online to the extreme, working and playing in constant communication thanks to the technology of the title - an advanced form of social media/augmented reality that dictates their every move. When some of Lindy's friends unexpectedly go offline, however, she starts to worry. It soon becomes clear that living in these bubbles - and no, that metaphor is not subtle - also prevents you from seeing what's really going on around you: in this case, the arrival of some monstrous slug creatures.

Shiny happy people

Callie Cook as Lindy Pepper-Bean in 'Dot and Bubble'

(Image credit: BBC)

As you might have guessed from that synopsis (and as showrunner Russell T Davies himself has admitted), the episode is a step into Black Mirror territory, but while there are multiple themes at work here - some of which we can't get into in this spoiler-free review - Davies' script mostly avoids a simplistic "social media is bad, kids" message. 

Sure, the Dot and Bubble system is so all-encompassing that Lindy struggles to do anything without it, but it also provides a way for the Doctor and Ruby, trapped outside of the city, to interact with her, popping up in her feed to talk her through an escape plan. In some ways, the episode recalls pandemic-era projects like Rob Savage's ace low budget horror thriller Host - which is appropriate given that, like '73 Yards', one of the themes here is isolation. At certain points it also feels not unlike '80s UK kids TV classic Knightmare.

So, who exactly is Lindy Pepper-Bean? There's a poster on her faultlessly-clean and utterly soulless apartment wall that reads "kindness all day long" but it rapidly becomes clear that that's not Lindy. Some viewers, I suspect, will find her rich kid influencer vibes utterly insufferable - and that's certainly intentional - but Cook also brings a vulnerability to the role, her naivety and lack of offline experience making her seemingly easy prey for the monsters. It's a really strong performance, one that gives the episode its most memorable recurrent image: Lindy's face, center-frame, surrounded by the Bubble UI, smiling and happy at the start of the episode, becoming increasingly panicked and desperate as it goes on. 

Everything's fine all of the time

dot and bubble doctor who

(Image credit: BBC)

'Dot and Bubble' isn't as gripping as 'Boom' and '73 Yards', but that's not surprising coming after two five star all-timers. "Black Mirror for kids" is an ideal tone for Doctor Who to play with and it’s certainly not the first time the show has taken a satirical tech-dystopian angle (David Tennant instalment 'Gridlock', also by Davies, feels like a close cousin). The metaphors are, admittedly, a little tired, but there’s also a healthy dose of anger here that gives ‘Dot and Bubble’ some bite. 

It is a shame that this is positioned straight after '73 Yards' though. Don’t get me wrong, I love that episode and like this one, but taking the focus off the TARDIS team again so quickly feels like a strange choice. I don't feel like I truly know this Doctor or companion yet, and we're already past the halfway point of the run. Again, perhaps that decision was the product of necessity, though presumably the episode's script had been planned many months in advance. 

With that said, the gradual shift in tone as Lindy starts to realize the truth about what's really happening in Finetime is powerfully conveyed and Cook's performance gives this candy-colored nightmare some welcome complexity. It's all leading to a final act that provides a stand-out moment for Gatwa that will no doubt be the subject of much of the post-episode discussion. 'Dot and Bubble' is a solid example of good mid-season Who with an unexpectedly bleak tone, some gribbly monsters, and an earwormy needle drop that will haunt you for days to come.

'Dot and Bubble' will be released on May 31 at 7:00pm ET on Disney Plus and at midnight June 1 on BBC iPlayer, before airing later that day live on BBC One.

For more great new TV, check out our guide to the best new shows coming your way in 2024.

Will Salmon
Comics Editor

Will Salmon is the Comics Editor for GamesRadar/Newsarama. He has been writing about comics, film, TV, and music for more than 15 years, which is quite a long time if you stop and think about it. At Future he has previously launched scary movie magazine Horrorville, relaunched Comic Heroes, and has written for every issue of SFX magazine for over a decade. He sometimes feels very old, like Guy Pearce in Prometheus. His music writing has appeared in The Quietus, MOJO, Electronic Sound, Clash, and loads of other places and he runs the micro-label Modern Aviation, which puts out experimental music on cassette tape.