Series Twelve, Episode Six
What connects a missing British astronaut, birds behaving erratically in Peru and an American naval officer who washes up on a beach in Madagascar? This isn’t an Only Connect question, but the premise for this episode!
Astronaut Adam Lang (Matthew McNulty) is in a rocket which is falling back into Earth’s atmosphere. It crash lands in the Indian Ocean, and he is missing, presumed dead. However, former police officer Jake Willis (Warren Brown) gets a text message from Adam, saying “Find me”, and the location is Hong Kong!
Jake gets to Hong Kong, and finds the specific building the signal is coming from. He tries to kick the door down. Graham and Yaz turn up. They want to get inside the building too, and luckily they have skeleton keys.
In Peru there are two vloggers, Gabriella Camara (Joana Borja) and Jamila Valez (Gabriela Toli). They are at first shocked at all the plastic pollution on the beach, but then they get another shock when birds start attacking them.
During the night, Jamila goes missing, and Gabriella wakes up and goes to look for her. She finds that dead birds are falling out of the sky… and Ryan turns up, warning her not to touch the birds!
In Madagascar, a US naval officer Zach Olson (Tristan de Beer) is washed up on a beach. This beach has a science lab attended by Suki Cheng (Molly Harris) and Aramu (Thapelo Maropefela). The Doctor shows up, and she, Suki and Aramu rescue Zach. He was from an American submarine which went missing, but before he can tell them much his skin turns into spikes, and then he disintegrates into dust.
Back in Peru, Ryan and Gabriella find an abandoned hospital building. They find a body covered up, and it is Jamila. Her face is full of the same sort of spikes seen on Zach. Jamila starts moving, but then disintegrates, just as Zach did.
In Hong Kong, after going into the building, Graham, Yaz and Jake find Adam. He is connected to a machine. Suddenly, two figures in biohazard suits and gas masks come in and start shooting! They free Adam from the machine. Yaz threatens to take the machine, and as the figures hesitate than the machine must be valuable to them, but she can’t disconnect it in time. Jake shoots at the figures, and he, Adam, Graham and Yaz manage to get outside.
The Doctor is there by now, and she says they should all get in the TARDIS, where she has already picked up Ryan and Gabriella. Yaz wants to stay behind for a while to get the device, and Gabriella says she’ll go with her. The Doctor, with some reservations, allows this.
The others go back via the TARDIS to Madagascar. We find out the Adam and Jake are in fact a married couple, but separated. The sky on the beach is full of birds. They all go into the medical lab, to get Adam some medical treatment and to dissect one of the dead birds. The Doctor remarks how lucky they are there is so much equipment here for them to be able to complete those tasks.
However, they find that Adam’s blood has been infected with alien bacteria, and it is slowly killing him, if it progresses then his body will disintegrate like the others. The Doctor says she doesn’t know how to stop it.
Jake is obviously upset by this news. We learn why they separated in the first place. Jake didn’t come to Adam’s space launch, and Jake, deep down, never felt that he was good enough for Adam.
Meanwhile in Hong Kong, Yaz and Gabriella go back into the building. They spot one of the figures in biosuits, who uses the device to teleport somewhere. Yaz and Gabreilla decide to use it too to see where it goes, and they end up in what looks like an alien planet, and see part of an American submarine.
In Madagascar, they find out from dissecting the bird that it is full of plastic. The bacteria attatches itself to the plastic. The birds antibodies are able to fight back against it to a limited degree, which explains their change in behaviour, but the disease still kills them, though doesn’t disintegrate them. It has got into humans due to microfiltration. Plastics can’t be fully broken down, and some end up in our bodies. The bacteria is attacking the plastic in human bodies, and the effects on humans are even worse than that on birds.
The Doctor and Suki try to genetically engineer a virus that will attack the bacteria, in hope that it can be used to make a cure. The Doctor gets a phone call from Yaz, who tells her, from what she and Gabriella have found out from the device, is that what is going on seems to be connected to the Indian ocean and Madagascar. This confirms the Doctor’s suspicions about how such an advanced lab is on a random beach in Madagascar, and tells Suki she thinks she isn’t being completely truthful about who she is. Suki admits it. She is one of the aliens. She tells them the disease is called Praxeus, and they were using Adam as a test subject to experiment on, and even thanks to Doctor as they learnt even more from her. Then she teleports out.
Aramu is attacked and killed by the birds on the beach, and then the birds break into the lab. Everyone gets into the TARDIS.
The Doctor thinks they should push ahead with the potential antidote they have. Adam says they should test it on him. Praxeus is killing him anyway, so he doesn’t really have anything to lose, and at least they’ll know if it can work. The Doctor gives it to him. The TARDIS is going to Yaz and Gabriella’s location, and when it gets there everyone gets out, except Adam, and Jake who wants to stay with him.
The location turns out to be on Earth! It’s underneath the Indian Ocean garbage patch. It isn’t an alien planet, it’s an alien spaceship. A corpse of one of the aliens is found. He has
the spikes over his face, but the body is still whole. Suki then shows up. She tells them that they were from a planet which was devastated by Praxeus. They travelled across galaxies to find a cure, and found Earth to be perfect for experimentation, as it is full of plastic. But the ship ended up crashing here. They used whoever or whatever they came across to experiment on. The seabirds, the US submarine and Adam were just unfortunate enough to come into their vicinity, and indeed so were Jamila and Aramu, who died because infected seabirds attacked them.
Suki is the only one of her crew left, and she herself is infected with Praxeus, so intends to use the antidote. The Doctor warns her that it has been made for humans so might be dangerous, but Suki uses it anyway, and all it does is cause Praxeus to infect her as it would a human, causing her body to disintegrate.
However, the antidote seems to work perfectly on Adam, suggesting it is both safe and effective on humans. Having already made a large enough dose of the antidote, the
Doctor says they should use the ship to spread it over the area. That however involes the ship being destroyed, so it has to be on autopilot… which there is a highly unlikely to work. Jake offers to sacrifice himself. But the Doctor gets the TARDIS to rescue him at the last millisecond. Jake and Adam kiss. The Doctor takes Adam, Jake and Gabriella safely on Earth.
‘Praxeus’ began and ended with the Doctor narrating about Earth, being very similar to a David Attenborough documentary. I’m sure this was intentional, as the message of this episode is very like that of Blue Planet II, with the amount of plastic pollution in the oceans. Some of the issues in this episode are very, very real ones, such as plastic being ingested by birds, and it getting into humans as well. The Indian Ocean garbage patch, a large patch of litter, waste and chemicals floating with the currents, very much exists, and it’s not even a problem unique to the Indian Ocean, there’s one in the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean too.
In answer to the question at the beginning of this post, what connects these different things in different parts of the world, the answer would be that in terms of the enivornment and the world, everything is connected. In this case, the way we produce so much plastic waste effects everything in the world, which again means just because we throw it away that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to come back to us in some form.
This episode was intentionally topical in that respect. It felt oddly topical in an unintentional way too. This will have been a coincidence, as they can’t have predicted it, but this was broadcast at the week there was a lot of news of the coronavirus outbreak.
The deaths due to the fictional disease, Praxeus, in this episode were pretty disturbing to watch in any case. The horrible way Praxeus takes over and deforms the whole body, then destroys it so that nothing is left!
The sight of a sky filled with birds was a pretty striking one too, and even more scary when they started attacking people, with obvious parallels to the Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds.
The Doctor examines Adam using a stephoscope, so she’s like a G.P. sort of doctor in this instance!
It was very, very refreshing that neither Adam nor Jake died, especially as it looked like at least one of them would die at various points. TV still has a habit of killing off gay characters. And no, I’m not saying it should be forbidden for gay characters to be killed off, because no character is immune from being killed off. However, gay characters being killed off happens A LOT. Even more so with gay couples, you can usually expect one to end up dying horribly. So it was a refreshing change that a gay couple got a happy ending for once!
‘Praxeus’ had superficial similarities to ‘Orphan 55’, but it was handled a lot better. The message was delivered with more subtlety, and it had a stronger story and characters that felt more interesting and fully rounded. The ending with Adam, Jake and Gabriella leaves the door open for them to appear again, or for spin-off material with them, in a similar way to the Paternoster Gang.
‘Praxeus’ was one a good episode, and one of the best of series twelve.