Last week Doctor Who series 12 finished broadcasting and the internet is riddled with reviews, fan theories and opinions. It was certainly a decisive series and I thought I’d add my voice to the mix.
Generally I think that this series was more enjoyable than the previous one and I think a large part of this was to do with expectations. Series eleven had a lot of objectives. It had to introduce a new Doctor, new companions, a new TARDIS and a new dynamic and feel to the show. While series eleven met some of these goals (if you want to read my in depth review of series eleven click here) series twelve was not bound by restraints, the groundwork had already been set. You could also argue that series eleven left the bar low for series twelve to succeed.
My biggest criticism of last series was that Team TARDIS were very one dimensional so it is great to see them grow in the latest series. Graham has come to terms with his cancer and the loss of Grace, Ryan is more confident during their adventures and Yasmin is given more to do. She takes charge of sub groups when the team split up and acts, at some points, like a secondary Doctor. Personal note, I think it is a crying shame they only mentioned Ryan’s Dyspraxia once. It should not define him, no-one should be defined by one single aspect, but I would have liked to have it mentioned more often. The Doctor, most notably has grown more confident and established in her new regeneration. There were many points in the previous series where the Doctor seemed clueless and confused by her situation and surroundings. Now the Doctor is more self assured. Another issue with Whittaker’s Doctor that has been resolved, is her characteristics. The ninth doctor was a war hardened man, ten was charismatic, eleven was childish genius and twelve was a grumpy old man turned rockstar. Originally thirteen was bland, empty, with no defining characteristic to compared her to her predecessors. It seems that that Chibnall is leaning into the scientist angle and eco-warrior aspect of thirteen’s personality, a change I welcome.
New Who (the rebooted series) has generally been very inclusive and LGBTQ+ friendly. This is because the first show runner Russell T Davis was very active in the LGBTQ+ scene and wanted to represent this community in the main stream media. His successor Steven Moffatt followed this trend. It is nice to see this continue with the inclusion of the gay astronaut Adam and his partner Jake the policeman. Although Jake’s rescue by the Doctor at the end of Praxeus was ham fisted, this was done to appease fans who were upset that a gay character was killed in last year’s episode Resolution shortly after announcing his sexuality.
Chibnall said that he wanted series eleven to not include any old lore of Doctor Who, apart from the Dalek in Resolutions, to attract more viewers who were new to the show. While this and the added benefit of a female Doctor worked to rope in more female viewers, fans of the original series and fans of the re-boot felt alienated. To make up for this Chibnall brought back the Judoon (one of my favourite monsters) and Captain Jack Harkness, a fan favourite character.
The best aspect of this year’s series, for me, was the overall story arc. Every series of New Who has had a story arc that comes to a climax at the end of of the series. Series one had the repeated phrase Bad Wolf, series five had cracks in the universe and series ten had the mystery of the vault. Series eleven suffered for not having this aspect. Instead of a mystery of solve, we had ten separate stand alone adventures with the only hint of a overarching plot being the return of Tim Shaw. Chibnall seems to have learned from his mistake by introducing the Master, now known as O, the destruction of Gallifrey and the prophecy of the timeless child, first hinted at in The Ghost Monument. Although on paper juggling three separate plots sounds challenging, Chibnall did a fair job. The final two episodes Ascension of the Cybermen and The Timeless Children were written masterfully. (Pun intended)
As much as I liked the new series and thought of it as a great improvement from last year it is by no means perfect. It still has plenty of problems the worst of which was the preachy tones of certain episodes. There is nothing wrong with having a moral message in your work however if that message is too blunt the point won’t be taken seriously. In Orphan 55 and Praxeus the Doctor gives two separate speeches on how important saving the environment is. While I agree that it is a very important message I did feel as though I was back in my school assemblies listening to a teacher drone on. Some argue that Doctor Who should not be political and should only be strict entertainment. I disagree. The very first episode, An Unearthly Child, had political undertones and politics have been relevant in the revised series. Planet of the Ood was about slavery and Gridlock looked at the confines of religion. You could make a point that any form of writing is political, even those who avoid the subject of politics intentionally, are making a political opinion but perhaps this discussion is best saved for a future Rants and Rambles article.
Although fan favourite character Captain Jack Harkness returned and opened the door to a revival of Torchwood, I feel as though his presence was wasted. He only appeared in one episode, had approximately twelve minutes of screen time and although his interactions with Ryan, Graham and Yasmin were brilliant it is a crying shame that he did not have a scene with the Doctor. Jack’s sole purpose in the script was to convey a message, do not trust the lone Cyberman do not give it what it wants, advice that the Doctor ignores three episodes later in The Haunting of Villa Diodati. Although I love Jack and I pray for Torchwood’s return on a daily basis, I think he could have been removed from the script without too much damage being done.
My final complaint is inconsistent quality of writing. Although some episodes like Spyfall Part One and Two, Fugitive of the Judoon and both Ascension of the Cybermen and The Timeless Children were enjoyable their success is counterbalanced by Orphan 55 and Praxeus. Perhaps the worst piece of writing is what was meant to be, a tender moment between The Doctor and Graham in the TARDIS, shortly after the events of Can you Hear Me? After being made to face their worst fears, Graham confides in the Doctor that he is scared of his cancer returning. The Doctor’s reaction to this is to mutter about being socially awkward and walk away to pilot the TARDIS.
Although fans have criticised Chibnall for breaking Doctor Who lore, this is not an issue with me. Doctor Who is a show about time travel that was first broadcast in 1963. Of course the lore of the show is going to change. This isn’t a new phenomena. Russel T Davis resurrected Gallifrey and Moffatt gave The Doctor unlimited regenerations. The fact that The Doctor has had lives before what we consider The First Doctor, although shocking, isn’t world ending. If this fact does causes problems in the future of Doctor Who then, like any plot thread involving time travel, it can be unwritten and retconned.
Bad writing aside, generally I enjoyed the series more than I thought I would. I’ll give it eight TARDIS out of ten.