If series 11 was controversial, then series 12 was downright divisive. In my opinion, this series takes everything that made the previous series what it was – including the good and the bad. The highs are generally higher, but they come alongside one or two pretty gruelling lows (or one episode in particular).
But overall, the series is still Doctor Who, and has all the stuff that makes the show great. Jodie Whittaker still kills it in the role, and the side characters get a bit more development, before we say goodbye to two of them. It’s an enjoyable series that’s been overshadowed by a controversial series finale. But we’ll get to that.
Let’s discuss the highlights, of which there are many. Firstly, the series opener, “Spyfall”. This is a pretty silly spy romp, shot through the lens of Doctor Who, with plenty of nods to the James Bond franchise – including single-letter codenames, gadgets, the title itself, and music that’s so similar I’m surprised a lawsuit wasn’t considered. But they’re having fun with it, and it’s difficult not to get swept up in Team TARDIS’ globetrotting adventures. Lenny Henry plays the villain of this two-parter, and for some reason he plays it completely straight. It’s a weird choice. And Stephen Fry appears in possibly the most wasted cameo in Who history (since Lee Mack at least). But the real draw to these two episodes is the absolutely phenomenal Sacha Dhawan as MI6 agent “O”.
Or should I say, The Master. Yeah, when this twist happened it came out of nowhere – a trend that series 12 managed to pull off successfully time and time again. I think Dhawan’s interpretation of the evil Time Lord is my favourite that we’ve seen. He’s funny, but is also completely unhinged. It might be the most insane we’ve ever seen the character, which is crazy considering how wacky John Simm got in the role. He is the big bad throughout series 12 and is nothing less that extremely watchable whenever he’s on screen. If the BBC had any sense, they’d keep him around.
There are two all-time great episodes within series 12 – something that many found was lacking in the previous series, though I’d disagree. Firstly, we have “Fugitive of the Judoon”. This episode completely twists the world of the Doctor Who on its head, and it’s in a good way. We meet a new character called Ruth (Jo Martin) who seems to just be a very average middle-aged woman. But there’s something very wrong in Gloucester and soon the Judoon have surrounded the city and are searching for a fugitive. The twist in this episode is mind-blowing, and the show somehow kept it a secret. Ruth is The Doctor, albeit an incarnation she doesn’t remember. And ever after just a few minutes of screen time, it’s clear that Jo Martin has the role down. It’d be a huge shame if the show did nothing with her in the future – though at this point it seems unlikely she’ll regenerate into the Ruth-Doctor, seeing as it’s made clear that this incarnation is from earlier in her life. But seeing where this series ends, anything is possible.
Another bombshell of a twist in this episode is the return of Captain Jack Harkness. This was an insane moment for fans of NuWho, as Jack encapsulated a lot of what many consider the show’s heyday, when RTD and David Tennant were at the helm. It’s only a small appearance in the grand scheme of things, but as a massive fan of Torchwood, it’s great to see the character is still out there getting into trouble. He appears for a fully fledged reappearance in the surprisingly good New Year’s special.
The other 10/10 episode here is the excellent “The Haunting of Villa Diodati”. This is a straight-up ghost story, except the ghost of the story is a half complete and very menacing cyberman, know as the Lone Cyberman. It takes place entirely in a haunted house, and features a who’s who of writers and academics from the 1800s, on the night that Mary Shelley first wrote Frankenstein. It’s got literary references aplenty, but the thing that makes it a classic is the performance of Jodie Whittaker. Throughout the season we’ve been getting glimpses of a darker Doctor, dealing with the destruction of her home. It’s an extra level to the Thirteenth incarnation, who has previously been very smiley and not especially threatening (with exceptions). But in this episode, she has her Time Lord Victorious moment and tells the fam that sometimes it’s up to her to choose, to make the difficult choices. In this scene there are hints of the Time Lord arrogance that’s always been there, in every regeneration. And Jodie Whittaker nails it.
But alas, not every episode is a classic. There are some genuinely fantastic episodes that just fall short, like “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror” or “Can You Hear Me?” and others that sit somewhere in the middle, like “Praxeus”. But then, right at the bottom with the all-time worst episodes like “Fear Her” or “In the Forest of the Night”, there’s “Orphan 55”. This episode has sorta gone on to encapsulate everything people dislike about the Whittaker/Chibnall era. There’s far too much going on, with far too many characters. And most of this characters are pointless, or even worse, straight up annoying. On top of that, the plot is rushed, with great monster designs that don’t really amount to anything of substance. To finish it off there’s a message in there about the environment, which is certainly not bad in and of itself. But there is no attempt to marry the message with the story, and instead comes down to a downbeat and moralizing speech. Unlike the other worst-of-all-time episodes, I would actually recommend watching this one, as it does absolutely everything bad in a way that is actually quite entertaining. Even if you’ll be sick of hearing Vilma shout “BENNI” at every possible opportunity.
And then there’s the finale. I won’t spend too much time on this because, as I see it, it’s up to the next series and subsequent specials (before Chibnall leaves) to really delve into the ramifications of this twist. So it could still go either way. But as it stands, the Doctor is not who we thought she was. She’s a being from beyond our dimension, who was discovered by the original Gallifreyans, who then extracted her ability to regenerate. So this means that there is a possible infinite number of regenerations out there that we’ve not seen. Personally, I don’t care enough about the Time Lord lore to be offended by this, and I’m always supportive of the show taking risks. But there is a worry that the show might have gone too far and changed the character too much. But we’ll have to see. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the next showrunner.
Overall, it’s a mixed bag of a season, but one that is mostly positive. Even when the show is taking a turn that you don’t necessarily agree with, it’s still very well-made science fiction. I really preferred the companions this time around, and was actually sad to see Graham and Ryan leave. But Yaz is definitely the best companion to keep around, and she seems to be the character that cares the most about the Doctor. We’ll see how things develop going forward. As well as this, Jodie Whittaker really comes into her own in this series, and delivers some fantastic moments in every episode.
As it stands, it’s a series that takes some really big risks, and only time will tell how these pan out. Whatever happens, I can’t wait for the show to return.