A Review of the “Game-Changing” Series 12 of Doctor Who


(Photo: BBC)

David Vu

Disclaimer: Major spoilers for the most recent series of Doctor Who

Wow! What an incredible and wild roller-coaster ride twelfth season of the best sci-fi show in history. Doctor Who concluded its most recent season on March 1 with a 65-minute finale episode titled “The Timeless Children.” After a year-long Doctor Who drought, the entire season just flashed right by our very eyes. 

For the people who don’t know what the show entails (then why are you here?), the British sci-fi show follows the adventures of an eccentric alien who goes under the alias “The Doctor” and travels around all of space and time in a spaceship/time machine called the TARDIS. Doctor Who is the longest running sci-fi show on television right now, with twenty-six seasons in its original “classic era” run (1963-1989), and now twelve seasons in its “revival era” run (2005-present). The reason that the show has gone on for so long is because the Doctor has the ability to regenerate, a concept introduced during the “classic era” of the series, where the character can turn into a different person, allowing for the replacement of the actor, when on the brink of death. Now, that I got that short and succinct summary out of the way, onward to the review!

This twelfth season was the second outing for Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor and her trio of companions (Bradley Wash’s Graham, Mandip Gill’s Yaz, Tosin Cole’s Ryan), as well as Chris Chibnall’s second season as showrunner for the show. “We want to go up a level from last year,” Chibnall said, “Scale, storytelling, everything. I would say we are aiming to keep moving forward and up. There are bigger moments this year.” And it sure did deliver all of those aspects.

First off, I want to discuss the character work of this season. Jodie Whittaker continues to shine as the thirteenth incarnation of the Doctor, maintaining a bubbly and hopeful facade as well as hiding a more manipulative and secretive side to her character. I particularly enjoyed her performance in the last three episodes of the season where she showed more of the anger and darkness of the Doctor, an aspect that this incarnation was lacking in the previous season. As for her companions, Bradley Walsh’s Graham still stands out as the quirky comic relief and Tosin Cole’s Ryan provides some surprisingly emotional moments; however, it is Mandip Gill’s Yaz that really starts to shine in her role as the ambitious police officer in-training. While last season shifted Yaz off to the side for the Ryan-Graham relationship arc, this season has really delved into her character, showing us her background with mental health issues and her intense devotion to the Doctor, leading her to emulate some of her personality traits. As a team dynamic, I feel like the companions have a greater understanding of who the Doctor is as a person and the Doctor has started to confide in them more. However, I feel that the writers overdid it with the one-off characters for a couple of this season episodes; some of the episodes had too many side characters that were irrelevant to the plot which made the episodes feel a lot more crowded, in addition to an already crowded TARDIS team.

Next, I want to talk about the monsters/villains of this season. Last year’s set of new monsters fell a little bit flat for me personally, as none of them were particularly threatening or scary, and many of them were rather one-dimensional for most of the episodes. This season, however, has successfully amped up the creepiness and intimidation of the new monsters/villains, whether it was the mutated Dregs (formerly humans), the scavenging scorpion-like Skithra, or even the scale-like infection virus Praxeus. This season has also brought back some old and classic baddies for the Doctor and company to battle, particularly the Judoon and the Cyberman. I really enjoyed the new twists and spins the writers put on these returning villains, especially the mini three-part arc at the end of the season with the “Lone Cyberman,” a partially-converted Cyberman that was sent back in time to help rebuild the Cyber civilizations that fall in the far future. The real breakout villain, for me at least, was Sacha Dhawan as the Doctor’s oldest frenemy, the Master. This version of the Master might be my favorite incarnation so far, with his ability to be able to switch from a calm and melancholic individual to an angry and psychotic madman in a split-second. I also enjoyed his mannerisms taken from the earlier versions of the Master, such as him using the Tissue Compression Eliminator from the classic series.

As a side note, the music and cinematography of this season is just as phenomenal as it was last season. New composer Segun Akinola has been continuously brilliant with his atmospheric ambiance and bombastic scores that he created for this season. The VFX and cinematography from the cameras and special effects team has been really smooth and clean this year, showing sweeping shots of landscapes of planets, as well as the visual amazement of the TARDIS in the Time Vortex. Also, the make-up and costume department really hit it out of the park this year for both the villians and the heroes, giving the companions historically-authentic outfits to shine in when they travel to the past and the villains very detailed prosthetics to cover up any kind of human resemblance to the actors.

I noticed that this season of Doctor Who provided some very relevant social commentary. This season seemed to take on the theme of environmental-protection, with two environmental-based episodes this season. The first environmentally-conscious episode was “Orphan 55,” which emphasized raising awareness of global warming. The second environmentally-conscious episode was “Praxeus,” which dealt with plastic pollution and talked about recycling to protect the planet. On a different note, there was an episode this season (“Can You Hear M?”) that centered on people dealing with mental health. This episode highlighted various types of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, and how each person handles it differently; for Yaz, it’s wanting to run away and for a friend of Ryan’s, shutting himself in all day. I really appreciate how in Chibnall’s era of Doctor Who, he takes on societal issues and highlights them, without beating around the bush, in order to raise awareness. However, I wasn’t as emotionally affected by these episodes as I much as I was last season, as last season had incredibly powerful and emotional episodes that addressed racism and sectionalism in history.

Finally, I would like to talk about the story arc of the season. The storyline for the season involved the Doctor discovering a devastating Time Lord secret, called the “Timeless Child,” which led to the Master re-destroying their home planet, Gallifrey. I found the story arc of the “Timeless Child” quite interesting because, along with her trying to discover what the “Timeless Child” is, there was another subplot through the season that was connected to it. This subplot dealt with the appearance of a mysterious hidden incarnation of the Doctor that shows up halfway through the season. The conclusion of the mystery in the final episode revealed that the Doctor is the “Timeless Child,” a being from another dimension with the ability to infinitely regenerate. When the Time Lords discovered this child, they experimented on it in order to learn how to give themselves the ability to regenerate. It was then revealed that the Doctor had previously hidden incarnations of themselves, before the show had even started, that completed undercover missions for a secret Time Lord agency. As always for this show, this game-changing reveal has led to more questions than answers, such as “why did the Doctor lose all of her memories of her previous lives before her? how many hidden incarnations of the Doctor are there? if the Doctor is not a Time Lord, then what is she?” When I first saw the reveal, I was completely shocked, yet intrigued, because it opened up so many possibilities for the show to explore for future seasons.

This reveal has created a lot controversy among the fans, with many claiming that this has retconned the entire history of the show. I personally don’t mind, because it has brought back the mystery of who the Doctor really is, bringing in a version of the “Cartmel Masterplan” into fruition. The “Cartmel Masterplan” was a concept planned before the end of the “classic era” that script editor Andrew Cartmel developed. It addressed the Doctor’s mysterious background and how the Doctor was a far more powerful being than the typical Time Lord. The plan was supposed to be carried out through the Seventh Doctor’s era, but it sadly never came into light as a result of the original show’s cancellation. However, it appears that the “Timeless Child” storyline is a revised and reinvented version of the “Cartmel Masterplan,” and I am very excited to see how the story unfolds.

Overall, I thought that this season of Doctor Who was a fun and wild roller-coaster of emotions and thrills, with a lot of plot twists and cliffhangers. Even though there were a couple episodes this season that were (understandably) controversial and divisive among the audience, I had a blast watching all of these episodes for the past ten weeks. I am extremely excited to see how the Doctor escapes prison in the holiday special at the end of this year, “Revolution of the Daleks.” Whovians, start your clocks!