Spyfall: Part 1 | Review Score = 4/5
Spyfall: Part 2 | Review Score = 3.5/5
Orphan 55 | Review Score = 1.5/5
Nikola Tesla’s Night Of Terror | Review Score = 3.5/5
Fugitive of the Judoon | Review Score = 3.5/5
Praxeus | Review Score = 2/5
Can You Hear Me? | Review Score = 2.5/5
The Haunting of Villa Diodati | Review Score = 3.5/5
Ascension Of The Cybermen | Review Score = 4/5
The Timeless Children | Review Score = 2.5/5
Back on the 14th December 1963, the sci-fi genre was forever changed thanks to two words – Doctor…Who? Since then, this phenomenon has evolved and grown over the years, becoming a staple of British television and a beloved show the world over. This mysterious explorer in a magical police box, travelling all of space and time, captured the hearts of millions with one big question firmly rooted into the show – who is The Doctor?
Since its reboot back in 2005, the show has grown leaps and bounds, touching a brand new audience and changing its tone and ideas several times over thanks to its previous showrunners, Russell T. Davies and Stephen Moffat, adding their own spin to proceedings. When Chris Chibnall took the reigns as show-runner last season, he brought with him a whole slew of mediocre episodes, ham-fisted with political agenda-driven writing, a trio of uninteresting companions and a Doctor lacking the same charisma and defining characteristics her counterparts brought. The season chugged along to its uninteresting ending, bowing out a host of forgettable stories that shockwaved a whole wave of criticism toward the show. It couldn’t get any worse….could it?
Season 12 of Doctor Who is a strange kettle of fish. On the one hand, some of the episodes this season manage to inject the same pace, energy and waves of nostalgia that made the previous seasons so endearing. There’s some great cameos here from faces of old, with the cyberman actually feeling menacing for a change, and a couple of nicely timed sequences that raise the stakes and tension dramatically. Jodie Whittaker is finally given some good material to work with and a couple of stories certainly stand up as some of the best in Chibnall’s reign as show-runner.
At the same time, this season also highlights some serious faults with continuity, storytelling and longevity, even going so far as to retroactively change the entire lore underlying the show, for better or worse. Orphan 55 will forever go down as one of the worst Doctor Who episodes of all time, while the end reveal about the Doctor is a serious make or break moment in the show that could potentially damage the ratings for this long-running sci-fi show forever – it’s that divisive. I won’t spoil what happens but suffice to say it’s a serious game-changer.
With a good balance of two-parters and stand-alone chapters, Doctor Who finally gets the formula right for its different stories but ironically the stronger tales are the ones not written solely by Chibnall. Some of the writing does well to push the show along, while other times the returning agenda-driven writing returns with a vengeance. An entire third act of a chapter sees The Doctor lecturing the audience about climate change, breaking the fourth wall while doing so. It’s sloppy, awkwardly contrived and destroys any gravitas the character brought up until that point.
There are so many unanswered questions and little plot threads hanging over this one at the end of the season that it’s difficult to run through this as a binge-watch and not pick up on these. We’ve said it before here but three companions are too many. It’s a problem the Fifth Doctor tackled by locking one or two of them inside the TARDIS each episode to allow the story to play out more coherently.
Here though, Doctor Who tries to juggle all three companions awkwardly, with Graham arguably the best of the bunch but dealt a bad hand thanks to some flimsy writing for the Doctor. One episode sees Graham try to open up to The Doctor about his fears, only to see her awkwardly brush aside his concerns because “she’s not good with this emotional stuff”. Another contradicts this as the Doctor gives a rousing speech about her “fam” (yes, this is a thing now. She calls her companions her fam) and how much she cares about them.
Graham is quickly used as comedic relief instead while Ryan lacks any charisma or charm to carry his scenes. Yaz doesn’t fare much better either, with her personality see-sawing between dominating and bossing people around and acting as the strong and clever companion that seems to know a lot about science. All three of these have such inconsistent character arcs that it’s no wonder Graham and Ryan are leaving after the Who festive special later this year.
Scoring Season 12 of Doctor Who is a difficult task indeed. There’s no doubting that some of the quality this season is a step up from what we’ve seen before, but when it comes to the overarching plot and character writing as a collective whole, Chris Chibnall shows an inability to write coherently, with plot holes, inconsistencies and muddling lore that retroactively changes 56 years of material for the sake of a few cheap rating pops. Quite where next season goes from here remains to be seen but for many people, this is the make or break point in the show.
As someone who has watched every episode of Doctor Who, right back to the 1963 classics, this sci-fi show will always have a special place in my heart. It’s a show that’s dipped and peaked through various different seasons and Doctors, coming back strong after a long hiatus and a so/so feature film to bring back what made the Doctor so endearing all those years ago. The last time the show has felt this divisive and polarizing are the late 80s with Sylvester McCoy. While I’m not suggesting the show will be axed like it was back then, seeing the millions of viewers turning off the show every week and the fanbase joining together in their disdain over the direction of the show is currently taking is certainly a bad omen going forward.
Whatever happens from here, season 12 is a big turning point for the show. It’s a season that changes everything we know about Doctor Who and does so in such a ham-fisted and incredulous manner that it’s hard to know where to start in picking this apart. Season 11 is the more mediocre and forgettable season for sure but this is the defining chapter that sees Chris Chibnall stamp his mark down on the show. Instead of a shiny, sparkly sticker, he throws down a muddy footprint that will forever be stamped on the show’s history. Whether Doctor Who can wipe that clean or not, remains to be seen but for now, the future does not look bright for the Doctor.