What’s a quarantine good for? Catching up on TV!
The Doctor Who Series 12 finale dropped earlier in March, but all the time at home has given me the opportunity to catch up. As the saying goes, Series 12 was a doozy!
Fans will be processing the revelations of “The Timeless Children” and the season as a whole for quite some time, probably until the likely return of Doctor Who around Christmas this year with “The Revolution of the Daleks.”
Jodie Whittaker’s second series as the Doctor both resolved some long standing plot holes and created new ones in equal measure. Often, the marketing behind season finales promise that “everything will change” going forward, but seldom do they shake a show to its foundation like Doctor Who’s finale accomplished. Everything about Doctor Who really is different from this point forward. Honest!
Series 12 was overall a very satisfying season. It seldom felt like it missed a beat, and with the exception of a couple of minor quibbles, Series 12 should stand as one of the strongest seasons of “New” Who to date.
A warning to the brave traveler in time and space: massive spoilers will follow for Series 12 in this review. If you haven’t watched Series 12, do yourself a favor and look away! You don’t need a time machine to return and read my thoughts on this game changing season.
Doctor Who Series 12: Masterful Return(s)
If Series 11 was a soft reboot for the show, Series 12 represented a welcome return to some old villains, friends, and concepts that seemed to be lacking in Whittaker’s first season. It’s understandable that with a new showrunner and new Doctor, the first female Doctor to boot, that the show would want to take some time finding its own voice in Series 11. Having found that voice, Series 12 took some major steps exploring and changing the core foundation of Doctor Who’s lore.
Series 12 felt more like “new” Doctor Who this time around, which was a very welcome return. It had a bit of everything a fan could want from a Doctor Who series. Let’s go to the checklist!
- Time travel to the past
- Going forward to the future
- Old aliens returning
- New aliens!
- Companion drama
- Meet ups with different Doctors
- Meet ups with famous historical figures
- Gallifrey in trouble
- Show-altering revelations
Fans were treated to the returns of fan favorites like the Master, Captain Jack, and the Judoon. Both the Master and Jack’s returns were a bit surprising. Though less goofy than the previous incarnation of the Master, there is a certain level of menace that Sasha Dhawan brings to the role that was missing with Michelle Gomez. Dhawan absolutely oozes evil in a way that Gomez’s bonkers sense of humor subdued in the character. The Master’s surprise return has given Whittaker her first true villain to struggle with outside of the monster-of-the-week vibe Series 11 had throughout.
The series felt more cohesive due to the running theme of the Lone Cyberman and the Timeless Child. Starting with a two-parter and ending with what amounted to a three-part story gave little room for filler in a ten-episode series. That story arc and the continuity throughline left little in the way of unnecessary or forgetful moments. Everything counts in this season. To fans who have complained that recent series lacked depth or meaning, that criticism could not be levied at Series 12.
Doctor Who Series 12: The Family’s All Here
One of the best aspects of the thirteenth Doctor’s tenure in Series 11 and 12 has been the sense of family that the TARDIS crew has brought to the show. It is very obvious to viewers when a cast gels well together, and the Doctor Who team of Graham, Yas, and Ryan absolutely ooze camaraderie and rapport. Team TARDIS has the uncanny ability to play off one another. The chemistry between the actors is so obviously on point and remains the strongest aspect of the show.
Each episode had its moments for the characters to individually shine. In particular, episode 7 (“Can You hear Me?”) gave all of the companions a chance to take some of the spotlight and tackle their own sense of humanity while dealing with the extraordinary during their travels with the Doctor.
“Can You Hear Me?” focuses on the Doctor’s companions back off at home for a bit. Everything, of course, is not well, as each of the companions have dark visions The Doctor tracks the visions to their source, leading each of the companions to have revelations about their life. It provided big, dopey, dramatic fun to dig into these characters a little more deeply, especially as both Yas and Graham are rumored to be leaving the show..
But probably the biggest misstep of the season came in the very same episode for Graham. Graham’s fears about a return of his cancer was easily one of the low points of the series. As alien as the Doctor is, this particular interaction feels completely wrong and out of sync for the character.
The show seems to have forgotten some of the final words of Capaldi’s Doctor: “Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind.” Whittaker’s Doctor not only fails to show that kindness that is sorely missing in the galaxy, but blunders in a major way that damages the character ever so slightly.
Doctor Who Series 12: The Timeless Child
The Doctor has always been portrayed as more than your average Time Lord. A renegade and rebel, to be sure, but there have been hints to hidden depths within the character throughout the show’s history. Series 12 confirmed this lingering suspicion by introducing the Doctor as the Timeless Child. It’s as big as a revelation you can get from a show that has been chugging along for over 50 years.
Essentially what it boils down to is The Doctor isn’t your average Time Lord. He/she is a mysterious being whose exact nature isn’t really known. An early explorer from Gallifrey found and adopted the Timeless Child who had the power of infinite regeneration.
After studying this child, the Gallifreians were able to adapt the regeneration powers of the Timeless Child. They then went about mind-wiping the Doctor every so often so they wouldn’t remember their previous regenerations. There have been countless incarnations of the Doctor.
One of the best additions to the lore to come out of this is Ruth, a future (or past?) incarnation of the Doctor. The Ruth Doctor’s appearance turned out to be the biggest surprise of the season.
First appearing in episode five (“Fugitive of the Judoon”), Ruth is revealed to be an incarnation of the Doctor. This confuses Jodie’s Doctor because neither one can remember the other in their regeneration cycle. It was a bombshell, especially given that the episode already featured the return of Captain Jack!
Controversial as it may be, the Timeless Child plot point feels right and is rooted in the history of the show. It echoes the classic Fourth Doctor serial The Brain of Morbius, which featured flashed images of previous Doctors not seen on screen. There are also shades of this revelation in the fabled Cartmel Masterplan from the Seventh Doctor, which heavily suggested the Doctor was significantly more important than being a troublemaker for the Time Lords.
Whatever one might think of the big reveal that the Doctor is the Timeless Child, it’s certain to leave an indelible mark on the show moving forward. All of the nuts and bolts questions “how” and “why” of it all were left unexplained in the finale. It leaves the door wide open for exploration, and there’s little doubt that Series 13 will explore it even further.
Doctor Who Series 12: Final Thoughts
As a show dedicated to traveling in time and space, retcons and changes to the core concept of the show aren’t exactly new. Change is the very essence of Doctor Who, baked into its premise. From the beginning of the series in the 1960s, the writers were making it all up as they went along. William Hartnell’s regeneration into Patrickl Troughton’s Second Doctor was not planned from the beginning. Doctor Who has always been a fluid show willing to play with its own canon.
However, it’s hard not to view the Doctor’s new role as the Timeless Child as being one of its most fundamental changes in the show’s long and storied history. There have been hints and suggestions all along that the Doctor was someone who was special, even by the standards of the fantastical and mysterious Time Lords.
With Series 12, the show has finally tackled exactly why the Doctor is so special. What that means for the Doctor and how that plays out is now the central motif of the show. There are certain benefits and pitfalls associated with making such a huge revelation about the Doctor. It’s a big risk and fans are hoping that it pays off more in the positive.
There’s a danger at pulling on strings such as this. The Doctor has always been an enigma, even after fifty-plus years. Taking away some of that mystery by finally defining the Doctor as a true outsider could take away from that luster of the character. However, I trust the team Chris Chibnall has put together. His choice of writers and directors have been superb up to this point.
If you’re a lapsed Doctor Who fan looking for big thrills with even bigger lore changes in the show, look no further than Series 12. Change happens, and not a moment too soon.
If you prefer physical media, you can get Doctor Who Series 12 here.