DOCTOR WHO: SEASON 12 | TV REVIEW

RELEASED: January 1st 2020 – March 1st 2020
DISTRIBUTED BY: BBC
SHOWRUNNER: Chris Chibnall
WRITTEN BY: Chris Chibnall, Ed Hime, Nina Metivier, Vinay Patel, Pete McTighe, Charlene James & Maxine Alderton
DIRECTED BY: Jamie Magnus Stone, Lee Haven Jones, Nida Manzoor & Emma Sullivan
MUSIC BY:  Segun Akinola
STARRING:
Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Stephen Fry, Lenny Henry, Goran Višnjić, John Barrowman, Jo Martin, Nicholas Briggs & Sacha Dhawan

There will be some spoilers for this season, because you can’t touch on half the season without them.

When I think back to Jodie Whittaker’s first season of Doctor Who, I don’t dislike it as such, but I remember it being neither particularly good nor bad. It was just there. Relatively uneventful. Lacking in any real fun or excitement. It’s a series that I’ve never gone back to revisit episodes from, and while I will rewatch season eleven eventually, it probably won’t be any time soon.

Fortunately, season twelve is the complete opposite.

While not all the episodes are great (some, in fact, are quite bad) on the whole, you get the sense the people behind the show are at least taking swings, even if they are missing a few. As a result, season twelve has regained that fun-factor necessary for Doctor Who, as it generally tones down the heavy-handed social commentaries and over-the-top exposition in favour of zany alien stories, quirky time-travel adventures, and actually gives Whittaker’s Doctor some depth.

The main reason for this, I think, is that there’s a bit more of a varied group of writers this time around. Last season, show-runner Chris Chibnall wrote six of the ten episodes, whereas this season, although he does co-write several episodes, six of the ten season twelve episodes have also been written by others. This means when it does come around the Chibnall’s episodes, he can go all-in with Doctor Who craziness, revitalising Doctor Who in new ways, and opening up multitudes of storytelling possibilities (or just destroying canon, as some who haven’t been as open to these changes have claimed).

For instance, what seems to be a seemingly standard episode in Fugitive of the Judoon heralds the return of Captain Jack and introduces a brand new black Doctor. A spy-story reveals itself to be the latest ploy of a regenerated Master. A later ghost-themed episode kicks off a three-episode arc that oversees the revitalisation of the Cybermen (not that they necessarily needed it – the season ten finale with the classic Mondasian Cybermen was great all around). Consistently, the show touts itself as standard Doctor Who, then blows expectations out of the water.

This is helped considerably by letting Jodie Whittaker show off her acting talents and never is this more apparent than when she’s facing off against the fantastic new Master, as played by Sacha Dhawan. Their chemistry is palpable, and the way they both portray the stoic hero and the mischievous villain, respectively, makes for very entertaining television.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the rest of the cast. While there are definite stand-outs like Goran Višnjić has Nikola Tesla or Lenny Henry in a particularly villainous turn, many of the episodes are crammed with so many side-characters that there’s barely any time for the companions to grow. Bradley Walsh as Graham is still a highlight, but now that his primary story of grieving his wife is over, he too occasionally fades into the background along with Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill, who are rarely given any particular interesting material to make their characters stand-out. Then, on occasion, we’re told about all this supposed character development that we’ve not seen play-out.

There are a few other problems with the series, such as the lack of any stand-out themes from composer Segun Akinola, whose work isn’t bad, but like season 11 just isn’t really that noticeable.

But in terms of the good, bar a few script goofs and the occasionally poor storyline, overall the storytelling on display this season is a lot braver, more entertaining and well-rounded.

The social commentary is still present, but it’s not as heavy-handed as last season when the companions would stop to have a dialogue about why racism is bad. Here, things like being wary of climate change flow naturally out of the story they feature in, and the cast is diversified without it being made a big deal over. The obvious example of this is the surprise reveal of Jo Martin’s Doctor; the first black Doctor Who (I know that’s not their name), who has both a great screen presence and an awesome new look.

The finale also actually feels like a finale this time around, as Chibnall actually dishes out some big revelations to his set-up of the ‘Timeless Child’ arc, that rock the Doctor’s universe to its very core. The whole status quo of Gallifrey has changed once again, and the Doctor is forced into a new chapter of her life that is rife for storytelling possibilities as it fills in gaps in her past, while simultaneously making her more of a mystery. There are some amusing callbacks to classic Who, and the show proves that not only is it unafraid to once again get a bit wacky, it’s also not afraid of taking some big leaps to try and take the show to new(ish) and interesting places.

There are some missteps of course, but on the whole, it’s a definite step up from last season.

It’s clear that this will go down as a bit of a ‘Marmite’ season. Some will love it, others will hate it. But if you’re able to get past what some may see as disrespect to the show’s history, it’s clear that this season has been a real rollercoaster of revelations, and will no doubt be one of the more memorable eras of the show going forward.

All-in-all, I give Doctor Who season twelve:

Also, in regards to callbacks to Classic Who and Segun’s soundtrack, I found this part of the finale, wherein the Doctor beats a computer by concentrating so hard the show’s theme tune started playing to be both satisfying and ridiculously hilarious:

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