Doctor Who season 12 wrapped up this weekend and as the weeks have gone along I’ve been writing a brief review after each episode. Season 11 had some big ups and downs, with some exceptional episodes, but some real stinkers as well. Season 12 saw showrunner Chris Chibnall dive back into the history of Doctor Who bringing back a number of classic villains and monsters, having previously stayed away. So here we go with short breakdowns of each episode of the season.
Episode 1 – Spyfall Part 1: We came back with a bang on New Years Day. It’s crazy to think that since its return in 2005 we’ve never had a proper spy adventure, because it seems like it could be perfect ground for a fun Doctor Who adventure. And in ‘Spyfall’ it absolutely proved to be. The antagonists lead to a few creepy moments that I’m sure scared younger viewers, and the ultimate reveal of the return of Master (I honestly don’t care how, he’s like Blofeld, he’s never dead and we never need explanations). There were a couple of fun action sequences, I liked that this was one of Yaz’s strongest episodes to date, and The Master hiding as a friend of The Doctor was a classic move.
Episode 2 – Spyfall Part 2: This was a little more of a conventional second part as we were just in full Doctor Who episode mode. The moments with The Doctor and The Master facing off across a few different time periods was great, particularly the meeting in Paris. The final reveal of the episode, that The Master had destroyed Gallifrey as punishment for a secret they’d kept from them was an interesting one, but it will really depend on how that storyline ends that will determine how good it is. The companions wanting to dig more into The Doctor’s past is fine, its a good way to introduce new viewers who may have come to the show with Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker to the mythology of Doctor Who. The laser shoes were really stupid though.
Episode 3 – Orphan 55: What a step down after a great opening two parter. The collection of characters weren’t particularly interesting, and the parent and child conflicts that ran through much of the group felt badly done and didn’t really have any strong impact at all. The final message of the episode tapping into the current climate crisis was far too heavy handed, and although Jodie did a good job with the final speech laying out that the future of Earth was still in humanity’s hands, it lacked the tact and integration that we’ve seen with other such stories like ‘The Zygon Inversion’, ‘Oxygen’, or ‘Rosa’. And that’s a real shame because the last episode that Ed Hime wrote, ‘It Takes You Away’ was one of the best, and this is big low for the series.
Episode 4 – Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror: This was a blast of a historical episode featuring two great scientific minds, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. The episode is very Doctor heavy, which is always a big plus, and Jodie played off Goran Višnjić’s Tesla fantastically. They were clearly the stars of the show in this episode and that worked brilliantly. This felt very much in the vain of historical episodes like ‘Tooth and Claw’, ‘The Shakespeare Code’ or ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’ for purely fun episodes based around a historical figure. Although it lacks the big emotional punch of an episode like ‘Vincent and The Doctor’ that’s ok.
Episode 5 – Fugitive of the Judoon: This episode was wild. I went into it expecting just a fun episode where The Doctor tries to help a fugitive from the Judoon, very excited to see them back by the way. But what we got was a lot of overarching story, and what appears to be another version of The Doctor. Clearly this has to be connected to the Gallifreyan secret that caused The Master to turn on Gallifrey. But on top of all of that Captain Jack came back with a warning about a lone Cyberman. This episode was so much and I enjoyed the hell out of it. I really enjoyed Jo Martin’s Doctor, Jodie smashed it again this episode, and I really want to see Jodie’s Doctor interact with Jack at some point. Also she said the thing from ‘Smith and Jones’. JUDOON PLATOON NEAR THE MOON.
Episode 6 – Praxeus: With several mysterious events taking place across the Earth The Doctor split everyone up to find out how they’re connected. This was a good ride, with a solid supporting cast, and it all came together in a fairly satisfying conclusion with a really touching moment. It also was a far better way to touch upon a social issue than the in your face lecturing of ‘Orphan 55’, instead having it as an underlying theme. Yaz got some fun moments getting to go out without the rest of the crew this week, and her disappointment at not having found her way to another planet on her own was great. This isn’t the kind of episode we’re going to be talking about a few years down the line, not great or awful, it’s just solidly fine.
Episode 7 – Can You Hear Me: This was a really interesting premise, an immortal being (like some that were met in classic Doctor Who episodes) who is manipulating the nightmares of others. In the end though it feels as though more could have been done with it. I did like the attempt to explore Yaz, Ryan, and Graham’s home lives a little more because I always enjoyed the balance between that and their travels in the first few years of the Russell T Davies era, but only Ryan’s story really felt strong. I liked diving more into Yaz, but her history of depression wasn’t well executed, and The Doctor’s final talk with Graham has received a lot of pretty fair criticism. This isn’t an bad episode, but it’s underwhelming.
Episode 8 – The Haunting of Villa Diodati: Oh boy was this a great episode. The first part a creepy ghost story, the middle part switched to a creature feature with the Lone Cyberman (Ashad) Jack warned us about in ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’, and the finale was an epic and classic Doctor Who story where The Doctor has to make a choice between heeding Jack’s warning and allowing Percy Shelly to die or making the choice The Doctor always does, save the individual. Amazingly all of this was brought together and these different tones coalesce fantastically. It’s just a great episode all round with a fantastic script from Maxine Alderton and superb direction from Emma Sullivan, and of course Jodie was great. On top of all that Lord Byron was a ton of fun, I love the whole story of the bet between Byron and Shellys, so it was a great time to visit, particularly as the Cybermen work so thematically with Frankenstein. Bring on the two final episodes, but this one is going to take some beating.
Episode 9 – Ascension of the Cybermen: In many ways this felt like getting everyone into place for the season finale. The return of The Master at the end was awesome, although not unexpected. We saw the Cybermen being brought back to full strength by Ashad, and everyone else was kind of just along for the ride. The C plot that was happening in the episode where we see the life of a young man called Brendan in what appears to be a quaint Irish village in the 1900s. I feel like this is almost certainly the timeless child, and it would suggest as though he is being used by the time lords for some reason. This really felt like the first part of a story, and not in a great way. I do love that Chibnall has managed to make the Cybermen a real threat again, given that they’ve mostly been a joke since Doctor Who returned, and many people have pointed out that this was achieved by giving them an emotional figurehead to lead them in Ashad.
Episode 10 – The Timeless Children: There seemed to be so much to wrap up going into the finale, and people were apprehensive that it would in some way go against established Doctor Who canon. But in actual fact Chris Chibnall delivered an epic story that built on what has gone before in the truest Doctor Who fashion. It turns out that the Brendan storyline we saw in ‘Ascension of the Cybermen’ was actually a false memory mirroring the true history of the timeless child, revealed to be The Doctor, that was designed to be innocuous enough not to be erased from the Time Lord Matrix. The revelation that The Doctor has lived previous lives before William Hartnell’s Doctor is a big one, but their memory was wiped after each meaning that The Doctor, as the person they are now really began when Hartnell’s first Doctor made the decision to steal a TARDIS and run. It doesn’t really fundamentally change anything, as many people worried it would, but it does add a nice wrinkle into The Doctor’s mythology. We were also treated to an exceptional scene where The Doctor came to the same realisation, and forces her way out of the Matrix, which is brilliantly underscored by Segun Akinola. I’ve loved Akinola’s work since taking over from Murray Gold, and this is where he really got to show off, and worked the main theme into the score powerfully. This scene also includes a clip from ‘The Brain of Morbius’ which makes sense given the Morbius Doctors being brought up a lot since the reveal of Jo Martin in ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’. All in all this was a great episode, and a worthy finale. I also loved the ending set up for the festive special with a very David Tennant esq confused “What?”. Bring on ‘Revolution of the Daleks’.
Season 12 Overall Thoughts: I think this was a far more consistently strong season than Chibnall’s first. I also really enjoyed the overarching story, although I know it has divided people. In ‘Spyfall’, ‘Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror’, ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’, ‘The Haunting of Villa Diodati’, and ‘The Timeless Children’ there were a number of great episodes, and only one really bad one, ‘Orphan 55’. As you can tell from some of my incorrect speculation as the season went on, there was an element of surprise and mystery to the season, but not so much that it felt as though elements in the finale were coming completely out of left field. I loved the introduction of Sacha Dhawan as The Master, he was a great foil to Jodie, who consistently hit it out the park with her performances. I also think that this is easily the strongest the Cybermen have been since Doctor Who’s 2005 return, and Ashad was a great leader for them. Overall this was a pretty great season of Doctor Who. I just wish we had Captain Jack back for more than one scene.