September 29, 2020

Doctor Who Series 12 Is A Mixed Bag

Josh “James” Litman '21

It is important to start off by saying that I am a huge Doctor Who fan. I’ve been watching the show since I was thirteen years old, and I’ve loved it ever since. Which is why writing this article is going to hurt, because this new series of Doctor Who just isn’t as good as it used to be.

Doctor Who is a sci-fi television show about an alien called “the Doctor” that travels through time and space in a blue police box called the TARDIS that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. When the Doctor dies, they can change their appearance, which has allowed the show to use different actors as the main character, keeping the show on the air for over fifty years. With a background like that, the show should have infinite potential. Unfortunately, series 12 doesn’t reach its full potential with a few dull episodes and a disappointing finale.

Doctor Who has always had an underlying message in its storytelling, but it was always subtle and focused more on the actual plot. In this series, the show makes a hard standpoint about how we are ruining the environment. That in itself isn’t bad, but the way they do it is. The writers focus several episodes on getting their message out, but the episodes don’t have any substance to them. Those episodes feel very preachy and were not enjoyable to watch. 

For example, in the episode “Orphan 55”, the Doctor and her companions went on an adventure exploring a dead planet. However at the end of the episode, it was revealed that that planet was actually earth in the future, and the violent creatures that inhabited it were disfigured humans. The Doctor then went on a monologue on how we have to save the planet and change our future so it doesn’t end up like that. The episode solved its climax in about two minutes with a weak plot device. 

In comparison, “Oxygen” from series 10 also takes a political stance, but this time on capitalism. The premise of the episode is that the Doctor and his companions are stuck on a space station with no oxygen. The only available oxygen is provided by the owners of the space station, a mining company. The spacesuits limit the amount of “breaths” the person inside can take so they don’t waste the company’s oxygen. Unlike “Orphan 55”, this previous episode takes its political stance and actually integrates it into and throughout the entire episode. It’s not like they tacked on a message at the end of the episode “Oxygen”, you can see the themes throughout all of it. Even if you don’t agree with its message, “Oxygen” is still a good episode.

The finale was easily the worst part of this series. Without spoiling too much, it rewrote a lot about what we knew from the show, and not in a good way. It completely changed the Doctor’s backstory, which should never have happened. We already know a lot about the Doctor. We saw their first “face” all the way back in 1963 and we have been on a journey with them for 50 plus years. You can’t add a backstory for something if you’ve been with the person from the beginning. It also created numerous plot holes and inconsistency that I hope will be addressed in the next season.

Filler episodes were boring and didn’t seem to go anywhere. Either they would take forever to reach the climax and then only spend a couple minutes to resolve it, or it just wasn’t an interesting premise. These episodes didn’t captivate me, and I found myself often going on my phone while watching them

Another issue with this series is the characters. The Doctor usually travels with a few humans she calls her “companions” to accompany her on her wild adventures. However, for the past two series the companions aren’t as well-rounded as they were in the past. Two of the Doctor’s companions, Ryan Sinclair and Yasmin Khan (played by Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill, respectively), are very flat characters, and don’t receive any character development. Ryan has become increasingly courageous, but he is still the same character he was at the beginning of season 11. We don’t know much about him, what his interests are, or what he wants to get out of his and the Doctor’s adventures. Yasmin, on the other hand, has received no character development whatsoever. The only person she really seems to interact with is the Doctor, and only makes small talk with the other companions. She is the same exact character that she was when we first met her. Graham O’Brien, played by Bradley Walsh, is the only interesting companion who seems to get any development. We learn his fears about his cancer coming back, but he still wants to live his life, and get as much out of it as he can.

It’s not all bad though. Jodie Whittaker’s portrayal is great, and a definite improvement over her first season. John Barrowman’s return to the show as Captain Jack Harkness after ten years was a welcome (but short) surprise, and a reminder of how good Doctor Who used to be, when it was fun, sporadic, and unpredictable. Unfortunately, they underutilized Barrowman’s return, as he only appeared for one quick cameo.

An issue I had with the previous series is the lack of an overarching storyline, and the writers have remedied that in this series. The mystery of who the “Timeless Child” is and what happened to Gallifrey (again) made me want to keep watching,, even if that meant drudging through a few filler episodes.

Series 12 is definitely better than series 11 and is a step in the right direction. With the finale however, it takes two steps back. This series was a mixed bag, with some good episodes, and some bad episodes. I really wanted to like this series, but it just isn’t as good as it used to be. It needs more wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey episodes and fewer episodes with little substance.

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