The Thirteenth Doctor returns for a second season of Doctor Who. It was a season that managed to be an improvement over Series 11 and was still able to annoy fans.
The Doctor and her companions reunite for more adventures across time and space. Their journey sees them conflict with familiar foes, meet historical figures, and face environmental threats. The Doctor also has a long-running threat due to mystery involving the Timeless Child and The Lone Cyberman.
Series 11 was reviled by fans for numerous reasons. Many of the stories were tepid, there was too much emphasis on political stories, had no recurring villains and there was no season-long arc. It was the most boring and worst series in the modern era. Series 12 tried to rectify these issues. This season brought back elements from the Davies/Moffatt eras. There was a season-long arc and a mystery box. Series 12 also brought back The Master and the Cybermen as villains.
There was an improvement in the writing compared to the last season. “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror” and “The Haunting of Villa Diodati” were the best episode of the series. These two episodes were the historical episodes and they were two of the three episodes where Chris Chibnall wasn’t involved in the scripting. “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror” was a simple monster-of-the-week story that saw the Doctor team up with the famous inventor. “The Haunting of Villa Diodati” was a gothic horror episode that showed in Doctor Who fashion how Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein. Both films were entertaining adventures that combined history and sci-fi and were able to offer a little bit of education. Both episodes were written by first-time writers for the show and hopefully they will come back to write more episodes.
The worst episode in the series was “Orphan 55.” This episode saw The Doctor and her companions arrive on a luxury resort and find it’s infested with monsters. This episode had lots of issues like annoying characters, the Doctor acting out of character, and cheap-looking make-up and costumes. But the worst aspect of this episode was the forced environmental message. The reveal in that episode was the toxic planet was really Earth and it turned like that because climate change led to war. The environmental message was tacked on and there was an easy fix: climate change directly turned the planet into a toxic wasteland and mutating the inhabitants. At the end of the episode, The Doctor pretty much spoke to the audiences to change their ways or face oblivion. It was like an after-school special.
“Praxeus” was the other environmentally themed episode of the series. The writers there at least knew to directly link threat to the environmental message because in that episode plastic pollution led to the created a virus that risks the whole planet.
“Fugitive of the Judoon” was one of the most praised episodes of Series 12. It was an entertaining episode that had the feel of a Russell T. Davies/Steven Moffatt episode. It had big spectacle and world-building that audiences came to know and love. But it was a double-edged sword because that episode had a big reveal that changed the backstory of The Doctor. The season finale doubled down on this lore change that has annoyed fans because Chibnall decided to rewrite The Doctor’s history and didn’t understand the character or the show.
Series 12 had issues with consistency and underdeveloped concepts, like Series 11. “Can You Hear Me?” was a great example of this because it was an episode that featured god-like aliens that made two planets their playthings. It was an episode that had big ideas and I wanted to see more of this.
Inconsistency also plagued the characters. Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor was at her best when had her character headfirst so she can protect others and she had some weighty concerns like what happened to Gallifrey. However, at other times Whittaker seemed like she was told to be quirky and she even said her character was ‘socially awkward’ instead of acting that way. At times, The Doctor did have a disregard for non-human life which goes against the philosophy of the character.
Yaz as a companion improved a lot in this season. In Series 11 it felt like she was just tagging along with The Doctor, Ryan, and Graham. She had a lot more to do in this season, like evacuating civilians or going into a spaceship. “Can You Hear Me?” was a great character episode because it shows what drove Yaz. However, Yaz’s extra characterization came at the expense of Ryan and Graham. This was due to Ryan and Graham arcs have already been concluded: Ryan and Graham have overcome their grief and Ryan accepted Graham as his family. Graham still had the occasional moment because he feared his cancer can come back but Ryan felt the third wheel.
Series 12 did take advantage of the expanded Tardis group in some episodes. In “Spyfall” and “Praxeus” The Doctor was able to send her companions to other parts of the world to investigate something. But in “Fugitive of the Judoon” all three companions were sidelined from the main adventure.
This series does continue one of the better parts of Series 11, the high production values. There were lots of location shooting with South Africa and Tenerife being used as well as locations in England like Gloucester Cathedral and the West Usk Lighthouse. There was also excellent CGI for the show, especially spaceships.
Series 12 did learn from the mistakes of Series 11, episodes that will last in the mind. The season had some of the best historical episodes of the modern era, had high stakes, and attempts at characterization. But the season finale will annoy fans.