Now that the 12th season of Doctor Who has ended (technically it could be argued that it’s the 49th season if you include the one year where David Tennant only did three special episodes), it’s time to take a look at some of the payoff that showrunner Chris Chibnall delivered since the previous season’s episode “The Ghost Monument.”
Word of warning: this review will dip its toe into spoiler territory!
For years people have been wanting to know who exactly is the Doctor. And for years, we were simply told he’s a disgruntled Time Lord who, while somewhat elderly during his first incarnation, took a TARDIS and, along with his granddaughter Susan, traveled until they ended up on Earth where we first meet them, and over time the Doctor would regenerate the when the time called for it (namely when a new actor needed to be cast). He was simply a benevolent renegade and on the run from his own people because he found life on the planet of Gallifrey utterly dull. However, after 26 seasons of the show’s original run, followed by 12 more seasons since its return, fandom is still wanting to know more about who the Doctor is. Unfortunately, that motivated Chibnall to give them that, but not before having the Doctor regenerate and change gender, compliments of the Neil Gaiman canon-expanding episode “The Doctor’s Wife.”
Back in “The Ghost Monument” as the Doctor and company are searching for her TARDIS they encounter a nasty form of life called The Remnant, and it was there that this first clue of some major re-writing of the Doctor’s personal life was about to begin. During that encounter, she was referred to as The Timeless Child. Not much more was done with that until we came into this latest season, and Chibnall decided to go for broke.
With the two-part “Spyfall” episode Chibnall pulled out all the stops by bringing back The Master, who came to what appeared to be a pretty final ending in the episode “The Doctor Falls.” Nevertheless, Chibnall borrowed a page from showrunners before him and simply brought The Master back without nary an explanation. It is there we learn that The Master destroyed all of Gallifrey and killed all of the Time Lords because of a lie. Later in the season, the Doctor meets the Doctor, and while multiple incarnations of the Doctor appearing together is not unheard of, this time it was a version of the Doctor that no one has ever seen before, and neither of them had any memory of the other. The mystery continues… Finally, in this latest episode “The Timeless Children” we get a very warped telling of who the Doctor truly is, and now Doctor Who fandom will never be the same again.
What I find most perplexing is this need by showrunners to leave their mark on the series by trying to reinvent it. This is a dangerous game to play because it does more than simply retcon the series as we know it. It violates established canon, or at the very least, severely warps and bends it so that it will fit with the new direction the series is going. Arguably this might work with the newer fans who are coming on board, but for “the old guard,” all this does is serve to insult us by resorting to lazy writing. Instead of trying to write something dazzling and original that can add to the canon and legacy of this show, Chibnall went for the easy route and chose re-write who the Doctor is, and for me, this both demystifies the Doctor as well as elevate the character’s status to a higher level that stretches credibility beyond the breaking point. It’s as if keeping the Doctor as nothing more than a friendly runaway scientist from an advanced planet of time travelers is insufficient to today’s audience, and that should be considered a slap in their collective faces. Instead of regarding the Doctor Who viewing audience as intelligent thinkers, Chibnall lowered the bar.
There are other questionable elements of this series, but the one that bothers me the most (aside from the aforementioned “timeless child” storyline) is the treatment of The Master. When Russell T. Davies was the showrunner he brought back the arch-nemesis of the Doctor, but instead of the deviously thinking enemy as we saw with Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley, and even the one time Peter Pratt as the decaying and terrifying version of this character (I do not count Eric Roberts’ one disgusting turn in the role), Moffat brought back the Master twice, first played with delightful villainy by Sir Derek Jacobi, who soon after regenerated into a younger version played by John Simm. Sadly, this version acted like some spoiled rock star with his wild antics. The second time The Master was brought back was in a female form, only this time she was referred to as Missy (short for The Mistress), and this time she was BATSH*T CRAZY!!! There was no grand plan for taking over the world or the universe, with the intention of dominating everyone around her. This time was simply a psychopath.
It’s understandable that with regenerations there would be a chance for a change of personality, but this time it was as if she were someone else altogether. “What is wrong with that,” I hear you asking? There is no sense of reward or accomplishment when the Doctor triumphs over The Master’s plan. Instead, all he has to do is stand by and wait for The Master, or Missy in this case, to trip over her own two feet and then capitalize on her error. The result is having an enemy who is more annoying than ingenious and brilliant. This was maintained when The Master came back, and this time played by Sacha Dhawan. Again, we have the bonkers mad Master who apparently has equally crazy powers given how he was able to successfully kill every Time Lord on Gallifrey.
With all that I have mentioned here, the last two seasons of this series have not been a complete waste and the best thing to come out of this was the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor. It was the first go at making this popular character a female, and Whittaker has done an admirable job with the role. Also, the returning supporting cast has been equally strong, although the TARDIS does feel a bit crowded with three companions alongside the Doctor. Still, the cast has been great from the start and has continued to remain great. Unfortunately, a good cast can only save so much of a series as the rest of it depends on the quality of the stories being told, and as a showrunner Chibnall has given us what I view to be mostly very poor episodes.
Doctor Who continues to grow in popularity as episodes are being simulcast around the world the same day a new episode airs on the BBC, but despite its popularity, some of the bizarre decisions that have been applied to this beloved show pretty much has me asking “Doctor Why???”