Top of the Docs: Series 12 (2020)

Jodie’s first season was not exactly what I’d call a resounding success.  In fact, for the first time in my life, having watched the show for nearly 4 decades, I wasn’t particularly excited to see it return.  Could it bring the spark of life back to our favorite Gallifreyan?

series 12

Spyfall

RP: 7 – An odd combination of elements that don’t fit together particularly well: a James Bond pastiche and a tour of notable women in history. All very entertaining and largely pointless, with a very slow moving second episode, but at the end of the first episode we have one of the best cliffhangers ever made, with a great twist ending to the episode.

ML: 9 – I have to be honest, the mix of James Bond and Doctor Who worked very well.  Sacha is a fantastic Master, the aliens that infiltrate the TARDIS are scary and a new mystery is added to the series.  A few questions emerge that prevent me giving this a 10, but Chibnall didn’t fall.  I spy with my two eyes that we’re off to a good start.  

Orphan 55

RP: 0 – The closest I’ve come to giving up on Doctor Who since The Twin Dilemma. Everything is wrong about this dreadfully written episode, from the useless Doctor to the complete misunderstanding of how the series works with the suggestion that nothing matters because everything we are seeing is just one possibility. Any future writers should watch this to understand what you never do: use the Doctor as a mouthpiece to lecture the viewers.

ML: 0 – Great visuals and a scary monster are all that this has going for it but not enough to even score a 1.  The characters are out of sorts, the new allies are left to die and there’s a creature with a hyphen in her name! But I was really glad to see Doctor Who being used as a soapbox for the writer to tell me about global warming and responsibility to the planet, because I hadn’t heard of those thigs.  Or more accurately, of course I had but never before with a baseball bat to the the face and a frying pan to the head.  It took around 55 years for the show to say it wants to be left an orphan with no one left to watch it.

Nichola Tesla’s Night of Terror

RP: 8 – A fascinating exploration of two important historical figures, with a largely unfair character assassination for one of them, but the liberties the writer takes with history admittedly makes for a great episode of Doctor Who. The Skithra are entertaining monsters, but are really Racnoss Mark Two, without that ever being acknowledged. Some great acting elevates this episode to far more than the sum of its parts.

ML: 7 – Definitely an above average episode, but not necessarily a good Doctor Who story.  It’s fine as an adventure story, but I think someone forgot to make the Doctor heroic.  She plans to destroy an enemy rather than help it.  Somehow Anjli Mohindra is still pretty even under all her makeup but the Skithra remind me of the Racnoss, even in the sound of her voice.  Tesla is played brilliantly, though I think Edison is made to look like a bully – maybe he was! – but watching this one is a night of good viewing.

Fugitive of the Judoon

RP:  10 – Doctor Who springs into life in a way that hasn’t happened for a long time, and it has to be said that the reason for that is we have an amazing actor playing the Doctor… but it’s not Jodie Whittaker, sadly. The unfortunate thing about all this is it’s a tantalising indication of what we are missing.

ML: 10 – WOW.  Captain Jack, the return of a fun alien race and an amazing portrayal of a mystery Doctor shoot this one into an absolute classic.  Super strong, and great to have a mystery in the show again.  How it resolves will be the important part but as a standalone story this is a fugitive of Chris Chibnall.  It actually escaped his writing and gave us an incredible story to actually be excited about!

Praxeus

RP: 2 – Another episode where the writer delivers his lecture about what silly, naughty little humans we are by using the Doctor as his mouthpiece, and with all the subtlety of a Sontaran with a sledgehammer. Wins marginally over Orphan 55 by actually having some characters who make us care, but when did Doctor Who become a series about making us feel bad about ourselves?

ML: 3 – Oh, the Earth needs taking care of?  There’s global warming?  I’d never heard about that before… oh, wait, I think I did when I was beaten over the face with a sledgehammer earlier this season.  But unlike Orphan 55, this actually has a story and some heroic moments so I’ll do this the courtesy of bumping it to the high end of below average.  Had the writer even attempted to address any of the massively impactful episode that preceded this, I would have appreciated it more, but they opted to ignore that it even happened, so yeah, like the title, that’s some nonsense!

Can You Hear Me?

RP: 8 – Apart from a couple of clumsy moments from the writer, this is much, much better. An exploration of a mental health issue that is actually fully integrated into the plot rather than just being a lecture for the viewers, and a couple of great villains. The flying fingers are a bit of silly fun, and very Doctor Who.

ML: 8 – Can you remember it, is a better question, but that’s because of a dreadful title.  The episode is actually quite good with scary villains, unique moments (animation), and a look at mental illness, a subject that is near and dear to my heart simply because of where I work in real life.  Plus Tahira should have become a companion – we need one that isn’t from modern day Earth and she was great!

The Haunting of Villa Diodati

RP: 7 – Compare this to Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror and you’ll see the big problem I have with this episode. It takes four fascinating writers from history, but does a very poor job of examining their characters, mainly because there’s too much else going on. The other stuff is great, though, with some really scary moments, although it saddens me to see the continued rejection of Doctor Who’s younger audience members, with talk of throats being slit.

ML: 9 – I can’t deny this is a strong episode.  It’s scary, has a fantastic new Cyber threat, and a great cast of supporting characters.  Not flawless, but pretty intense and worthy of praise.  Another hauntingly high mark this season.

Ascension of the Cybermen

RP: 9 – I get why this is controversial but I’m yet to see an argument about why it contradicts anything that I couldn’t easily dismantle. Chibnall finally puts his mark on the series in a way that helps it move forward with new and exciting possibilities, and gets right back to the original idea of the Doctor as somebody whose origins are shrouded in mystery. Loses one point for the silly flying Cyber heads and the silly Cyber Time Lords, but there are plenty of scares and lots of fun along the way. These two episodes reignited my love for Doctor Who.

ML: 8 – One of the hardest episodes to score.  It’s certainly impressive as a story that adds to the mythos of Doctor Who regardless of how I feel about the decision.  It fails heavily with having emotionless Cybermen dress up in Gallifreyan robes, as if the audience couldn’t grasp what happened without seeing Cybermen wearing that garb.  It also fails for me personally for destroying Gallifrey again. And what is the continuity here?  Do what you want with the Doctor’s memory, but what happened to the rest of reality?  Did no one meet the Doctor before?  The Cybermen had a chronological video of the Doctors (Earthshock) and when Gallifrey was under threat (The Three Doctors), the Gallifreyans didn’t think to pull previous Doctors?  And why would Hartnell’s Doctor question the Police Box exterior (An Unearthly Child) if it’s been like that since Jo Martin’s time?  (Those just name some of the issues!)  Still, a good story and worthy of note.  The series feels like it’s ascending!

Revolution of the Daleks

RP: 5 – …and then we move backwards instead of forwards. There are loads of annoying things about this, most of which we now expect from Chibnall: an absence of logic in his writing, poor characterisation, especially for the TARDIS crew, and that’s more of a problem than usual here with the underwhelming departure of two of them. Most of the good things about this episode are borrowed from the past, but you can’t go all that far wrong when you borrow so much that has worked well before. The one area I really need to credit Chibnall for is his understanding that the scariest thing about the Daleks is what lurks inside them.

ML: 7 – While this may not be the strong holiday special we had before, I was delighted to have Captain Jack back and having scary Daleks again was still a victory, even if it feels like a sequel to last year’s holiday special.  There are some flaws, but overall, it feels like the series has turned around since last year.  One might say, it made a revolution…  (no?)

It’s weird because this season certainly had more strong episodes than last and yet there’s still something missing.  Like Capaldi’s first season, I think it’s that the Doctor is not acting like the Doctor – the hero isn’t the hero.  In this season, we’ve actually seen the lead undermined by a new Doctor, one that effectively steals Jodie’s title as the first female Doctor. That’s probably the strangest thing about the season yet it still serves to offer us some good material.  Is that a problem with the writing or something worse?  Is the material getting too dated, too old?

We don’t know what the future holds for the series.  It’s hard to guess if it will improve.  I’m hoping for a recurrence of what happened with Capaldi: Jodie’s third season knocks it out of the park.  But we have to wait.  When the day comes that I can return to these, we’ll see.  For now, we wait.  And hope.  In the meantime, as Jodie says, “travel hopefully!”  ML

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2 Responses to Top of the Docs: Series 12 (2020)

  1. scifimike70 says:

    2020 saw the return of two British sci-fi favorites: Dr. Who: S12 and Red Dwarf: The Promised Land. Both of which can make fans appreciate how particularly successful our continuing sci-fi can be for these very difficult times. But they remind us of how the avenues for good storytelling count for all its real success. The Promised Land worked for Red Dwarf. Can S12 work enough for Dr. Who? As with S11, there are certain writing issues. But there are as much impacting twists as S6 had thanks to how the system of stories works out. The game-changing spark comes in the form of yet another previously unknown Doctor.

    Jo Martin may have, so far, debunked Jodie as a first female Doctor. But should it be seen as any kind of debunking at all? Does Jodie still appeal enough to fans since the big surprise of the 13th Doctor reveal? Of course she does. It can refresh her spotlight and with the Master (explosively revitalized by Sacha) building upon the shock value that Ainley’s Master had achieved regarding the Valeyard, we could easily imagine Jodie’s future as the Doctor being more hopeful despite all the understandable issues with the Timeless Child explanation.

    As loyal Whovians, we all have our optimism. But with so many things in the world now thrown into question, and with Dr. Who’s own unique sci-fi signature in reflecting our human needs, the driving force is the titular role of a symbol for justice and hope. Jodie still achieves that much as undoubtedly will Jo. Thank you both for your Top of the Docs for S12.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    More on the accuracy with the issues of debunking ‘first’ regenerations, does Jo Martin necessarily debunk Jodie Whittaker or William Hartnell for that matter? No more than James Dreyfus should debunk Roger Delgado as a first Master. Because our perspective of when we first get to know the Doctor as a character thanks mostly to the first actor ever in the role, certainly for such a uniquely metamorphic role, proves even more significant via the limitlessness of the past, as well as that of the future.

    It’s like our understanding for both the endlessly vast outer space and the endlessly small inner space. Neither diminishes our consensus of where our lives start for us in existence, even if it’s bound to stimulate our consensus of where we come from and where we’re going. For Dr. Who given the potential boundlessness of its main character, we never dismiss William Hartnell as a most basic definition of the Doctor we all know in our hearts. The Timeless Child reveal simply opens new doors without making our established memories of this sci-fi legacy any less real.

    So I for one don’t think in terms of debunking where ‘first’ regenerations are concerned. It just depends on the audience’s ability to appreciate their own courses with a franchise. That’s how enjoyable Dr. Who can be regardless of what point in its history you start with. Hence so many opportunities for all the best sci-fi franchises to immortally reinvent themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

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