After a solid but somewhat hamstrung first series as The Doctor in 2018, where not only was her incarnation of the Time Lord established but the stories of her three new companions too, Jodie Whittaker’s version of the character returned for a generally far more successful twelfth series of Doctor Who in 2020.
Kicking off with a double episode, story show runner Chris Chibnall and his team hit the ground running throwing The Doctor and co into a light James Bond spoof that drew on some classic elements of the series and made for an exciting and fast paced adventure highlighted by the return of long time foe, The Master in the form of Sacha Dhawan.
As with the best of the recent series things continued with a mix of ‘monster of the week’ style episodes and ones linking to a bigger storyline, though in most cases this was not entirely obvious from the off which just added to the growing intrigue around the fate of The Doctor’s home planet Gallifrey which had last been seen locked into its own separate ‘time bubble’.
As ever there was a mix of outright fantasy sci-fi like Orphan 55 or Praxeus and stories that saw The Doctor visiting real times and places from history. In this case the featured the feud between Tesla and Edison in the early 1900s and the villa of Lord Byron on Lake Geneva around the time of the writing of Frankenstein.
On its initial broadcast the series was criticised from certain circles for its arguably heavy handed and moralistic messages.
While some of the stories definitely dealt with current issues like environmentalism, personal identity and the potential invasiveness of social media, and these are often explained in somewhat direct and obvious fashion, for a family series broadcast on prime time they are, to my mind, great messages to put across and are done so in a way any viewer could understand.
On top of that the series’ ongoing relaxed attitude to LGBT+ relationships remains terrific to see and continues to mark it, whatever else, as a progressive landmark in its own way.
Once again Whittaker and her group of companions put in some great performances with all having built nicely on their roles from the first series and with each bringing their own outlook to proceedings. I continue to be particularly impressed by Bradley Walsh as Graham who I’ll admit to being very sceptical about when he was first announced.
Dhawan though is the new standout as The Master adding a crazed and manic side, along with a few hallmarks of his earlier selves (I was particularly happy to see his penchant for shrinking people return) to bring the character back to his manically evil best after the less than successful and somewhat cartoony run of Michelle Gomez in the role.
If I had criticism of the series it would be something that has often bugged me across several of the recent runs of Doctor Who which is a feeling that the writers are forcing the progression of the series’ overarching mythology in ways that feel like either the production values can’t adequately depict or that don’t have the emotional heft required to make them land like they should.
Here again that comes with the apparent ultimate fate of both the Time Lords and Gallifrey, along with the origins of The Doctor that, while, packed with intriguing ideas, end up feeling rushed and with a muddled pay off that likely means they’ll be half forgotten further down the line when another interesting plot twist is needed.
While this could be far worse and ultimately the series was far more satisfying than several of the more recent efforts, it did leave the conclusion feeling a little rushed and confused.
A final cliffhanger however did almost make me forget all of that and wonder what will come next, which really is what Doctor Who thrives on and it definitely left me wondering what happens next as The Doctor seemingly once again prepares to face off with The Daleks.