After establishing a new tone, style and direction for series 11 of Doctor Who, Series 12 kicks into gear with a more ambitious selection of episodes under the supervision of showrunner Chris Chibnall. Jodie Whittaker returns as the Thirteenth Doctor for her sophomore season, along with her “fam” Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yaz (Mandip Gill), for more adventures in the TARDIS.
Series 12 – which aired earlier this year on BBC One – saw the team don their tuxedos to investigate a spy thriller, explore an alien holiday destination, meet Nikola Tesla, face-off against Judoon, a killer virus, nightmares and the return of the dreaded Cybermen. The Complete Twelfth Series features all ten episodes, as well as the 2019 New Year’s Special Resolution, which was strangely absent from last year’s boxset.
Series 12 was more daring than its predecessor, with an intriguing arc exploring the mystery of the Timeless Child, the Doctor’s forgotten lives and the destruction of Gallifrey at the hands of the Master (Sacha Dhawan). Dhawan was an undeniable highlight of the series, with an intense, manic performance that – in this Who fan’s opinion – makes him one of the best incarnations of the Doctor’s greatest foe to date. His scenes with Jodie Whittaker are a joy to watch and feature brilliant performances from both actors, as they get to sink their teeth into some of Chibnall’s best dialogue. There was also the shock reveal of a brand-new Doctor, played by Jo Martin, which sent fans into meltdown as soon as Fugitive of the Judoon was broadcast. Martin herself is a wonderful presence on screen, contrasting with Whittaker’s Doctor in all the right ways, as well as boasting a cool costume and retro TARDIS. It’s a shame that this new “Fugitive” Doctor barely appears in Series 12, and I hopefully both she and Dhawan’s Master return for Series 13.
Overall, the real highlight was Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor. Her characterisation is consistently excellent but this year’s writing really pushed this Doctor to the limits, allowing her performance to develop and become more nuanced than ever before. As for the “fam”: Walsh is always a joy to watch as Graham (although the less said about those laser shoes, the better); Gill gets more to do as Yaz, who felt criminally underused last series; and Cole gets to explore new sides to Ryan, particularly in Can You Hear Me?, which really helps to flesh-out the character further. Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) also returned after ten years, to the excitement of fans, until we realised that it was little more than a cameo role. Here’s hoping he also returns properly in the near future.
Even with some exciting moments sprinkled throughout, I couldn’t help but find Series 12 to be a little mixed in terms of quality. Resolution was both a fun Dalek episode and a serious character drama all in one, and oftentimes felt a little torn between the two storylines; Spyfall (Parts One and Two) was a fun spy adventure, but nothing we hadn’t really seen before; Orphan 55 was a tragic mess of an episode with poor editing and an over-stuffed story; Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror was an enjoyable little historical adventure with a wonderful standout guest performance from Goran Višnjić; Fugitive of the Judoon was an intense forty-five minutes of ambiguous set-up for future episodes; Praxeus was utterly forgettable; Can You Hear Me? was a brilliant idea that clearly needed an extra episode to play-out effectively; The Haunting of Villa Diodati was a chilling haunted-house story; and the two-part finale Ascension of the Cybermen / The Timeless Children was brimming with plenty of good ideas, but I felt that the scripts didn’t manage to bring everything together in a satisfying way.
Looking back on the series as a whole, I feel that Series 12 would have been better-suited to dedicating all ten episodes towards its complex over-arching narrative, but that’s not to say that the standalone episodes were without merit. In fact, I’d argue that the new writers’ episodes – Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror, Can You Hear Me? and The Haunting of Villa Diodati, written by Nina Metivier, Charlene James and Maxine Alderton respectively – were the best of this year’s run. It’s just a shame that the series finale dropped the ball somewhat, especially given how intriguing the Timeless Child reveal actually is; I think it’s conceptually interesting, but the execution in Chris Chibnall’s script felt very lackluster, and ended the series on a bit of a whimper.
But alas, these are my opinions on a series that has divided fans across the universe. Some have loved Series 12, some hated, with others somewhere in the middle. There’s no denying this was interesting but I’m sure we’re all intrigued to see if the open-ended story threads are resolved next year.
As well as including both the series and its preceding special, The Complete Twelfth Series also features a small collection of special features. There are commentaries on three episodes: Spyfall, Part One with Chris Chibnall, Jodie Whittaker and Tosin Cole; Spyfall, Part Two with Chris Chibnall, Jodie Whittaker and Sylvia Briggs; and Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror with Mandip Gill, Anjli Mohindra and Nina Metivier. All of these commentaries have an interesting selection of contributors, but it is a shame that not even a third of the episodes feature commentaries, and the lack of Bradley Walsh commentary (hopefully with sing-a-long) is very disappointing.
Ten “closer look” documentaries are also included, which all seem to be the same five-minute featurettes on YouTube as opposed to specially-made features, or even fifteen/twenty-minute Doctor Who Confidential Cut-Downs, as included on earlier releases. Finally, a What To Expect in Series 12 preview is incorporated into the set, which is only two minutes long and seems utterly superfluous. There’s no Paley Center Q&A filmed with a US screening of Spyfall, no outtakes, no cast or crew interviews, no sneak peek at the upcoming festive special, and even a number of the featurettes available on YouTube are absent, which ultimately makes this “Complete” Twelfth Series set feel incomplete, and slightly overpriced (the DVD is £34.99, the Blu-ray is £39.99 and the Amazon-exclusive steelbook is £49.99).
Overall, it’s hard not to feel disappointed. The episodes will have varying appeal depending on your opinion of them but it’s the lack of extras, which in an age of BBC iPlayer, various streaming services and TV recording, seems like a misstep on the part of BBC Studios, and instantly decreases the value. There’s little to tempt fans beyond the, admittedly very nice, packaging and 3 commentaries – which doesn’t make this a must-buy, at least, not until the price goes down.