On the eve of the arrival of the Thirteenth Doctor Jodie Whittaker and the final month of the year, we conclude our Year of the Doctor by taking a recent look back at her predecessor, the minimalist magician known as the Twelfth Doctor.
THE TWELFTH DOCTOR (PLAYED BY PETER DOUGAN CAPALDI)
(2013 – 2017)
OVERVIEW: The Twelfth Doctor came in to being on December 25th, 2013 in a blaze of glory from the Eleventh Doctor’s dying moments. Played by Peter Capaldi who was announced months in advance by the BBC to widespread praise (with a small bit of hesitation given his age in the role) and appearing briefly in the 50th anniversary special before his first full appearance in “The Time of the Doctor”, showrunner Steven Moffat wanted an older actor to lessen comparisons between him and his immediate predecessor as well as provide a much needed change. Capaldi has previously played other roles on the show such as in the Tenth Doctor’s “The Fires of Pompeii” as well as “Torchwood: Children of Earth” and marks the second time an actor has returned to the show as the main lead behind Colin Baker. This point was even referenced directly by the show in episodes of Twelve’s run. The Twelfth Doctor took a little bit longer to settle with most fans of the show given his major personality change and especially with his attitude. His first series remains one of the most disliked seasons of the New Series especially given the sometimes obnoxious story arc surrounding his companions Clara Oswald and Danny Pink. But Capaldi’s performance remained strong to critical acclaim and over time his Doctor softened into something that the fan base grew used to and came to admire. He lasted for three series with Series 9 and 10 being mostly successes with some major ups and down. The Series 9 episode in particular ‘Heaven Sent’ was widely considered to be one of the show’s best and a true magnum opus for Capaldi and his Doctor. In January 2017 before the premiere of Series 10, Capaldi announced that he would stepping down from the role with one more season and his final Christmas special being his last TV appearances as the Doctor stating that quote ‘he was unsure if he would be able to deliver at his best performance if he remained in the role for too long.” In his time on the show, Twelve hasn’t had quite as much popularity as his predecessors Ten and Eleven but he has still become very much loved by the fandom and provided some of the best episodes and stories of New Who in his time on the show as well as providing a very different but still overall amazing incarnation of the Doctor. It is yet to be seen whether or not Capaldi will return for any future appearances especially in Big Finish since he has only just left but fingers crossed that it won’t be too long before we see him again.
PERSONALITY: Out of all of the modern Doctors, the Twelfth Doctor was by far the most alien in a similar way to how Tom Baker was with the Classic Who Doctors. While still travelling the universe and saving people to the best of his abilities, he never considered or wanted to be considered as a hero in ways that his predecessors did. He didn’t even necessarily care if he was really even liked and didn’t outwardly seek approval from his companions or the people he was trying to save which was definitely a major change in his personality. This was also the first incarnation of the Doctor that seemed to have well and truly gotten over the Time War. Whereas the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors were hampered by guilt and the actions of their past, the Twelfth Doctor never had such qualms and became less friendly and more quiet / withdrawn. He still always wanted to do the right thing often times questioning if he was in fact a good person but he didn’t much care exactly how he went about it which could become dangerous. He would often do and say things that other people would find cruel to the point where he often needed cue cards to be able to socialize properly. In short, Twelve wasn’t a nice Doctor per se and could become very cold especially in times that needed critical thinking, sometimes coming off as heartless and hostile in the process for his actions and words. This made him more difficult to trust especially for his companions and it even scared him at times to think about what he was turning into. However once he resolved some of his moral quandaries, Twelve became much more vibrant and outward and began to show his lighter side more frequently. He became strongly attached to people especially his companions whom he would do literally anything for and his dry wit and cynical humor began to come out more often. In terms of his travels and adventures, Twelve preferred to live in the moment and mindfully would take note of important details to remember in the future. He liked to keep an open mind as best as possible (even if he frequently didn’t at the start of his travels) and was not above acting childish and fun at times but always came back to that serious edge and was always direct in getting to the point and the solution. In his time on the TARDIS, Twelve went through many different phases from conflicted to thrill seeker to teacher. In this way he became more enigmatic and complex as a result and by the time of his regeneration, he had almost been through the mill more so than any of his newer incarnations did. In short, the Twelfth Doctor was a darker and more mysterious version of the Doctor who was not afraid to go to places that previous incarnations would have been terrified to do and had lived a powerful life on and on screen that will be remembered by Whovians for decades to come.
COMPANIONS: teacher Clara Oswald, soldier Danny Pink, college student Bill Potts, lackie Nardole
PRIMARY VILLAINS: The Master, The Cybermen, Davros and the Daleks, The Zygons, The Time Lords, The Boneless
- “Deep Breath” — 7 / 10 – As a start for the Twelfth Doctor and a new era of the show, ‘Deep Breath’ works very well though not necessarily in ways you would expect especially for a regeneration episode. Crashing in the middle of Victorian London after the chaotic events of ‘The Time of the Doctor’, our new Doctor is suffering post-regenerative madness worse than normal due to the conditions of his new regeneration cycle and our focus is mainly on Clara as she struggles to come to terms with this newer and seemingly crusty old man who is now the Doctor. It’s a focus that’s been played at before in previous stories but not quite as good as it is here and the setting, clockwork villains, and darker tone really adds to the unbridled time bomb mystique that it’s trying to convey surrounding this new incarnation. There are many other positives such as the return of the Paternoster gang (for the last time so far), Coleman’s performance as Clara, and the final moments that see the brief return of an old friend. Most fans hate the final cameo but I honestly think it works and provides a little extra comfort as we head in to perhaps the most unpredictable and unnerving of all of the New Who incarnations. It’s not a perfect regeneration story as the pacing is a little slow, Capaldi’s performance felt like it needed to be played up a bit more, and some of the humor while funny does come a bit out of nowhere. I really like ‘Deep Breath’ though as a whole as it definitely plays with expectations and sets you up well for the Twelfth Doctor era to come.
- “Into the Dalek” — 6 / 10
- “Robot of Sherwood” — 7 / 10 – The Twelfth Doctor meets Robin Hood in one of the stupidest but yet positively fun episodes of the Moffat / Twelfth Doctor era. Like most episodes written by writer Mark Gatiss, ‘Sherwood’ struggles with outlandish plots, points that don’t quite work for what it’s trying to accomplish minus the final minutes, and irritatingly over the top moments that makes this one a hassle to get through if you don’t have any appreciation for the light-hearted tone. However if you can get past all of that, I challenge you to walk out of this one without a huge smile on your face. Capaldi is on top form here as the kill joy to everyone else’s irritatingly present positivity and his interactions with the overly joyful Robin Hood (played by Tom Riley of “Da Vinci’s Demons”) are some of the funniest moments in Twelve’s era. The setting of the forest and time period is gorgeously realized and I love the twists it plays with in terms of the Robin Hood legend especially in the Sheriff’s motivations / backstory. In short if you can get past the dumb idiocy of it all and can handle some majorly light-hearted fun, ‘Sherwood’ will bring you a rollicking good time.
- “Listen” — 6 / 10 – ‘Listen’ is a double-edged sword of an episode. There are things that I absolutely love and there are things that I absolutely hate. However unlike future episodes with this problem, the good things are so incredibly good that they simply have to be mentioned. It tackles some darker moments in exploring one of the Twelfth Doctor’s biggest fears in a way that really makes you think and ‘listen’ as per the title. However this is one where Clara’s relationship with Danny Pink is not only essential to the plot but a big part of the episode in all of the worst ways. Their date and connection is absolutely cringe worthy and I hate the way it steals the most interesting parts of the episode for its own. However, the ending in my opinion is great with Clara establishing another personal connection with the Doctor in a surprising way and some very heart warming moments that do a good job of redeeming the rest of the story. I recommend this one IF you fast-forward through anything with Danny and Clara in it.
- “Time Heist” — 5 / 10
- “The Caretaker” — 4 / 10
- “Kill the Moon” — 7 / 10
- “Mummy on the Orient Express” — 10 / 10 – ‘Mummy’ works as not only my favorite Series 8 and Twelfth Doctor episode but as one of my all time favorite Doctor Who episodes PERIOD. Finally following up with that Orient Express hook from the Eleventh Doctor era, Twelve and Clara land on the Orient Express in space where a terrifying mummy is killing people in exactly 66 seconds every time. The plot is clever, the atmosphere classy, the monster scary and one of the most freaky mummies I’ve ever seen on screen anywhere, the acting great from all fronts, and the connection between Twelve and Clara not only redeemed from the previous disaster of an episode but brought back in to the forefront where it should be. This is also the point where Twelve finally comes out of his shell and begins to feel like the Doctor he was meant to be for the rest of his run. It may cater to my bases and loves a bit more than most other episodes but I really do feel like this one is one of the new classics of the show and its one that I watch every year on Halloween.
- “Flatline” — 9 / 10 – When the TARDIS is shrunken down to a 20th of its size, Clara is sent on a solo mission with the Doctor as backup to figure out what’s going on in connection with a string of strange disappearances in the area. This is one of the first episodes that really plays up Clara and her fatal flaw of trying to be too much like the Doctor. We also get the introduction of the Boneless, 2D monsters trying to get on to the 3D plane that are really cleverly realized and really creepy with every appearance. I wish we’d get more of them in the show because there are so many possibilities you could get out of them. We also get Twelve’s first big ‘I am the Doctor’ moment and it’s so worth the wait with epic music, speech, and tone all bringing out the best of Peter Capaldi. This one is another classic with great effects, great plot/monsters, and a great Twelve moment that continues to build on who he is in his era.
- “In the Forest of the Night” — 6 / 10
- “Dark Water / Death in Heaven” — 9 / 10 – The Twelfth Doctor’s first two-parter and series finale is one doozy of a story. With a main character killed in the blink of an eye and Clara at her lowest point, she and the Doctor set out to try for a full investigation of the afterlife and aren’t expecting what they find. It holds back no punches in terms of reveals and shocks with the return of the Cybermen in a new and fascinating way, another big return involving Michelle Gomez’s Missy character (which I won’t dare spoil here) that changes everything going forward for Twelve, and a massive UNIT battle in graveyards all across the world against the new Cyber forces. It’s very daring and darker than even I expected it go at times but still keeps the fun, the surprises, and the endings that set everything on a motion for the next series. This is one of the few finales the BBC thought fit to put on the big screen in 3D and man was it worth it. A lot of fans dislike for how far it goes, some of the plot holes, the stupid tease at the beginning of Part 2 that doesn’t go anywhere, and some of the minor moments. For me though, I adore it all and it fits Twelve and his era beautifully as well as gets rid of elements that I’m glad weren’t kept in future seasons.
- “Last Christmas” — 6 / 10
- “The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar” — 9 / 10 – Coming back to basics after the dismal show that ‘Last Christmas’ made and following up on threads set up in Series 8, Series 9’s opening two-parter ‘Apprentice’ and ‘Familiar’ also goes to new places with old villains that will surprise you and yet not all at the same time. To say much more would constitute major spoilers but let’s just say this is another one that doesn’t pull many punches and brings us a Twelve at his most desperate which is gutsy to pull at the beginning of the show. It starts another series that gets very convoluted at times but this story is as good as it gets again bringing old and new elements together especially in terms of character pairings you may not have been expecting to see and work so well off of each other. The performances on this one by all counts are also amazing especially with Peter Capaldi, Michelle Gomez, and Julian Bleach as a surprise returning menace from the past that I’m sure none of us were expecting to see. Some of the moments in this one are the best of Twelve and his era and it starts off a somewhat lackluster series surprisingly strong.
- “Under the Lake / Before the Flood” — 6 / 10
- “The Girl Who Died / The Woman Who Lived” — 7 / 10 –
- “The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion” — 9 /10
- “Sleep No More” — 3 / 10
- “Face the Raven” — 9 / 10 – After a somewhat weaker series with one major highlight, Series 9 begins the end for Clara on a spectacularly high note. When an old friend discovers a mysterious tattoo on the back of his neck and calls the Doctor for help, it leads them to a quite literal trap street where not everyone will get out alive. ‘Raven’ is harrowing in its’ bleakness and tension as we know what’s going to happen but not necessarily how. The setting and ideas here are great and the acting from Capaldi and Coleman is spectacular. Coleman going to her death is simply perfect especially in how and why it happens given her character up this point and Capaldi’s wrath is frankly scary to watch as things go beyond his control. The death scene is tragic, believable, and grim especially for a companion exit but it fits so well that you really don’t care. It’s a shame that it would be more or less ruined by the following story as this is the exit that I wish they had stuck with at times. But that doesn’t at all spoil things for me and ‘Raven’ still works as a dark prelude to Clara’s end as well as the beginning of one of Twelve’s biggest adventures.
- “Heaven Sent / Hell Bent” — 9 / 10 – I have ever seen a two parter that has quite split the fandom in two like this story. It certainly split me as well to the point where I avoided fully reviewing it for a long time. Simply put, the difference in quality between the two parts is astounding. “Heaven Sent” is a masterpiece and easily Twelve’s best story. After the events of ‘Raven’, we finally get to see inside his head and see him pushed to the absolute limit. It’s a frankly amazing episode that viewed on its own merits is perfect. While it’s follow-up “Hell Bent” doesn’t quite live up to what was built up, it more than ever works as a fitting finale. It takes our expectations of what we were expecting, brilliantly twists them around, and turns it in to a brilliantly personal finale that (while not perfect in that it does extend Clara’s exit more so than you would want. It turns the Time Lords and the Doctor by extension in to the villain and pushes them to places that brings out the best and the worst of them breaking every rule in their book to do what is necessary to save one life. It’s a bait and switch yes which I think pissed a lot of people off especially those who don’t like Clara and for a long time I was the same way. But I think the more I watch and see it, the more I realize that it does work for what I intended it to. It still has it’s flaws however and that’s the only reason that it’s only a 9 as opposed to a 10 (see below for more information). It’s worth a watch but your reaction will certainly vary depending on your viewpoints.
- “The Husbands of River Song” — 8 / 10
- “The Return of Doctor Mysterio — 7 / 10
- “The Pilot” — 8 / 10 – It’s 2017 and two worlds collide when the Doctor meets his new companion in Bill Potts, a university employee seemingly going about her normal life serving chips, going to bars, and looking to improve herself. When she catches the eye of the Doctor at a lecture, the world suddenly opens up for her in a way that she could never possibly imagine. But what is the deal with the girl with the star in her eye and what exactly is the Doctor and Nardole doing on Earth? ‘Pilot’ is a brilliant little restart for the show akin to ‘The Eleventh Hour’ from Series 5 though not quite as overt. I was surprised at how clever it was with its interesting plot (especially in how literal the title actually is) and the little surprises and mysteries it sets up not only with the mains but the whole series. It really takes things in directions I wasn’t expecting and after the tangled drama that Series 9 ended up becoming, it’s honestly really refreshing. I do like Pearl Mackie as the new companion Bill Potts and the best way to describe her is down to earth. She’s not quite as clever or as interesting as Clara was but she has a very realistic and grounded intelligence and charm to her that brings out some very different sides to Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor which are fascinating to watch. I don’t think I’ve seen a dynamic like this before between Doctor and Companion. Throw the dry sarcastic comedy of Nardole in there carried over from previous episodes and I think we’ll have one hell of a different and yet awesome new Tardis team for this season. ‘Pilot’ also succeeds in having some genuinely new ideas, fun twists with established characters especially with Bill’s full introduction to the Tardis, some great references for all fans Classic and New, and some actually scary moments I wasn’t expecting. I also loved how they worked the scene announcing Bill to the world last year directly in to the episode itself. That was a super nice touch. All in all, it’s not my favorite season opener. It does have some moments that don’t quite work and it doesn’t compare simply by virtue of there being other amazing openers such as ‘Magician’s Apprentice’ and of course ‘Eleventh Hour’. But it’s still a damn strong start to the series.
- “Smile” — 7 / 10
- “Thin Ice” — 8 / 10
- “Knock Knock” — 6 / 10
- “Oxygen” — 7 / 10 – The Doctor, Bill, and Nardole become trapped on a space station in the far future where oxygen has been commoditized and turned into a precious capital resource. With no oxygen on the ship and the air in their spacesuits quickly running out, they must team up with the remnants of the crew in order to escape alive. But low oxygen isn’t the only thing to fear on this ship as the spacesuits are coming alive and fighting back. This is Doctor Who in space proper for the first time in quite a long and it brings a brilliantly tense base under siege story with a menace straight out of the Walking Dead at the helm. I don’t think I’ve had a space story fill me with quite as much dread and fear as this one in a long time. The inventive premise and the ship itself are beautifully and chillingly realized with long drab hallways, darkness, and zombies straight out of a horror flick. There are some truly terrifying moments and real moments of human drama in this one and Mackie as Bill really gets to stretch her acting as she gets hit hard more than once with the terror and the drama especially near the end as things escalate. Capaldi and Lucas also give good performances in this story though I was a bit surprised how dramatic a presence Lucas makes Nardole in the final moments as circumstances and consequences hit home. Capaldi as Twelve however steals the show more than once and his final moment is a big twist that I won’t spoil here but I’m curious to see play out. While it doesn’t change things permanently as some of the advertising said, it’s a much more personal twist than we are used to and it makes future episodes much more interesting.
- “Extremis / The Pyramid at the End of the World / The Lie of the Land” — 6 / 10 – This three-parter is a little bit of a mixed bag which is sad because there are some genuine moments of genius contained with in it. I can’t go into too much detail here without major spoilers so I’ll keep this one brief. The first part ‘Extremis’ is an absolutely brilliant start that brings in an intriguing plot but then turns EVERYTHING around on its head in a tense and suspenseful way. The following parts ‘Pyramid’ and ‘Lie’ don’t quite work as well and could almost have been edited down into one especially as it all ends rather abruptly and with some infuriating moments that very much disavow what it was trying to do. But for what we got, it’s a solid three parter with one major highlight that works OK but not quite as well as other stories in Twelve’s era.
- “The Empress of Mars” — 7 / 10
- “The Eaters of Light” — 8 / 10
- “World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls” — 10 / 10 – Talking about this two-parter without spoilers is next to impossible because it’s just so jammed packed with details, villains, and moments that are extraordinary in every way that you will want to go into it completely unspoiled. I’ll just say that this two parter is perhaps the best Cybermen, Master, and Twelfth Doctor / Bill adventure all rolled into one while at the same time setting up his regeneration in the upcoming story. It’s intense, emotional, action-packed, and honestly amazing in every way.
31. “Twice Upon A Time” — Twelve’s final adventure is one of subversion, resistance, and finding hope and kindness even in the darkest of times. Refusing to move and wishing to simply die, the TARDIS brings him to a meeting with his First incarnation undergoing a similar crisis, a WWI solider on the brink of death, and an unexpected reunion of sorts that will push his decision to move forward and allow him some true peace. It’s easily Twelve’s best Christmas episode and perhaps a new favorite breaking even the top 3 Who Xmas specials of all time. I won’t go into too many spoilers but it really throws some final twists at you while also at the same giving you a beautifully poignant special that tackles one of my favorite moments in world history as well as a proper sendoff for Twelve. Capaldi’s acting has never been better especially in his strong final lines before his explosive death, multiple companions make a reappearance in beautiful ways, and David Bradley’s portrayal of the First Doctor is spot on Hartnell and amazingly done which ties beautifully into the serial being linked as well as giving me hope that his new Big Finish set will be as good as I want it to be. And of course the regeneration itself is strong and Whittaker’s first appearance as 13 couldn’t be better. She certainly has a strong task ahead of her after this one, that’s for sure. It does have small problems in that some of the tension is lost once things are revealed, the driving force of the plot is almost a non-starter, and the pacing / some of the jokes are a bit off but they are all minor issues as those things are not the point of the episode. To say anymore would be ruining it but I adored this one so much. It’s a beautiful story to end Twelve’s (and subsequently Moffat’s) run on the show and the tears will definitely flow before the end.
— 9 / 10
BEST TWELFTH DOCTOR STORY: “Mummy on the Orient Express” — There are so many amazing Twelfth Doctor stories to choose from that many of the runners up below could’ve easily taken this spot. I desperately wanted “Heaven Sent” from Series 9 to take this spot as it is truly the one that deserves the title of Best Twelfth Doctor story and deserves to be recognized as such. But unfortunately due to the flaws in it’s sequel story “Hell Bent” that do take away from it, it suffers a bit and thus falls compared to other stories that don’t have that issue. For the best overall Twelfth Doctor story not hindered by other elements from other stories, we instead go backwards to “Mummy on the Orient Express” from Series 8. The first year of Capaldi’s time on the TARDIS was a rocky one to say the least with many elements that worked amazingly well and others that didn’t. It took a very long time for his Doctor to come out and ‘Mummy’ was the episode that I feel finally got his character on the right track. The Doctor and Clara are taking a ride on the Orient Express in space for their supposed final adventure after the traumatic events of the previous story. Hoping for a safe and smooth ride, they instead encounter a mysterious mummy onboard killing off people in 66 seconds at a time that only the victim themselves can see or feel. The Doctor of course takes casual command of the mystery but there are darker and more sinister motivations looming onboard that is sizing up passengers and planning something bigger than even the Doctor and Clara expect. It’s an extremely clever premise that has been hinted at all the way back to Series 5 of the show and it works in a very old-school way in everything from story to atmosphere and tone. The setting of the Orient Express in space circa the 1920’s is so Doctor Who and so classy all at the same time and it really gives it an upscale flavor you really don’t get to see that much in the show which I thoroughly enjoy. The twists and turns in the story take that feel as well with Agatha Christie’s novel in a way not dissimilar to “The Unicorn and The Wasp” from the Tenth Doctor era. The monster itself is an amazing blend of special and real effects that make it perhaps the scariest mummy I’ve ever seen on screen. I remember when the episode was first announced that the show made an explicit point of hiding and hyping up the monster in how scary it was and I have to agree. But there is also a real human element to it once the mystery is all said and done that makes it more than just a scary boogeyman and I think that’s where it truly succeeds. As I mentioned before, I think this story is where the Twelfth Doctor came into being even more so than his inaugural story “Deep Breath”. Having learned some major lessons from “Kill the Moon” and working through his moral quandaries that would come to a head in the Series 8 finale, Capaldi finally begins to settle down a little bit even with his darker side intact. He still remains callous and cold especially in his interactions with characters he know he potentially couldn’t save but this time you can see that he’s finally taking a bit more of his lighter side to heart that would begin to finally come out in the next story “Flatline”. His nuanced performances are really what drives his character and it finally starts to become more balanced here in a way that is the highlight of the episode. While Jenna Coleman as Clara doesn’t have too much to do, she still works fine in her role and lines and she looks absolutely stunning in this one which is always a nice bonus. This episode is also the one that really begins to set up her adrenaline addiction that would eventually come to kill her in Series 9 in trying to do too much in being like the Doctor. Combine all of this with great music, a ton of surprises, and a great blend of historical and sci-fi and it makes ‘Mummy’ the easy highlight of Twelve’s era for me and his best episode.
RUNNERS UP: “Heaven Sent / Hell Bent”, “World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls”, “Twice Upon A Time”, “Extremis”, “Dark Water / Death in Heaven”, “The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar”
OVERALL VERDICT: Similar to most people, The Twelfth Doctor took a long time to grow on me especially through his initial season. But once I got through the first half of that season and he began to warm up a little while still keeping his edge, I grew to love him just as much as any of the other Doctors. His cynical and hardass nature combined with his love of travelling is so different to most Doctors and his good episodes are complete and utter masterpieces in my mind. But at the same time out of all of the New Doctors, I wish I had gotten to know him more as by the time of his departure, I feel like we as an audience could’ve gotten so much more out of him with better writing and stories from the start without the baggage of some of the companion problems (as much as I love Clara Oswald / Jenna Coleman as you can see above). Twelve and his time on the show will always be a favorite of mine though and I’m very sad to see him go.
– 4 / 13
And this concludes our Year of the Doctor. Thank you for sticking with me in my journey through time and space this year with our mad man in a box. Next year will have not just one but two similar journeys through Doctor Who history on TV with “The Year of the Monster” series focusing on the show’s prominent monsters and villains as well as “Regeneration Stories” series of reviews that will focus on the regeneration stories of each of the 12 Doctors up to this point. Stay tuned next year and until next time, ~Geronimo!!