The old order changeth. Gone are the days of tuning in to watch a happy-go-lucky, fun-loving, fashionable, slightly insane, sort of sexy time traveller save the universe every week because he had nothing else to do.
Now you tune in to watch an enigmatic, complex, fierce, grumpy old alien with demon eyebrows do exactly the same thing – someone has to – before disappearing without giving a shit if the human race is thankful or not.
The Doctor regenerated from loveable boyfriend material into a scary Edwardian grandad.
In the trailer for the first series to feature the Twelfth Doctor, he declared, to the horror of Whovians everywhere, that it was time to go ‘into darkness’. Things would get grim and gritty, super realistic, bleak and boring – the show’s entertainment factor sucked into a black hole.
That’s what could’ve happened. Breathe. It didn’t.
Instead, it embraces edgy, weird sci-fi and horror concepts that act as metaphors for the newly regenerated Twelfth Doctor’s journey to discover if he is a good man.
The series’ over-arching mystery – various parties setting course for a fabled Promised Land overseen by the psychotic, Mary Poppins-like Missy – mirrors the Doctor’s quest, with the recently deceased reawakening with new purpose.
Adventures are figurative representations of the Doctor’s internal struggles, which delve into his psyche like never before, deconstructing his character and heroism alongside well-worn Doctor Who tropes.
Before an episode even aired, the Twelfth Doctor’s appearance hinted that he was going to be a back-to-basics type of Time Lord. His suit was dark, dated and so imposing that it screamed ‘Stay the hell away!’. Gone was the attempt to fit in by wearing leather jackets and suits featured in fashion magazines. Instead, his character seemed pragmatic rather than showy.
The monster-of-the-week format was also dispensed with to allow for a character-based examination of the Doctor and his relationships. Most episodes lack a traditional villain entirely.
Rather than facing an intergalactic conqueror using a fantastical-sciency-device-capable-of-destroying-the-universe each week, the Twelfth Doctor is instead faced with confronting his own fears and doubts: a monster that doesn’t exist, being an unwitting pawn and presenter on Brainiac: Science Abuse In Space, his relationship with humanity, and a gift that would allow him absolute power.
Men in suits and CGI visuals are window-dressing complimenting the Twelfth Doctor’s true adversary: himself. The last of the Time Lords dives into catastrophe like he’s been drinking Charlie Sheen’s “tiger blood”, alienates himself from others and doesn’t really give a toss if you don’t like him. He’s the antithesis of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors.
Each episode sees the new Who do very un-Doctor-y things, which take away all the pomp of his previous two incarnations. He doesn’t speechify his adversaries into submission. He rarely explains the reasons behind his actions. He isn’t Clara’s boyfriend, he’s the disapproving friend who judges her relationship with Danny. He doesn’t really care what anyone thinks, and isn’t afraid to act like a dick – leaving his companion to die, seeking out dangerous situations, making jokes when someone perishes in front of him, or deciding to leave when things get boring. The Twelfth Doctor isn’t someone you’d go to the pub with.
As opposed to the do-gooder missions of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, the Twelfth operates in more of a grey ares. He doesn’t boast about his achievements or view himself as a hero; he doesn’t respect such ideals, but whether that’s due to cynicism or a lack of self-belief is uncertain.
At the beginning of the season, the Twelfth Doctor embarked on a journey to discover who he is, and he eventually finds the answer. He isn’t a hero, but he can inspire others to be. He isn’t always around, but he’s there when he needs to be. He isn’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’, he’s necessary.
In a way, the Twelfth Doctor is the most human of all the Doctors to grace our screens over the past decade. He’s made of flaws, but stitched together with good intentions.
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