It has been two weeks since the Doctor Who’s 12th season finale and there is a lot to reflect upon. Let’s start off with my overall assessment of the season finale – epic, exciting, earth-shattering, and game-changing are the words that come to mind. To sum it up, what a season finale!
Here is a little spoiler warning. If you haven’t seen the two-part season finale you may want to lock yourself away for a couple of hours before reading this article.
The first part of the two-episode finale focused primarily on The Doctor and “the fam” saving a group of human survivors from The Cybermen in the distant future. This period of time is not a happy one, though, humans have been pushed to the brink of extinction, and their only salvation was to get to Ko Sharmus and use “The Boundary.” It’s a dimensional portal that randomly transports travelers to other parts of the universe, and this portal is essentially how human refugees evade their pursuers.
The writers did not make the journey easy for this small group of humans, because they are basically unarmed and have been reduced to scavengers since their resources are limited. Unfortunately, many are killed over the course of the finale episodes, but, to the writer’s credit, this sense of peril added a dose of reality to the story. As such, we cannot kid ourselves into thinking unarmed and untrained humans can stack up equally to The Cybermen. The Doctor did provide context by mentioning the humans did push The Cybermen to the brink, so there is some solace in knowing that.
Along with this main story, a secondary storyline was weaved into the first part and it told the life story of an orphan, Brenden, who is found and raised by his loving adoptive parents in an unassuming quiet country town. The life of this individual was spread throughout the first episode and viewers probably were wondering about the end game for the story thread. More on that in a bit.
By the end of the first episode, The Doctor was able to get some of the survivors to the portal courtesy of a stolen ship, but by abandoning the TARDIS, The Cybermen were cut off her escape route.
The second episode of the season finale takes the series in a bold, new direction while, at the same time, adding new layers of mystery into the origin of “The Doctor”. During the episode, The Master traps The Doctor in a stasis field and transports her consciousness into The Matrix, a collection of all Time Lord memories. During the tour, which The Master servers as a tour guide, we learn about a child of mysterious origin and the Sheboygan (indigenous) Gallifreyan explorer named Tecteun, who adopted her as her own. An unfortunate accident revealed that the child can regenerate and now her adopted mother experimented on her to learn her secret. The end result is the “regeneration gene” which is given to all Gallifreyans living within the citadel.
This led to a major revelation, courtesy of The Master, that the mysterious child is The Doctor. This means that (1) the Doctor is not originally from Gallifrey, in fact, her origin is now a complete mystery, (2) her genome was the basis from which the Timelords obtained the ability to regenerate, (3) Tecteun was not a very nice motherly figure – experimenting on and possibly killing the child several times to learn the secret of regeneration; and (4) The Doctor is essentially immortal. Finally, what was The Master’s endgame by revealing this; was it to psychologically break The Doctor, and consequently defeating her in the process? This incarnation of The Master seems determined to wreak havoc and enjoys shrinking his victims. The semi-friendly version of Missy is no more from the look of things.
While in The Matrix, the other Doctor (played by Jo Martin) appeared, but her appearance did not help in addressing any of The Doctor’s questions. She provided a motivational nudge to our 13th Doctor by saying, “Have you ever been limited by who you were before?” But before she can exit The Matrix she needs to figure out a solution to defeat the Master, the “other” Doctor dropped a hint saying: “That one question that’s nagging at you [Doctor]. The one thing he said that you [Doctor] didn’t understand.” What does this mean? Who is she referring to?
In order to break out of The Matrix, The Doctor had to overload it and this lead to her tapping into all of her experience and past incarnations, in a fantastic collage of memorable images of past Doctors, companions, and foes (as it was very nice to see and I got a few goosebumps through this climactic point of the finale).
After breaking out of The Matrix and meeting back up with her friends, The Doctor learns of a myth of the Death Particle embedded within the chest of The Lone Cyberman. The Death Particle destroys all organic matter in its wake and this provided a solution for The Doctor to defeat The Master’s new creation, The Cyber Masters, which were Cybermen infused with the Time Lord genome, thus allowing them to regenerate.
In the end, The Doctor makes the decision to take down The Master and eradicate all organic life on Gallifrey by using the Death Particle. Ko Sharmus takes the burden from The Doctor and sacrifices himself in a glorious explosion that enveloped the Citadel.
The Doctor escapes Gallifrey in another TARDIS before finding her own. She decides, however, to take a breather before going to find her “fam”. This brief moment of relaxation was interrupted by The Judoon, who transport themselves into the TARDIS (odd timing) and transport her to prison to serve out a life sentence. This cliffhanger will not be resolved until later this year when the series returns in “Revolution of The Daleks”.
There are a few things to reflect upon and unpack in this finale:
12 Regeneration limit? … not for The Doctor:
Chris Chibnall addressed a major theme of the series by going back to the ’Classic’ era of the Doctor Who franchise, which is about the 12 regeneration limit a Time Lord has. Regeneration was a concept to save the series which William Hartnell decided to leave the series in 1966. Throughout the subsequent years, we learn of the 12 regeneration limit.
During the Colin Baker era story, ”Trial of the Timelord” we learned The Valeyard (who is also The Doctor) struck a deal with the Time Lord Council to extend his lives. This means the Time Lords knew this secret and can change it, although we now learned in the season finale just how they would be able to accomplish this – by changing the genome to remove the regeneration limitation.
Speaking of The Valeyard, the question which comes to mind is how many incarnations of The Doctor there are? I counted six ‘Timeless Children,” and if we count The Valeyard and Jo Martin’s Doctor, we have at least 19 incarnations. There are possibly more in the past we may not be aware of yet, so I applaud the team for blowing my mind with this plot twist.
More Secrets …
“The Division”, a clandestine Gallifreyan operation, was briefly introduced and then concealed through a clever plot device that may be revealed sometime in the future. All we know for now is a lasting image of a painful memory wipe and a clock with an engraving which states: “For Services To The Division”.
In the end, it felt to me this was a projection of the early years of the person who we would now become known as The Doctor, through a different storytelling mechanism.
The Maddening Master
This new incarnation of The Master was a well-kept secret during production, it was revealed late into the season premiere. Of course, Sacha Dhawan’s casting in this iconic role was brilliant. He brought unexpected energy to his portrayal which bordered on maniacal, and unpredictability.
The Indomitable Cybermen
The Cybermen played a heavy role over the two episodes and there were a few different designs that we came across. In recent years the appearance of The Cybermen has been scary but they lacked emotion. Chris Chibnall took a page out of his Torchwood playbook, Cyberwoman, to show the human behind the helmet. By allowing a portion of the face to be visible for ‘The Lone Cyberman’ added a spark to each scene because it allowed us as viewers to see the emotion of this particular Cyberman, who did not appear to have the emotional inhibition. We learned during face off the holographic discussion with The Doctor, that he was not afraid of The Cybermen when they arrive, but, in fact, he welcomed their arrival and volunteered to be converted. Patrick O’Kane is quite convincing as ’The Lone Cyberman’ and The Cyber Masters were also designed quite well with the Timelord head decoration.
There is a scene I enjoyed in the first episode where the holographic image of ’The Lone Cyberman’ was projected onto the ship The Doctor had stolen. The scene allowed the two to face each other down and we learned The Lone Cybermen thinks of himself as the chosen one to resurrect the cyber race to its full glory and bring about the end of “everything” in the universe. During this virtual face-off, The Doctor informs the Lone Cyberman as a contradiction of himself, because his desires are based on emotion and The Cybermen are supposed to be devoid of emotions.
The Cyber Warcarrier was an imposing factor within this season finale and it helped show the power of the Cybermen when they were at full strength. The size vessel was huge and, when it arrived at Gallifrey, the decision to land it on top of the Citadel added an intimidating factor as a conquering force.
There were also a few funny lines embedded within the story, such as The Doctor offering to bill ’The Lone Cyberman’ for therapy when he admitted she was right about his state of mind. The Master also had a good line when he asked about ’The Lone Cyberman’ appearance and saying that he wanted to “conversion shame” him.
Theories and what’s next …
Could Ko Sharmus be a Timelord or maybe The Doctor? A hint could have been in plain sight during the finale when they all entered a TARDIS as they were trying to escape and he started touching the console. There was a look of familiarity on his face. Other possible hints where his stewardship of “The Boundary” or his explanation that he was part of a resistance unit that sent the Cyberium back through ‘time and space’. His fate may or may not be sealed since The Master has a knack for getting out of tight spots. It’s a stretch but I’m curious.
Is this the last we see Ravio (Julie Graham)? There is a shot she can return in the next season since she traveled back in time with Graham and “the fam” to the 21st century. She hinted at liking Graham (Bradley Walsh), so there is a possible platonic or romantic connection the writers can use to bring her back next season some way.
Will we see more of Jo Martin’s Doctor? The reveal of another Doctor this season raised a lot of interesting questions specifically about the regeneration line of succession. Is she a ‘past’ Doctor or a ‘future’ Doctor? The hint is that she is a past Doctor with the classic TARDIS design being a huge clue. So is she a predecessor to the Hartnell Doctor? Or is she involved with “The Division,” somehow? Personally, I hope Jo Martin returns in the future and possibly she gets an official run as The Doctor after Whittaker decides to pass on the torch (although I hope Jodie Whittaker doesn’t leave anytime soon).
Did The Master survive? Simple answer – probably or more likely. You cannot kill a very worthy frenemy.
Will “The Fam” be back at full strength next season? Only time will tell. There are rumors that there may be a few departures in the works next season. While it is not unexpected for actors to come and go from Doctor Who, a change to the casting will take some getting used to, and they may have to drop the “fam” designation if there is only one friend left – unless the producers decide to replace them.
Holiday Season return date? Since Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Friday, there is a potential of a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday (or a combination). But if I had the opportunity to sway the BBC or Chris Chibnall, I would suggest another two-night premiere between the two holidays.
First off, Whittaker is a great Doctor. This second season of her in the role solidified the reasons why I enjoy watching her in the role of a character I have admired since my childhood. She brings a lot of energy with her constant moving around and her interesting facial expressions. She is curious and fascinated by a lot while exuding a lot of confidence for herself and “her fam”. Second, the introduction of “another” Doctor this season was definitely a game-changer that opens up many paths and directions the series can take.
As a fan of the series, going back to the classic run, I welcome the changes and bold decisions made by the writers and producers of the series. When the series returns in the holiday season I will clear my schedule for the epic return of The Doctor and The Daleks in “Revolution of The Daleks”.