Doctor Who finale episodes are supposed to be an event. How will the Doctor defeat the Master? How will he escape the Pandorica? Who is River Song? Since NuWho returned in 2005, both Russell T Davis and Steven Moffat laid groundwork throughout their seasons that built towards epic finishes. There were misfires, sure, but the last episode of a season always felt like the end of a chapter. Chris Chibnall’s first finale doesn’t feel like anything more than another inconsequential trip for 13 and her companions.
The big reveal, of course, is the return of Tim Shaw. But he wasn’t an interesting character when we met him, and he isn’t here. It’s become increasingly apparent throughout this season that the classic, long-standing Doctor Who villains are familiar faces for a reason – none of the new group have been much to write home about.
The issues that have plagued Season 11, which I’ve discussed so many times in these reviews, are as apparent here as ever. Dialogue scene, action scene, tons of expositional dialogue with little to explain. A neat idea — themes of religion and faith — dropped too quickly with little development. There’s so much potential just below the surface, and the whole season has felt rushed. Worrying considering how long Chibnall and company had to prep.
It’s impossible to watch this episode without the current context of the show in mind. With the New Year’s Day special confirmed but no season for 2019 either, why get invested in the show at this point? The loss of a Christmas Day special is tragic — never the best episodes, but they were a mainstay of the rebooted show and spoke volumes about the show’s importance. Knowing that there won’t be a single new adventure with the Doctor in 2019 (not counting the special) takes what little momentum this soft reboot had gained from it. When we next see these characters, almost a year and a half from now, will viewers care to tune in to see Yaz? Will they race to see Ryan? Hell, will they care to see the 13th Doctor again?
Because now, after 10 hours of development, we have the most hollow portrayal of the Doctor we’ve had in NuWho. And it’s hard to say how much is the fault of the writing – Jodie Whittaker has been excellent in previous roles and she’s a consistent highlight of the season – but who is 13, really? She’s got Tennant and Smith mannerisms, a love of technology and appreciation of science, a simplistic moral view…and what else? The main promise of the upcoming special is seeing 13 go against the Daleks — maybe a confrontation with the face of evil will draw some true character moments out of her.
There’s really not much to say about the episode itself: beautiful visuals, great effects, but it’s all looks and no substance. It’s great to see Ryan and Graham finally make peace with their relationship, but it’s frustrating because we won’t see them again for so long. Yaz continues to be effectively pointless, and there’s a forgettable character portrayed by another actor you’ll recognise from something else, like every episode this year. I really, really hope that season 12 is a step up in quality, otherwise, I’m seriously concerned for the future of the show. How can the BBC struggle to make 10 episodes of a TV show — one that consistently makes them money — in a year? How will they keep the new fans who’ve only started watching this year knowing there won’t be more adventures until 2020?
This season has its merits, it’s not been awful. But it wasn’t worth how long we waited, and it isn’t worth waiting a year to get another series of this quality. Chibnall needs to stop his game up for Season 12 – he has Jodie, an established Doctor and companions, now he needs to focus on deepening those characters and relationships. Or give us a season of just 13 and Graham. I’d be fine with that too.