The Twelve Polls of Chibmas: Oxford WhoSoc’s opinion of Series Twelve

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Image Credit: Thomas Barker (All Rights Reserved)

Image Description: A selection of WhoSoc members gather to watch The Timeless Children

Surprises all around as Dahria Kuyser reveals what the society thought of Series Twelve

Another series, another set of polls. I’m sure most of you will remember me pestering you each week in Hilary this year to review each episode of Series Twelve as they came out. Every member was asked to rate each episode out of ten. Ten out of ten means that the episode was in the top ten percent of NuWho, and one meant it was in the bottom ten percent, in the hope that this would mean everyone is scoring on a similar scale. They were also asked to give a one-line review of the episode if they wanted. Now that the series has ended, and the data is gathered, I have the task of compiling and analysing the results in the footsteps of the two previous Publicity Officers..

Disclaimer: Obviously if you’ve been living under a rock for the entirety of 2020 (and to be fair, who could blame you?), there will be Spoilers in this WhoSoc review, so maybe… go watch it….?

Spyfall

Part One – 7.43

Spyfall Part One was the third highest ranked episode of Series Twelve, and was certainly quite the start to the series. Of course, this episode aired before term started, and so was watched at each person’s respective home rather than as a society, but polls were still taken – in fact, this one had the most participants (thirty five). But what say the people?

The most striking feature of WhoSoc’s comments on the episode were naturally concerning the unexpected (and impressively well-kept) reveal of the Master being back, in the form of Sacha Dhawan. And, of course, the “dynamite” and “absolutely fantastic cliffhanger” leaving the fam on an exploding plane. People “[couldn’t] wait for Part Two.” Already, some were saying that they “love the new Master,” and who wouldn’t love this maniacal incarnation?

As succinctly described by one member, Spyfall Part One is “an enjoyable globe-trotting romp inspired by modern Bond films, complete with a genuinely unnerving alien threat, some light commentary on the role of private tech companies in our lives, and an astonishing twist that leads into an incredible cliffhanger.” Certainly, it’s quite a change from the tone and style of Series Eleven, becoming much more “confident and cohesive”, with some saying it “wouldn’t have felt out of place in the Russell era” – especially given the return of two-parters, arcs and cold opens! It’s “big [and] loud”; it’s “action-packed”; it’s “punchy [and] refreshing”; and it “keeps you on the edge of [your seat] for the whole hour.” This is a Chibnall-written episode, and though people often agreed that his “writing still feels inorganic”; “clunky” and could maybe have done with “a bit more polishing”; one person did say that despite this, Chibnall “writes his first good solo episode since he became Head Writer.” Furthermore, he was able to make people “feel like the TARDIS team are actual people with actual chemistry,” which is pretty key for any show leads!

Overall, though hardly flawless, with comments claiming it was “still not the event TV it used to be,” that it didn’t really make sense and disparaging it for “not [being] narratively ambitious”, there seemed to be a real air of relief and excitement for the series ahead in WhoSoc. However, as we all know, pulling off a good second half to a two-parter is always tricky, so what did we think of Part Two? 

Part Two – 7.00

The Sound of Drums meets The Curse of Fatal Death…” This episode sees the Doctor racing through time trying to outwit Dhawan’s Master while the rest of the fam stay in our time trying to work out what’s going on. This episode got a decent enough rating, but the comments reflect general disappointment in how the story rolls out.

One thing it seems most people agreed on, though, was loving Dhawan as the unhinged new Master. This new episode allows him to properly play against Whittaker’s Doctor, both actors giving “excellent performances,” with one member saying that “Dhawan [was] worth the price of admission alone.” Dhawan even left one pollster “totally scared of the Master,” which is usually a good sign for any villain. One issue, which was discussed fairly extensively after the episode in the chat, was the problematic – “in terms of racial implicature” – plot choice of the Doctor leaving the Dhawan Master to the Nazis.

Plot wise, there was a rather more negative vibe, with “hazy” villain motives; “too little [information] about the Kaasavin;” a “confusing” conclusion to their plot and inconsistent pacing – particularly in terms of the “very rushed ending that leaves a lot of threads hanging”. There were also significant complaints about the use of the companion characters, including the temporary historical ones, who just “listen to the Doctor technobabble” and are generally “wasted.” This left some feeling the episode was “just kind of disappointing,” but others chose to focus on the good bits earlier on in the episode, considering it an improvement that “[answered] some complaints about Series Eleven”. Certainly, there was a sense that Chibnall had finally managed to set up a tone for the series, and “a vision for Doctor Who” under his reign that was somewhat lacking in Series Eleven, further reinforcing a sense of anticipation for the series ahead. And, of course, it gave us “Pip Madeley’s Fifty Shades Parody…”

Orphan 55 – 5.11

Unfortunately, the episode to follow this fairly well-received episode was the obligatory dud of the series, Orphan 55. On the other hand, it did open up the world to a host of Benni memes…

Once again, the TARDIS fam’s performances were praised frequently by WhoSoc members, with another “strong performance from Jodie Whittaker” and the rest of the “TARDIS crew.” However, there was a large cast of side characters, bringing “too many boring and unnecessary character dramas” with them which detract from the main plot and prevent any of them getting well developed. One person even commented: “Did they kidnap the elderly couple from a nearby care home?”

In plot terms, there were quite a range of opinions, with some suggesting, perhaps ironically, that it was “proper classic, scary stuff” and the “best of Jodie’s run so far;” certainly, many thought there were some “good concept[s]” in there. However, the “strong and important” core message got rather crowded out and confused by the various character subplots. This meant it “didn’t have the emotional impact” it might have had and became “almost annoying to watch” for some. Of course, this culminated in the “end-of-episode lecture” from the Doctor complete with “awkward delivery” and a “dire” cutaway. Some were willing to forgive this, but others less so, saying it was simply “unwatchable.” In particular, Ed Hime, author of both It Takes You Away and Orphan 55, may not be pleased to hear one member describe Orphan 55 as “like someone who has never watched [Doctor Who], or indeed any sci-fi programme, tried to make an episode.”

Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror – 7.38

Thankfully, Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror was much more of a return towards the level of the series opening, though not without its own faults.

The most praise went to the historical aspects of the story, which “were sensitively handled,” played out by an “excellent guest cast” that allowed “both Tesla and Edison” to be “interesting and layered characters.” “The Doctor’s interactions with [these characters]” were also a highlight, with several favourable allusions to acclaimed NuWho episodes such as Vincent and the Doctor, The Unquiet Dead, The Shakespeare Code and The Fires of Pompeii. The society’s opinions on the episode’s alien villain, the Skithra, were far more divided however, with some saying they were “great” or at least “sufficiently interesting,” while others felt them to be “boring… Racnoss retreads” or “pointless.” 

Overall though, the episode was well-received as an “enjoyable” and “solid” historical which could well become “a classic.”

Fugitive of the Judoon – 7.94

And now, the highest rated episode of the series. Indeed, Fugitive contained such major arc material that we gave people another chance to make predictions in light of the new information – through the poll itself.

As one WhoSoc member described it: “What starts out seemingly as a retread of Smith & Jones suddenly turns into a revelation-packed shocker which threatens to turn the entire show upside down, reigniting hype and excited speculation across the fandom.” Certainly, it is “full of plenty of bombshell revelations and lore,” revealed in such a way that it doesn’t “seem pointless.” There was also, once again, high praise for the acting, with “Jodie… on tremendous form” and “Jo Martin… incredible” as an “enigmatic [&] tough” new Doctor. Some, however, did criticise this new Doctor for her callous use of weaponry, calling her “both cruel and cowardly.” People were pleased to see Captain Jack back on our screens, even if he was a little bit “unnecessary” – especially in light of the rest of the series.

While there was certainly plenty of excitement and anticipation whipped up by the appearance of this mysterious new Doctor, there was also a healthy dash of trepidation. Were they going to go “messing around too much with the show’s history?” Regardless, it seems likely that a large portion of why this episode was so highly rated was through the shock factor of this new Doctor – the atmosphere was electric as we watched it together live on the big screen – and it will be interesting to see how it holds up on future rewatches now that we know how the story ends.

Praxeus – 6.29

Praxeus was a “solid” and “interesting” monster-of-the-week episode, but, like Orphan 55, features an environmentalist message. It wasn’t as poorly received as Orphan 55, though the positive response was hardly unanimous, with one pollster putting it in the bottom twenty percent of NuWho with the caustic remark: “Dear lord no.”

Obviously, the key thing about this episode is that it “[delivered] its environmentalist message more effectively than Orphan 55 and narrowly avoids making the same mistakes as Kerblam!”; the latter also written by Pete Tighe. Like Orphan 55, it has an “interesting concept” and several side characters, but with a more specific focus. Notably (though it shouldn’t have to be notable!), the two most developed side characters were a married homosexual couple “with a genuine and well-done romance” tying them together, rather than just being the ‘token gay couple.’ This did mean that the other side characters got sidelined to the point that there was a “wonky” lack of “mourning of all the dead people or… shock that they’d died,” even for the “death of a friend or home planet.” On the other hand, there was also a decent amount of stuff for the TARDIS team to do, including Yaz, combined with “some of the funniest moments this series so far.”

Can You Hear Me? – 6.62

Yet another episode featuring deep messages and “Themes™️” alongside some interesting new aliens, but how did they work out for us?

The aliens were pretty well received, successfully managing to be both “creepy” and “whacky” while providing some “good visuals” – floating fingers, my dudes, floating fingers. However, it wasn’t everybody’s “cup of tea” and some felt the plot was a bit thin. There was also praise for the “strong character moments” and “development” of the companions, “particularly Yaz,” even if they might have been a little too “obvious.” There was quite some criticism about the defeat of the antagonists at the end of the episode, with several saying it was “unsatisfying” or “underwhelming” – though another said it was “beautifully tied together!”

One bone of contention, in WhoSoc and further afield, was the handling of the underlying themes of mental health and cancer.  Like elsewhere, the opinion on this was rather mixed, with several recognising the “positive message about reaching out for support,” saying they had “[sensitively engaged] with the challenges” of these. However, others felt it was “heavy-handed” and that the episode had only engaged at the “surface level… with a complex topic”. 

The Haunting of Villa Diodati – 7.73

Episode seven, and we were already entering the season finale, with the introduction of the Lone Cyberman and the realisation of Captain Jack’s warning. This historical was a well-received episode, ranked second by WhoSoc, with pollsters dubbing it “sensational from start to finish” and “perhaps the best episode of the Chibnall era,” ramping up the excitement for the season finale proper.

Once again, there was plenty of praise for Jodie Whittaker,who “gave one of her best performances yet,” and also for the guest cast. People also felt the whole “manor that attempts to confuse those within it” was a good concept, as was the inclusion of Mary Shelley’s baby. Most enjoyed the literary aspects, with “artfully done… nods to Frankenstein”, though some weren’t fans “of Romanticism” and felt the “literary tributes [were] crowbarred in.” People also felt that the real villain, our Lone Cyberman, was “striking” and “well-executed” within the story, even if the story felt a little “padded” before he arrived. Unfortunately, as frequently happens with Chibnall, there was some “iffy dialogue” to taint it for some. All in all, it seemed to be a “fantastic prologue to the finale,” while remaining more “rewatchable” than FotJ.

Ascension of the Cybermen – 7.11

It’s the penultimate episode and anticipation is high, but will it prove to be more than just filler?

A key feeling was that, once again, this episode helped to build on the character development of our companions that was direly lacking in Series Eleven. For example, we got to see “Yaz taking the role of Doctor-by-proxy” and some nice moments with Graham too, even if the dialogue was, once again, “clunky.” Besides that, it certainly managed to be “gripping,” giving off an “Earthshock” vibe. The Lone Cyberman was a highlight for one individual, with another complimenting the “cool new Cybermen” with their redesign. However, there was also a feeling that the episode was “mostly treading water” until the final minutes, and hence it only really acted as “a prelude for the following episode.” There was also plenty of bafflement with the seemingly unconnected snippets of subplot with Brendan which one pollster felt “were… not worth it.”

The Timeless Children – 7.15

Unusually, the second part of this two-parter “improves upon its opening half,” but, of course, there was plenty of controversy, and mixed feelings to boot, with all of the lore meddling.

Let’s put the lore on the backburner for a minute and consider the other aspects of “the highly ambitious” episode. Once again, “Sacha Dhawan’s Master [steals] the show,” alongside some other “excellent character performances” – although one person did complain about some “poor acting… (at times).” As for our other villains, thoughts on the design of the Cybermasters were pretty mixed, with some finding them “very silly” or “far too busy” and felt the “body-horror aspects that make the Cybermen so good” were rather neglected.

Now that’s out the way,, let’s dive into the expansion of the Doctor, and Time Lord, lore. Some “hated” it; some felt that “the sheer weight of lore means the ending [was] once again rushed;” while others bemoaned that “it had so little about how the Doctor felt and dealt with [these revelations about] her past.” Certainly, it did feel a little like “a cheap attention grab.” Others weren’t so annoyed by this retcon, saying they’re glad “this new canon doesn’t really mess too much with the universe” as was a concern, due to “the cleverness of Chibnall’s retconning-that-changes-everything-while-changing-nothing.” There was also levity, with one member asking “how many extras can now put ‘The Doctor’ on their CVs?”, and another wondering if “the Shalka Doctor is canon,” which in all fairness are quite valid questions. In any case, I think most agree that it was a reasonably satisfying conclusion to the Timeless Child arc,if not so much the Lone Cyberman one. It will certainly be interesting to see how these revelations impact the series going forward…

Rank Episode Title Mean Rating
1 Fugitive of the Judoon 7.94
2 The Haunting of Villa Diodati 7.73
3 Spyfall – Part One 7.43
4 Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror 7.38
5 The Timeless Children 7.15
6 Ascension of the Cybermen 7.11
7 Spyfall – Part Two 7.00
8 Can You Hear Me? 6.62
9 Praxeus 6.29
10 Orphan 55 5.11

Predictions after FotJ

As mentioned earlier, following the extensive plot drops in Fugitive of the Judoon, we threw in an extra question to the poll to give people a chance to make predictions with this wild new information. So, what did people get right and what did they get wrong?

Unsurprisingly, a lot of the predictions were trying to guess who on Earth this new Doctor was and how she might fit in with the existing lore. Obviously, as we now know, the Doctor is the Timeless Child, able to regenerate an infinite number of times, but repeatedly mind wiped. Quite a few people came surprisingly close to predicting this in fact! One suggested that Ruth!Doctor is“a regeneration stolen by the Time Lords” and that she is “pre-Hartnell,” which proved to be scarily accurate. “The Timeless Child is an innocent child” indeed, and even more on point, “Ruth!Doctor IS the Timeless Child” – along with Thirteen. Depending on where the portal leads to, she could potentially be from a “parallel universe” or “alternate timeline,” I suppose, though her being “a Doctor so far in the future that we’ll never see her era” was probably a bit off.

Other predictions were less close to reality, since, unfortunately, Jack, Ruth!Doctor or any other “surprise cameos” weren’t “back in the series finale,” unless you count the Master. Equally, though it was an interesting idea, Bill was not “the Lone Cyber(wo)man,” and “Ryan will leave/die this series” is not yet true, save Revolution of the Daleks, though certainly the companions are separated from the Doctor by the end of The Timeless Children. The one person who was definitely correct though, was whomever said that “irrespective of what happens, it will provoke paroxysms of apoplexy from certain sections of fandom.” Nonetheless, I think this series did manage to surprise most of us more than once, and certainly not all in a bad way!

Comparison with the Rest of NuWho

Since this is the third poll that we’ve run alongside new series of Doctor Who, covering Series Ten, Eleven and now Twelve, I would really love to be able to test out my medical statistics skills on the data but there’s a problem. One of the key things I’ve learnt about analysing data is that you want it to be independent, and since the polls are run anonymously, that’s not possible. That said, the poll has been run approximately in the same way for each series (i.e. rating with a score of one meaning the episode is in the bottom ten percent of NuWho), so there’s still some value in comparing the scores for the three series.

Series Mean Series Average Lowest mean episode rating Highest mean episode rating
Ten 7.0 4.8 8.9
Eleven 7.56 4.53 8.52
Twelve 6.98 5.11 7.94

As you can see from the table above, Series Twelve hasn’t fared too badly against the previous two series. The overall mean rating for the series was somewhat lower than that of series 11, but the novelty factor must certainly be considered in this. It may also have a substantially lower highest episode rating, meaning it didn’t necessarily reach the same highs as those series, but it also didn’t have as bad a flop episode as Series Ten (The Lie of the Land) or Eleven (The Tsuranga Conundrum). Indeed, while no episodes got over the top eighty percent of NuWho threshold, all but one episode was rated as being in the top forty percent of Doctor Who on average, which is pretty reasonable. Here’s hoping the Series Thirteen will take the good things from Series Eleven and Twelve forward, such as the increase in companion character development and perhaps improve upon the recurrent clunky dialogue so characteristic of Chibnall’s writing. It seems that Chibnall might have a bit of a proper plan and direction for Doctor Who, so here’s to a solid Series Thirteen!

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