Doctor Who: The Comprehensive Guide to Things I Like, Twelfth Doctor Edition

This is a short overview / series for Doctor Who episodes that are my favorite from each doctor after finishing all of the TV show Doctor Who (Old and New).

Just a couple thing before I jump in to it:

  • I broke these down in to Doctors because comparisons between the eras are nearly impossible
  • There’s a link to every other entry at the bottom if you missed any of them
  • These are not reviews or even summaries, they’re just some stray thoughts about what I liked about the episodes usually
  • These episodes are listed in order of airing, not in order of ranking
  • Also :

12th Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi 2014-2017

For 12th Doctor I feel like it’s much harder to give a concise overview of his personality. Capaldi brilliantly plays so many angles in the Doctor over his three seasons. Inheriting Clara and some of the baggage of the previous seasons to start was rough but Capaldi plays a Doctor who is trying to become something better. At the beginning of his tenure he asks “Am I a good man?” a question made more confusing by the Anniversary special but also a question the Doctor has previously stumbled on, even in Old Who (though less spelled out there). What followed was the journey of a man trying to find out exactly who he is when he isn’t who he thinks he is. A man who starts off brooding, scheming, angry, a little bossy, and frankly constantly on the attack and who slowly morphs in to someone more patient, willing to learn and teach, who is full of hope, and also full of forgiveness.

While it’s harder to find the single thread narrative for 12th Doctor then some of the others (though this may be a lack of distance from the episodes), I feel like at the end of his journey, 12th is about allowing ourselves choices and sometimes, even letting ourselves fail because that’s what need to better ourselves. He gives hard choices to humans (Kill the Moon), the Zygons (The Zygon Inversion), Clara (Hell Bent), even Missy/The Master (most of Season 10, especially in The Doctor Falls) and technically everyone lets him down but he continues to let them all solider on. Even in Heaven Sent, the Doctor repeatedly fails, almost giving up and letting himself give but instead he chooses to hope and to push forward, to get it right this time.

So beyond the guitar playing and the awkward “attack eyebrows” and the bravado and the callousness, 12th is the Doctor as usual. Not a good man, but a man trying to be better than he is. A man who hopes he can do the right thing, even when he’s not sure what that is. A man of adventure and questions who is working out the solutions as he goes. The lesson at the end of the day is that even if we don’t have all the answers as long as we keep trying, maybe sometimes the universe steps in to help out.

Into the Dalek


Running Time: 1 episode, 45 minutes
Rating: 4 out of 5
Companions: Clara Oswald
Thoughts: I swear I picked this episode before they used Rusty (the titular Dalek) for the Christmas Special. This episode has some really great supporting characters and I liked the twist on Fantastic Voyage. I always think Daleks are much scarier when they’re isolated and Rusty echos back to Dalek (New Who, S1) but also reminds me of another favorite of mine Genesis of the Daleks (Old Who, S12). The Doctor is in a position to possibly change the course of history by altering a single Dalek and instead, in his hubris, manages to simply further the Dalek cause of destruction. In trying to be moral and preserve the goodness of the Dalek, he creates a Dalek which kills its own kind. A shattered mirror of the Doctor, a half-victory at best.

Time Heist


Running Time: 1 episode, 45 minutes
Rating: 5 out of 5
Companions: Clara Oswald
Thoughts: Who doesn’t love a good heist? Another really amazing line-up of secondary characters. Almost every character in this episode is a stand out including the “villain” and the brain sucking creature (The Teller). How a 45 minute episode manages to give you an enticing back story for a half dozen characters you will never see again AND be a breezy, time travel-ish fun story with real stakes is a marvel. Learning from his past lesson (Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS), script writer Stephen Thompson makes the most of his script pitting peoples wants and desires against their newly formed relationships and deeply ingrained morals. Every characters weakness is turned on its head as they give up what they want to fulfill each others needs and at the end the reward is a job well done. I’d also note the filming, scenery, and costuming on this episode were a notch above average and while not the season’s best, they play up the tropes of the heist movie with a sci fi twist. It makes re-watching this episode to find all the little touches a delight.

Flatline


Running Time: 1 episode, 45 minutes
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Companions: Clara Oswald
Thoughts: Sort of an odd episode. This is both one of the high points and low points for Clara’s character. The Doctor immediately gets stuck in his TARDIS at the beginning of the episode and Clara steps in to his shoes, a little too literally, taking on his moniker, tools, and demeanor. The monsters in this episode, The Boneless, are probably one of the more interesting (and terrifying) new enemies that have been introduced in Doctor Who for a long while and the representation of what they do after converting 3D living bodies in to 2D pictures is genuine nightmare fuel. The episode really shines when the Doctor is basically useless and Clara alone has to devise a plan, keep the masses calm, and re-power the TARDIS so the Doctor can deus ex the Boneless back to 2D space. Points for style and hair tie based solutions.

Under the Lake/Before the Flood


Running Time: 2 episodes, 45 minutes each
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Companions: Clara Oswald
Thoughts: Have I ever mentioned that I like episodes where they use time travel as a plot device? Oh lord, this one could have made the list on visuals alone (it didn’t as there’s plenty to like in this episode beside the visuals). This is quite a clever twist on paradox which they play up in the second part using an analogy with Beethoven. I literally have no idea where to start praising this episode, even after re-watching it, it’s honestly one of the best romps and plays with time shifting that Doctor Who has ever done. It plays with questions of morality and determinism better than most. We’ve got stellar cast of secondary characters. We have Clara shifting from suicidal after Danny’s death to a new way of thinking. Starting as an under siege story and transitioning to a paradox story, the Fisher King mythos, the transport vessel, bringing back the Tivoli – all great story and design choices. This episode got 100% mileage out of its stunning visuals from the alien and ship design to the haunting ghost and water imagery. The doctor using the list to figure out when to start/finish his plan is the stand out thing that could have pushed the episode even further. Did the Doctor use O’Donnell to further his plan or was she always going to die? The show is not really interested in that though.

Also bonus points for actual deaf people on a show (not only is Cass deaf, her actress, Sophie Stone, is too!). Anyway I might come back after watching this a third time and write something more coherent but there’s just so much going on in these episodes I have nothing useful to add.

Smile


Running Time: 1 episode, 45 minutes
Rating: 4 out of 5
Companions: Bill Potts and Nardole
Thoughts: If only this episode could have stuck the landing. There is so much that was great about this episode but that the last 5 minutes nearly undoes all its good will is such a shame. This is the perfect episode to fall in love with Bill Potts, a woman who is open and brilliant, and so full of joy and life that it makes me want to jump up and hug her. The first half of the episode is mostly Bill and the Doctor getting to know each other while they wander around an off-Earth colony. The images are somehow beautiful and desolate in a way that reminds me of a much more colorful version of Moon. The second half starts okay with the Doctor realizing that there should be people but there aren’t because they’ve been killed by the robots who have become sentient enough to have will but not enough to discern killing is bad. This would be great but instead of actually contending with this point, the Doctor simply “resets” the creatures and starts impromptu nonsense moment of negotiating between them and the humans he woke up by mistake. Despite a confusing thesis, this episode is a joy to watch anyway and at least brings some interesting ideas to the table (before flipping the table).

Oxygen


Running Time: 1 episode, 45 minutes
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Companions: Bill Potts and Nardole
Thoughts: Who doesn’t love a good tirade on the evils of the unchecked power of mega corporations? And zombies! Okay, well, not really zombies. Landing themselves in a mess of trouble right out of the gate when the TARDIS is flung out in to space, team TARDIS must battle a dwindling supply of oxygen on a ship that was never destined to receive help due to being unprofitable. This episode is like if you married Network, Gravity, and Night of the Living Dead but somehow it works. Oxygen is the connecting factor throughout the entire episode in both interesting narrative and plot motives and the plan the Doctor has is both the right level of “this shouldn’t work” and “I knew you could do it”. This is probably one of the strongest stand alone episodes of Capaldi’s tenure and it is much better a second time around as there are so many things going on in the episode that it’s hard to really absorb them all the first time. Bonus points for hugging.

World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls


Running Time: 2 episodes, 45 minutes each
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Companions: Bill Potts and Nardole
Thoughts: You may have noticed I don’t usually like the last episodes of the season. This two parter though joins the ranks of my list though because it earns it. World and Time Enough is easily the most tense I have felt during a Doctor Who episode in years and The Doctor Falls has so many moments where I started to tear up that I lost count. The several emotional gut punches in these two episodes are completely deserved as they are rung out of everything that made Season 10 so good. Even the simple fact that this episode makes the Cybermen finally make sense. A dystopia so horrifying and toxic and disconnected from our own that the act of humans becoming Cybermen is the only way out.

There is so much ground to cover in these two episodes but in no short order it deals with: loss, if people can ever truly change, the lengths one goes to for survival, the audacity of hope, our view of ourselves versus reality, and if you are your own worst enemy. Honestly being your own worst enemy may get a thick underline from Missy/The Master plot in the episodes but in reality its the Doctor, refusing to regenerate that makes this point hardest and sticks the landing on the episode. The Doctor, holding on to hope while withholding it from everyone else in the galaxy by not wanting to regenerate.

This episode, for me, absolutely earns Bill’s happy ending and not having the regeneration be the culmination of the episode but allowing Bill’s story to occupy the center stage gives the story the impact it needs. It goes without saying the musical cues are great for these episodes. The visuals, especially in the first half are spot on, and the performance from Pearl Mackie is easily her best of the series. It’s such a high note for the season and a wonderful way to remember 12th Doctor’s sometimes uneven run with a series of perfectly hit high notes.

In summary from Missy’s mouth to your eyeballs, I present Doctor Who:

“Well I’m that mysterious adventurer in time and space, known only as Doctor Who, and these are my disposables – Exposition and Comic Relief.”

Some stray thoughts:

  • This was a rough one to pick episodes from. Even good episodes in 12th Doctors run were honestly plagued with things you could frown about for hours.
  • I re-watched the episodes from this list but I still cannot get a good read on most of them so I feel like I did a bad job with this list. Not that I picked the wrong episodes but more that I couldn’t figure out what made me like them or hate them more than others.
  • Season 8 and 9 are probably the least even the show has been in a long time. Clara’s character is written all over the place from suicidal outright to intensely bratty and brooding during this time and the Doctor bounces around with his personality as well in ways that make little sense
  • As much as I liked Ashildr/Me, I hated the “conclusion” of her story and it colored all the episodes of her for me.
  • I don’t think I mentioned Danny Pink even once in this list. I liked him but the show decided it didn’t? Absolutely wasted potential of a character!
  • I feel like Doctor Who got a bit off the rails mid-season 8 and it took until season 10 to get back on them, you can tell by my selection of episodes. There’s probably an essay that comes with this thought.
  • I loved Clara’s death in Face the Raven and I hated that they brought her back in Hell Bent even if she gets just about the coolest line (“Memories become stories when we forget them. Maybe some of them become songs”).
  • I’m going to ignore the “Twice Upon A Time” special forever because it was terrible and I just like to imagine that 12th decides off screen 5 minutes later he was being dumb and simply regenerates, fight me.
  • Near misses for the list: Listen, Mummy on the Orient Express, The Husbands of River Song, and Extremis
  • WORST EPISODE OF 12th DOCTOR: KILL THE MOON. NO. ABSOLUTELY NO.

 

Here’s an index for the other entries:
1st Doctor
2nd Doctor
3rd Doctor
4th Doctor
5th Doctor
6th Doctor
7th Doctor
8th Doctor
9th Doctor
10th Doctor
11th Doctor
12th Doctor

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