Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi’s and executive producer Steven Moffat’s time on the 54-year-old British cult classic “Doctor Who” is coming to a close, and I am only ambivalent.
On the one hand, so many things went right this season: Mondasian Cybermen back for the first time since 1966, John Simm back as the Master for the first time since 2011 and fan-pleasing nods to Classic Who left and right.
And, as it has been for the past few seasons, Capaldi’s acting is stellar; his every monologue is scintillating.
But all that pizazz cannot and will not overshadow the graver sins Moffat has committed year after year since he took over in 2011 – poor character development (especially of female characters) and plot-holey resolutions that leave me shaking my head.
It pains me to say this, but Moffat did not change that trend this year.
This season sees two new companions: Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), a 21st-century Earth girl, and Nardole (Matt Lucas), an accidental cyborg from the 2016 Christmas special, “The Husbands of River Song.”
Their dynamic makes for a very unusual TARDIS team.
For the majority of the season, Bill is a flat character (typical for Moffat’s female characters), barely responding or changing because of her adventures with the Doctor.
Moffatt also seems to have written her for only diversity’s sake, constantly reminding viewers that, yes, she is both a black woman and gay (which, admittedly, is a landmark in Who history).
Other than that, I don’t know what makes Bill unique.
And as soon as she starts building her own unique persona as a girl who actually questions the Doctor’s decisions, her character is stunted by the dramatic events of the finale.
The series arc, The Vault, of which Nardole seems to be the gatekeeper, is hurriedly thrown into the last minute or so of every episode, interrupting the story to pose the same question – what or who is inside of that?
Because of The Vault, Nardole is MIA for several episodes, making viewers at times forget whether he is part of a TARDIS duo or not.
In addition to Bill and Nardole, a third person showed up substantially this season.
Missy (Michelle Gomez) is back for her third and final season as the female version of the Doctor’s nemesis the Master, but she falls short of her former glory due to Moffat’s inconsistent character development that had me wishing what he wrote wasn’t canon.
Anyone who likes the Master might be outraged after the two-part finale and episodes leading up to it.
And anyone who likes long, two-part stories might be upset to find out that there are only two multiple-episode storylines: the mid-season monk trilogy and the two-part finale.
So, in theory, one could watch the other episodes in any order with little to no confusion.
Those episodes were mostly good, barring a few incredibly boring exceptions. (“Knock Knock,” the fourth episode of the season, I’m referring to you.)
The perk to the lack of storylines or series arcs was that originality was in full swing, with each week’s episode thrusting viewers into new and, at times, horrifying adventures, reminiscent of Classic Who seasons.
Speaking of Classic Who, this season seems made for Classic Who and Jon Pertwee (Third Doctor) fans, like main actor Capaldi.
For example, the ninth episode, “Empress of Mars,” contains fangirl-inducing references to the 1972 story “Curse of Peladon” and is the best Ice Warrior (a reptilian-humanoid Martian warrior race) episode of the entire reboot.
Furthermore, the Twelfth Doctor references old Third Doctor catchphrases throughout the season, including “reversing the polarity of the neutron flow” and several nods to “Venusian aikido.”
Simm’s Master is back and better than ever, and the finale is rife with references to Roger Delgado, the first Master from, you guessed it, the Pertwee era.
And if you’ve been a fan of modern Doctor Who but never watched the Classics, this season might be the one to push you into subscribing to BritBox to watch (or rewatch) them all and understand allusions to “hermaphrodite hexapods,” goatees and wheelchairs.
Fan-pleasing Easter eggs aside, in a season where plots aren’t cohesively developing, something (characters) must have momentum. But when Nardole is still cracking the same jokes and Bill is still confused about what is going on for the sixth week in a row, audiences want something more.
And they aren’t getting logical plot resolutions either since Moffat continues to write deus-ex-machina-esque endings, evading permanent consequences.
Take, for example, the big, mid-season monk trilogy.
The first episode of the trilogy, “Extremis,” is nothing short of spellbinding; the Doctor, Bill and Nardole venture to a secret part of the Vatican to uncover why people are committing suicide after reading a document called “The Veritas.”
The second is fast paced and dramatic, giving viewers a suspenseful cliffhanger.
But then, in classic Moffat fashion, the plot and any consequences are dismissed in the last minutes of the trilogy because of some “love conquers all” cop-out.
The season finale, “The Doctor Falls,” has a resolution that doesn’t stray much from that same idea either.
There are still so many questions that the finale has yet to answer, making me more confused than I was before watching it.
If only Moffatt had spent as much time writing consistent, cohesive scripts as he did overhyping another mediocre ending, maybe this season would’ve been more successful as a whole.
But I’d say that the creepiness, the build up, great acting and the timey-wimey spaceship orbiting a black hole in the episode prior to the finale, “World Enough and Time,” made the finale worth it.
Overall Capaldi, Gomez, Simm, Lucas and Mackie give this season their all.
There are new villains, great directing (courtesy of Rachel Talalay), moving music (thanks to Murray Gold) and reminders of why “Doctor Who” has lasted this long.
Hopefully the upcoming Christmas special, Moffat’s last “Doctor Who” episode, will give the amazingly talented Capaldi the sendoff he truly deserves.