Who would have thought, when we sat down to watch Series 12 of Doctor Who, that the rest of 2020 would be such a bizarre year? We already knew about the coronavirus, as it had first been spotted in the closing months of 2019, hence its proper name of Covid-19.
What we didn't know was the impact that it would have, globally, that Spring, and indeed right up to the present day. Vaccines are now on their way, but rollout seems to be slow, and the majority of people won't have had their shots until Spring 2021, a whole year after it first broke out.
We had been forced to wait a year without any new Doctor Who in 2019, other than a New Year's Day special.
2020's special would also be the first episode of the new series - a two-parter with a Bondian spy theme.
The frankly underwhelming Series 11 had gone out of its way to avoid continuity with the past, but we knew from images on social media that newly redesigned Cybermen would be featuring at some point this year. The BBC then revealed that Judoon would definitely be returning, as they had been spotted by the general public filming in Gloucester.
As it was, there would be more returnees, which the BBC managed to keep under wraps.
The first of these surprises was in that first episode of Spyfall. The "O" character played by Sacha Dhawan turned out to be the latest incarnation of the Master, and very good he was too. Few expected a new Master quite so soon, as it was only a dozen or so episodes before that we had seen the last of Missy, as well as a return for the John Simm version.
We then had that shocking ending, where we learnt that Gallifrey had been destroyed.
Series 12 had got off to a good start, but things started to slip already with the second episode. The idea that a season of ten 45 or 50 minute episodes could provide sufficient plot for the Doctor and three companions was shown to be a wrong one early in Series 11. The first year of Peter Davison's time showed it didn't work, and they had 26 episodes to play with. Despite having three companions, the Doctor picked up two extra companion characters in Spyfall Part II, leaving the regulars with nothing to do. This would continue throughout the season, with guest characters pushing out the regulars, who were becoming increasingly redundant.
Part II was a let down in other ways, with the Doctor using the Master's new ethnicity against him, and then setting up the secondary villain, only to totally ignore him at the conclusion.
Things got even worse with the third episode, Orphan 55, which is my least favourite story ever, at time of writing.
Far too many characters who were cardboardly written. Dreadful costuming and makeup for the Hyph3n character. The shock (not!) surprise that this planet was really the Earth. Like that's never been done before. The Doctor's preachy lecture at the conclusion, like the audience are too thick to get anything more subtle. And then there was that bloody awful screeching old woman. A horrible, horrible experience overall, which brought back bad memories of the previous series.
Things managed to pick up with the fourth episode, the celebrity historical featuring Tesla and Edison. A more straightforward story, with a good guest cast and some decent new monsters.
Mid-series, we then got Fugitive of the Judoon, which threatened to bring the pillars of continuity crashing down around our ears. As well as the return of the titular space rhino police, we had the unexpected reappearance of Captain Jack Harkness. Then, we suddenly discover that Ruth appears to be an unknown incarnation of the Doctor, her true nature hidden by a Chameleon Arch. Her TARDIS is buried in the countryside, and it looks like a Police Box. She's supposed to be an earlier incarnation, predating Hartnell, yet the Time Lords knew nothing about her, and she shouldn't have had a Police Box for a TARDIS anyway as we saw when it got stuck like that - and it wasn't pre Hartnell.
Apart from the obvious messing with continuity I had problems with this story. Everyone raves about it, but take away Jack and the Ruth reveal and what are you actually left with? It's a very slight tale without these flagpole moments. A bit of comedy nonsense with the Judoon and with a creepy cake shop stalker.
We had been warned by the BBC that this series would be addressing topical themes, such as plastics pollution of the world's oceans. That's what we got in Praxeus. Despite the globetrotting scale of the piece, we once again had too many new characters shoehorned in, leaving the regular companions with too little to do. And for the second time this series we got lectured at at the conclusion. At least they managed to have gay characters who weren't killed off.
The next story (Can You Hear Me?) promised much, and did at least attempt to cover the issue of mental health, and each companion was highlighted in a way, but it still had a few things wrong with it. The whole Aleppo subplot seemed pointless, leading to yet more guest artists cluttering up the running time, and the set up of who the two aliens were took far too long, leading to a very rushed ending. Then there was the terribly misjudged bit at the end where the Doctor goes out of her way to avoid talking with Graham about his health concerns - despite the whole story being about how we should listen to those in distress. The animated sequence was nice to look at, at least.
So far, so no Cybermen.
The Haunting of the Villa Diodati was reasonably well made, but I did feel that it seemed like two separate stories that weren't properly integrated. The haunted house with Shelley, Byron, Mary et al would have made a good story on it's own. The appearance of the Cyberman Ashad came quite late in the proceedings, so his being the inspiration for the Frankenstein monster wasn't made enough of.
This story also basically acted as a warm up for the two part finale. The fist section of this - Ascension of the Cybermen - spent a lot of time with a seemingly unrelated subplot about a young Irish policeman. We had to wait until the final week to find out what that was all about, but in the meantime we did get some decent Cyberman action. Then came The Timeless Children, which quite unnecessarily divided fandom. As I wrote at the time, this was a revelation that no-one asked for. We were all quite happy with the Doctor being a rebellious Time Lord, but Chibnall had to sort out an apparent continuity issue from The Brain of Morbius (even though it could already be squared as being previous incarnations of Morbius, who loses the mind-bending competition after all. Instead of the Doctor having been 13 white men, he'd actually been 21 white men, because all 8 of the people we see in the contest are white males. This finale went further and showed that the Doctor had been all sorts of ethnicities as a child, thanks to a child serial killer called Tecteun.
It wasn't just the continuity shattering that has annoyed fans. The episode is really badly written, with the Doctor simply standing there for the best part of an hour whilst the Master gets all the best lines and steals the show. It's one big massive info-dump.
If you show a gun in the first act, you have to have someone use it by the third act. Now that Chibnall has carried out this act of vandalism, he really has to go somewhere with it. The danger / opportunity (delete as applicable) is that he leaves it hanging for someone else to resolve. They might just decide that the Master was lying the whole time and ignore it all. Actually, it would have been far better had it been the Master who had found out he was the Timeless Child. It would have made his destruction of Gallifrey more plausible.
The series ended with a cliff-hanger, with the companions back on Earth in a TARDIS shaped like a council house, whilst the Doctor has been whisked off to Judoon Jail. We'll see how that pans out in a couple of day's time, with Revolution of the Daleks.
The virus might have meant that we wouldn't get a 13th series anytime soon, but fortunately production got underway in November. We already know of two returning monsters in Series 13, one of which has had a redesign - they've been spotted by members of the public and the pictures are there for all to see on the internet. We know that Graham and Ryan leave in Revolution, and so far only Yaz has been seen filming on Series 13, with no sign of any new companion.
As there is already footage in the can, it will be interesting to see if we get any kind of preview at the end of Revolution.
Over the summer we got the Lockdown Tweet-a-longs, which now appear to be happening every other day and have totally lost their novelty. The first batch had new additional material shown on-line, most of which was a bit rubbish.
Towards the end of the year we have had Time Lord Victorious, which seems to be aimed at parting fans with a heck of a lot of their money. I've reviewed the free bits - the animated Dalek series, which was so-so at best.
Another negative impact of the virus, as far as Doctor Who is concerned, is the paucity of classic material which has been released this year. We got Season 26 back in late January (despite it being promised to us as a Christmas present), and then Season 14 was released soon after lockdown had started. We're still waiting for the next set (Season 8), but that won't be with us until February 2021. At least a couple of animated lost Troughton stories were released, even if one of them was a remastered reissue.
The Web of Fear Special Edition doesn't even have a release date yet.
Here's looking forward to 2021, when we might actually be able to get to the pub and go on a holiday, and we might even get more than two blu-ray box sets.
Happy New Year everybody.