Spoilers will be let out of their cryo-chambers.
It’s the season finale. We’re about to complete the first cycle of the Thirteenth Doctor. It’s been a ride that has been exhaustively examined by critics and whovians with a fine comb. In the end, it’s no surprise it garnered mixed reviews but I believe the outcome of the first of Jodie Whittaker’s series taking the tenure of the last Timelord is definitely a positive one. I don’t think we ended up with a ground-breaking set of episodes as much as an introduction. The show got extremely serious, had good adventure filler, and even goof around once in a while. I don’t quite think we ever made it to scary levels but we lightly touched that field enough to concede it hasn’t been forgotten.
The series finale was the return of the antagonist from the first episode, T’zim-Sha. This provided ample hero-vs-archenemy scenarios but the strongest gravitas was not the Doctor’s but Graham’s. He’s got a biased agenda in this one, and he has to work through it. For this reason, the Doctor does get to come up with some sort of pseudo-scientific solution while we get what we really want, the confrontation between the Stenza warrior and the old man from Sheffield. In the end, it’s Ryan who inspires him to be the better man and deliver justice rather than revenge. This conflict and character development was the best part of this episode, which is why Graham really steals the show this week, even though it’s the finale.
Jodie Whittaker has proven more than worthy of being the Doctor, however I was expecting at some point in time an episode tailored for her. We’ve yet to see her come up with any of the classic enemies of the Doctor, although the New Year’s Day special (no Christmas Day special this year) might change that. She had moments during travels into the past where she’s come up against some social commentary on gender (see The Witchfinders) but it’s being minimal. Perhaps that is the entire message that the show wants to convey: the Doctor is not based on gender, and that would be a great message. Nevertheless, it would also be nice if the Doctor learned a few things because of her new gender. That is not to say Jodie Whittaker has been any less than inspiring, but I’d want her to shine through also in-universe. I have high hopes for newer episodes.
Bradley Walsh as Graham O’Brien has proven himself surprising adaptable to a life of inter-dimensional travel. Initially I though he’d be the old fashioned curmudgeon, but he’s been more of a mentor to the team and a source of comedy without falling into ridicule. He’s had great moments in which his character has endured strife and come out a better character. His dynamic with Ryan has improved, he has had to overcome the death of his wife Grace, and letting go of her even when the crazy Universe almost grant her back to him. You can’t also forget the scene in Rosa where he had to be the remaining white person for whom Rosa must give up her seat. He had to accept being in the wrong side of history in order for history to happen. His character goes through an arc stronger than the other companions as he comes face to face with T’zim-Sha in the episode finale.
In contrast, Tosin Cole as Ryan Sinclair and Mandip Gill as Yasmin “Yaz” Khan still need their respective character arcs. Ryan might be only slightly more developed as a character, dealing with his nan’s death and dyspraxia. Still, it doesn’t feel neither has been much of a source of stories or character development for him. Yaz also seems in the same boat. Although they both had a lot to say during Rosa and Yaz was on the forefront during the story tailored for her in Demons of the Punjab, neither of them seem to have grown or developed any further. This is not their fault as characters, they just need more agency in future storylines. Just as Graham had to deal with unsolved rage and thoughts of revenge in the series finale, Ryan and Yaz should also get their respective moments in the sun. I just ask to please don’t make that moment a love story between them. If the show has that in the works, I just ask to please delay it as much as possible and let us have some character growth first.
In conclusion, I don’t know what the future holds for the Doctor and her companions. I have a hint we’ll get something in the New Year’s Day special. I dread that the show is not taking as many chances as it could have. I know the formula works, but the episodes that we remember are the ones that break it. The show has had a season to prove itself worthy of the title, but now I want it to do two things: face a classic enemy in a new way and go beyond what we consider classic.
That will do for now.