Season 12 of Doctor Who premiered on New Years Day 2020 with “Skyfall Part 1” and delivered an episode that was closer to the tone of past seasons than we’d seen with the 13th Doctor.
The first season of Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor had its fans, but also some negative reviews as it lacked any returning villains, had expanded the companion roster to three (which hasn’t been done regularly since the Classic era), and avoided any multiple episode storylines (unless you include the first and last episodes of the season). There were also those who disliked the series as the Doctor had become a woman in her last regeneration and this didn’t sit well with them. All these changes at once may have alienated some fans while bringing in new ones. Bringing in an old foe for last year’s New Year’s Day special was helpful, but seemed almost a last minute bit of fan service to try to bring back classic fans.
One Year Later
It had been a full year since we’ve seen Doctor in the TARDIS. Last year’s New Year’s Day Special was created to replace the Christmas special that fans had grown accustom to since “New Who” began. This New Year’s Day episode was not billed as a holiday special, however. They opted to start the new season on January first with an episode that is part one of what appears to be this Doctor’s first two-parter. This was probably a wise move, as creating episodes from New Year’s Day holiday traditions is more difficult since there are so few as compared to the Christmas holiday. Though having the Doctor show up on New Year’s Day with a Universal Hangover Cure would be a great storyline.
However, starting this new season on the 1st of the year before continuing in the regular series time slot on Sundays was a good move. For one, it did provide a “special” of sorts for fans. It also allows viewers to catch the second part of this story a mere 4 days later, instead of having to wait a full week.
A New (Old?) Tone For Season 12
However, without going into spoiler territory, the new premiere, “Skyfall Part 1,” had a tone much more in line with episodes from seasons prior to the last and even some vibes from previous Season Premieres. A new, powerful threat appears and the Doctor must start from scratch to figure it out. It had echos of episodes like “The Impossible Astronaut” which introduced The Silence, plus a twist at the end revealing an old foe had returned.
Overall, the episode was good, though the first half seemed a bit slow after the pre-credit excitement of the introduction, as each of the companions was showcased and shown to be giving excuses for their next scheduled prolonged absence from their normal lives. (And some of those excuses were rather lame.) But the story picked up the pace as it continued. Team Doctor had to split up to follow two leads, but were quickly reunited in a bizarre way. And the cliffhanger ending was definitely reminiscent of the two-parters of the previous Doctors.
While the first seasons of many Doctors always struggled to differentiate the new version of the character from the old, this new season premiere gives me every indication that this period is over. We are finally going to see the 13th Doctor, standing in the light without the shadow of 12 looming over her. It may be too early to tell, but if the series continues with the new, more confident tone that embraces the Doctor’s past while journeying into an uncertain future, the rest of this season should be a joy to watch.