WhoThrough: Doctor Who Season Twelve

Tom Baker’s first season starts strong.

Andrew Ellard
7 min readJan 1, 2022

When my wife and I married in 2014, we started watching Doctor Who in order, one story a week. Five and a half years later we finished and started again. These are a combination of my scattershot notes from the first and second WhoThroughs.


The more the cast clearly declare that this is the Doctor, the more Baker gets to act like a totally new man. Baker putting his spin on Pertwee-type lines is immediate — lying down to do exposition, showing swagger by being indifferent rather than commanding. Interesting that his time in the sick-bay could be weeks, skipped in a single cut. The note the Doctor leaves feels like a downright mission statement — knowing what kind of story we’re in (James Bond even gets a mention), the Doctor covers all eventualities and undercuts.

The Doctor battling the Robot for the first time is a terrific sequence, well directed. The SRS designs are really smart, the choice of green unusual yet successful. Likewise the pink on the robot. Video for all the location stuff, which makes it feel more whole. What a shame they didn’t have the budget for more foley work — it feels like Classic Who in general would have gained a huge sense of production value without a big cost if only robots clanked and stomped rather than clump and scuff.

It’s a pity they underuse Harry in his undercover plot because that’s almost a very good way to add him to the line-up. A shame that the theft’s suspects are so immediately obvious — it’s always whoever Sarah is interviewing. Kettlewell introduces both the reason the Robot will grow in the finale and the weapon that’ll defeat it in the same line of dialogue at the top of episode three. Genuinely upset by the professor’s revealed allegiance, though.


There’s a subtle but definite attempt to restate why the Doctor does what he does: the curiosity, but also the morality (he won’t leave the humans since the humans won’t leave their mission; they are quite his favourite species). It’s funny, Baker’s Doctor is being as brusque as Hartnell, but it somehow plays warmer, jollier. There’s a definite lean towards stronger humour and horror. The awoken whinger — “I should have stayed on earth. I like heat!” — is constantly, credibly funny. Strange how claustrophobic a triangular duct is.

The oxygen issue early-on doesn’t bother the Doctor, which might even be a performance choice by Baker — it’s not discussed, but in execution makes him immediately alien. The lack of air is also part of the opening mystery — why is the system not working? The peril also has a larger purpose, unlike when Nation throws in a landline or deadly plant to keep things happening. (Even when this story chucks in a zapping device in the ceiling, it turns out to be the answer to what killed the first creature.)

The TARDIS materialisation is cleverly done with lighting. In episode two the Doctor wheels a trolley across the room, and it sounds like the studio sound is dropped out to hide cheap, squeaky wheel noises. (Shame they don’t do this more — the revived med-tech is very squeaky in her sleep pod.) Ian Marter gets to do most of the story in his socks, which must have been relaxing.


Lovely character restatement at the top, the big three re-established. The lack of anxiety about whether we can get back to the TARDIS is very akin to Hartnell stories…yet it still makes me a lot more nervous than it should. Holding a Sontaran invasion fleet for these arbitrary experiments is obviously amusing nonsense, and it’s nonsense to need them on a planet that’s now deserted.

Since Styre’s make-up isn’t identical to Lynx, it would’ve been wiser to rewrite Sarah-Jane’s dialogue saying it is. Styre’s written very successfully alien — he doesn’t understand food, for example — which really helps nail what Sontarans are…and allows them to be funny, too. (“Why should I save you, traitor to your own kind?” Styre’s asks of the human working for him.) Styre deflating is a gorgeous, horrible effect.

Is Ian the first companion to be handed to sonic to use? Harry’s medical skills always seem underused (see also Martha and Rory), seems the show just wants Barbara’s all-purpose ‘put some water on it’ cure. The silver attack robot’s design is a bit too akin to the robot from Robot, which was ‘last season’ for the production, but six weeks ago for audiences.


Funny that we end up with two Joseph Mengele stories back to back. Davros trying to learn what caused Dalek defeats is an amazing threat — the risk that every Dalek story will be undone is a huge stakes-raise. It repositions the story from ‘stop the Daleks being created’ to ‘prevent the undoing of their defeats’ and it’s totally baked into the opening premise.

Great first look at Davros, dark and creepy, in a one-two cliffhanger punch of him and a Dalek. Baker’s playfulness — and it’s apparently scripted, it’s not just him — works doubly well in the face of such absolute fascism. A true free-thinker. Interesting how long we hold back on doing a Davros/Doctor scene. Davros rolls into rooms and negotiates victories through cunning or persuasion — much like the Doctor. Davros’s case, offering the destruct button, is the second half of the Doctor’s choice: can anyone do this? Anyone whose aim is to prevent unconscionable behaviour has too much conscience to do it. An amazing bluff. “Have I the right?” is there to set that up.

Making the Dalek anagram literal in dialogue is an interesting choice, the show becoming a product of its past. Daleks looting a pile of human bodies is as strong an image as the show has ever presented. The think-through of the Davros design is extraordinary: rotted by radiation, a cybernetic eye replacing his two ruined ones, legs useless and replaced…it feels like too developed an idea for Nation, so you can’t help but think it stems from elsewhere. So much of this story’s reputation stems from production value — the slow motion war footage at the start, the impressive sell of the rocket and gantry as very tall, etc. Even the silly clam creature in the cave is at least sensible kept darkly lit.

Bonkers that the Time Lords rely on a bracelet to get the Doctor out when they scoff at the ease of getting him in via the transmat tech. There are, like, two women in this entire cast.


The dialogue this story is…not the best. “Space collision” as opposed to “collision”? Oh dear. Then: “Sonic vibrator”! . It really doesn’t help that the Vogan name ‘Margrik’ sounds so much like ‘Margaret’. The Vogans are tedious, and make it seem like forever until we get the Cybermen we want…who then aren’t anything like Cybermen, just stock baddies, including getting ‘all riled up’. Interesting that the gold vulnerability is part of an unseen backstory, not really a way of adding something to defeat them this week — it’s what the whole plot is about. Which is to say: again, this could be any alien baddie, the weakness is wholly new and the themes aren’t remotely connected to survival through augmentation.

I find the sexy low-belt bum design of the Cyberman very distracting. There’s a strange irony in the cybermen appearing in colour for the first time and the design adds no highlights or sheen at all to take advantage — they feel like black and white arrivals in the colour world of Voga. (Which certainly has a certain appropriateness. Hell, that their weakness is a colour, gold, plays into this.) Why on Earth would you put cybermen on Voga and have them immune to the (gold!) weapon? It only undermines any story about needing Voga destroyed. The first cybermat appearance, slithering past bodies, is splendidly uncanny. And as in The Green Death, the veiny virus effect is extraordinarily effective.

Harry dreams of owning a solid gold stethoscope — I’m always a bit impressed when a writer finds a desire or detail that suits quite thin, archetypal characters. “HARRY SULLIVAN IS AN IMBECILE!” might be this story’s most valuable contribution to the canon — summarising a relationship and adding mad moments to the Doctor’s behaviour away from regeneration. Nobody seems concerned that if the beacon is destroyed when it has huge repercussions for the future we encountered in The Ark in Space.

I can’t get over the appearance of Live and Let Die’s hairbrush/tech device prop. Years after this RTD would use the same ‘satellite sets appear twice in two stories, two time periods, to save money’ trick in his Series One.

Check out the WhoThroughs for Season One, Season Two, Season Three, Season Four, Season Five, Season Six, Season Seven, Season Eight, Season Nine, Season Ten and Season Eleven.



Andrew Ellard

Writer of things, script editor of things you actually like. The home of #tweetnotes. www.andrewellard.com