2016 was the quietest year for Doctor Who in quite some time, offering up just one Christmas Special for die-hard fans to argue about on Twitter while the crew worked away on a new series to be broadcast the following spring. It was truly a dark time to be a Doctor Who fan, with only Netflix and old arguments to plug the gap which new episodes would usually fill.
Thankfully, 2017 saw Doctor Who whirr back into life with thirteen new episodes, the departure of the Twelfth Doctor, the casting introduction of the first female Doctor in Jodie Whittaker, the return of the Master times two, a new companion and then a departing companion, a change of showrunner, beginning of production on a new series and all the online shouting matches that a fan could dream of.
In part one, we’ll look at the first half of the year in Doctor Who, from the start of filming to the broadcast of Series 10:
2017 dawned with The Return of Doctor Mysterio, and all the joy that brought to the viewing audience, fresh in fans’ memories and arguments. With the marketing campaign for Series 10 yet to crank into action, the majority of the month (in Doctor Who, anyway) was spent looking for scraps, like the ignominious end of Class as its promised showing on BBC One found it stuck in the late night death slot.
Tragic news hit on January 27, as beloved actor John Hurt, who put his unforgettable stamp on Doctor Who as the War Doctor in The Day of the Doctor, passed away at the age of 77. Doctor Who was merely a small piece in the actor’s hugely illustrious career, but his loss was keenly felt by fandom nonetheless.
A few days later, fandom found itself blindsided by Peter Capaldi’s surprise announcement on January 30 on BBC Radio 2 that he would be departing the show at Christmas, making Series 10 his final season as the Twelfth Doctor. Speculation and frenzied betting quickly began regarding the identity of the Thirteenth Doctor, but it would be a long wait until that particular question was answered…
February has traditionally been an uneventful month in these reviews of the year, and 2017 was no different. Michelle Gomez’s return as Missy was confirmed, and February 25 saw the promotional campaign for Series 10 begin in earnest with the release of the ‘Time for Heroes’ teaser featuring the Doctor, Bill, Nardole, and some hidden episode titles. Very little else happened. Moving swiftly on.
The beginning of spring offered a little more excitement in the world of Doctor Who. As filming began on the two-part season finale, 6 March saw the announcement that the Mondasian Cybermen would be returning to battle the Twelfth Doctor, bringing the famously cloth-faced foes into the 21st century. March 13 saw the release of the very first trailer for Series 10, thrilling fans with glimpses of emoji robots (uncontroversially received), Mars and frost fairs, while the season premiere was confirmed to be titled, aptly, The Pilot. Toby Whithouse, possibly under embargo, confirmed that Series 10 would feature a three-part episode starring the notoriously good-looking Monks.
Meanwhile, as Thirteenth Doctor speculation ticked away, bookies and Gallifrey Times’ favourite Kris Marshall responded to rumours that he would take on the role. Tragically, it was not to be.
Finally, April rolled around, offering the promise of new episodes for the first time in eighteen months. It began with the exciting announcement that Series 10 would feature Doctor Who‘s very first musical episode, which convinced fans for a grand total of two hours before we revealed it was an overly elaborate lie for April Fool’s Day. In the following days, however, plenty of real news came down the pike. Further episode titles such as The Pyramid at the End of the World and Empress of Mars were revealed, and April 6 saw the surprise announcement that John Simm would be returning as the Master alongside Michelle Gomez’s Missy, making for the first two-part finale, and spiking a reveal that would soon prove to be the very point of World Enough and Time. Oops.
Filming on Series 10 wrapped a week before the season premiere on April 8, while Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie appeared on London South’s Bank to promote the upcoming season. April 15 brought with it the long-awaited return of Doctor Who in The Pilot, which saw Pearl Mackie introduced as Bill Potts to critical and fan acclaim and an audience of 4.6 million viewers.
And from there, it was back into the maelstrom of regular episodes, as the second half of April saw Bill’s first adventures in the TARDIS play out in Smile and Thin Ice, featuring emojibots, elephants and cathartic punching of racists. Doctor Who was very much back.
April’s episodes saw a brighter, care-free version of Doctor Who as the Doctor and companion jetted from past to future and back, but as the nights became lighter in May, the series soon delved into darker territory. Knock Knock brought some gentle scares back with a haunted house story, Oxygen told a full-on zombie story which ended with the blinding of the Doctor, Extremis featured existential crises in an alternate reality and mass suicides, and The Pyramid at the End of the World saw the world counting down to doomsday and evil aliens subjugating the planet by invitation. Things got really, really, dark by the end of the month.
Something happier came in the form of news that David Tennant and Billie Piper would be returning to Doctor Who as part of Big Finish’s audio series for further adventures from the Tenth Doctor and Rose. Meanwhile, Michelle Gomez confirmed her departure following the Series 10 finale to leave Missy as a fixture of the Twelfth Doctor’s era only, and the startling announcement that Doctor Who would be continuing for five more seasons at least as part of a BBC deal with China confirmed the show’s future in the very long term.
June’s episodes faced an uphill battle, playing out during the height of a sweltering British summer which saw viewers turn off their televisions and head outside in droves. Meanwhile, on TV, it was a very British month of Doctor Who. The Lie of the Land took a hot-button look at a dystopian London controlled by fake news, coincidentally a week before the UK general election, Empress of Mars saw colonial fantasies play out in a war between British soldiers and Ice Warriors on Mars, and The Eaters of Light hopped back several centuries for comfortably the most Scottish episode of Doctor Who ever told.
The outlier here was World Enough and Time, set on a giant colony ship in which Bill was killed and converted into a Cyberman while John Simm returned as the Master. Episodes like that tend to be in a category of their own. The first part of the season finale may have been most notable, however, for reminding us of the show’s future, with a cryptic cold open depicting the Twelfth Doctor beginning to regenerate in a snowy wasteland…
Next time: In the second and final part, we take a look at July through to December, from The Doctor Falls to the emergence of the Thirteenth Doctor in Twice Upon a Time.