Speaking to press at a visit to the Cardiff set of Doctor Who this September, showrunner Chris Chibnall is buzzing with confidence about the new episodes. “We want to do big action-packed, emotional, scary, funny stories. And I think we want to go up a level from last year.”
“Last year was a recruitment year,” Chibnall explains. “For the show, for the Doctor, for getting everybody in … It’s always a stepping-on point with a new Doctor, and also bringing that existing audience as well.
“I think we did alright in the recruiting year, and this year we’re saying to those people and any other people, ‘Okay, here’s the amazing world of Doctor Who, and here’s lots of treats, and here’s lots of new stuff, and here’s some old stuff. Let’s see what you make of this.’ But also I think for ourselves, the ambition is… go up a level, and I think we’ve done that.”
Current TARDIS incumbent Jodie Whittaker picks up the theme. “It feels like we don’t have to do the introduction now, because it’s there, so we can kind of go straight into where us guys are at. And then whatever happens with each individual adventure, or interaction with an old or a new character, it doesn’t have to have the ‘who are we?’ in this storyline.”
Being able to hit the ground running means a more in-depth exploration of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is on the way, she suggests. “Some of these episodes, I’d say, go in a direction that is different for the Doctor than the previous season, so that in itself shows a level or a side to her that we haven’t seen yet.”
Chibnall agrees, “We’re delving deeper into the 13th Doctor this year. That’s all I’m saying. You’ll see things you didn’t see last year in terms of facets to the Doctor.”
Don’t take ‘deeper’ to mean ‘darker’ though. “I don’t think it’s darker,” says Chibnall. “I think we’ve got some amazing monsters. It’s probably a bit scarier,” he offers.
“We’ve definitely got some bigger action set pieces,” he continues, “we’ve got some old monsters coming back.” Old monsters including the rhino-headed mercenary police force the Judoon. Can we expect a work-based crossover between them and the show’s police officer Companion Yaz?
“Yaz definitely knows how to approach and deal with the Judoon,” says Chibnall. “But no, they’re investigating something else. She knows how to approach a Judoon – they speak the same language. I mean, literally with a translator.”
The Judoon are really good in series 12, promises Chibnall. Not only do they look amazing, “they cause trouble.”
Villain-wise, the plan was always to have more old monsters this year than last, Chibnall confirms. “It’s a lovely little balance with some amazing new monsters, quite scary new monsters I think,” he says. “And there’s a little thread trickling through. So you know, it’s not the same. We’re developing the story of the 13th Doctor and this gang.”
Can viewers expect to see more historical Earth-bound episodes this year, in the vein of Rosa and Demons Of The Punjab?
“There’s more historicals, but what you don’t want to do is repeat yourself, so we will be approaching historicals in different ways,” says Chibnall.
“We’re always going to be connected as a series – and with the type of Doctor that Jodie brings and the importance of these characters starting in the contemporary world – we’re always going to be connected to the real world and the stuff that’s going on today, but we’re not always going to hit a historical straight down the line and do an issue-historical. There’s other ways, there’s other things we can do, to play around with the form.”
Doctor Who series 12 arrives on BBC One in early 2020. Read more about its return here.