I really enjoyed the first season of adventures for the Thirteenth Doctor and I hope that we will, in future, be blessed with many more. One criticism I’ve seen is that the current incarnation of the character is ‘too nice’ and doesn’t have quite as much of an edge as previous Doctors, making her boring. I don’t agree with this whatsoever, as I have never found her boring and I see her character development stretching back quite far into the show’s past.
Let’s first look at the Eleventh Doctor – we could go further, but I don’t want to go back too far. He was one of the more affectionate Doctors and one of the only ones to die of old age. He lived on the same planet for a thousand years – no doubt forming bonds with hundreds or thousand of people, only to watch them all wither and die before him… if they were lucky to reach old age, that is, and not get killed by the countless invading forces, including Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and more.
At the end of all that loss, he regenerated into the Twelfth Doctor. What was noticeable about this incarnation in contrast to his previous self, was that he was much more aloof. He often clashed with Clara (who had been used to the Eleventh Doctor) due to his seeming lack of empathy. Why the change? Well, I believe that on an unconscious level, he wanted not to be so effected by loss, after experiencing so much, so he became a man who pushed others away…
Deep down the Doctor has always been a deeply loving and caring person and they will continue to do so. The Twelfth Doctor learned that being aloof was not the best choice and starting in his second season, he became much more affectionate towards Clara and realised that he should make a greater effort to reflect his care for others. I’d go so far as to say that this incarnation was the most empathetic and caring of them all, even treating old enemies Davros and the Master with a great deal of compassion.
What’s notable about the Twelfth Doctor is that he had a much harder life than a lot of his other selves – for example, he spent billions of years being tortured. That’s pretty bleak. He went through a lot of loss. The people with whom he shared the closest bonds with were Clara, River, Bill and Missy and one thing they all have in common is that they all died while with him.
At the end of his life, the Twelfth Doctor is deeply depressed. He’s approaching his regeneration, but he doesn’t want to regenerate. He just wants to die, because the pain of loss is hurting him so badly. I’d say that this is the only time we’ve seen the Doctor feeling openly suicidal – as this refusing to regenerate is essentially suicide.
After one last adventure with with his first incarnation and a recreation of Bill Potts, he decides that, yes, actually, he should allow himself to regenerate and keep on living – but not before giving a long speech about the type of person he’d like the next Doctor to be.
And she turned out to be exactly the person her predecessor wanted. No doubt, on the verge of death, the Twelfth Doctor probably had a lot of regret about having spent the earlier parts of his life as such an aloof individual – he was worried that this would all be reset and he’d lose the friendliness which he had acquired. He was worried he’d be stuck in a loop and never truly grow as a person.
But this didn’t happen. The regeneration transformed the Doctor into a much happier and optimistic person. And even if you don’t accept that the Doctor’s wishes for his next incarnation can have an effect, consider this: the Doctor was close to suicide and nearly chose to end their life. The regeneration cured what could have been a fatal case of depression, as this was essential to his survival – and regeneration is essentially a survival instinct.
So now, the Thirteenth Doctor behaves in a happier and more optimistic way than her predecessor and the reason is that this is the natural continuation of the character’s overreaching development. I love her and I love the way you can tie this all back if you want to.