I know we were told that Twelve was going to be different, darker, more alien, more mature even — a grown and proper mastermind Doctor, someone with more bite to him like Seven or Nine. And I do see that, in some ways I do.
But in actuality I feel like Twelve is a more “human” doctor, and in many ways much younger and more vulnerable. I know this sounds backwards, and I’m sure you may disagree but.
Eleven was this gamboling maniac, he had this daring, genius child persona that he wore and it was sweet and charming. There was no doubt that he could be very empathetic and tenderhearted. But he was using that persona to distance himself from himself, from the time war, from his actions and mistakes in his previous body — and even from his companions.
The companions might have gotten flirtier under Moffat’s reign (and this is a point of contention for some but that’s not what this post is about) but the Doctor refused to flirt back. Eleven was intentionally dense, and you could sense that he really Did Not Get It. He seemed pleased by River’s attentions, but bewildered by it, and he was completely unreceptive to Amy’s (no matter what some of us wished at the time)
But I feel like there’s just this hint that Twelve, while alien and and neutral and out of practice with the modern human, feels thing more sharply, and that his feelings are closer to the surface, making him much more guarded. And I get this sense that he’s not as genuinely oblivious to human feelings and attractions and attentions. He doesn’t understand them but he’s not oblivious.
Twelve is not some wandering ancient child of the universe, he’s a man who’s lost and alone and questioning himself, his actions, his intentions. He remembers what it was to be a lonely little boy, and he remembers what it was to be a soldier in a war. I think this has made him sharp, defensive, reactive.
But I also think he’s much more plaintive than many of his other incarnations, secretly eager for attention, for direction. He wants to learn, and be subject to. He wants to look into the parts of himself he’s always glossed over before.
I always felt like Eleven was compulsively fascinated by Clara but also dismissive of her. He didn’t listen to her or try to learn from her, not really. She was dear to him, she was a friend, he’d seen echos of her die so he was fiercely protective of her — but in some ways that protectiveness was more about him, and his need not to fail in protecting her than his real understanding and valuing Clara for who she is.
Twelve doesn’t treat her with the same kid gloves, but at the same time he looks at her with such hunger for her approval. He pushes her harder but he trusts her more, he trusts her to have answers that he doesn’t have himself, he trusts her to fly his TARDIS with a neural link rather than piloting himself to his own dream. He trusts her to tell him whether or not he’s a good man.
There’s a fragility to Twelve, and a self-awareness, that Eleven, as much as I loved him, seemed to be lacking.
If Eleven was a young man constructed by an old man from memory, then Twelve is an old man as put on like a disguise by a lonely, wary, yearning, little boy.