The long-awaited premiere of season 12 of Doctor Who brought with it some new surprises, including the return of a familiar name in an unfamiliar face, and also confirmed that the Doctor largely stands alone against alien threats with the dissolution of both U.N.I.T. and Torchwood.
“Spyfall: Part 1” sees a number of spies being attacked worldwide by unknown entities, forcing C, the head of MI6, to bring in the Doctor to help after the international espionage community agrees it to be the only option. During the meeting, C states the agency has always denied extraterrestrial life existing and left the issues caused by them to be addressed by others, to which the Doctor emphatically states, “they’re all gone.”
This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, since last year’s New Year special “Resolution” established U.N.I.T.’s operations had been suspended some time previously due to disagreements over funding. Although a fixture of the classic series, it’s only been featured sporadically throughout the revival, so its loss will have made little impact for many viewers.
Torchwood was introduced in the second season as a secret organization that reverse engineers alien technology to defend Earth in the Doctor’s absence. The main London headquarters were destroyed in the season 2 finale “Doomsday” before the much smaller branch in Cardiff, Wales was introduced in the Torchwood spinoff series, while a throwaway line mentioned another office in Glasgow, Scotland, but this never amounted to any narrative relevance. It effectively ceased to exist after the events of the darker-than-pitch “Children of Earth” miniseries that saw only Jack and Gwen still alive by its end, then the attempted revival with the “Miracle Day” series indefinitely stalled due to its mediocre quality and mishandling of established lore.
Given these prior events and revelations, it was pretty much a given that there would no longer be any presence of either organization in Doctor Who, but the confirmation of their now being defunct emphasizes how alone the Doctor is in her defense of humanity, and that backup with resources and weaponry cannot be called upon to deal with any powerful threats, leaving them to be dealt with by the Doctor and her companions, utilizing the frantic improvising that’s always been a hallmark of what makes the show so exciting.