In the 2017 Christmas Special, change is inevitable. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
I did not expect that this episode would make me cry so hard, but here we are. Granted, I feel like I’ve been in a hyper-sensitive state for months now because I cried the other day about a Pomeranian in a backpack on the train, but LOOK, THIS EPISODE WAS REALLY SAD, WASN’T IT. It wasn’t just me!!! And yet, I also can’t deny that in terms of the conflict and the story, this was not nearly as intense as… well, most of series ten. Seriously, this batch of episodes was mostly thrillers/horror??? Which made “Twice Upon a Time” feel a lot more whimsical than the rest of Capaldi’s last season.
Admittedly, like half of that fun is because of the utter brilliance of sticking Capaldi with David Bradley as the First Doctor. Moffat’s script—which I believe was his last as showrunner?—draws a lot of humor from the generational contrast between these two Doctors. But it’s not all just comedy; the Twelfth Doctor’s reluctance to regenerate again, to continue extending a life that has seen so much loss and tragedy, is exactly what the First Doctor struggled with at the end of his run. Even though I never saw that specific serial when I was watching the older Doctor Who episodes, this did a fantastic job of framing the story: uncertain that he wants to regenerate, the First Doctor has this entire experience, which helps him to understand how important it is for him to change.
It’s such a great theme, and it’s only in hindsight that I understand why this also had to be set within the mysterious spaceship, Testimony. (Created by New Earth!!! That made me so excited because we hadn’t seen it since series 3. I don’t know if chronologically, this takes place after “Gridlock” or before it.) The First Doctor has never lost a companion, and his adventures are so very, very different from what the Doctor has done since. As are his sensibilities, too, and I liked that this script kept him within that characterization, rather than trying to modernize him, so to speak. So, once you contrast that with the Twelfth Doctor, who has seen so very much, you get a sense of why he doesn’t want to continue. How can he add more to that? How can he live on beyond those he comes to cherish and love again?
So the dead visit him. Or, rather, people whose memories were all stored at the exact moment of their death, comprising a life themselves. (And I do like that the glass avatars argue this. What is a person if not a collection of memories?) Now, I feel like these characters exist here for the Doctor, not for themselves. We don’t get closure on Clara (!!!! HELP !!!!), Bill, or Nardole. We know Clara’s dead, but this episode just suggests that at some point in time, both Bill and Nardole died. And Bill has memories of Heather, so that means she definitely didn’t die in “The Doctor Falls.” I admit to wishing I knew what exactly happened to them, and maybe we’ll see more of them with Thirteen. I’m guessing not, but at least their stories are left open-ended, so it’s possible?
Anyway, Bill is here because she is the force that helps the Doctor accept who he is and what he can become. The Captain serves that role, and so does “Rusty,” who we hadn’t seen since series 8. These people all come into his life as a reminder. For the Captain, it’s not just about the glorious impossibility of the Christmas truce during World War I; the captain is a Lethbridge-Stewart, and that family will become absolutely instrumental to the Doctor’s life. (Which stresses the importance of the First Doctor regenerating.) Rusty was the Dalek that the Doctor and Clara helped to change, to turn against the Daleks. Rusty is evidence that the Doctor’s actions can change… well, everything. It doesn’t negate the sadness or the tragedy, of course, but these avatars contain the stories of how the Doctor affected so very many lives for the better.
I also enjoyed that there wasn’t really a villain in this episode. The conflict was derived from the Doctors fighting the inevitable and learning that they can’t. Change is a part of the universe, and it doesn’t matter how young or old you are, you have to go through change. The First Doctor accepts this and goes through his very first regeneration, and the Twelfth Doctor… well, his journey is a bit longer. He refuses to give Testimony, but he does get to see Bill, Nardole, and Clara one last time before the change. And really, this episode felt like Moffat’s sweeping love letter not just to Twelve, but to the show as a whole. The Doctor has always changed, and as Moffat’s time came to an end, he acknowledged that the show was going to change again in a huge way.
I will honestly miss Capaldi. And the sunglasses. And the guitar!!! Capaldi gave every bit of himself for this role, and he made it distinctly his own. My heart aches for Bill, whose end still makes me a bit sad. I still want more. But the appearance of Thirteen, played by JODIE WHITTAKER, was just so damn satisfying. I first saw her in Attack the Block, one of my favorite movies EVER, and y’all know I fell in love with her performance on Broadchurch. I cannot wait to see what she does with the Doctor.
The video for “Twice Upon a Time” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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