Well it seems that another Christmas has come and gone, and with it so to has the Doctor Who Christmas special. Only this year its a tad bittersweet as we had to say goodbye to Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, but at the same time welcome Jodie Whittaker into the TARDIS. Capaldi’s final adventure in space and time was everything I hoped it would be and as someone who was dreading seeing the madman in a box change the special gave me the sendoff I wanted for my Doctor.
If you’d like to read on be careful as naturally there will be spoilers.
As you may recall when we last saw The Doctor, he had refused to regenerate and found himself in the middle of the South Pole face to face with none other than his original incarnation, played perfectly by David Bradley who played homage to the late William Hartnell. And that’s exactly where are story takes of from only with a new perspective as we get to see what brought the First Doctor to refuse regeneration. We get a look back at what brought about The Doctor’s first regeneration through a bit of black and white archival footage from the classic episode The Tenth Planet starring William Hartnell, which then shifts to new color footage of Bradley. After refusing to regenerate the First Doctor wanders out into the snow where he happens upon Capaldi’s Doctor who is also refusing to change.
After a bit of witty banter between the two Doctor’s they are happened upon by a stray World War I captain, played by Mark Gatiss, who is naturally in need of a doctor. From here we get a flashback to what brought a WWI captain lost in the South Pole. While pinned down in a trench at a stalemate with a German soldier The Captain was ready to accept his fate, that is until time froze around him. While everyone else was frozen in time The Captain found he was able to move about. After looking around he found he was not alone, as a strange glass figure stood a few feet away. And after approaching the figure The Captain found himself whisked away until an unfortunate timeline error left him stranded at the South Pole with not one, but two Doctors.
After the Twelfth Doctor ushers the First and The Captain into his TARDIS we get a bit of banter between the two doctors as the former tries to convince the latter who he is. And the chemistry between Capaldi and Bradley is really one of the many highlights of this episode. They play off of each other well, with Capaldi’s older more experienced Doctor often times amazed and a tad embarrassed of who he once was. During this conversation between the Doctors the TARDIS is taken, occupants and all, by the same mysterious glass figure that abducted The Captain from his time stream.
On the ship the Twelfth Doctor sends out the First Doctor to try to talk to the mysterious figures about what they want with The Captain. The glass figures explain that they are Testimony, a group who travel through time removing people from the time stream just before their death. They decide to make a deal with The Doctor that in exchange for The Captain, they will let The Doctor see “her” again. And none to surprising “her” turns out to be Bill Potts played, as usual, by the brilliant Pearl Mackie. Only after the Twelfth Doctor rushes out of his TARDIS to scan Bill he says that he doesn’t believe it’s the real her, since the last time he saw her she was still trapped in the body of a Cyberman. Bill then goes on to tell The Doctor how Heather, the girl in the puddle from the season’s first episode Pilot, saved her and gave her new life. Only The Doctor is still unsure of her identity.
The Two Doctors then try to learn as much about the glass figures as they can, meanwhile showing how much The Doctor has changed over his many lives, with the reserved First Doctor often taken aback by the Sonic Sunglass wearing Twelfth Doctor with his flair for the dramatic. After exploring the main room of the glass figure’s ship, the Twelfth Doctor warns the mysterious figures that he is going to figure out what they are doing, and if he doesn’t like it, he’ll stop them. The First Doctor, who at the time still hadn’t taken on the role as protector of Earth is rather shocked by his future self’s actions, which leads the glass figures to show the First Doctor just who he is, via a number of looks back at all the previous Doctors through archive footage from the show’s 54-year-long history.
The four then escape from the ship and return to the frozen landscape below, taking the First Doctor’s TARDIS. While they are traveling through the Time Vortex we get some great interaction between Bill and the two Doctors, with The Captain playing the role of the confused companion. Twelve than looks at a scan of the glass figure from the ship and explains to the others that based on the fact her face is asymmetrical she must have once been a real person. But since the First Doctor’s TARDIS is still so new it doesn’t have a database large enough to determine who she is. So the Twelfth Doctor says there is only one place with a database large enough for their needs. We then cut to the TARDIS landing on the weapons forges of Villengard, a nice callback to Steven Moffat’s first episode he wrote The Doctor Dances. Twelve explains that the database he is looking for is in the weapons forge, only there is one small catch, it wants to kill him.
After another discussion with Bill over her being real or not, the Twelfth Doctor sets on into the forge to find the database, with the First Doctor following close behind. During their walk to the database, Twelve asks the First Doctor why it is he doesn’t want to change, since he has no memories of refusing to regenerate. The First Doctor then goes on to explain that he’s scared, he doesnt know what the future will hold for his future self and as such, he is scared. The Twelfth Doctor then sets off into a tower to find the database, leaving the First Doctor behind.
We then cut back to The Captain and Bill who are still aboard the TARDIS. While The Captain is telling Bill how he knows he must die he still is worried for what will become of his wife and children, all the while we never see Bill. Then as The Captain is speaking he looks up and sees that Bill is in fact a member of Testimony.
The Doctor eventually reaches the top of the tower where we discover the database he was in search of was in fact Rusty the Dalek (from the Twelfth Doctor’s second full episode Into the Dalek in 2014) who has access to the Dalek hive mind. We then see the Testimony agent Bill Potts, once again looking like her old self, approach the First Doctor and talk to him. During her talk she seems to finally convince him that he has to regenerate because he is the force that keeps the universe moving, and keeps good winning.
Back to the Twelfth Doctor and Rusty we learn that Testimony is in fact not evil. Rather they are an agency from New Earth who are simply gathering the memories of individuals before their death, to give them new life. So while the body may die that person’s memories can live on. Which based on this fact since the Testimony Bill is a collection of all her memories, then she is in a way the real Bill. The Twelfth Doctor agrees that The Captain has to be returned to his own time , but he asks that Testimony let him and the First Doctor do it, since it was their refusing to regenerate that messed with the timeline. So The Doctors finally return The Captain to the battlefield he was destined to die where he tells the two Doctors his name Archibald Hamish Lethbridge-Stewart, the ancestor of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and also her father, long time classic who companion Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. As The Captain returns to the trench time begins to move again and just as he and the German soldier are about to shoot, soldiers on both sides join together in song. The Twelve Doctor reveals that he brought them back a few hours after The Captain had been taken, to the exact moment that the famous Christmas truce at Ypres began. The Doctor has saved The Captain’s life and for a little while, it seems that just this once everyone lives.
But this is a regeneration episode, so we still had to say our goodbyes. The First Doctor decides to return to his own time and regenerate. And he says goodbye to the Twelve Doctor who is still unsure of where his own future is going. Eventually, The Doctor stands up and is leaving the battlefield where he is stopped by Bill, who he still refuses to admit is the real thing. Bill, exasperated at The Doctor’s stubbornness gives him his last Christmas gift in what was one of the most emotional moments of the episode. Bill kisses The Doctor on the cheek and he opens his eyes to see Clara in front of him. But more importantly he finds that he once again has all his memories of her back again, after he lost them in Hell Bent. After Clara says goodbye to the Doctor one last time he explains to Bill and a now present Testimony Nardole that he’s so tired of changing, and all the loss. After saying goodbye to his past companions, echoing the end of Steven Moffat’s era as showrunner.
And here is the moment that fans have been anxiously waiting for since the announcement of Capaldi’s departure, his final speech as The Doctor. Twelve returns to his TARDIS, and after remarking no matter how much he saves the universe, the more it needs saving. Nonetheless he finally admits one more life time wont kill anyone, well except him. But before he goes Twelve has a few words of advice for his future self, and in typical Doctor Who fashion it feels like he is speaking directly to us.
“Never be cruel, never be cowardly. And never ever eat pears! Remember – hate is always foolish…and love, is always wise. Always try, to be nice and never fail to be kind. Oh, and….and you mustn’t tell anyone your name. No-one would understand it anyway. Except….Except….children. Children can hear it. Sometimes – if their hearts are in the right place, and the stars are too. Children can hear your name. But nobody else. Nobody else. Ever.
Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.
Doctor – I let you go.”
And with that Peter Capaldi’s Doctor regenerates into The Thirteenth. And in Jodie Whittaker’s first scene as The Doctor after she sees her reflection, with a grin reminiscent of the Tenth Doctor, she says “Oh, brilliant” before being thrown out the TARDIS doors, falling through the night sky.
This final episode brought with it both the end of Steven Moffat’s and Peter Capaldi’s time on Doctor Who. and Its fair to say that while it was sad to see The Doctor go it’s also great to see what the future may hold for our madman in a box. Because as The Doctor once said, “Things end. That’s all. Everything ends and it’s always sad. But everything begins again too and that’s always happy. Be happy.” So while I, like many of you, am sad to see my Doctor go, I am happy for the beginning of something new.
So in honor of Peter Capaldi…