Doctor Who 2017 Christmas Special recap: A fitting final adventure


Photo Credit: Doctor Who Christmas Special 2017/BBC America Image Acquired from BBC One

The Doctor Who 2017 Christmas Special featured a slightly undercooked Yuletide adventure, a heartfelt goodbye to one Doctor and an exhilarating introduction of a new incarnation of the Time Lord.

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After four years and 33 onscreen adventures, the Twelfth Doctor’s (Peter Capaldi) journey through time and space finally came to an end. As opposed to his direct predecessors, this Doctor’s time came to end in rather muted fashion. The fate of the universe wasn’t really at risk, there were no shocking deaths and all the returning character cameos were pretty predictable.

This was a surprisingly plot-lite outing for the Twelfth Doctor and departing showrunner Steven Moffat. Still, it makes sense that a Doctor who prided himself on his lack of affectation would have an understated exit. And while I have a few quibbles with the episode’s pacing and plotting, I’d said this was a strong ending to this era of Doctor Who.

Starting off right where the season 10 finale left off, “Twice Upon a Time” began with the First Doctor (David Bradley) stumbling upon the Twelfth Doctor in the South Pole. Twelve was surprised to learn that his predecessor was also considered aborting the regeneration process as he has no memory of doing. He was further surprised by the fact the surrounding area had become frozen in time. Before the two Doctors could investigate, they encountered a World War I-era British Army Captain (Mark Gatiss) who was transported to the South Pole moments before his death. The TARDIS was then abducted by an alien ship whose commander demanded the release of the Captain. As an incentive, the aliens reunited Twelve with Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie).

“Well, there’s a few false starts, but you get there in the end”

The two Doctors met with a representative of the alien race, identified as the Testimony, and they explained that their species are the evolutionary in point of all life. Their purpose is harvesting something from their ancestors at the moment of death and was attempting to do so with the Captain when a time glitch occurred. To correct the error, the Testimony offered to exchange Bill for the Captain. Twelve rejected the offer and led the entire group to escape to the First Doctor’s TARDIS. Seeking more information on their antagonists, Twelve took the crew to a war-ravaged planet that housed the largest database in the universe.

The Doctors went to a large tower in the middle of the battlefield to meet with one of Twelve’s “allies,” Rusty, the “good” Dalek “Into the Dalek.” Bill was shown to a Testimony replicant and escaped the TARDIS. The First Doctor told Bill he left Gallifrey to find out why good prevails over evil. Rusty allowed Twelve to access the Dalek data network and he learned that Testimony was a scientific organization found in the year 5,000,000,000. Using advanced tech, they temporarily resurrect to catalog their life stories.

While I was happy to see Bill back, I didn’t love how the episode engineered her return. The whole “avatar created from her memories” thing felt unnecessarily convoluted. Especially since last time we saw Bill, she had the power to travel in space and time. Bringing in not quite Bill to say goodbye to the Doctor robbed their reunion of some of its emotional impact. I get that Moffat wanted to use the Testimony as a surrogate for all the people that the Twelfth Doctor’s helped and the show’s audience, but a less ambitious narrative would have been more satisfying.

“Letting go of the Doctor is really, really hard, isn’t it?”

Twelve realized that his in the First Doctor’s refusal to regenerate created the time error that displaced the Captain. The Doctors returned the Captain to the moment of his death and agreed to look after his family, the Lethbridge-Stewarts. Twelve revealed that he brought the Captain a few hours forward in time to Christmas Armistice of 1914. As such, he escaped his fated death at the hands of a German soldier. Heartened by a glimpse of the future, The First Doctor returned to his proper time and completed his regeneration.

The Testimony took the form of Claire Oswald (Jenna Coleman) and restored the Doctor’s memories of their time together. Nardole (Matt Lucas) also made an appearance and urged the Doctor to regenerate. After offering a beautiful benediction to his successor, the Twelfth Doctor regenerated into her Thirteenth incarnation (Jodie Whittaker). The Doctor uttered her first line, “Oh brilliant!,” right before the TARDIS began to explode. In the chaos, the Doctor was tossed out the door and sent her plummeting to her death.

Although I found David Bradley’s performance of an anachronistically chauvinistic incarnation of the Time Lord amusing, I found his First Doctor underwhelming. Other than a few meaningful observations, he added little to the plot. I appreciated the contrast in characterization between One and Twelve but their dynamic felt very similar to the one in “The Day of the Doctor.” I think the episode could have been improved by either making the First Doctor more of an active participant or removing him entirely. On the other hand, I thought Archibald Lethbridge-Stewart added a lot of grace to the episode. Doctor Who at its best when contrasting the doctor’s timelessness against the brief lives of ordinary people.

“Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.”

I have mixed feelings about this episode “Twice Upon a Time.” It’s a better-than-average Christmas episode of Doctor Who and one of the stronger of the new series regeneration episodes. In many ways, it brought the journey that began in “Deep Breath” full circle. Beginning life full of questions, this Doctor got to know himself over the course of three seasons.

In season 8, he was the angst-filled teenager who wanted the world to know how much he hated universe’s cruelty and stupidity. In season 9, he was forced to grow up as he came to terms the loss of another companion. And in season 10, he used everything he learned in his latest incarnation to do the impossible; redeem his greatest enemy.

At the end of “The Doctor Falls,” it seemed like there was nothing left for the Twelfth Doctor to do. There is no enemy left to defeat and no grand the battle to fight. He just had to save the lives of two soldiers, without witness or reward, and die. And he did so with a great deal of grace. I would’ve preferred a more emotionally resonant and narratively focused exit for the character, I like that the Doctor got to have quiet, unpretentious exit. And I’d be lying if I said my eyes didn’t well up as Peter Capaldi said his final line.

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I’m also very excited to see what Doctor Who will be like in 2018. While I loved a great deal of Capaldi era and Steven Moffat’s term as showrunner, the show was in need of a change. I’m curious to see Jodie Whittaker’s take on the Doctor and what direction Chris Chibnall takes the series in. Here’s to 10 more years.

Doctor Who will return to BBC America in 2018.