September 22, 2023

The twilight of twelve and the historical thirteenth Doctor

Spoilers follow for the Doctor Who Christmas Special

The holiday season means one thing and one thing only: the Doctor Who Christmas Special. A Who tradition since the introduction of David Tennant’s 10th Doctor, the Christmas specials have given us some of the best Who stories. They also bring the regeneration of the Doctor when it’s time to transition between actors. This year’s special was highly anticipated since it introduced the first female doctor ever and provided a send-off for not just Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor but showrunner and head writer Steven Moffat.

Capaldi’s 12th Doctor has been one of my favorites. He has not had the strongest story arcs or even single episode plots. In fact, Steven Moffat has been rapidly unraveling on that front. Twelve has had, however, one of the biggest hearts. His stories have been about the strength in kindness, following Twelve’s evolution from callous to warm. The narratives often seemed secondary to the characters and message. When we meet up with Twelve in the special, he has just lost his companion, Bill (Pearl Mackie) and nearly lost his life defending the small band of humans from the Cybermen. Twelve is considering not regenerating at all. He wants “peace,” he says. Despite this perspective, Capaldi is as charming as ever. While running from his future, Twelve runs right into his first incarnation (David Bradley) also running from his impending regeneration. Together, along with Mark Gatiss as a World War 1 Captain and a semi-real Bill, they help each other accept what is to come.


The story of “Twice Upon A Time” is a jumbled, confusing mess upon the first watch. I can only tell you what the Testimony is because I read the episode’s Wikipedia summary and watched it twice. Like so many of Moffat’s recent narratives, the story twists and turns, becoming infinitely more complicated before an overly simplistic, anti-climactic resolution. New Who is traditionally fast-paced but this episode felt like Doctor Who after seven Venti double-shot espressos. Additionally, the first Doctor was depicted as the family’s backwards uncle that expresses offensive 1950s gender stereotypes at every opportunity, which was an unsettling dynamic for a show generally focused on progressive positivity.


The special veered into deep cheesiness on multiple occasions, but that’s something that Doctor Who does purposefully and does well. As Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins said last summer, “Cheesy is one of the words banned in my world. I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing.” No matter my feelings on Moffat, he makes sure Who oozes sincerity out of every pore, and I love that. The special depicts the Christmas Truce, a series of unofficial ceasefires on the Western Front around Christmas of 1914. At first look, it seems too beautiful to be true, seeing the soldiers on both sides join together in soccer games and caroling. But it really did happen.

Twelve’s final regeneration speech is equally sincere, as it ought to be. This episode sees a tired Doctor, exhausted by loss and by watching history pass. He is unsure of his place in the universe (“the more I save it, the more it needs saving”). It’s the Christmas Truce that helps him remember. As Twelve says in response to One’s comment on how the universe fails to be a fairy tale, “that’s where we come in.” After a trip down memory lane and a commentary on the power of memory to make things real, the Doctor leaves with some advice for his successor: “Never be cruel. Never be cowardly…Remember, hate is always foolish and love is always wise. Always try to be nice, never fail to be kind.” It’s the kind of advice we could all use. While perhaps not quite as moving as Eleven’s regeneration speech, Twelve’s is an adequate send off for Capaldi who has borne his heart for us time and time again.


Though I was sad to see Twelve go, I’ve been beyond excited to meet Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor since the day she was announced. I’m a big advocate for diverse representation both in front of and behind the camera, so the announcement of a female doctor struck me on a personal level. I remember reading the news on my phone at work and sprinting to the bathroom, hands over my face to conceal my tears. Finally, a Doctor who looked like me! (Here’s hoping everyone gets a Doctor who looks like them!) In terms of an introduction, this year’s special did not disappoint. The few moments we spent with Thirteen got me excited for what is to come. As Moffat was originally against casting a female Doctor, I’m excited to welcome the new showrunner Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch), who wrote Jodie’s first scene.


A new Doctor, new companions, and a new showrunner are all things I’m looking forward to in 2018. Until then I’ll try to do as Twelve says, “Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.”

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