Since 2005, Doctor Who has been putting out specials episode with themes of love, compassion and change on December 25. Transformation is a constant theme in Doctor Who – over its 54-year run, the BBC science fiction show has had a dozen actors at the helm, all playing the eccentric extra-terrestrial Time Lord who travels through the universe in the police box called the TARDIS.
Each regeneration marks the end of an era in the Whovian universe. Time Lord can choose to cheat death by regenerating into different physical forms while retaining the memories and stories of the people he has met along the way. The he will become a she in the eleventh season, which will feature Jodie Whittaker (from Broadchurch) and will be premiered in late 2018.
Whittaker is the first female doctor in the show’s history. The decision was met with some amount of hostility, even as it was applauded for being a much-awaited progressive leap. Mark Gatiss, a series regular, pointed out, “This is a series about an alien with two hearts who lives in a transcendental phone box — and yet somehow can’t change sex? That is not an argument for 2017.”
The Doctor Who Christmas 2017 episode Twice Upon a Time picks up where the last one left off. The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) refuses to regenerate at the South Pole. He meets the First Doctor, his own self from 709 episodes before. This early version of him is played masterfully by David Bradley (Game of Thrones, Broadchurch, the Harry Potter Series), who takes on the role of William Hartnell, the original doctor who belongs to a different era of low-production value and brow-raising levels of political incorrectness. He too is refusing to regenerate, and both for different reasons.
The first doctor is scared of what is to follow, and the 12th doctor is tired of travelling, of breaking, building and fighting time. The two get caught up in the unexpected drama of an unsuspecting World War I captain (Mark Gatiss) who finds himself flung to the South Pole. They are joined by Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), the Doctor’s last companion who completed her Doctor Who stint with a very successful single season run and was turned into the first Cyberman at the end. This is not the real Bill, but a manifestation of her memories, put together in a timeline by a crystalline species from the future called The Testimony.
The episode compares the experience and humour of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor with the old-timey 1960s sensibilities and gigantic ego. The two accept the certain future.
The episode has no external villain. It is a story of acceptance, of letting go and embracing the new. Capaldi has delivered a quite a few memorable and quotable monologues in his flawless run as the Time Lord, but his final goodbye is his finest Doctor Who moment.
He says “Love hard, run fast, be kind. Doctor, I let you go,” and regenerates. As flashes of light take over the TARDIS, his trademark ring falls off, signalling the end of his relationship with River Song (his wife, played by Alex King). The Doctor looks at the reflection in the monitor on the TARDIS. The Doctor is a woman – finally a woman. Jodie Whittaker’s smile of pure wonder and joy is accompanied by two words, “Ah, brilliant,” in her wonderful Yorkshire Accent.
Twice Upon a Time was also the swansong for long-time Doctor Who show creator Steven Moffat, who has been associated with the series for over a decade. He passes on the keys to Chris Chibnall (creator of Broadchurch), who is expected to bring his more layered and soft quality to the series.
In his farewell, Moffat summed up the boundless and timeless merit of the series: “Count the hearts that beat a little faster because of Doctor Who... by that important measure Doctor Who is the greatest television show ever made.”
It really is.