Since the modern series of Doctor Who started in 2005, there has been a Christmas Special every year. The first special, “The Christmas Invasion” was the introduction of David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. This year’s “Twice Upon a Time” is Peter Capaldi’s last story as the Twelfth Doctor, as well as the final episode for show-runner Steven Moffat. When Doctor Who returns sometime next fall, Chris Chibnall will helm the show and Jodie Whittaker will be the Thirteenth Doctor.
In a time travel twist, the Twelfth Doctor who is refusing to regenerate after the events of series 10’s finale, finds he is not alone in the South Pole. The First Doctor, portrayed by David Bradley and also refusing to regenerate, stumbles upon the Twelfth Doctor. The First Doctor doesn’t believe he’s with the Twelfth incarnation. Mysteriously time stops. Even the snowflakes are frozen. Interrupting the Doctor fest is a World War I captain who has been pulled from his timeline and dumped in the south pole. A glass figure soon approaches, disturbing the captain. The First Doctor invites him into the TARDIS and is surprised to find the Twelfth Doctor’s console room. Suddenly the TARDIS is rocked. There is a much larger ship above that has seized the capsule and begins lifting it into a grand chamber.
Inside the chamber, Bill appears, startling the Twelfth Doctor. He assumes she is a duplicate. The glass figure from before explains to the Doctors that in the far future, technology exists to extract memories from those at the point of their death. They call themselves Testimony. They refer to the Doctors as “Doctor of War” which upsets the First Doctor. The Twelfth Doctor announces he will find out more about Testimony and stop them if need be. He manages to escape with Bill, the captain, and the First Doctor but Testimony keeps his TARDIS.
Using the First Doctor’s TARDIS, the group heads to one of the most comprehensive databases, the Weapon Forges of Villengard. While the Doctors go off in search of information, it is revealed that Bill is part of Testimony. She asks the First Doctor why he left Gallifrey. He wanted to find out why good prevails. She suggests that in the end, it’s just a bloke who is putting everything right when it goes wrong. Meanwhile, the Twelfth Doctor discovers that Testimony is not evil, which means he is unsure what to do next. Bill as Testimony reminds the Doctors that the captain must die at the correct point in time. The Twelfth Doctor volunteers to take him back to World War I, since the two Doctors refusing to regenerate was what caused the timeline error.
Bill Potts and the Twelfth Doctor at Ypres 1914The captain is prepared to die. But the Twelfth Doctor is tired of losing everyone so he adjusts the landing by a few hours. When the captain gets back into his crater facing the German soldier, Christmas carols break out on both sides. They’re at Ypres 1914 and the Christmas Armistice is starting. The First Doctor realizes he is ready to regenerate so he returns to his TARDIS to change into the Second Doctor. Bill gives the Twelfth Doctor a goodbye present by turning into Clara and restoring the Doctor’s memories of her. Nardole appears and suggests the Doctor doesn’t die because if he does the universe might go cold. But the Doctor is still on the fence. After 2000 years of losses he feels bone weary.
Alone in the TARDIS, the Doctor gives his future self a pep talk, reminding them and viewers what the tenets of being the Doctor are. “Never be cruel, never be cowardly.… Laugh hard, run fast, be kind.” The Time Lord finally lets go and regenerates into the Thirteenth Doctor. There are a lot of sparks and when the regeneration is over; the TARDIS is smokey. The new Doctor says, “Oh brilliant,” before pushing a button that causes the console to explode and the TARDIS to violently shake and eject the Doctor.
Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteen Doctor”Twice Upon a Time” is my second live regeneration. It felt like three stories in one with the Twelfth and First Doctors refusing to regenerate and the captain needing to return to his own timezone. One of the things I liked was having the First Doctor in the story. I think David Bradley did a good job, though I haven’t watched many First Doctor serials to judge his performance. Several times throughout the episode he says something that reflects his 1960s mentality, such as that women are the fairer sex and female companions should clean the TARDIS. He doesn’t go unchallenged as the Twelfth Doctor pleads with him to stop.
I think it’s rare for a Doctor Who story to not have an antagonist. I liked the fact that Testimony wasn’t evil. It made the episode feel less high-stakes, which is palette cleanser after the series 10 finale. The glass avatars were a great special effect. And Testimony was a good mechanic to have Bill return. I really liked her as a companion. I kept watching the clock during the episode not because I was bored but I was eagerly awaiting Jodie Whittaker’s appearance. Waiting for the return of Doctor Who in the fall is going to take forever.
If I had to rank this Christmas special against the others I would say it’s third, behind “Last Christmas” and “A Christmas Carol.” What did you think of “Twice Upon a Time”? Where does it rank on your list? Let us know in the comments!