The Doctor Regenerates “Twice Upon a Time” in the Doctor Who Christmas Special

Credit: Susanna Diallo/BBC America

There was really no way to prepare for this one, Whovians. I have been holding back tears for months. The good news (or bad, depending on your viewpoint) is this Christmas special gives you plenty of time to compose yourself. An issue that often plagues a regeneration episode is the real point of the story comes right at the end. Everything else is just filler. So here’s what happened leading up to Twelve’s regeneration.

When the Doctor was still his First self, it was time to regenerate. And because as much as the Time Lord changes, he also stays the same, he decided he didn’t want to regenerate. Which brought him to the South Pole where Twelve and One meet. As usual, the earlier version never quite believes the other version is himself. But there is only so much time for disbelieving jokes between the two (the same?) Time Lords. Because a soldier from WWI has also wandered into the South Pole somehow and of the three of them, he’s the one who really doesn’t belong there.

The soldier was in a standoff with a lone German soldier when everything around him froze. He saw a “glass” woman and next thing he knew, he was in the snow. The three of them hurry into Twelve’s TARDIS. One doesn’t like the interior decorating, the guitar, or the low lighting. He also says several out-of-touch comments about needing a female assistant to clean the place, comments Twelve tries desperately to stop. The soldier is just confused. Before anything can be sorted out, the entire TARDIS is lifted by a crane into a hovering spacecraft.

This is where the glass woman is from. All she wants is the soldier returned. See, she is an entity from Testimony, a technology that goes to a person at the moment of their death, harvests their memories, lets the person die, and uploads their memories to a database. Essentially, this allows people to go on living, though as glass versions, because all of their memories are contained in the vessel. For example, in runs Bill Potts, who throws her arms around a skeptical Twelve. He’s fairly sure she’s not real, despite her insisting she is.

Unwilling to hand over the soldier or Bill, who is being used as leverage, Twelve escapes with them and his First self but loses his TARDIS in the process. They retreat to the classic TARDIS instead where One points out the glass woman’s face must be based on a human’s. To figure out whose, Twelve takes them to the “largest database” available: a Dalek. More specifically, Rusty, the Dalek who turned against his own kind in Season 8’s “Into the Dalek.” They determine a scientist in the future created this technology to allow the dead to continue living, in a way. It’s actually meant to do good and help people; there’s nothing evil about it.

The mystery solved, the Doctors agree to return the soldier to his time of death. Before he gets back into position, he asks the Time Lords to look after his family, the Lethbridge-Stewarts. When time resumes, the soldier doesn’t die. Instead, it’s the Christmas Armistice of WWI, a miraculous moment where everyone put down their guns and celebrated the holiday together.

The First Doctor leaves and regenerates just as he did in the classic series. The Twelfth Doctor lingers, his decision unmade. He’s bothered that Bill is not real but she protests. She’s full of Bill Potts’ memories and isn’t that the essence of a person? If all this sounds like it leading to something with Clara Oswald, the woman the Doctor was forced to forget… you’re only kind of right. As a parting gift, Bill restores Twelve’s memories of Clara and he “sees” her in his mind. It seems to give him the peace he needs to move on. He says his farewells to Bill and even Nardole, who appears for a final moment, and enters his TARDIS alone.

In his last minutes, the Doctor speaks aloud instructions for the new self that is a-coming. “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… Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.”

And at last he says, “Doctor, I let you go.” He ignites with regeneration energy, damaging the TARDIS in the process. Twelve’s ring slips off and falls through the floor grate. A moment later, Jodie Whittaker’s face is looking back from the console screen. “Oh, brilliant,” she says. Then the TARDIS explodes and she falls out of the doors.

Doctor’s Notes

I’m overjoyed Peter Capaldi got to be in an episode with the First Doctor. What more could a lifelong Whovian want?

I’m disappointed beyond measure that we didn’t have a better reunion (or a reunion at all) between Clara and Twelve.

“Doctor, I let you go” is a fitting way for Capaldi and Steven Moffat to say farewell to a show that has impacted their whole lives, not just their seasons in the TARDIS.

Very excited for Jodie Whittaker but saying goodbye to Capaldi really makes Christmas 2017 a bit depressing.

Stephanie Coats
Follow me