Christmas is finally here! And with it, the eagerly awaited Doctor Who Christmas Special. I had some high hopes for this episode, especially after last year’s disastrously awful Return of Doctor Mysterio. We say goodbye to the 12th Doctor Peter Capaldi and showrunner Steven Moffat in this special, and thankfully this episode does justice to them both. I enjoyed the more mellow and serious tone of this episode. It didn’t go for any over the top plot lines or childish, goofy antics to drive the story. It went back to basics. I loved the classic feel to the episode! The Doctor goes on an adventure, with his companions, and does his best to protect the universe. It has the usual surprise cameos, Doctor vs Doctor humor and our first glimpse of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor.
Act 1: The episode opens with a scene from the original first series of Doctor Who, starring William Hartnell. The Doctor is about to regenerate for the first time and he begins to struggle with the idea of passing on and becoming a new person. As he walks out of the TARDIS into the snowstorm at the south pole, he finds an unfamiliar face waiting for him. The 12th Doctor, Capaldi, it seems has also come here to escape his regeneration and ‘die as he is.’ Of course, whenever there’s more than one Doctor in the same place, time starts to go a little funny and a World War One captain is zapped from a deadly encounter on the battlefield and appears beside the Doctors.
Act 2: The TARDIS and company are abducted by a spaceship piloted by a ‘glass woman.’ The glass woman offers to free the Doctors, and give companion Bill Potts back, in exchange for the WWI captain’s life. Not liking this arrangement, the Doctors escape with the Captain and Bill. The Doctors’ vow to uncover the sinister nature behind the glass woman’s plan to gather the souls of the dead. Their adventures bring them to Villengard, a planet at the center of the universe that supposedly contains the biggest database in the galaxy. The 12th Doctor reveals that the database he is after is actually the Dalek Hive-mind, and that there is a rogue Dalek who may help them. He finds a Dalek named Rusty, an old ‘friend’ from a past adventure with Clara. Rusty shows the Doctor that the glass woman and her ship are an entity called ‘Testimony.’ They collect the memories of people in their final moments before death and house them in glass bodies. Bill reveals that she is a part of Testimony, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t the Bill that the Doctor knows and loves, because “what is a person, except a collection of their memories?”
Act 3: Seeing no evil plot to stop or sinister plan to foil, the Doctors and the Captain agree to return the Captain to the moment of his death and let things happen the way they were supposed to. The Captain’s final request to the Doctor is to watch over his family and gives his name, Archibald Hamish Lethbridge-Stewart, a name classic Who fans will recognize as the ancestor of “The Brigadier”, a close friend of the Doctor and founder of UNIT. The Doctor assures the Captain his family will be watched over and says his goodbyes. The Captain returns to his place on the battlefield, locked in a tense gun-point stalemate with a wounded German Solider. Accepting the moment of his death he begins to say his goodbyes, but the sound of singing breaks through the moment. A Christmas carol sung in both German and British breaks the tension and both men are rescued. The Doctor returns to the TARDIS and Bill continues to convince him to not give up, regenerate, and continue doing what he does best. She shows him the importance of memories, and gives him one final Christmas gift, all his memories of Clara Oswald that were taken from him is the Series 9 finale. The 12th Doctor realizes that he must go on and regenerate, after all, “one more lifetime won’t kill anyone. Well, except for me.”
Final Scenes: The Doctor gives his grand farewell speech, giving hope and advice to the next incarnation of himself, uttering his final lines, “Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind. Doctor- I let you go.” Regeneration complete, the brand new 13th Doctor sees the first reflection of herself and gives her only line of the show, an excited “Oh, brilliant!”, before the TARDIS begins is self destruction and 13 is flung quite dramatically out of the TARDIS and goes plummeting down to Earth.
Things I Liked
Bill Potts Returns! Though the premise for her return is a little contrived, I was so happy to see Pearl Mackie return as one of my favorite Companions. She brings her usual snarky exuberance and older-than-her-years wisdom that Capaldi’s Doctor needs. I was happy that she got to play a more active role in this episode instead of a quick cameo appearance like Clara, or Amy Pond in other regeneration episodes.
David Bradley as the First Doctor. I thought that David Bradley did a phenomenal job with the script and story he was given. I was left wanting to see more. I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the humor they added in which I’ll go over a bit more in the next section.
Mark Gatiss as The Captain. Gatiss was at his best in this role. He felt like one of the more developed characters in this episode, even if his story was just the spark that got the main plot going. I liked that they actually tied in his character to the history of Doctor Who by making him the grandfather of one of the Doctor’s good friends.
Things I Could Do Without
This may be a bit controversial, but I could have done without the Clara surprise cameo at the end of the episode. Honestly, I had pretty much forgotten about the end of their story together, and I had to rewatch the season 9 finale to remember the whole ‘Doctor loses his memories of Clara’ deal. She died so many times during her run as Companion that it made her actual death a bit forgettable.
The sexist, racist humor. Welp. There’s not a whole lot to say about this. I had a hard time telling if Moffat was capitalizing on the recent sexual harassment exposure culture, or if he was mocking the whole situation. It seemed a bit flippant at times. “Look how sexist the old Doctor was, and look how far I’ve come.” Maybe I’m reading into this too much and I should just laugh and let things be. I’ll let you be the judge of that.
If this episode didn’t leave you clamoring to watch the next season of Doctor Who, I don’t know what will. I am so pleased with this ‘farewell to an era’ and curtain call for Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi. I am very excited to see what the new showrunner, Chris Chibnall, and the new Doctor will bring to the series. Get ready for a long wait though! The air date for Series 11 isn’t until Autumn 2018. Here’s to binge watching all the old episodes until then!