Today saw BBC One transmit the Doctor Who Christmas Special, a tradition going back to the 2005 revival of the show. And this one, Twice Upon A Time was special in all sorts of ways. A Doctor Who regeneration episode. A multi-Doctor episode and further diving into the deep dark Doctor Who continuity than anyone expected.
1. How Many Episodes?
We don’t start with a time. Not even a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But with an episode count. It’s the only way to tell relative time in Doctor Who after all. And a clip with William Hartnell as the Doctor, before a quick morph into David Bradley. And the reprise of final scenes of an episode that no longer even exists… apart from the regeneration.
So we have two Doctors (to start with), two TARDISes of different design, and yes that comes up a lot, and a Fisrt Doctor about to regenerate and not wanting to, and a Twelfth Doctor in a similar position. It’s a clever counterpoint to certain fans reluctane for the Doctor to change from Twelve to Thirteen, reminding everyone that one upon a time even the change from one man into another was considered a ridiculously strange idea.
2. Writers At War
It’s not just Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss playing a role in this episode – as he has done before. The German soldier that the Captain is facing down is played by fellow Doctor Who writer Toby Whithouse, currently working on a V for Vendetta TV show…
3. The Twelfth Doctor is Woke. The First, Not So Much.
1500 years? Come come, the Eleventh Doctor spent longer than that in the episode in which he died at the hands of River Song… but the Doctor has always been terrible at keeping time. But the time between the two is wonderfully demonstrated in more than numbers, with the repeated First Doctor sexism and patriarchism – from expecting the women to do the dusting, describing women as made of glass to threatening to smack their bottoms – well, he did threaten Susan with the same once upon a time. We’ve come a lifetime. and the Twelfth Doctor is happy to intervene… even if the First Doctor and the Captain team up a little. Thankfully Bill is able to shock them both with her own history. This would have been a perfect moment for the First Doctor’s monocle to fall out…
4. Doctors Are Made Of Eyeglasses
…rather than by seeing the Twelfth Doctor’s sonic sunglasses indoors, but just as many Doctors have done, the First Doctor had his own “brainy specs” in the form of a monocle – and out it comes at the opportune moment. So far apart – yet so close…
5. Well It Wouldn’t Be Christmas Without Angels On The Top Of The Evolutionary Tree
The Testimony appear when everyone dies and save a memory of them for all eternity. We’ve had versions of this before, with the Master, but this is also a rare Doctor Who in that there isn’t an enemy to fight, just a way of being to understand. Which contrasts hard with the War To End All Wars – that doesn’t.
6. The Shadow Of The Valeyard
Oh this is a time for references, as the Doctor gets to see not just the Twelfth Doctor but all his future selves and the way the interpretation of the Doctor has changes over the years. The Shadow Of The Valeyard sticks out especially for its reference to a Sixth Doctor storyline that had a version of the Doctor between his Twelfth and Thirteenth forms try to kill his own self by framing himself for genocide.
This is a story without bad guys, but there is a darker story waiting to be told.
7. Know Your Inner Dalek
It seemed like they were trying to surprise us. But everyone knows the inside of a Dalek these days. Even the first Doctor had seen one. However managing to tie up a plotline from Into The Dalek was a surprising one.
8. Remember Her
The biggest reference to Twelfth Doctor episodes past is probably Bill telling the Doctor that he can’t see her – which is what the Twelfth Doctor said to Clara in his first episode. All we are is memories. This is a nostalgia episode, playing up on what people can and cannot remember about Doctor Who. But when it comes down to it, that’s all we are.
9. Christmas Miracle
Remember what the Twelfth Doctor is. He is a memory from the Tenth Doctor of the life his saved, the one family from Pompeii, who he let live and… well nothing bad happened. And the face of that Pompeii citizen became the face of the Doctor, to remind himself of the man he was. And that is what happens in Twice Upon A Time. He saves the life of one man – two men actually – in the trenches of World War I. What difference could it make.
Well, possibly quite a bit for Captain Archibald Lethbridge Stewart, the grandfather of Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart. And giving the First Doctor a chance to have an actual adventure with a Lethbridge Stewart as well, something denied the character as he was introduced a few years afterwards.
Maybe he’s also an ancestor of Richard Lazarus too…
10. No Hugs, But Some Learning
This is not a hugging Doctor. Sorry, Bill.
11. Victory Lap
The Tenth Doctor got to revisit Donna and Wilf, Martha and Mickey, Rose Tyler and Captain Jack. The Eleventh saw a vision of Amy Pond. And the Twelfth gets to meet Clara again, courtesy of the Testimony – and to regain his own memories of her, after they had been removed a few series earlier. After all, as the show emphasised, memories are all we are.
Oh and Nardole as well. In for a penny…
12. The Divorce Of River Song.
Oh that’s something. The Doctor changes gender and is now no longer married to River Song. Does regeneration not approve of same-gender marriages? Is this a sign that this is a new Doctor not bound by former arrangements? Or are her fingers now too slender?
Something the Tenth Doctor used to say. When we met the Eleventh Doctor, he decided that he wasn’t a girl. The Thirteenth Doctor is very pleased she is. The Eleventh Doctor was also flying in mid-air, crashing. So is the Thirteenth. But she doesn’t get to do it in a TARDIS – shame, a TARDIS full of bras is just what she needs to break her fall.
Doctor Who will return.