History has its eyes on you, Doctor…
This past July, Whovians around the world learned that, for the first time in Doctor Who’s expansive 50+ year history, the titular Doctor was set to regenerate into the form of a woman to be played by Jodie Whittaker. This news elated many (myself included)… and promptly upset more people than anyone expected.
A few months later, we got our first look at Whittaker’s official costume. It was quickly dubbed the photo that would launch 1,000 cosplayers. And in truly disheartening fashion, once again this new direction was met with bile. It’s almost as if some sci-fi and fantasy fans don’t know how to get on board with change. Now, with the arrival of a landmark Christmas special, Doctor Who is poised to finally make the history it teased this summer. “Twice Upon A Time” marks the moment where we bid adieu to Peter Capaldi and officially welcome Jodie Whittaker into the canon (and hopefully our hearts) as the 13th Doctor.
“Twice Upon a Time” follows in the great tradition of many past Who specials by seeing the Doctor team up with one of his previous incarnations. In this case, it’s the very 1st Doctor (played by David Bradley who takes over for the late William Hartnell); however, this episode does something more special than just reunite the 1st and 12th Doctors. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that exiting showrunner Steven Moffat went out of his way to litter this episode with justifications for why the character of the Doctor was finally primed to regenerate into a woman. If you haven’t watched the special yet, well sweetie… I think you know what’s coming next.
First, there’s the way in which Capaldi’s Doctor encounters the original Doctor himself. At the beginning of the episode, we meet David Bradley’s Doctor on the verge of his very first regeneration. He exits the Tardis into a snow filled oasis where he continuously mutters one resolute statement: “I will fight it. I will not change.” In a matter of moments, it’s clear to detect the analogy around which Moffat has chosen to stage this episode’s central conflict. By forcing the 1st Doctor and the 12th Doctor to cross each other’s paths mid-regeneration, Bradley’s Doctor can act as the surrogate for those fans who felt betrayed by the show’s changing of the guard earlier this summer. Meanwhile, Capaldi’s Doctor gets to represent the evolving fandom, first as a somewhat reluctant torchbearer before finally accepting his fate and becoming a full-fledged champion of the new guard. “I’d say stop being an idiot, but I know what’s coming,” Capaldi says at one point early in the episode. In another key line of dialogue, the 12th Doctor utters what’s almost certainly Moffat’s thesis for the entire episode. “We have a choice,” Capaldi says. “Either we change and go on, or we die as we are.” It’s a line that also doubles as an arrow fired straight into the heart of recent fan dissension. By having Capaldi portray a Doctor who’s fighting his older self and championing the character’s overall evolution, it’s the first sign we the audience are given into his mindset and how The Doctor’s likely ready for a more significant change this time around.
Next, there’s the 1st Doctor’s treatment of women throughout the episode. He belittles Capaldi’s Doctor in front of a WWI solider by suggesting #12’s a nurse; a role he presumes should be held by a woman. In further astounding moments of retrograde behavior, he suggests women have the constitution of glass, balks about spanking a newly returned Bill Potts for her combative tone, and, at one point, even mistakes her for a cleaning lady. At every instance, Capaldi’s Doctor acts quickly to do his best Liz Lemon, shutting down the 1st Doctor’s asinine, backward comments.
While the first set of encounters concerned a fundamental debate around who the Doctor is and what he represents, these new ones push the Doctor directly into more decidedly feminist territory. He’s no longer just defending change; he’s defending it from a woman’s point of view by rejecting every sexist, outdated claim that spews from the 1st Doctor’s mouth. That act itself shows that the Doctor has reached a state of mind that simply wasn’t exhibited in past incarnations. After over a dozen regenerations, something in the way the Doctor sees the world has changed. He’s at last opening his mind to gender equality. It’s also the second hint we have that The Doctor might subconsciously be ready to accept a regeneration into a female body.
And of course, there’s Bill Potts. As the show’s first openly LGBT companion, Bill’s arrival marked another major step in the Doctor’s path to female regeneration. While she’s not the first LGBT character in Doctor Who lore, Bill’s made one of the biggest splashes in the fandom with her brief tenure, and over the course of this episode, it’s made quite clear just how great Bill’s impact has been on Capaldi’s Doctor as well. It’s a relationship with the same deep ties that Matt Smith’s Doctor had with Amy and Rory, or Tennant’s Doctor had with Rose.
Lastly, even though she’s not in this episode, I’d be remiss for not giving an HONORABLE MENTION to Missy. This female incarnation of The Master, dubbed The Mistress, represented a significant moment not just for the The Doctor himself, but the show’s audience too. It primed us for the idea that A) Male-to-female regeneration was possible within the rules of the show, and B) The female regenerations could steal the show.
Taken all together, these ingredients make for the perfect recipe of a Doctor who (see what I did there) has moved beyond his own hangups and is ready to defend the universe, time, space, and planets in a new way—a new form.
By episode’s end, the two Doctors have succeeded in their mission and both are ready to accept their impending deaths. Capaldi gets quite the tearjerker scene here as he bids one final goodbye to his past companions, reborn as memories through the Testimony, during his last minutes onscreen. Then comes the moment of truth. Over the course of five glorious minutes, Capaldi delivers a swan song soliloquy for the ages with words of wisdom that resonate as one part goodbye, one part welcome, and one part warning for Whittaker’s forthcoming take in a long line of Doctors:
Oh, there it is, silly old universe. The more I save it, the more it needs saving. A treadmill… Yes, I know they’ll get it all wrong without me. Well, I suppose one more lifetime wouldn’t kill anyone. Well, except me. You wait a moment, Doctor; let’s get it right! I’ve got a few things to say to you – basic stuff first….
Never be cruel, and never be cowardly. And never eat pears! Remember, hate is always foolish… and love is always wise. Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind. Oh! And, you mustn’t tell anyone your name. No one would understand it anyway. EXCEPT… except children. Children can hear it, sometimes if their hearts are in the right place and the stars are too, children can hear your name. But nobody else. Nobody else, ever.
Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.
Doctor, I let you go…
In a world that was just as swift to embrace Whittaker’s Doctor as it was to condemn it, Capaldi’s parting words strike a cord in ways recent regenerations simply haven’t (and probably haven’t had to). Eccleston praised how “fantastic” Rose was, then himself. Tennant tearfully proclaimed how he “didn’t want to go.” Smith would “always remember that the Doctor” was him. But this marks the first time it truly felt like the writers and Capaldi himself were beckoning beyond the big blue walls of the Tardis and laying out a mission statement for the next Doctor both within and outside the show.
It is a powerful and moving sentiment, the promise that something new and exciting is about to begin…
And with a flash, just like it always goes, one Doctor exits, and a new Doctor arrives; still the same being, yet somehow different, and for the first time ever, a woman.
Just watch Capaldi’s regeneration into Whittaker for yourself, and tell me that you don’t feel the twinkle of something brilliant on the horizon.