After the events of “The Doctor Falls,” everyone’s favorite Time Lord struggles with the idea of his upcoming regeneration, a fear he shares with a familiar face from long ago…
Yes, it’s none other than the First Doctor! Played wonderfully and with an appropriate amount of grumpiness by David Bradley, the Time Lord makes an appearance here during gaps in his own final story, “The Tenth Planet.” His TARDIS parks itself in the South Pole, near the Twelfth Doctor, who’s ready to die and is trying to hold back his own regeneration. They’re suddenly joined by a time-displaced World War I captain, transported at the point of his death, and are captured by a creature made of glass. Brought to the Chamber of the Dead, the creatures demand testimony from the two Doctors and the Captain. They even have Bill Potts there to try and lure The Doctor out! While Twelve is suspicious on whether it’s really Bill, the four of them trick the glass creature by switching to One’s TARDIS and heading to the center of the universe for information.
The plot is far simpler than Steven Moffat’s usual headscratchers, making for a lovely, fitting finale for both his and Capaldi’s time with Doctor Who. Most of the focus is on the two versions of The Doctor and why they fear regeneration. Plus, it has fun with the vast differences between the two. The First Doctor was an explorer more than a hero, whereas the Twelfth Doctor has saved the universe countless times. In personalities, attitude and mannerisms, smashing the mid-1960s into 2017 make for some great humor. One thinks Twelve is ridiculous with his whirring sonic screwdriver, the sonic sunglasses he wears indoors and the “hideous,” industrial look of his TARDIS. Twelve, meanwhile, is embarrassed by and calls out One on the sexist comments of his era that are woefully out-of-place in 2017. But more than laughs, One is shocked by the battle-scarred future he sees in front of him, as the various battles of his other incarnations play in front of him. It really gives a sense of how far this show has come.
At the center of the universe, all is revealed. Twelve meets up with “Rusty,” the “good Dalek” that he turned against his own kind back in Series 8. By using the Dalek database, he discovers that the glass people aren’t evil after all. Rather, in a throwback to the era of the Tenth Doctor, they are technology from New Earth in the year 5 billion. Their purpose is to archive the memories of those about to die, so they can be made into glass avatars. The Bill in this episode is one such avatar. With no bad guys to fight, The Doctors return the Captain to his WWI battlefield, but place him at the start of the Christmas truce, saving his life. They also learn the name of this soldier: Archibald Hamish Lethbridge-Stewart, an ancestor of long-time companion The Brigadier.
With Twelve’s actions restoring The First Doctor’s faith in his future, he leaves and the footage returns to the end of the “Tenth Planet,” where he regenerates. Back with Twelve, he still feels that it may be time for him to die. Capaldi does an excellent job of capturing the struggle between world-weariness and his awareness that the universe needs him. The glass avatar of Bill gives him a parting gift though, restoring his memories of Clara Oswald, with a moving cameo by Jenna Coleman.
At the end, alone in his TARDIS, he quietly says, “Well, I suppose one more lifetime won’t kill anyone.” With that, Capaldi breaks out one final, barnstorming speech, speaking out loud to his next incarnation. It has everything, from The Doctor’s core principles (“Never be cruel, never be cowardly”), to wise philosophies (“Hate is always foolish, love is always wise”) to the comedic (“And never, ever eat pears!”). With that, The Doctor regenerates in an explosion of light, damaging the TARDIS. Through new eyes, our hero looks into a screen reflection and says two words to sum it all up.
Welcome Jodie Whittaker, the Thirteenth Doctor! Here’s to some great adventures in 2018!
- Mark Gatiss does an excellent job as Captain Archibald Hamish Lethbridge-Stewart. He gets across his sadness and disbelief when he learns that World War I is only the first of such global conflicts. His speech about accepting death is really well-done too.
- I’d also like to give a special shout-out to composer Murray Gold, who is also leaving Doctor Who with this episode. From the show’s return in 2005 to now, he’s written all the major score pieces for the series, themes that defined characters as much as their actions did. Several of his pieces show up in snippets throughout the episode, a subtle look back at his wonderful work. His contributions will be sorely missed.
- When One asks Twelve about his TARDIS’ mood lighting, Twelve says it’s atmospheric. One’s response? “This is a flight deck, not a restaurant for the French!”
- When the glass creatures reveal to One his future as “The Doctor of War,” the images are taken from several episodes, including “The Day of the Doctor,” “The Waters of Mars,” “Arc of Infinity,” “The Happiness Patrol” and “The Parting of the Ways.”
- Immediately after regenerating, The Doctor faces the same problem her predecessors did, an out-of-control, severely-damaged TARDIS. This time though, she winds up getting thrown out of the ship, miles above ground. Now that’s a cliffhanger to end on!