It’s that time of year again and it wouldn’t be Christmas without the Doctor Who Christmas special – this year with an extra TWO doctors added in to the mix. Most of the buzz around this episode, the final in Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner, has focussed on Jodie Whittaker taking over the role. However, before we could get there we had the small matter of some plot to get through. And I have to say, even by the standard of other Christmas episodes, there was very little plot on show this year.
The episode picks up from the end of the last series where we saw the twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) meeting Doctor One (David Bradley channelling William Hartnell) while they both are refusing to regenerate. Twelve has just lost Bill Potts (the wonderful Pearl Mackie) to the Mondasian Cybermen and One is exhausted from fighting the same foes. We also meet The Captain (Mark Gatiss) who has been pulled out of time away from the front line, and certain death, in The Great War. It transpires that in the future there are badly CGId glass creatures that steal and store a person’s memories at the moment of their death and the Captain had been incorrectly deposited back in the wrong timeline. To persuade the Doctors to hand the Captain over, CGI told him if he/they did he/they could speak to an old friend. Here we are treated to the return of Bill.
From here we, sadly, go virtually nowhere. There is quick visit to Rusty the Dalek for a bit of exposition, then a lot of talking and finally we see all characters accepting their fates with the Captain being returned, prepared to die, to the Western Front just in time for the Christmas Truce of 1914 to break out before he can be killed. This is the most powerful moment of the entire episode but really only because the true story is so moving and iconic. Doctors One and Twelve accept they have to regenerate because… well… I’m not actually too sure. I think It had something to do with memories. Hartnell becomes Troughton and Capaldi, after an overlong speech, becomes Jodie Whittaker.
Christmas Doctor Who episodes are never usual Doctor Who episodes but even taking this into account I found this episode totally pointless and wallowing in the fact the show runner is changing. I can’t emphasise enough that nothing happens in it! It’s full of “clever” in-jokes and baffling sexist and misogynistic quips which have NEVER been part of any doctor’s character previously. And let’s not go near the “smacked bottom” comment shall we! It appeared that these types of quips were the only reason Doctor One was in this episode and that is a real shame since David Bradley is very good in this character. I will certainly be delving in to some of the audio adventures he will be lending his voice to.
Another issue in the episode is that brining Bill back is a real double-edged sword. Pearl Mackie is a brilliant actor and she really brought something special to her character during her trips in the Tardis. However, this is exactly what made her death so poignant in the previous episode. In bringing her back, Moffat cheapens all the emotions viewers felt when she died in such a noble way. He does have previous in this area as he did the same with Clara (Jenna Coleman) who returned from the dead / forgotten for the second time in this very episode! He doesn’t seem to understand that if you are killing someone off for emotional effect leave them dead! He has pushed his lazy “reset button” a lot during his tenure. Even the most anticipated scene of the episode, the regeneration, was muted by the overlong, silly final monologue. I have to admit I had enough and shouted, “Just shut up and go” at my TV which was sad since I really like Capaldi as an actor and in his characterisation of Twelve.
When Doctor Thirteen (Jodie Whittaker) finally appeared I felt relieved, hopeful and like I had just wasted an hour of my Christmas watching nothing happening until the final five minutes. I have high hopes for Chris Chibnall who is taking over as showrunner and his choice of the Doctor seems like a fantastic one as Whittaker is a wonderful actor and the two have done fantastic work on Broadchurch (let’s pretend series two didn’t happen, ok?). I’m sure this time next year you can come back and see whether I think my hope has been well placed or not.