Spoilers ahead for Doctor Who's "Twice Upon a Time," because hey … it's a TV Recap.
In a fitting farewell from showrunner Steven Moffat, and featuring the final appearance of Peter Capaldi, "Twice Upon a Time" takes us back to the beginning and while giving us a fond goodbye, as well as a brief introduction to the new lady Doctor. It adds up to a funny, sad, touching, if lightweight episode that sets things up to move on while offering fans a Christmas gift.
"A long time ago at the south pole the Doctor refused to regenerate… twice."
Picking up 709 episodes ago, the First Doctor was having his own adventures with his own companions. And then it was time to regenerate. Both William Hartnell and David Bradley play the First Doctor in this opening as original black and white clips morph into ones in color. It leads to the Doctor not wanting to regenerate and picking up where "The Doctor Falls" left off at the south pole, with the First Doctor (Bradley) meeting up with the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi).
While the Twelfth Doctor almost immediately realizes who the First is, the First Doctor does not accept that they're the same person right away. The First is a little judgmental about the Tardis having "expanded," to which the Twelfth gets a bit defensive. "It's all those years of bigger on the inside. You try sucking your tummy in that long… Why are you trying not to regenerate?"
Considering the Twelfth is having his own crisis of whether to regenerate or to not regenerate, the stakes finally strike him. "We have a choice. Either we change and go on or we die as we are… If your future never happens, if you don't do the things that you are supposed to do, the consequences could be…" and that's when the snow flakes around them stop and time freezes.
"Somehow, something has gone very wrong with time." – The Twelfth Doctor
It's Ypres 1914 during World War I on the battlefield as a British Captain and a wounded German soldier each hold a gun on each other, ready to fire. But then time stops and only the British Captain can move. Uncertain of what's going on the Captain sees a female figure that appears to be made of glass. "There is a time line error," she states. And suddenly the Captain is at the south pole, a few feet from the two Doctors. Upon approaching them he utters the perfect line, "I don't suppose either of you is a doctor?"
He's invited into the Tardis, which leads to fun moments from both the Captain and the First Doctor. The First is none to happy at the transformation of his Tardis, and the Captain states the obligatory, "It's bigger on the inside."
The confused Captain admits that the thinks he's suffering from madness. To which the Twelfth tells him, "Well, you're an officer from WWI at the south pole being pursued by an alien through frozen time… Madness was never this good." The Captain grabs on to the one part of that statement he understands. "What do you mean ‘One'?" Of course, it's "spoilers".
When the Twelfth shows the First his glowing hand, the First finally accepts that they are the same person, if regenerations apart. Still the First has opinions about the need for a good dusting in the Tardis, the sonic screwdriver, the sonic sunglasses and the Twelfth's electric guitar. And he's a little to free with his sexist commends for the Twelfth. Unfortunately, that's when the Tardis gets Tardis-napped by a space ship.
"The Chamber of the Dead awaits you." – Testimony
The glass lady the Captain ran into on the battlefield wants him back. They want the "Doctor of War" to return the human so they can "take what they need" and then return him to the moment of his death. Apparently, they take people the moment before their deaths to get testimony about their lives and then return them to die.
But they've got a very fine deal for the Doctor. They'll give him Bill. While the Twelfth is happy to see Bill, he doesn't really believe it's Bill given that she was turned into a Cyberman and then sacrificed herself and then went off with her girlfriend Heather, the puddle girl, so they could zip around the universe. "My friend Bill Potts was turned into a Cyberman. She gave her life so that people she barely knew could live. Nobody imitates Bill Potts. Nobody mocks Bill Potts."
While Bill doesn't know how she got there or why she's there, she promises him she is indeed Bill. The Captain offers his life for hers, but the Twelfth isn't having any of that and decides they all need to escape which involves dropping the Tardis down and jumping on the chains holding it and climbing down them.
Then they take off to the First's Tardis, with it looking for all the world like it did originally. There's no electric guitars or sonic sunglasses in this one. The Doctors, Bill and the Captain escape. But eventually the Doctors figure out that the glass lady Testimony must be based on a person. They can't find her in the limited database the First's Tardis has, but the Twelfth knows where he can find the biggest database in the universe.
"Not an evil plan… I don't really know what to do when it isn't an evil plan." – The Twelfth Doctor
The gang lands on a creepy looking planet and the Captain is immediately attacked by a face-hugging creature right out of Alien. He's saved but the Twelfth Doctor insists that everyone stay in the Tardis while he looks up an old friend that wants to kill him. It turns out to be Rusty the Dalek, who is none to fond of the Doctor, but he hates the Daleks even more. He agrees to let the Doctor look through the Dalek's enormous database for the face he's looking for.
He discovers that Testimony is based on Professor Helen Clay. The Doctors discover that Clay's plan involved uploading people's memories right before the moment of their deaths. That way they could live on in a way. Bill is outed as one of these glass testimony people. The Twelfth is a little confused as to how to react. After all, it isn't an evil plan. "Not everything's evil, Doctor. You're not the only kind one in the universe…. What is anyone supposed to be except a bunch of memories? I'm Bill Potts and I'm back," says Fake Bill.
But it all comes down to the Captain, who told the wife "I'd be home for Christmas. Funny how things work out." The Twelfth Doctor agrees to take the Captain back to the battlefield to die. The Doctors realize that they caused the error that led to the Captain's adventure with the Doctors. When the Captain realizes that death is unavoidable, he asks that they look in on his family now and then. That's when the Twelfth Doctor finds out that the Captain is the son of Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, a long-time companion. No, we still don't know why this particular man was involved with the error or dumped at the Doctor's feet at the south pole, but it does tie things up a bit.
Except the Twelfth Doctor pulls one over on Testimony. They take the Captain back two hours late, during a time when both the German and English sides started singing Christmas carols and an impromptu Christmas armistice stopped the fighting for one night. "You were right, you know. The universe generally fails to be a fairytale, but that's where we come in," the Twelfth Doctor tells the First.
"Letting go of the Doctor is so so hard, isn't it." – Fake Bill
As the First Doctor admits he's ready, the Doctors say goodbye and part ways. The First goes onto his regeneration. As for the Twelfth Doctor, he's not quite ready. Testimony, in the form of Bill, returns. So does Nardole and Clara. There's no real explanation as to why Testimony would have any of their memories, but it does bring the Doctor's latest incarnation to a resolution, especially giving Clara a chance to be remembered by him.
But regeneration, well, the Doctor isn't sure about that, the Doctor tells the memories of his former companions. "My testimony would shatter all of you. A life this long, do you understand what it is? It's a battlefield like this one and it's empty because everyone else has fallen." He tells them that where he goes next, he must go it alone.
As the Testimony glass people vanish after apparently not noticing that the Doctor managed to save the Captain, the Timelord finally makes his decision between death and regeneration. "Well, I suppose one more lifetime won't kill anyone… Well, except me."
In the Tardis the Doctor gives himself one last speech reminding himself to avoid pears and to be kind. And then the regeneration strikes, and he's forever change. As she hits a button, the Tardis goes haywire and explodes knocking the doors open and sucking her out into space. And it's all "To Be Continued".
"I died a few hours ago and it catches up with you. It's like a big lunch." – The Doctor
By far the best part of "Twice Upon a Time" is seeing two great actors go at it with Peter Capaldi's and David Bradley's Doctor Whos matching each other line for line. Beyond the humor, they both infuse the emotion of their situations. They spar, they don't understand each other, and they confide in each other. Should they be allowed to just die and not have to continue endlessly on and on? If one life isn't enough, shouldn't 12 incarnations be?
It's not a perfect episode, but it's perfect enough to say goodbye to the Twelfth Doctor, the First Doctor and all the Doctors that came between. Which makes this the perfect entrance for our first female Doctor, who is played by Jodie Whittaker. While we don't get to know much about the Thirteenth Doctor from her brief appearance, there's no denying Doctor Who is entering new uncharted territory where no man has gone before.