This year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special was a reunion, a goodbye, and an introduction all at once. And it was awesome.
We’ve been excitedly awaiting the Doctor Who Christmas Special for a long time, and although Christmas plans may have gotten in the way of some of us being able to put together our thoughts right after it aired, it’s been universally lauded as Peter Capaldi’s best performance, as it closed Steven Moffat’s showrunning era and brought on a new Doctor to take Capaldi’s place.
The Christmas Special perfectly succeeded in what many of its predecessors didn’t quite succeed: create a fun story that was also consistently meaningful. And it gave us not one Doctor, but three: a perfect expression of what the show has been in the past, what it has been recently, and what it will become.
Bradley’s First Doctor was an excellent statement
This episode found not one, but two Doctors openly struggling with their own character development. Exhausted, cynical and heartbroken, they were reluctant to move on. But thankfully, they had each other to look to as a mirror — the person they were, and the person they’re destined to become.
David Bradley’s portrayal of William Hartnell’s First Doctor was painfully historically accurate. Almost every interaction he had was punctuated by uncomfortable sexist remarks that made us and the Twelfth Doctor cringe. And considering the sometimes not-so-careful treatment issues like sexism and racism have gotten in the show, this blatant fessing-up, both on the show’s part and on the Doctor’s as he acknowledged his problematic past, managed to be both funny and profound.
We love the First Doctor, in the end, not necessarily because of who he is at the moment in which we see him, but because of the individual we know he’s going to become. It’s beautifully reminiscent of all the times Doctor Who has made us look at the world around us and acknowledge its goodness, no matter how cruel and desperate the circumstances. There is potential in everyone, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Capaldi was both vulnerable and powerful
While Bradley’s performance was excellent, Capaldi’s shone in particular as the Doctor most of us know best, giving a stunning final performance that was as vulnerable as it was powerful. Or maybe it was powerful because it was vulnerable.
That’s when the essence of who the Doctor is shines through, after all: in the moments when he shows an almost inhuman amount of bravery, resilience, and hope in others. In the end, the Doctor’s decision to regenerate felt like a sacrifice — a gift to the universe that might only result in more pain for himself (or herself). It was glorious, and watching him list everything he has learned, just after having interacted with the first version of himself, was a beautiful moment of reflection.
At times, it did seem like the things the Doctor was telling himself were things Moffat or Capaldi themselves were saying. It was a goodbye, not only to this iteration of the Doctor, but to the show as we have known it for the past few years.
And, like the Doctor himself realizes, giving himself the chance to grow and develop more as a character is important. Many Doctors from now, we’ll look back at this era of the show with the same mystified affection with which we look at the first episodes of the show, back in the 60’s. Capaldi’s portrayal of that realization, of both this Doctor’s importance in the grand scheme of things and his own insignificance, was spot-on and incredibly emotional.
The Thirteenth Doctor was everything we hoped for
But of course, the most exciting part of the episode was meeting the Thirteenth Doctor for the first time. After months of hype, and enduring lots of uncomfortably discriminatory conversation surrounding the casting decision, Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor appeared and gave us her first words — and her first TARDIS explosion.
It felt comfortingly familiar, even with it being the first female Doctor in the show, and that was perfect. The rush of energy, the sudden appearance of danger, and even the way she spoke felt like the Doctor we know and love. She’s our Doctor. And a new era of the show is beginning, with new amazing adventures.