It’s fair to say that this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special will be a pretty momentous episode, featuring the departure of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, the debut of new lead Jodie Whittaker, and the return of an old character in David Bradley’s First Doctor.
So to keep you up to speed, we’ve gathered all the major facts you need to know ahead of Twice Upon a Time this December. Consider it an early Christmas present.
Twice Upon a Time is one hour long, in contrast to the usual Doctor Who run-time of 45 minutes per episode. This is in keeping with Doctor Who Christmas specials past, which have always been an hour long since 2005’s The Christmas Invasion.
What’s the plot of the Doctor Who Christmas special?
Twice Upon a Time will see Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor team up with his earlier self the First Doctor (David Bradley), as the pair both try to avoid regenerating (and therefore changing their appearance and personality).
In the course of their meeting, they discover that mysterious glass creatures have started freezing time, pursuing Mark Gatiss’ First World War Captain throughout history and somehow involving the Doctor’s departed companion Bill (Pearl Mackie) in the action.
You can also read an official synopsis for the episode below:
The magical final chapter of the Twelfth Doctor’s (Peter Capaldi) journey sees the Time Lord team up with his former self, the first ever Doctor (David Bradley – Harry Potter, Game of Thrones) and a returning Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), for one last adventure.
Two Doctors stranded in an Arctic snowscape, refusing to face regeneration. Enchanted glass people, stealing their victims from frozen time. And a World War One captain destined to die on the battlefield, but taken from the trenches to play his part in the Doctor’s story.
An uplifting new tale about the power of hope in humanity’s darkest hours, Twice Upon A Time marks the end of an era. But as the Doctor must face his past to decide his future, his journey is only just beginning…
Twice Upon A Time is written by Steven Moffat, directed by Rachel Talalay, and executive produced by Brian Minchin. The 60 minute special guest stars Mark Gatiss as The Captain and Nikki Amuka-Bird as the voice of the glass woman, and will see Peter Capaldi’s Doctor regenerate into the Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker).
Described as “enchanted glass people, stealing their victims from frozen time,” little is known about the new foe faced by the Doctors and Bill – but the story does at least partly take place during a Cyberman storyline from the 1960s series, suggesting that the cyborg baddies will also have a role to play.
Who stars in the Doctor Who Christmas special?
Peter Capaldi stars as the Twelfth Doctor in his final appearance, accompanied by David Bradley as the First Doctor (a role originally played by William Hartnell in the 1960s). Jodie Whittaker will be unveiled as the Thirteenth Doctor in the final moments of the episode.
Meanwhile, longtime series writer and actor Mark Gatiss returns as a character currently known only as The Captain, with current series companion Pearl Mackie (above) making her last appearance as Bill Potts.
Regular series writer Toby Whithouse is also confirmed to have a cameo in the episode, with Nikki Amuka-Bird as the voice of the glass woman.
Will Jenna Coleman have a cameo in the Christmas special?
Rumours have abounded for a while that Peter Capaldi’s former co-star Jenna Coleman may make a cameo appearance in the Christmas special, as ex-companion Karen Gillan did when Matt Smith stepped down from the role in 2013.
So far Coleman has denied a final goodbye between the Twelfth Doctor and Clara is coming, but we wouldn’t rule anything out.
Who is the First Doctor, and who plays him?
The First Doctor (right) is the original version of Doctor Who’s titular character, created by Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman for the very first episodes of the BBC sci-fi series back in 1963.
Introduced as a mysterious figure with a time machine, this version of the Doctor was played by William Hartnell from 1963 until 1966, when ill health forced Hartnell to resign. However, the series’ producers came up with a novel idea – casting another actor to play the role, explaining away the change as a technique of the Doctor’s species to prolong life.
In years to come this practice of regeneration (not referred to as such until Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor changed into Tom Baker’s Fourth) would become part of the fabric of the show, and is a major theme of the Christmas special.
As Hartnell passed away in 1975, the role of the First Doctor will instead be played by Harry Potter and Game of Thrones star David Bradley, who previously played Hartnell the actor in 2013 Doctor Who making-of drama An Adventure in Space and Time.
What is the relevance of the Tenth Planet?
Bradley’s First Doctor storyline in Twice Upon a Time actually takes place during another episode of the series, specifically 1966 serial the Tenth Planet and even more specifically between scenes 21 and 22 of part 4 in the story.
The Tenth Planet was Hartnell’s last serial before his Doctor regenerated into Patrick Troughton’s version, and during filming the actor was so ill that his character spent a lot of time off screen – a fact used to full effect by this new episode, which seems to aim to fill in some gaps in the original story by showing what the First Doctor was actually up to when viewers weren’t watching him.
Is this Peter Capaldi’s last Doctor Who episode?
Yes – after four years at the Tardis controls, Peter Capaldi is stepping away this Christmas after announcing his departure in January 2017. His Doctor will regenerate into Jodie Whittaker’s incarnation in the closing moments of Twice Upon a Time.
When is Jodie Whittaker taking over as the Doctor?
Jodie Whittaker’s much-heralded new Doctor won’t appear in the majority of Twice Upon a Time, most of which was filmed before her casting was even announced. Instead, she’ll only appear in the episode’s final moments after Peter Capaldi’s Doctor has regenerated, in a scene written by new showrunner Chris Chibnall.
This arrangement mirrors the handover between former showrunner Russell T Davies to current boss Steven Moffat in 2010, when David Tennant’s Doctor was replaced by Matt Smith’s.
Will the new companions be in this episode too?
No – as far as we know and barring any huge surprises, we won’t be meeting the recently-announced new Tardis team Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yasmin (Mandip Gill) in Twice Upon a Time. They’ll instead make their debut in the first episode of Jodie Whittaker’s full Doctor Who series next year.
Will there be a new series writer?
Yes – current series boss Steven Moffat is leaving along with Capaldi after showrunning Doctor Who since 2010, with Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall (who has written several modern Doctor Who episodes) taking over in 2018.
While Moffat has written the majority of Twice Upon a Time, Chibnall has written the final scene where Jodie Whittaker makes her debut.
When is Jodie Whittaker’s first Doctor Who series?
There’s no official release for Doctor Who series 11, which will be Jodie Whittaker’s first full series as the Doctor. However, the BBC has confirmed the 10-part series will be shown on BBC1 in autumn 2018. It is expected that the series will begin in September or October next year.