This year’s Doctor Who Christmas special was a real corker, reintroducing the very first incarnation of the Doctor (played by David Bradley) and bringing back modern companion Pearl Mackie before welcoming new Doctor Jodie Whittaker into the Tardis, kicking off a new era in the long-running sci-fi series.
Still, what was perhaps Twice Upon a Time’s most memorable moment came towards the end of the episode as Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi delivered one last speech, summing up his and series boss Steven Moffat’s take on the classic character before regenerating in a blaze of glory.
And within that speech there were actually a surprising number of callbacks and references to Doctor Who episodes past – so after reminding yourself of those final words below, check out our rundown of all the Easter Eggs and hidden messages in Peter Capaldi’s last speech.
DOCTOR: Oh, there it is. Silly old universe. The more I save it the more it needs saving. It’s a treadmill.
Yes, yes I know they’ll get it all wrong without me.
Well, I suppose….one more lifetime won’t kill anyone. Well, except me.
Stirring music/Tardis noises
You wait a moment, Doctor. Let’s get it right. I’ve got a few things to say to you. Basic stuff first.
Never be cruel, never be cowardly. And never ever eat pears! Remember – hate is always foolish…and love, is always wise.
Always try, to be nice and never fail to be kind. Oh, and….and you mustn’t tell anyone your name. No-one would understand it anyway. Except….
He gasps, falls to the floor
Except….children. Children can hear it. Sometimes – if their hearts are in the right place, and the stars are too. Children can hear your name.
Gasps, grunts more
But nobody else. Nobody else. Ever.
Pulls himself off the floor
Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.
Doctor – I let you go.
All caught up? Then let’s get down to business.
1.“Never be cruel, never be cowardly…”
This phrase was first revealed to be part of the Doctor’s personal code in 2013 anniversary special The Day of the Doctor, when the Tenth and War Doctors (David Tennant and John Hurt) described it as a “promise” they’d made when first calling themselves the Doctor.
The full exchange can be read below:
CLARA: What you’ve always done. Be a doctor. You told me the name you chose was a promise. What was the promise? TENTH DOCTOR: Never cruel or cowardly. WAR DOCTOR: Never give up, never give in.
Later, in 2015 series finale Hell Bent this code was updated somewhat, with Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor describing it thusly:
“Run like hell, because you always need to. Laugh at everything, because it’s always funny…. Never be cruel and never be cowardly, and if you ever are, always make amends.”
However, the origins of this phrase actually go even further back in departing showrunner Steven Moffat’s brain, having first appeared in his 1999 Doctor Who parody The Curse of Fatal Death (written for Comic Relief).
In the sketch, when Hugh Grant’s incarnation of the Doctor expires after apparently using up the Time Lord’s final regeneration, Julia Sawalha’s companion eulogised that “He was never cruel, and NEVER cowardly,” meaning that some of the very first words Moffat ever wrote for the any incarnation of the sci-fi series also ended up being some of his last.
And given that The Curse of Fatal Death also ended with a female Doctor heading off to new adventures, we couldn’t think of a more appropriate callback.
2. “And never ever eat pears!”
This gag is a rather long-running joke in Doctor Who lore, dating back to Paul Cornell’s 1995 Doctor Who book Human Nature, where Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor makes himself human to avoid pursuing aliens and instructs companion Bernice Summerfield to not let him eat pears in his altered state (the reasoning being that he’d taste them when he turned back).
In 2007, Cornell ended up adapting his own story for David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor and Freema Agyeman’s Martha Jones and included the same pear joke, only for it to be cut from the finished episode and only be visible to fans in a deleted scene (in the final cut, you do still see the human Tenth Doctor/John Smith eat a pear in one scene).
However, the pear hatred did finally make its way into the series canonically some years later, when Steven Moffat included it in 2015 series finale Hell Bent as some advice from Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor to departing companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) shortly before he lost his memories of her.
“Never eat pears,” he told her. “They’re too squishy and they always make your chin wet. That one’s quite important. Write it down.”
“I’m not in charge of the show, so I don’t get to have a real name as the Doctor,” Capaldi told a young fan when asked if he’d ever come with his own Gallifreyan name for the character last April.
“But I think he does have a real name… I think ‘the Doctor’, like everything about him, is a thing he’s come up with to make himself understood by human beings.
“I don’t think human beings could even really say his name. But I think we might be able to hear it. At a certain frequency.
“If the stars are in the right place, and your heart’s in the right place, you’ll hear it,” he concluded, to loud applause.
“[Peter] gave a rather beautiful answer that his name was like a frequency that could only be heard if your heart’s in the right place, and the stars are in the right place,” episode writer Steven Moffat later recalled at a screening for the Christmas special.
“So I rather loved that and I wrote that into Peter’s speech.”
4. “Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.”
The “be kind” segment from Capaldi’s final speech most clearly reflects an argument his Doctor had with two incarnations of The Master (John Simm and Michelle Gomez) in series 10 finale The Doctor Falls, where he laid out the reasons for his heroism in a monologue that many fans applauded as one of the actor’s best to date.
“Hey! I’m going to be dead in a few hours, so before I go, let’s have this out,” The Doctor tells them.
“You and me, once and for all. Winning? Is that what you think it’s about? I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone — or because I hate someone, or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works, because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind!
“It’s just that. Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live — maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, maybe there’s no point in any of this at all, but it’s the best I can do. So I’m going to do it, and I will stand here doing it until it kills me. You’re going to die, too, someday. When will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for?
“Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall. Stand with me. These people are terrified. Maybe we can help a little. Why not, just at the end, just be kind?”
Meanwhile, the “laugh hard” and “run fast” parts (and, frankly, the earlier quotes about not being cruel or cowardly and eating pears) have also appeared in some form in another Twelfth Doctor goodbye – specifically, when he gave his final advice to Jenna Coleman’s Clara, as you can read below.
DOCTOR: Run like hell, because you always need to. Laugh at everything, because it’s always funny. CLARA: No. Stop it. You’re saying goodbye. Don’t say goodbye! DOCTOR: Never be cruel and never be cowardly. And if you ever are, always make amends. CLARA: Stop it! Stop this. Stop it! DOCTOR: Never eat pears. They’re too squishy and they always make your chin wet. That one’s quite important. Write it down.
5. “Doctor – I let you go.”
Now, we might be overreaching a little here but it’s possible the Twelfth Doctor’s very last words are something of a callback to words spoken by another incarnation of the troubled Time Lord – specifically David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, whose mournful “I don’t wanna go” lament before regenerating became one of the most famous quotes in the series’ history.
Given both Doctors’ reluctance to regenerate in their final stories and the fact that Moffat has played around with this quote from Tennant before (it’s included as a gag in 2013’s The Day of the Doctor, and again as Capaldi relives past regenerations in 2017 finale The Doctor Falls), it’s possible this specific wording is intended as a riff on the same theme, suggesting Capaldi’s own acceptance compared to Tennant’s lack of it in his final story.
Or, it has nothing to do with anything and we just wasted two paragraphs worth of writing. Whatever the truth, we’re sure that in years to come there’ll be plenty of obsessive fan analysis to work out what might have really been intended.