In the aftermath of Christmas special Twice Upon a Time, we plumb Doctor Who lore to examine some questions about history, philosophy, identity, time travel and Tardis design…
What’s that black and white Doctor Who footage from?
With David Bradley reprising William Hartnell’s role as the First Doctor in the Christmas special, writer Steven Moffat wanted to establish some continuity between the two – and between Doctor Who’s past and present in general. Hence the ‘Previously on Doctor Who’ section at the start of Twice Upon a Time which uses video tech and Bradley’s uncanny take on the First Doctor to morph one actor seamlessly into the other. The same happens at the other end of the show when Bradley’s regenerating Doctor collapses before changing back to Hartnell (and then into Second Doctor Patrick Troughton).
The footage all comes from Hartnell’s last Doctor Who episode, the conclusion to four-part 1966 story The Tenth Planet, which features the first appearance of the Cybermen (in their original Mondasian form).
For further reading, here’s everything you need to know about the story…
Can the Doctor choose not to regenerate?
“I don’t want to change again. Never again!” says the Twelfth Doctor at the end of series ten, and when we next meet him at the start of the Christmas special he is still trying to resist his transformation, while the First Doctor is doing exactly the same thing. So clearly Time Lords can at least postpone their regeneration. In fact, that’s something we’ve seen before – notably when the Ninth Doctor puts his on hold to explain to Rose what is about to happen, and when the Tenth pauses his so that he can visit all his former companions.
In the Christmas special, both the First and Twelfth Doctors imply that resisting regeneration will eventually kill them and there is also a precedent for this, in The Master’s decision to die rather than regenerate in series three finale Last of the Time Lords.
Of course, sometimes failure to regenerate is a decision that is out of a Time Lord’s hands. In series nine’s Heaven Sent, the Twelfth Doctor confirms that if they are injured beyond a certain point, Time Lords are not able to regenerate. However, he also says “every cell in our bodies keeps trying”, suggesting that regenerating is less of a voluntary process than those other examples would suggest.
In the end, it appears as if Time Lords’ bodies are programmed to regenerate but that at least some of them can resist the change with a supreme effort of will, eventually resulting in their deaths.
“I have the courage and the right to live and die as myself,” says the First Doctor in Twice Upon a Time.
“We have a choice, either we change and go on or we die as we are,” says the Twelfth.
Doctor Who fans will be thankful it didn’t come to that.
If the chameleon circuit is broken how come the Tardis exterior still changes?
A Tardis’s chameleon circuit allows it to change its form to fit in with any environment it finds itself in but the Doctor’s is broken, meaning the Tardis is stuck as a police box (actually, it seems pretty clear the Doctor likes it that way, and so do we). So how come the exterior of the Tardis has changed so many times down the years? Some changes like the inclusion or not of the St John’s Ambulance symbol on the door or the colour of the advice sign could have been made manually by the Doctor but differences like its size and dimensions (in time) couldn’t and when the First Doctor compares the Twelfth’s Tardis to his own, the differences seem particularly noticeable. “The windows, they’re the wrong size. The colour, I’m sure it’s changed. Look at it, it seems to have expanded.”
The Twelfth Doctor offers an explanation of sorts – “It’s all those years of bigger on the inside – you try sucking your tummy in that long” – but that doesn’t quite work since the Tardis has not got progressively bigger through the years: in some incarnations it has shrunk. Perhaps the Doctor has fixed the chameleon circuit to a certain degree that allows him to make tweaks when he wants to freshen things up but keep the basic shape that he (and we) know and love. Or perhaps different BBC designers down the years have not quite seen eye to eye when it comes to the perfect Tardis shape.
Why are the front panels of the First Doctor’s Tardis doors white when seen from inside?
You’ve got to love those chunky doors that open into the First Doctor’s Tardis but given that they’re a foot thick, and look from the inside to be white on the front as well as the back, how can they be one and the same as the thin, wooden-looking blue doors we see from outside?
That was an issue that existed, unexplained, for most of 20th century Doctor Who, although the current Tardis now has ordinary looking interior doors that fit with the dimensions and look of the outer doors. Presumably the fronts also look blue when you see the doors open inside, although it’s actually hard to track down any shots to prove it.
Either way, we don’t really have a solid explanation for this one – but when in doubt, blame perception filters…
Why didn’t the Doctor remember trying not to change?
When the Twelfth Doctor meets his First self he is surprised to discover that they are going through the same thing – the First Doctor is also trying to resist regeneration, but the Twelfth Doctor doesn’t remember experiencing that the first time around. “I don’t remember this. I don’t remember trying not to change, not back then”. But why?
‘Because it’s been 2,000 years’, might be one pretty reasonable answer but actually we know that the Doctor often can remember a long way back through his multiple lives – just think about the Tenth Doctor meeting Third-Doctor companion Sarah Jane Smith in series-two episode School Reunion or the Twelfth Doctor keeping a photo on his desk of his granddaughter Susan, who he’s barely seen since his First incarnation.
The answer seems to come from the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimeyness that means when multiple Doctors meet one another only the most recent incarnation can remember it.
In The Day of the Doctor, for instance, the War Doctor says to Eleven “I won’t remember this, will I?” to which he replies “The time streams are out of sync. You can’t retain it, no.”
So the First Doctor won’t remember the events of Twice Upon a Time, in turn meaning that the Twelfth Doctor will never have had the First Doctor’s memories of not wanting to regenerate.
Having said that, you’d think the Twelfth Doctor would know that, like he did when he was the Eleventh. Maybe he forgot.
Why are there still things moving in frozen time?
Much of the episode takes place at “a frozen point in time” as the Testimony try to fix an error in the timeline which threatens to derail the fate of Mark Gatiss’s First World War Captain. When time first freezes, the two Doctors notice that snowflakes have stopped still in mid-air and when the Twelfth Doctor moves one they quickly slide back into place. The same has happened with everything – flames on fires cease to flicker, men are frozen in place in their trenches – but when the Captain walks across the battlefield he kicks up particles of mud as usual and barbed wire rattles as he touches it. Why?
Those not affected by the time freeze can clearly manipulate objects to a limited degree – the snowflakes prove that – but then they snap back into place pretty quickly in a way very different to the natural looking movements of the earth and the barbed wire. Of course we’re no experts in the properties of frozen time but we’ll assume this one fell into the category of ‘tiny details that were more trouble than they were worth to fix’ and assume that we are the kind of pedants Steven Moffat won’t miss after leaving Doctor Who.
Did the First World War Christmas truce really happen?
Yes, British and German soldiers really did lay down their guns, lift their voices and then leave their trenches to play football in No Man’s Land on the First World War battlefield on 25th December 1914. Here’s everything you need to know about a real-life Christmas miracle…
Who is Mark Gatiss’s character The Captain?
We asked that question back in October and even had what we thought was a pretty cool answer but the truth, revealed late on in the episode, will probably please most Doctor Who fans even more than our idea. Here’s who the Captain really is – and how he’s related to other characters from the Doctor Who universe…
Who is Polly?
The Christmas special gives us brief glimpses of the Doctor’s companion Polly – who he calls by name – including the moment when she spots the strange golden glow emanating from his hands. The original Polly was played by Anneke Wills and regularly travelled with the First and Second Doctors between 1966 and 1967. Twice Upon a Time’s Polly is played by Kingsman star Lily Travers, alongside another companion, Ben (played by Hollyoaks’ Jared Garfield), who we see even less of in the Christmas special but who featured heavily in the classic story it’s based on, The Tenth Planet.
Are Bill, Clara and Nardole dead?
As the Twelfth Doctor prepares to say goodbye, the Christmas special allows him one last adventure with his most recently departed companion Bill Potts, and some brief parting words with two more, Clara and Nardole. Except they’re not quite the genuine article, they’re the creation of Testimony.
“We are what awaits at the end of every life. As every living soul dies, so we will appear. We take from you what we need and return you to the moment of your death. We are Testimony.”
“What we need” turns out to be memories and if Testimony scoops those up at the moment of death, then Bill, Clara and Nardole must have checked out, right? Well, sort of…
Last time we saw Bill she had been de-Cybered by intergalactic girlfriend Heather and was off on adventures around the universe. At that point she was no longer human so perhaps the moment of her transformation was when Testimony decided human Bill was dead, taking her memories up to that point, but leaving her free to roam space and time with her new companion.
Like many people who spend any significant amount of time with the Doctor, Clara is also an unusual case. She was saved from death when the Doctor used an extraction chamber on Gallifrey to rescue her at her fixed point of death, leaving her stuck “between one heartbeat and the next” with no pulse or breathing but no signs of death or ageing either. If Testimony saw that as Clara’s death, then the fact that her memories have been harvested has no bearing on whether she is alive and she and fellow immortal Ashildr could still be running around the universe together. Maybe they’ll bump into Bill and Heather.
And then there’s Nardole. Yes, he’s part android but we know his head, and therefore his brain full of memories, were saved by the Doctor so should age and die like any other bit of biological human. So it’s fair to assume that when Testimony visited him, he really was dead.
Having said that, it’s worth remembering that Testimony hail from the distant future meaning that Nardole may have stuck around for plenty of time after he last saw the Doctor, living out a long and full life with the group of villagers on the Master’s colony ship and, who knows, perhaps even running into the Doctor again in one of his or her future forms.
Either way, there’s always a chance we’ll see Bill, Clara and Nardole again because… time travel.
What were the Thirteenth Doctor’s first words?
We had all kinds of ideas about what Jodie Whittaker’s first words might be as the first ever female Doctor made her debut in the final moments of the Christmas special but – in case you missed it – the short, sweet but completely to the point “Oh, brilliant!” summed it up completely. Good work by new showrunner Chris Chibnall, proving that sometimes less is more.
Is the Doctor dead?
Ha. Well I think we all know the answer to that. Despite the fact that the last we saw of her she had fallen out of the Tardis and was hurtling towards the ground, that really would have been a short-lived regeneration (not to mention putting a downer on the new series). Beyond that, though, we’ve seen Jodie filming more scenes and we know she has a whole new Tardis team, including Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill.
When is the next series of Doctor Who on?
After having just witnessed that regeneration and Jodie Whittaker’s first scenes as the new Doctor, of course you want to know when you’ll get to see more – and the short answer is next Autumn…