Letting Go of the Twelfth Doctor – and Moffat’s Era

By Rachel Stewart


“Remember, hate is always foolish, and love is always wise.” – “Twice Upon a Time”

Christmas has come and gone, and with it, the end of another era of Doctor Who. “Twice Upon a Time” saw the departure of not only Peter Capaldi but showrunner and head writer Steven Moffat.

Moffat has often been villainized for the new directions he’s pushed Doctor Who canon. He gave his Doctors companions that matched – and sometimes dared to outdo – their own strength, bravery and cunning. He gave us Doctors that were both fresh-faced and ancient, played by actors who could handle the flip-flop in age. He threw out the conventional number of life cycles when certain actors declined to return – only to add on another cycle of lives so the show can march on into eternity. His plot twists can be messy if rushed (Hello, “Let’s Kill Hitler”) but when it really, really counts, he nails it perfectly. “The Eleventh Hour” – the season five opener and his premiere moment as showrunner had to stick – especially with a new Doctor and companion. By the end of it, me – and many other viewers – were completely sold on Matt Smith as the Doctor and Karen Gillan as his companion Amy Pond. By the end of that season, sales of bow ties, tweed, and fezzes had exploded and you couldn’t go to a convention without hearing someone shout “Geronimo” or “Spoilers!” The one-two punch of mini-episode “The Night of the Doctor” and “The Day of the Doctor” was not just a magnificent set up for the War Doctor played by Sir John Hurt. It also gave a hat tip to Eighth Doctor Paul McGann and all his brilliant Big Finish work, with his audio companions now part of the larger canon – as they always should have been. Last but not least, “The Husbands of River Song” gave River Song her agency back as well as her long deserved happy ending before her departure to the Library.

So, “Twice Upon a Time” is yet again another one of these situations where Moffat had to get it absolutely right. How do you send Capaldi’s Doctor off properly, especially when he’s passing the baton to the first-ever female incarnation of the Doctor?

If you’re Moffat, you write a love letter to the show you loved long ago as a child – sometimes amplifying the flaws that haven’t aged well – and comparing it to where the show is today – the very show you’ve had the responsibility of running. By taking it back to the First Doctor, the Twelfth Doctor can see how much he’s grown and changed. However, a theme persists from the first incarnation to the twelfth – neither know how much they truly impact the universe at large. When Bill Potts asks the First Doctor why he left Gallifrey, he says he always wondered why good continues to win over evil, it’s Bill, like so many companions before her, that knows why. It’s because the timelord has gone where the TARDIS has taken him and helped some small way.

And it’s those small changes that make the biggest impact. It’s the Twelfth Doctor who tells Clara that time can be altered, but it takes great precision, not dumb luck. Once the two Doctors and Bill discovery that the Testimony technology means no harm and that the Captain has accidentally been pulled out of a fixed moment in time (this moment being World War I), both incarnations understand he must be put back. But it is Twelve that moves the timeline up by two hours. As the Captain is lowered back into the pit to face a German soldier, he asks that the Doctors look after his family, the Lethbridge-Stewarts. The family of one of the Doctor’s best and dearest friends, the Brig. Time begins again, with the Captain and German soldier ready to shoot one another, and then both armies emerge singing “Silent Night.” It’s the Christmas armistice of World War I, when both sides laid down their weapons and were just humans, enjoying Christmas. Good prevailed again, and the Doctor played his part. Clever, emotional, and absolutely balanced. The meta part of myself believes it’s asking a deeper question: shouldn’t we as fans just sit down at Christmas and enjoy this show instead of tearing each other apart? I think so.

Thanks to Testimony, the Twelfth Doctor is able to see not only Bill and Nardole again, but also Clara, the memory of her finally restored before he goes to face his end. In the closing moments of “The Doctor Falls,” the Twelfth Doctor proclaimed fiercely that he would not change – and it’s a sentiment that he fought throughout the episode. But when it comes right down to it, the Doctor accepts that change is the way forward, and instead of dying, he regenerates, reminding his future self – and the audience at large – to be kind.

Change, ironically, is the greatest force that keeps Doctor Who alive, as much as fans may bicker about it. Change is what Moffat did best throughout his era and many of his changes have brought us to the episode’s finale, where Twelve becomes Thirteen – and finally – a woman. It’s Moffat’s well-meaning meddling with River Song’s time lady DNA and the Master’s regeneration into Missy that got us here. Having the courage to change and grow is indeed one of life’s most complex and emotional journeys. Sometimes it happens slowly, other times it’s brought on quickly. With Moffat’s era, he’s given us that – some choices clever, others debatable, but all meant with the intent to push Doctor Who further into the future. Like Eleven said with his departure, “I will not forget one line of this” and no matter what happens in the next era of Doctor Who, neither will I.


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