Doctor Who Twice Upon A Time
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Doctor Who Twice Upon A Time

Holiday traditions are cherished by millions of people. When the calendar gets down to the last page of the year, certain events provide a define degree of comfort and familiarity. While traditions usually are associated with families there is one that as has been embraced by people usually referred as nerds or geeks, the Doctor Who Christmas Special. For the last few years the BBC has wound up the year with an episode highly anticipated by the legion of ‘Whovians’. This is the story that is considered the extremely crucial to a story that has been unfolding for over half a century. The showrunner and network take elaborate precautions to prevent details leaking out to the curious fans but inevitably, spoilers get out which heightens the furor of the fans, to the delight of the producers. During this story substantial changes are introduced including new companions and, thanks to the unique details of the show’s premise, a new actor assuming the lauded mantle of ‘The Doctor’. Originally. There was a limit imposed of only twelve regenerations, back in the early sixties, a dozen major cast changes appeared more than enough. No one could imagine the show would run five decades. Some diehard fans resisted but, to quote another science fiction staple, resistance was futile. Circumstance were arranged for another twelve regenerations were added expanding the potential for many more years of traveling through time and space. On Christmas nigh of 2017, ‘Twice Upon a Time’ was broadcast and the longest running series of the genre was about to change forever with a significant sociological impact.

There were several reasons that made this Christmas episode especially interesting for the fan community was the appearance of veteran actor, David Bradley, as the First Doctor originally portrayed by the beloved William Hartnell. Mr. Bradley has achieved the rare accomplishment of reaching cult status in several of popular culture’s most influential movies and television series. He played one of the most loathsome killers in the brutal world of ‘Game of Thrones’, Walder Frey. In the incredible fantasy juggernaut, ‘The Harry Potter Saga’, he embodied the squib caretaker curmudgeon, Argus Filch. Recently, he was in the principle cast of Guillermo del Toro’s vampire apocalypse television series, ‘The Strain’ as concentration camp survivor, Abraham Setrakia. This resume demonstrates his incredibly eclectic range affording him the expertise to understand characters as different as a grumpy groundskeeper surrounded by talented young people to a merciless feudal lord turning a joyous gathering in to a massacre. To properly represent not just an actor, the statue of Mr. Hartnell, but also a century old Timelord exploring the vastness of spacetime. This is not the first time Mr. Bradley as stepped into the persona of the First Doctor. He previously portrayed original First Doctor actor William Hartnell in the 2013 docudrama ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’, in honor of the character’s Golden anniversary. The story introduced the First Doctor to his twelfth incarnation (Peter Capaldi). At the beginning of the episode Doctor-1 is completing his first serialized adventure, ‘The Tenth Planet, the first time the act or regeneration was introduced as a critical aspect of the still expanding mythos of the series. One of the many seemingly impossible elements of the character interaction is, although the first Doctor looks elderly, substantially older than the twelfth incarnation, Mr. Bradley portrays the younger self of the character.

Besides ending the tenure of Mr. Capaldi this Christmas special marks the final story produced under the auspices of showrunner, Steven Moffat. Mr. Moffat’s seven-year reign helming the series generated some degree of controversy among the hard-core members of the fan base. That same group was greatly anticipating this new chapter of the series not just because of the unprecedented casting decision for the thirteenth regeneration but because Chris Chibnall is assuming the leadership position, Mr. Chibnall most recently ran the Netflix series, Broadchurch, which stared the eleventh Doctor’s David Tennant. He has been entangled with the Doctor Who family through writing and directing several episodes of the series and as the show runner of ‘Law & Order: UK’. That export of the longest running crime show that featured the talents of former Doctor’s companion, Freema Agyeman and the actor that brought the fifth doctor to life, Peter Davison. Many are anticipating how this extremely imaginative storyteller is going to take such a treasured part of popular culture into its future.

Originally, Doctor Who was intended as an educational show primarily for children. During the original portion of its run, several tropes and fundamental characteristics of the Doctor where markedly different from what is currently considered as canon. Among the most famous included the Doctor as a human being rather than an alien, a Time Lord, from the planet Gallifrey. Much of this was retconned, altering the basic construction of the series. This made it feasible to interject such decidedly not child friendly themes as ceremonially bound oligarchies, genocide, PTSS and survival guilt. The concept of juxtaposing Doctors representing both ends of the spectrum from children’s programming to mature, [psychologically taut science fiction, is especially central here consider the major paradigm shift presented in this episode. The process of series maturation has been integral to the continuing integrity of the series. In keeping with one of the elemental tenants of science fiction, the arcs created by the changes through out time have ensured the freshness of the production during the many decades of its run. This helps explain why the series both continues to delight loyal, long time aficionados while attracting new generations of ardent fans,

Mr. Bradley dies bare a striking resemblance to Mr. Hartnell upon donning the signature wool hat and fashionable cape, he re-embodies the persona crafted so long ago by a talented veteran film and television. A considerable point of continuing fascination is the necessity of reconciling the fact that these two actors from different generations and vastly different approaches to the stylistic choices and methodologies are portraying the same character. After all, within the context of the underlying story there is some 1,500 years of living between the two regenerations. What comes across so well is hoe Mr. Bradley and Mr. Capaldi were able to discover common ground to their individual interpretations of The Doctor making such a comparison feasible and eminently enjoyable. One point of commonality uncovered is something that has always intrigued me about stories culminating in a regeneration cycle, the noted reticence displayed by The Doctor in submitting to the inevitable change. Several of the Doctors, at the moment their hands begin to discharge bright light, have been heard to exclaim sentiments such as "I’m not ready". For a Time, Lord such transmogrifications are a nature part of life. This does give the impression each specific variation of the individual becomes attached to their current personality. The underlying moral fiber remains the same, The Doctor is motivated by the unselfish need to help others, defend the weak, oppose bullies and protect innocence. The variation in the specific details, the expression of these traits changes with each regeneration but that person remains The Doctor. Has the Doctor’s wife, River Song (Alex Kingston) has often mused, she loves the inner person, not the shell it currently inhabits. I would greatly enjoy a meeting between this thirteenth Doctor and Professor Song but that does seem to be exceedingly unlikely. Then again, this is a story concerning travels through billion of years of time so most anything could happen. The purpose of the Christmas Special is to whet the interest of the fans for the upcoming season. No matter what your feeling about these unconventional changes, it must be agreed, that goal was handily achieved.

Posted 02/24/2018

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