‘Doctor Who’ Regeneration Review: ‘Twice Upon A Time’ Gives Peter Capaldi One Last Hurrah

The Doctor Who Regeneration Review is a weekly column cataloging all the times Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor nearly regenerates, or dies, in the latest episode of BBC America’s popular science fiction show. Since this is the Scottish “cross” character’s final season — a fact the showrunners have enjoyed teasing in the promos — we decided to tease back. Most items are serious, some silly, and all measured with the Doctor’s ?.

After a nearly six-month wait, Doctor Who finally brought this column full circle with the regeneration of Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor into Jodie Whittaker’s 13th incarnation. The former, who stubbornly refused to accept his fate at the very end of “The Doctor Falls,” manages to find the time for one last adventure with the First Doctor (David Bradley playing the character originated by William Hartnell) and Pearl Mackie’s Bill Potts. The latter, meanwhile, continues a “NuWho” tradition established by Christopher Eccleston’s transformation into David Tennant in 2005 — appearing briefly and delivering a single line before all hell breaks loose.

Even so, “Twice Upon a Time” feels more like a long buildup to Capaldi’s regeneration. Since Doctor Who first rebooted, the annual Christmas specials have been a mixed bag of standalone episodes and triumphant entrances and exits for numerous regenerations. For example, 2005’s “The Christmas Invasion” was essentially an overly long introduction to Tennant’s 10th Doctor, while 2009’s “The End of Time” signaled his departure in two parts. Four years later, showrunner Steven Moffat borrowed predecessor Russell T. Davies’ model for Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor in “The Time of the Doctor.”

In other words, that “Twice Upon a Time” doesn’t feel like a Christmas special (Tennant’s “The Next Doctor” or Smith’s “A Christmas Carol”) isn’t without precedent. Nor is it an error committed by Moffat and his outgoing creative team, for the runup has been all about one thing — the passing of the Doctor Who mantle from Capaldi to Whittaker. Sure there’s a plot involving historical figures being abducted from their timelines mere moments before death, but as Capaldi’s Doctor declares, “It’s not an evil plan. I don’t really know what to do when it isn’t an evil plan!” All we can do is watch and wait.

“She’s coming” (???)

The opening of “Twice Upon a Time” feature several replays — of Hartnell’s final moments as the First Doctor in “The Tenth Planet” serial from 1966, the final exchange between him and the 12th Doctor in “The Doctor Falls,” and their initial meeting with the unnamed captain (Mark Gatiss). Nothing really dangerous happens, though the captain has been transported through time and space from a World War I battlefield to the South Pole for reasons unknown. But then, as the fearful captain repeatedly declares, “She’s coming” — and “she” does. The 12th Doctor confronts her and, to his surprise, sends the being elsewhere.

“Just keep still, please” (????)

Despite being converted into a Mondasian Cyberman, killed, and “saved” by the alien Heather (Stephanie Hyam), Bill suddenly appears as a kind of peace offering from Testimony. The 12th Doctor’s final companion shouldn’t be there, standing before him in the flesh, but she is — and it concerns the Time Lord immensely. “Doctor,” she says, “what are you doing?” While scanning her with his sonic screwdriver he says, “Just keep still, please.” He determines Bill is a duplicate, despite her protestations, and reserves himself in her company for most of the episode. This wouldn’t be the first time the Doctor has encountered such a trap.

“Do what I do when I do it” (?????)

Two incredibly dangerous things happen when the 12th Doctor hatches an escape plan for himself, the First Doctor, the captain, and Bill. First, he momentarily releases his TARDIS from Testimony’s control and leaps onto one of the chains holding it in place above the South Pole. Moments of pure action are not typically the Doctor’s style, and at around 1,500 years of age, he definitely should not be jumping onto chains above frozen tundras and sliding down onto the surface. And second? Having witnessed the life he will lead, the First Doctor’s doubts about regenerating at all become stronger than ever.

“I’m dying” (??????)

In order to find out who, or what, Trinity is, the 12th Doctor takes everyone to Skaro in order to consult with the massive database maintained by the Daleks. Soon after landing, he and the First Doctor are attacked by an unseen shooter who, from atop a large tower in a wartorn city, fires repeatedly at them with a familiar-sounding blaster. “Go on, scan me,” the former tells the Dalek while standing in his line of sight. “Because I’ve got big news for you. I’m dying!” Since he’s putting off his regeneration, the Doctor isn’t lying — though standing in front of an armed Dalek and declaring it doesn’t seem like much of a protective measure.

“Ah brilliant” (?????? ∞)

The moment we’ve all been waiting for finally happens, with plenty of pomp and circumstance, in the final scene of “Twice Upon a Time.” Like Tennant and Smith before him, Capaldi is given the grandest of stages by Moffat and director Rachel Talalay to impart a few final bits of advice to his future self before regenerating in a fiery explosion: “Doctor, I let you go.” Is it somewhat excessive? Yes. Is it in keeping with the traditions Doctor Who has established since the 2005 reboot first began? Absolutely. Capaldi’s eyes transform into Whittaker’s in a flash of light, and upon realizing what’s happened, she declares, “Ah brilliant!”

The first episode of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor Who will premiere sometime in 2018 on BBC America.