At the end of the Season 10 finale of Doctor Who, The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) was mortally wounded and Bill (Pearl Mackie) was escaping her fate as a Cyber Man by becoming one with the Universe with the help of “Pilot” Heather (Stephanie Hyam). When we left The Doctor, he was at the South Pole, determined to die instead of regenerating. Unbeknownst to him, The Original Doctor (David Bradley) was there for the same purpose.
We’d seen the two Doctors find each other at the end of that last episode, and we pick up in the same moment with an add-on: in December 1914, a Captain (Mark Gatiss) in the British Army and a German soldier are at a stalemate in a crater, guns drawn on each other and unable to communicate due to a language barrier. The Captain is preparing to die, when time stops. He climbs out of the crater to find everything frozen on the battlefield- smoke and flames paused in place, men halted in the middle of whatever they were doing– it’s exactly as though Evie were there, touching her fingers together.
The Captain is intercepted by a transparent woman, who transports him onto a ship where his life flashes before his eyes. Then he is unceremoniously deposited at the South Pole, not far from where two Doctors are sorting out their mutual identities. He stumbles over to ask if either happens to be “a doctor,” and once they get over themselves they invite him into the current Doctor’s TARDIS to have some brandy while they figure out what’s going on.
The Original Doctor, whom David Bradley nails, is aghast at just about everything. The current Doctor is torn between his inner conflict (being in the middle of dying), and the action taking place around him. The poor Captain is understandably confused. Before they’ve sorted anything out, an alien ship arrives and takes the TARDIS on board.
Inside, a transparent woman tells them that if they’ll hand over the human, she will grant The Doctor access to a woman he cares for again. (Who were you expecting? I thought it might be River Song.)
Enter, Bill Potts.
Skeptical, The Doctor scans her with his sonic screwdriver. He comes away fairly certain she’s some kind of replicant. She finds this extremely offensive and says so. Ignoring her, both Doctors ascend a golden staircase to figure out what it is they’re dealing with. The glass woman says they are in the chamber of the dead. She says that they collected The Captain at his moment of death so they could extract his testimony.
The Doctor sees an evil plot in this. The Original Doctor sees evidence that the glass woman’s slightly asymmetrical face indicates that she was once, somehow, human. Our Doctor initiates an escape for himself, his predecessor, Bill and The Captain, and although the glass woman manages to keep his TARDIS, they are able to use the original TARDIS to chart a course for the largest database in the galaxy so they can find out who the glass woman is or was.
They arrive on a battle-scarred planet where The Doctor has a frenemy who wants to kill him. He and his predecessor move towards a tower while something shoots lasers at them. They leave Bill and The Captain in the TARDIS for safety, and once they’re away, Bill reveals herself to us as a glass woman who isn’t really Bill. (Or is she?)
Once the Doctors are close enough to the tower, our Doctor allows himself to be scanned to prove that he’s already dying and offers his enemy the chance to watch him die. His enemy ceases fire, and he heads into the tower to seek the data they came for.
He leaves the original Doctor outside to stand guard, and as he’s examining his surroundings, Bill approaches and engages him in conversation about why he stole the TARDIS in the first place and what he wanted to accomplish. The Doctor finds her question engaging, and at the end of their chat, Bill embraces him and expresses her pleasure at understanding him better.
Inside, The Doctor has met his enemy: A Dalek called Rusty. He convinces Rusty to give him access to the Dalek hive mind, the largest database in the galaxy, in exchange for knowing that any help given to The Doctor hurts the Daleks. (Rusty is anti-Dalek.) The Doctor uses the database to discover that Testimony is a benign effort to capture human memories at the moment of death, and he is a little undone by the lack of an evil plot.
Just then, time freezes again. Bill and the original Doctor join our Doctor in the tower, and Bill insists that because she is composed of all of the real Bill’s memories, she is the real Bill. Testimony allows the dead to walk again in their glass avatars, and that’s what Bill is doing.
Not completely at ease, our Doctor agrees to return The Captain to Ypres. Both Doctors, both TARDISes and Bill travel back to 1914 France to reunite this man with his moment of death. As he climbs back into his crater, he’s told that he won’t remember any of his adventure and that they’ll all be invisible to him when time restarts. He asks them to look in on his family from time to time, and reveals that his last name is Lethbridge-Stewart, making him the father of Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, a longtime recurring character in the Whoverse.
When the glass woman disappears, leaving the two Doctors to witness Captain Lethbridge-Stewart’s death, something remarkable happens. German soldiers begin singing Christmas carols. The Brits join in. The Captain and his crater-mate hesitate in their standoff, recognizing that a truce is taking shape. Instead of dying, The Captain alerts other soldiers to the presence of a wounded man in his crater, and they both get to celebrate Christmas on the battlefield in the unique Christmas Truce of 1914.
At this point, the original Doctor is satisfied that it’s worthwhile for him to regenerate. He bids his future self goodbye and leaves in his TARDIS to fulfill his fate. Our Doctor is still unconvinced that regeneration is right for him.
Again, enter Bill. She comes to urge him to choose regeneration. She also impresses on him the importance of memories. She does this by kissing his cheek and restoring the memories of Clara (Jenna Coleman) that he lost in season nine’s finale,”Hell Bent.”
Clara even makes an appearance to urge him not to forget her again.
Then Nardole (Matt Lucas) arrives, joining the chorus of voices in favor of both accepting the “reality” of the old friends he’s encountered and the value of regeneration. Ultimately it’s a decision he needs to make alone, though, so he says goodbye to them and goes into the TARDIS.
Of course, he decides to regenerate. Before he does, he issues a speech full of callbacks (particularly to the “Hell Bent” scene above), giving his future self advice on how to operate. He can’t speechify forever, though, and eventually he does assume the position, turn into golden beams of light, and emerge reformed as The NEW Doctor (Jodie Whittaker).
She doesn’t get to do more than catch a glimpse of her reflection in a monitor before something goes terribly wrong. The TARDIS begins malfunctioning, its interior explodes, and she is thrown from it and is falling towards a planet’s surface when we cut away.
See you “sometime in fall 2018”!
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