Analysis - Doctor Who: Twice Upon A Time, The Tenth Planet, And How The New Christmas Special May Relate To The Series' Past

The show's two crankiest Doctors,
together at last!
The Doctor Who series 10 finale had no shortage of homages to the First Doctor era. It served as a prequel of sorts to First Doctor William Hartnell's final story arc, The Tenth Planet, showing an origin story for that serial's original cloth-faced Cybermen from the planet Mondas. It also had Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi directly quote Hartnell's version of the character, repeating the iconic Five Doctors line, "I'm The Doctor - the original, you might say." Now it appears that all of that was not only homage, but foreshadowing, as the new trailer for the upcoming Christmas special brings the Twelfth and First Doctors together for what looks to be a sequel to The Tenth Planet. Though the trailer may only be a minute long, it is packed with quite a bit of information hinting at the episode's place in the series. Let's take a look at what we can decipher from the trailer, combined with some context from The Tenth Planet which may provide some insight into the episode's significance.

The Tenth Planet, the second story arc of the original series' fourth season, saw Hartnell's Doctor and his companions Ben and Polly fight the Cybermen for the first time. It also saw The Doctor die for the first time; not because he was killed by the Cybermen, but because he was old and frail and had apparently been keeping himself alive merely by force of will. Much like Capaldi's current Doctor, who is holding back regeneration through sheer willpower because he isn't yet ready to die, Hartnell's Doctor held on to life at least long enough to see the Cybermen defeated, at which point the struggle to resist regeneration became too much for his ailing form. As such, he is the only Doctor to have ever died of natural causes or old age, rather than having been killed in action. The reason for this was the same reason why the conceit of regeneration was invented in the first place, and why it happened so awkwardly and arbitrarily two story arcs into the beginning of a season: William Hartnell was extremely ill and frail, and the strains of being on the show were literally killing him. He had to be written off, or the show had to end, and fortunately for all of us, the showrunners chose the first option. And they did it none too soon: in fact, The Doctor isn't even in the third episode of the four-part Tenth Planet because Hartnell collapsed on-set and had to be hospitalized; all of his dialogue for part three was given to Ben and Polly instead. As such, he barely gets any kind of heroic send-off: The Tenth Planet is great, and a fittingly tense final story for the First Doctor, but with how sick Hartnell was, Ben and Polly are the ones who get to do all the real heroics, while the show's title character is basically reduced to a few memorable speeches. Which brings us to this year's Christmas special, Twice Upon A Time, which appears to want to change all that.

From the context we have so far
The First Doctor and Polly face a Mondas
Cyberman in The Tenth Planet
(the First Doctor stumbling through a snowstorm to the TARDIS, alone), it appears that this meeting between the two Doctors happens at the very end of the events of The Tenth Planet, when The Doctor goes alone to the TARDIS to prepare for the death he can't fight off much longer. From that context, we can deduce that this Christmas special will be a shared adventure featuring two strong-willed Doctors who are both on the verge of regeneration, but want one last hurrah first. Thematically, this could be a powerful story about The Doctor coming to terms with his own mortality and accepting the inevitability of his regeneration, twice. The severity and sternness of both William Hartnell and Peter Capaldi's Doctors have closely linked the two portrayals in the minds of many fans, and bringing them together for a story seems like a brilliant way to bring the character of The Doctor full-circle. Doing this in the final episode before the role changes dramatically with the introduction of the first female Doctor likewise seems like an inspired decision. But beyond all that, this is also an opportunity to give the First Doctor the heroic sendoff that he never really got when played by the frail Hartnell; letting him have another proper adventure rather than simply dying of old age after being largely just a spectator in his final story. It may also give the opportunity for the First Doctor to once again have his regeneration recorded on-screen: rather notoriously, the final episode of The Tenth Planet is one of classic Doctor Who's lost episodes that were destroyed in the BBC archive purge of the late-60s/early-70s. The isolated clip of the regeneration itself survived, but the rest of the episode only exists as an animated reconstruction, grouped with the three surviving episodes of The Tenth Planet on DVD. Going back to the episode with new actors, we could get to see that regeneration actually happen in its entirety on film (well, digital) for the first time in 50 years. A few other details from the trailer support this.

The trailer begins with an actual clip of one of Hartnell's speeches from The Tenth Planet, which then fades seamlessly into the same speech delivered by Harry Potter actor David Bradley, who previously played William Hartnell in the 2013 biopic An Adventure in Space and Time. This seems to indicate that Twice Upon A Time will indeed recreate parts of The Tenth Planet with Bradley, and tie this special very closely to that landmark episode. It also shows what an almost eerily-perfect double he is for Hartnell; it truly would be easy to mistake Bradley's portrayal for the real First Doctor (unlike his just-acceptable Five Doctors double). Bradley isn't the only new actor resurrecting a vintage character, though: the trailer also gives us a glimpse of a recast Polly (originally played my Anneke Wills), which presumably also means we'll see a recast Ben (originally played by Michael Craze). This would make Twice Upon A Time the first episode since 1985's The Two Doctors to reunite the present Doctor with a complete past TARDIS team, since in The Day of the Doctor David Tennant's character was traveling alone. In the shot where we see Polly, she appears to be standing next to Bradley's First Doctor as he regenerates. This supports the idea that we might see a re-shot version of the show's first regeneration, but also hints at some sort of alternate version of those events, since in The Tenth Planet The Doctor regenerates alone, only to be discovered by a confused Ben and Polly after he has already changed.

A recast Polly appears to stand with a
regenerating First Doctor
All of this, of course, raises more questions than it answers, well beyond what sort of parallel or alternate version this regeneration might be. How involved in the story will Polly and (presumably) Ben really be; will they just make cameos while the bulk of the episode consists of the two Doctors by themselves, or will they actually return as companions? If we really are going to see the First Doctor regenerate on-screen once again, might we see Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor as well, and if so might he likewise be played by the actor who portrayed Troughton in An Adventure in Space and Time? How closely will the events of this episode relate to the events of The Tenth Planet, and might the Mondas Cybermen make another appearance as a result? The possibilities of that question are quite interesting indeed, as that would allow Twice Upon A Time to be a dual-sequel to the Cyberman-focused events of both The Tenth Planet and World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls. The trailer doesn't give us much else to go on, although we can surmise that the two Doctors coinciding has caused – or is the result of – some sort of time paradox which has also pulled in the two World War II soldiers we briefly see (who, interestingly enough, are played by regular new-series writers Mark Gatiss and Toby Whithouse). But even with as little information as we have, it is very clear that the possibilities are rich and exciting for a special episode that dives deep into both the history and the themes at the heart of the show. By taking the present Doctor and putting him together with his very first self, Steven Moffat is setting up an episode that can really examine the core of who The Doctor is, and how he has changed over these 54 years and 36-plus seasons. There couldn't be a more fitting way to end the current era of Doctor Who and move ahead into a brave new one.

- Christopher S. Jordan

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