A Thank You Letter: Twice Upon A Time Gave Us An Extra Christmas Present

The dust has settled, Peter Capaldi is no longer the Doctor, and the heiress apparent has had her inauguration. The TARDIS interior burst into flame and the brand new Doctor flew out of the open doors. The future is hurtling towards us from somewhere up above. Brilliant!

We’ve also said goodbye to Steven Moffat as Doctor Who‘s showrunner. His era began with a bold fairy tale and continued with companions and relationships woven into the fabric of reality. He delivered mystery, complexity, and passion. He wasn’t perfect (of course) but he kept us running and turned the show into something that people took notice of on a global scale.

And after his last Christmas on the show, this is a thank you letter – but for a very particular present…

Moffat’s era will be remembered for a number of things, but one that I want to say a particular thank you for is what he did with the show’s past. I’m not talking about retconning Clara into the WHOLE of Doctor Who or the insertion of an entire previously unknown incarnation in John Hurt. These were, admittedly, rather enormous developments. Nor am I referring to his bringing every incarnation of the Doctor together in the 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor. But the fact that he went to those places at all…

Doctor Who drew me in around the age of seven or eight. It was the jeopardy, the monsters, the running, that mysterious little man with the brolly and that incredible music. But once it got me in the door, I turned around to find an Aladdin’s cave of adventures. There were, quite literally, encyclopaedias about it, glowing with images. And I’m sure this is similar for anyone who gets Doctor Who. There is just so much story there and it has a vein of magic running through it.

Moffat made sure that this wasn’t forgotten. He took those hidden, sacred moments of Doctor Who’s history and put them on the screen, on BBC1 in front of the whole world on a Saturday evening. Susan and the Doctor fleeing Gallifrey and the death of the Eighth Doctor are things that we imagine as fans – they’re like obscure moments in an ancient religious texts of interest only to true geeks. But Moffat went there and made it something real and relevant. Whatever you feel about his mixing of the old and new, he made sure the old wasn’t forgotten and that it mattered. And that brings me to Christmas – well, in a moment…

Twice Upon A Time, as the name hints, is perhaps the most nostalgic offering we’ve had from this showrunner. Nostalgia is a core part of Doctor Who fans’ shared experience. Coming from the Greek for the pain of a return home via the German for homesickness (I am reliably informed), there’s something about the familiar surroundings of the past that tugs at our hearts. Those warm, fuzzy memories behind the sofa that made our childhoods sparkle with danger demand attention and love. And nostalgia is a major driving force in Moffat’s writing.

Twice Upon A Time not only brought a piece of the past back to the present, but it also tugged at our fan-souls, by taking us back to a part of Doctor Who that is missing. The fact that there are adventures and monsters that we may never see powers that nostalgic sentiment. The loss of over 100 episodes from the BBC archives with occasional sensational discoveries has added to that sense of intrigue and longing. And there is no episode quite so famed and longed for than episode four of The Tenth Planet. It was the first time the Doctor changed his face and taught a generation of children about loss and change. And this is what I want to say thank you for…

One of the most remarkable things Moffat did this Christmas, was to return a lost episode. William Hartnell’s final moments is arguably the most longed for lost episode and the one most shrouded in mystery. This Christmas, Moffat not only returned it to the archives – he did it in glowing colour! We now have the majority of the First Doctor’s last outing on record – never mind what he’d been up to with the Cybermen in the South Polar base. It might take a little time for this to sink in, but we’ve just seen the last hour of The Tenth Planet. You know – that bit where a future incarnation of the Doctor turns up and whisks him away on a ghost-of-Christmas-future morality tale while Ben and Polly wonder where he is. How did we forget…?

Now, I know this is perhaps a bit of a stretch – but suspension of disbelief is our super power. What Moffat has done, under the guise of commercially viable mainstream Christmas television, is deliver the single thing the fan hive-mind most yearns for. I’m not suggesting that this should be anywhere near as exciting as Hartnell’s last episode turning up in the basement of a laundrette in a dusty South American border town or being discovered in a time capsule hidden inside Sydney Newman’s family vault… but there’s something about the reverence and care that has been shown to that era that I really appreciate as a fan of the show. The respect for and celebration of the past is something I am grateful for. and technically, we have far more canonical moments of the First Doctor’s last adventure than we did. And that is quite remarkable.

A missing piece of Doctor Who was returned to the archives on Christmas Day. And as presents go, that’s pretty wonderful.