This year’s “Doctor Who” Christmas special, premiering Monday, Dec. 25, on BBC America, marks a milestone for the show.
Not only does this seasonal episode, “Twice Upon a Time,’’ mark Peter Capaldi’s final appearance as the 12th Doctor, it also climaxes with the debut of new star Jodie Whittaker, the first actress to portray the titular time lord. In fact, the episode features three (at least) incarnations of the Doctor, courtesy of one of those “timey-wimey things’’ this show does so cleverly.
“We discovered at the end of last season that (the 12th Doctor) is refusing to regenerate, because he thinks that maybe it’s time to die,’’ explains guest star Mark Gatiss, who also has both written and appeared in several previous episodes. “Then he unexpectedly meets his first incarnation (guest star David Bradley), who is heading through the snows of Antarctica, about to regenerate for the first time. Obviously, something strange is going on with time. I play an officer from the First World War who is kind of plucked out of time, and the trenches, and gets involved in the adventure.”
A lifelong “Doctor Who” fan himself, Gatiss says he’s thrilled to be a part of this episode, partly because it marks a creative changing of the guard. Steven Moffat, who has steered “Doctor Who’’ since it came back in 2005 after an extended hiatus, is moving on to other things, with Chris Chibnall (“Broadchurch’’) taking over the reins.
News that an actress would play the Doctor for the first time predictably sparked controversy among some fans, even though the show’s writers had somewhat paved the way for that development by having the Master – the Doctor’s chief nemesis, who also is a time lord – played by both John Simm and Michelle Gomez, among others.
Gatiss says it’s normal for fans to mourn the departure of a favorite Doctor, but such change is built into the creative DNA of “Doctor Who.”
“I’m on record as supporting the idea of a female Doctor years ago,’’ Gatiss says. “It’s a marvelous idea, and I think it will give the series a new lease on life. Fans of most things, but particularly `Doctor Who,’ can be extremely set in their ways. But if this series didn’t thrive on change, then the TARDIS never would never have got out of the junkyard in episode one. That’s the point of the show.”
What isn’t right, he adds, is to resist this change because of sexism.
“I think a lot of people are dressing up a desire to say ‘the Doctor has to be a man’ with what is actually just basic misogyny,’’ he says. “If you can accept that the central character is 2,000 years old, has two hearts and flies through time and space in a dimensionally transcendental police box, you should be able to accept that he can turn into a woman.
“I firmly believe that if you lose a few ossified fans along the way, they’ll be replaced by brand-new fans who may never have watched the show – and that’s fantastic.”