Before Christmas Farewell, Peter Capaldi Reflects on ‘Doctor Who’ Legacy: The Show ‘Is a Good Thing in the World’

Pearl Mackie, Peter Capaldi and David Bradley in "Doctor Who" (Photo: BBC America)
Pearl Mackie, Peter Capaldi and David Bradley in “Doctor Who” (Photo: BBC America)

On December 25, “Doctor Who” will say goodbye to two of the show’s most beloved personalities.

The first is showrunner Steven Moffat, who first helped revive the British science-fiction series (which originally ran from 1963-1989) in 2004 as a writer before adding executive producer duties in 2009.

The second farewell will be cast to star Peter Capaldi, the twelfth actor to play the titular time-traveling hero, who will pass the role to the series’ first female Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) during Monday night’s annual Christmas Special.

Moffat humbly brushes off his departure after 13 years and 42 penned episodes as a non-event.

“Me leaving is not in the story,” he said during interviews at San Diego Comic-Con in July. “There’s nothing to write about. I would write about it if there was something to write about, but there’s nothing, so I didn’t.”

Capaldi, on the other hand, can’t simply dismiss the buzz around his final episode, even if he wanted to. His farewell appearance at San Diego Comic-Con’s famed Hall H five months ago was marked by multiple standing ovations, emotional fan interactions and touching tributes from the actor himself to his co-stars and creative partners. At times, even the cool and collected 59-year-old Scot appeared on the verge of tears.

“It’s sad, you know,” Capaldi told reporters that day. “It’s right, because you just reach a point where it’s time to go. It doesn’t mean that you’re not melancholic about leaving behind both the crew and the people who you work with, who you’ve become very close with, but also this wonderful role. As often happens, the script actually articulates your feelings better than I could. You will see how I feel [in the final episode], because it will be there in the shot.”

So, how will it all end for the Twelfth Doctor?

Here’s what we know: In the final episode of season 10, the Doctor was severely wounded and returned to his TARDIS (the time machine, for you newbies) by his companion Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie). When he awakens, the Doctor begins—and subsequently fights—the regeneration process, which would give him a fresh physical form and distinct personality.

Before the Twelfth Doctor’s regeneration can progress any further, he stumbles out of the TARDIS and into the snow where he meets the original 1963 Doctor (David Bradley, standing in for the late William Hartnell).

The 2017 Christmas Special, “Twice Upon a Time,” intersects Capaldi’s Doctor timeline with the ending of a 1966 episode entitled “The Tenth Planet,” in which the First Doctor returns to his own TARDIS on the same icy planet to initiate the character’s very first regeneration.

“It’s the Twelfth Doctor refusing to regenerate,” explained Moffat, “because he wants to stay Scottish, confronted by someone walking through the snow who also doesn’t want to regenerate. And it’s him, the first time. It’s one man, one dilemma, twice. At two moments in his life, he’s facing this problem. It’s number twelve saying to number one, ‘You’ve got to change! You’ve got loads to do!’ And number one’s saying to number twelve, “Don’t you?” The Doctor fell in the last episode. This is him choosing to rise again … twice.”

“But they don’t just stand in the snow and talk about it,” actor and occasional “Doctor Who” writer Mark Gatiss joked.

Mackie, Bradley and Capaldi in "Doctor Who" (Photo: BBC America)
Mackie, Bradley and Capaldi in “Doctor Who” (Photo: BBC America)

“No, they don’t!” Moffat replied. “There is a proper adventure, and many things happen, and Mark Gatiss turns up beautifully playing a very important part in it, which you’re gonna love, I think.”

While the Christmas Special won’t include recent series stars Matt Lucas and Michelle Gomez—“ I don’t think anybody would be brave enough to kiss Missy under the mistletoe,” she joked—the episode will feature an appearance by Mackie as Bill—“There’s gonna be snow,” is all the actress would reveal of the episode—and the aforementioned debut of Whittaker as the first female Doctor.

And that supposed backlash over the Doctor’s gender switch? Moffat squashed the notion as “absolutely made-up chatter.”

“It’s not a big deal,” he explained. “The Doctor isn’t a man. He’s an alien who looks like a man! Now he’s an alien who looks like a woman.”

Aside from being a centuries-old, space-exploring alien, each of the thirteen men and women to play the Doctor have at least one thing in common: a legacy. Despite their deliberately varied appearances and personalities, every performer who has commanded a TARDIS is representing a 60-year-old tradition and fandom that knows no international borders or restrictions on age, race, sexuality or gender.

Playing an active role in maintaining the “Doctor Who” legacy is, perhaps, the element Capaldi will miss the most.

“I think there’ll never, ever be anything like this,” he said thoughtfully. “There’s something inside the show that speaks to people and to kids at a very deep level. I don’t know what it is. I don’t understand what it is. But I see, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes, the affection and love that people all over the world have for it. To be around something like that, and to be at the center of it, is an extraordinary experience. I’ve walked into rooms and people have gasped because it’s the Doctor of ‘Doctor Who.’ It’s still me, but I have this immense gift of being able to see what that feels like. It makes you realize how vital popular culture can be to people, and also that it can be a force for good.”

He concluded, “I think ‘Doctor Who’ is a good thing in the world.”

The “Doctor Who” Christmas Special airs Monday, December 25 at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.