‘Once Upon a Time: The End.’ The Twelfth Doctor and the Duties of Narrative. Part Five


An article by William Shaw first published in The Tides of Time number 41, June 2018

Continued from Part One: Listen! Part Two: Tyranny, Part Three: Subversion and Part Four: Melancholy


The Doctor spends the Capaldi era with three extraordinary women, each of whose story is allowed to conclude with an alternative to the final, Dramatic Death. Clara, River, and Bill; each of them is allowed to come to the decision that one more lifetime wouldn’t kill anyone. It is easy to draw a line from this to the conclusion of Twice Upon a Time, although it is perhaps more fun to observe that the Doctor spends the Capaldi era with three queer time-travelling women, and ends it by becoming one.

Implicit in this is a widening of what kinds of heroes Doctor Who can support. Clara and Bill’s final stories both contain injunctions to this effect. Clara breaks into the Doctor’s head to tell him that “you are not the only person who ever lost someone,” while Bill gently reminds him, “You’re not the only kind one in the universe.” The Doctor is not the only one burdened with narrative, and the Twelfth Doctor’s flaw, ultimately, was in forgetting that, and in forgetting that other types of narrative exist.

This is the conclusion of Twice Upon a Time; Testimony was only doing what the Doctor always did, and indeed, doing it better. The Doctor simply lacked the framework to adequately respond. He doesn’t know what to do when it’s not an evil plan. (That this conclusion is itself a restatement of The War Games Episode Ten implies that, in future, the Doctor needs to emulate a little less of the letter of the past, a little more of the spirit).

This, then, is the end of the Twelfth Doctor, the greatest storyteller in Doctor Who. Because the mark, ultimately, of a great storyteller is their willingness to engage with others, to hand over the pen, or microphone, or sonic screwdriver, to somebody else. Never again will a single Doctor Who story be told as if it’s the only one. The Twelfth Doctor is aware enough to know he can still be visited — our culture’s storage and transmission capabilities are such that he will always, somewhere, to somebody, be the Doctor.

But he also knows that it’s someone else’s turn now. A new audience’s chance to have a Doctor. A new storyteller’s turn round the fire. A new woman’s voice on the television. He walks offstage, hearts heavy with the weight of narrative, as a new song begins.


Tides 41 is, at time of publication, available to buy through this link


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