Yes, there are Doctor Who Christmas Special spoilers. You have been warned.
It wouldn’t be a Doctor Who Christmas Special without a good cry. I gets even better when it happens because of a real-life event, apparently, influenced by the Doctor’s timey-whimey influence. This time, it was jumping back 100 years ago for the Christmas Truce of 1914.
It was a rare instance, at this age of human history, where a war – The Great War – came to a halt. In real life, on the night of Christmas Eve, German Soldiers sat in their trenches opposite British Soldiers. The body-filled No Man’s Land laid in-between the two forces. It was a miserable time: the British had taken some heavy losses and the weather – mainly an ongoing spat of rain – flooded trenches and muddied the battle field.
And listen, this is the worst time of year for a deployment then, and it is the worst time of year for a deployment now. Generally, you’re spending three major holidays away from home, away from friends and family, and away from the food.
I can’t stress enough how much you miss the food. It is the one of the only times when military leadership will don their finest uniforms, and the Dining Facility (DFAC for the high-speed readers out there) will work their hardest to get the best food for the troops. Maybe it is a turkey, maybe it is a steak, or maybe it is an entire stack of Cheese Tortellini or Chili Mac MREs. Whatever it is, it is the best food you’ll eat all year.
But none of that matters, Doctor Who or not, because you’re away from all of the cheer of the holidays. Now imagine you’re shin deep in mud, it is December cold, and you’re caught in an endless battle, the worst the world has ever seen.
So, you start to embrace the suck. It is Christmas Eve, and the rain stops for a while. You start singing Silent Night. Maybe it is out of irony, maybe out of desperation, and maybe out of hope – but, you start singing. And as it happens in any group of fighters, once someone starts singing, everyone starts singing. It is a rule amongst warriors. Here, in the Whoniverse, German troops did just that.
And then the British heard, and once again, out of irony, desperation, hope, and healthy competition – they sang back. A few guys peak their heads out, offer a truce, shake each other’s hands. The next day, each side collected their wounded and dead, mourned, and played football. As Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor – a Doctor of War – said, “Everyone was just kind.”
Yes, they condensed a day and a half into a few hours on the show, but that is television for you. Yet, the truth is there – that the troops who fight the wars are rarely involved in the decision-making process to go to war. They sit across from one another – like Mark Gatiss’ Captain character (spoilers!) and the German Soldier, in a crater pistols drawn, ready to kill each other – as instruments of the state, but still the selfless spears of humanity. They deal in violence, but yearn for home.
As Darrell “Shifty” Powers said about his enemies in World War II, “A lot of those soldiers, I’ve thought a lot about this often, that man and I might have been good friends. We might have had a lot in common. We might have liked to fish, he might have liked to hunt. You never know, you know. Course, they were doing what they were supposed to do, and I was trying to do what I was supposed to do. Uh, but uh, under different circumstances, we might have been good friends.”
Warriors are humans; told to fight, and so they fight, but, respect their counterparts who are told to fight as well. And so, admiration and combat may sit as polar opposites in a simple review of the situation, but actually are part of the same cycle of war.
It is like situation facing the two Doctors – the dynamics of modern day culture compared to those of the earliest Doctors aside – the war of living as an individual versus death and rebirth. On the surface they appear as enemies as both Doctors refused regeneration, but are actually part of a necessary sequence. And the Doctors coming to realize and respect their deaths as part of their own being; their purpose to continue to help the universe and an understanding of how the Doctor must always live.
But, for a moment, a Christmas Truce, the warriors and the Doctors can take pause at the violence before them. Hatred of an enemy, or hatred of a situation, are all put aside for a handshake and a soccer match. Everybody lives. A moment of kindness.
What was your favorite part of the Doctor Who Christmas Special this year? What did you think of Capaldi’s Doctor?