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BBC America's 'Doctor Who' heading for a change of Doctor

| Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

There's nothing like having to go fight a galactic battle to get out of an awkward Christmas dinner.

The 2013 “Doctor Who” Christmas special, “The Time of the Doctor,” will air at 9 p.m. Dec. 25 on BBC America.

It will be available for download on all of BBC America's digital partners starting Dec. 26.

In this long-lived BBC science-fiction drama, the Doctor (Matt Smith) — an alien Time Lord from Gallifrey who has been traveling through time and space in his 1960s-style police box TARDIS (spaceship) — has been invited to Christmas dinner with the family of his latest companion, Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman).

A message calls him to an obscure planet and into a fight with some of his worst enemies — the metal-clad Daleks and Cybermen, stone Weeping Angels and the ominous Silence — to save the universe (a familiar theme in the Christmas specials).

It's widely known that this is Smith's last episode as the Doctor. His character will “regenerate”' into a new Doctor, played by a different actor, thus ensuring that the show gets a fresh leash on life. As he says, “Everything ends, Clara. And sooner than you think.”

Peter Capaldi will take over as the 12th Doctor.

Maybe.

The Christmas special comes in the shadow of the series' 50th anniversary special broadcast on Nov. 23.

In the special, show runner and writer Steven Moffat introduced a new War Doctor, which throws off the numbering. This matters mainly because, in an early episode, it was established that a Time Lord has only 13 regenerations. So, is Capaldi the 12th or the 13th? Or even ... the 14th?

Fans look forward to finding out how this is resolved, or whether it is even addressed.

Capaldi has been on “Doctor Who” before in a 2008 episode called “The Fires of Pompeii.” Outside of “Who,” he wrote and directed an animated short in 1995, “Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life,” which won an Academy Award.

BBC America plans a full day of programming leading up to the Christmas special. It includes a retrospective about Matt Smith's time as the Doctor, “Farewell to Matt Smith,” and a repeat of the 50th anniversary special, which was simulcast on 94 countries on six continents.

There is, as yet, no airdate from BBC America for the new season of “Doctor Who” with Capaldi.

The Christmas special, “The Time of the Doctor,” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD with bonus features and “Behind the Lens” documentary on March 4.

Tish Wells is as staff writer for the McClatchy Washington Bureau.

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