With a departing Doctor, the original Doctor and a brand new Doctor all on the scene, we knew this year’s Christmas special, Twice Upon a Time, was going to be pretty epic, but what did our team think of Capaldi’s final (and Whittaker’s first) episode? Well, now that we’ve had a few days to rewatch the episode and calm ourselves, let’s find out…
Louis (Associate Editor)
Regeneration episodes are a funny thing. They’re saddled with audience expectations deriving from knowledge that they’re the current Doctor’s final episode, thanks to marketing that blares the inevitability of the final scene’s change for all to see. Yet for the Ninth through to Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration episodes, the Doctor and the characters around him don’t know that the regeneration is coming. They’re climactic battle episodes where the Doctor fights for his life, while the audience waits for him to trip over a brick or stumble into some radiation and for the regeneration to occur. As a consequence, we’ve never really had a regeneration episode that’s been about regeneration.
That is, until Twice Upon a Time, which benefits directly from The Doctor Falls having explosively depicted the final battle of the Twelfth Doctor and the beginning of his regeneration. Having cleared that up, all that’s left to do is character work and eulogising, tying up loose ends and looking back at what this era of the show meant. That focus lends the Special a melancholic feel of a postscript episode with none of the Biggest Stakes Ever of The End of Time or The Time of the Doctor, and it generally works in its favour. The Twelfth Doctor’s fear of change, and his journey towards remembering his reason for being as a hero, is compelling and thoughtfully depicted, and augmented by the engaging character arcs of the First Doctor and the Captain, two men also at the verge of their passing brought to life excellently by David Bradley and Mark Gatiss, and it couldn’t have had that focus in a faster-paced episode. Admittedly, Bradley’s performance helps to paper over a thinness of characterisation of the First Doctor, whose vulnerable side takes a backseat to an amusing but glib and inaccurate running gag about his 60s attitudes. He plays an important role in the episode, but there’s not quite the detail and care brought to this Doctor as the Tenth and War Doctors received in Moffat’s previous multi-Doctor story.
It’s very low-key for such a monumental episode in the show’s history, and, for the first 35 minutes or so, that intimacy can often translate as a kind of limpness, with lots of ideas lethargically floating about and failing to coalesce. The final act, where the Doctor accepts his fate and saves the Captain, is where it all comes together, however, and as a consequence, the whole story becomes a moving and well-constructed meditation on the power of memory and the necessity of change, brought home by the affecting appearances of the Doctor’s friends.
Where it really counts, Twice Upon a Time is a subdued success. Peter Capaldi, whose Doctor deserves to gain greater appreciation as fans rediscover his era in the coming years, is outstanding to the last, and knocks his final monologue, scored to the iconic ‘Breaking the Wall’ theme from Heaven Sent, out of the park. And, while Jodie Whittaker only received one line of dialogue in her first scene as the Thirteenth Doctor, it’s a line delivered with such endearing enthusiasm and eye for character that it’s more than enough to convince that she’s right for the part.
It was a quiet end to an era, but an appropriate and thoughtful one. Now we just have to wait several months to see what happens next. We’re good at that by this point.
Ben (Assistant Editor)
In recent years I’ve started to go off the Christmas specials. They’ve never felt very Christmassy and this year was no exception. However, the episode still made for exciting viewing on Christmas Day.
Whilst I’ve never been keen on the idea of recasting Doctors, David Bradley was a perfect choice to bring the spirit of Hartnell’s First Doctor back to the screen and his dialogue with Capaldi’s Doctor was wonderful to listen to. Sadly, he seemed to have developed a fault since then, needlessly spouting sexist remarks every now and then. Since the Doctor is not from the 60s and will have seen many male nurses and strong women across time, it seems a poor decision to give him 60s views. He also does not seem to do a great deal. While Twelve is off talking to Rusty and stopping the glass people, the First Doctor just seems to wander round looking at things and berating his future self. It would’ve been nice to have seen his character do a little more that was integral to the plot.
Anyway, back to the good stuff! The story itself was much more interesting than your average Doctor Who stories, with the ‘villains’ turning out to be the good guys – something I’ve always hoped for. The reveal that the Captain was taken just before the Christmas truce of 1914 was a unexpected surprise and a nice message to show on Christmas day during the troubling times we’re all currently living through.
Peter Capaldi puts in a final great performance, with an emotional regeneration scene that really felt like it was coming from Capaldi himself as a message to fans and future makers of the show alike. It was a great pleasure to see Bill return, and an extra bonus to have cameos from Clara and Nardole. All in all a fitting end for a much loved Doctor. And yes, I shed a tear during his regeneration. Finally, I can’t not mention Thirteen’s explosive entrance. Seeing Whittaker’s first grin and mad dash around the TARDIS made me very excited for what is to come.
Twice Upon a Time had me excited long before it ever aired, which is generally bad as it tends to raise one’s expectations beyond any point that could be reasonably reached by the actual product itself. However, I found that the episode did in fact not disappoint in the least bit.
I know that many people tend to think that call backs to past episodes counts as lazy writing or seems like pandering to the fans but I personally thought all the little nods to episodes of the past to be charming and entertaining without in anyway taking away from the story, even if one were not aware of the reference. I thought that it was a glorious exit for Capaldi and Moffat to go out on. One truly could not have asked for more.
I also found myself grinning and giddy when the new Doctor entered and spoke her first words. I thought it was a wonderful first reaction to the new face. This is definitely going to be one of my favourite new who episodes.