Twice Upon A Time Advance Review
Note: Doctor Who TV’s pre-air views aim to be as detail-free as we reasonably can while still offering a critique, but as everyone’s spoiler sensibilities are different, we advise you read on at your own discretion.
Back in 2013, showrunner Steven Moffat caused plenty of fan heartache when he had to write Matt Smith’s exit from Doctor Who. And now Moffat’s doing the same thing in 2017, this time with Peter Capaldi (and the showrunner himself). Once again Christmas Day will be almost as miserable as whatever Albert Square has planned!
The plot of this final Capaldi outing follows almost directly on from where the Series 10 finale “The Doctor Falls” left off, except we rewind a little earlier to see the First Doctor’s perspective of events in a lovely recreation of the 1966s “The Tenth Planet”. The First Doctor soon bumps into his twelfth incarnation in the artic snowscape. Thereafter the pair encounter a lost World War 1 captain, and try to figure out what they’re all doing there and why time seems to have frozen…
Considering this is a regeneration episode with a heavy central theme of facing your mortality, “Twice Upon a Time” is actually quite a warm, humourous and even uplifting story. There are emotional moments, obviously, but it’s not bogged down with them. It’s also a fairly straightforward and restrained affair, certainly Moffat’s once signature timey-wimey writing is kept in check. Nor does the episode have grandiose ambitions of being an “epic final showdown” for Twelve, or anything like that. There’s not even really a big threat, unless you count time itself.
That’s not to say it’s bad, it’s just rather a case of Capaldi and Moffat leaving the building fairly quietly, so to speak. Especially when compared back to the overblown theatrics of “The End of Time”, or the more convoluted “The Time of the Doctor”. This is no doubt a consequence of the regeneration already having started in the story prior, so things just move along slower and more reflectively, with bits of nostalgia for fans to enjoy along the way (and a few surprise cameos).
On the subject of nostalgia, David Bradley of course is the biggest guest star of the episode and makes for a mostly impressive First Doctor. His intonation is spot on and he nails many of William Hartnell’s mannerisms and foibles. One area that may cause some controversy though is that his characterisation has been rather exaggerated so that ugly 1960s attitudes are much more overt. Moffat exploits this for gags and to contrast with the present, but it’s essentially untrue to the core nature of the Doctor.
The First Doctor’s companions at the time, Ben and Polly, also make an appearance, played here by Jared Garfield and Lily Travers, respectively (replacing original actors Michael Craze and Anneke Wills). It’s a nice touch, but it’s strictly limited to a cameo at the start.
Despite being given an apparent happy ending in the Series 10 finale, Pearl Mackie is back as current day companion Bill (something once again unnecessarily spoiled by publicity material). While this could have caused a few narrative complications given how she seemingly left, Moffat works her into the story in a way that allows some narrative jumps. She’s granted a more definitive sendoff that is sure to pull at the heartstrings of her fans.
There are only really two other guest characters of note (that we can talk about at least) – Mark Gatiss and Nikki Amuka-Bird. Of the two Gatiss’ The Captain is the most significant, with a largely endearing character that, like the two Doctors, is forced to face his own fate on the battlefield. Amuka-Bird meanwhile spends most of the time as a CGI creation in a limiting, but functional role.
Rachel Talalay has been one of the spotlight directors of the Capaldi era, bringing to life some of Twelve’s more pivotal moments (including the sublime “Heaven Sent”). It’s no surprise then to see her back again here and visually the episode delivers. Although some of the CGI sticks out for the wrong reasons. Murray Gold meanwhile returns for possibly his last score on the show. While Gold has delivered many classic themes since 2005 (some included here), his Series 10 contributions haven’t been quite as memorable, relying on old motifs instead. That doesn’t really change here.
Of course this is Capaldi’s final outing and naturally much attention will be on his curtain call, and he doesn’t disappoint. This regeneration episode is obviously a little unique though, given we’ve already seen what causes it. So Capaldi instead is left to ruminate on the short time he has left, but there’s still room for a few moments of last minute heroism. The final regeneration when it arrives is much more powerful than the quick one that brought him into the world. Capaldi gets a strong ending speech; though it doesn’t quite manage to top Matt Smith’s brilliant “I will always remember when the Doctor was me” monologue.
As an overall package though, “Twice Upon A Time” is a perfectly apt farewell to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. Doctor Who TV will miss you!
But what of Jodie Whittaker’s debut? Well, and this is not just teasing, it’s impossible to say. All preview screenings have removed the scene just after the regeneration transition to keep Thirteen’s first moments from leaking. But what can be said is Whittaker’s eyes give the performance of a lifetime.