Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time Review

DW Twice Upon a Time

The Regeneration Marathon comes to an end, fittingly with a story that has heavy ties to the very first regeneration! Peter Capaldi’s great but possibly underused Twelfth Doctor regenerates in a story that feels more like an Epilogue to his run rather than a full-on adventure, but it at least gives his Doctor a good send off, and sets up the next era with a bang (though while simultaneously trashing a previous era…). Let’s take a closer look!

Official Synopsis:

Two Doctors stranded in a foreboding snowscape, refusing to face regeneration. In the final chapter of the Twelfth Doctor’s adventure, he must face his past to decide his future. It is the end of an era, but the Doctor’s journey is only just beginning…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

Cast of Characters:

DW Twice Upon a Time 1

“How dare you talk to me?! Go put the oven on, woman!” (apparently..)

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) – He may be known to some as the “Twelfth Doctor”, but really he’s on his 14th life, a no-no for Time Lords. The Doctor is facing death once again, and he’s beginning to wonder why he hasn’t been granted the eternal rest and peace the others of his race, for the most part, are given…

The Doctor (David Bradley) – The very first incarnation of The Doctor, seen here fighting his regeneration due to nothing but the pure fear of the unknown. He doesn’t want to experience death now, let alone eleven more times… why can’t he just be him?

Archibald Hamish Lethbridge-Stewart (Mark Gatiss) – A soldier in the first World War, who’s weird experience here will actually pale in comparison to what his later heir will one day face…

Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) – Bill was whisked away at the end of the last episode, but all things do eventually end… The question is, what happens to our memories after we’re gone?

The Testimony (Nikki Amuka-Bird) – A program set up in the far, far (proper Russell T. Davies far) future where the people who are just about to die are taken from the moment of their death, have their memories recorded, and then placed back into their end.

Plus more!

The Good:

DW Twice Upon a Time 3

Glass enemies from the far future? Or….?

Twice Upon a Time is an odd story to talk about, it really feels like the action is already over and this is just an hour long epilogue. That being said, it’s an epilogue that serves the Twelfth Doctor well! It allows him to be heroic a few times, but mostly it shows the character of The Doctor as vulnerable, a man who has felt the despair of immortality and wants it to stop. Towards the end of the story, he looks at the glass avatar of Bill Potts and asks why he can’t rest and have peace like everyone else, and that really hit me. Even for a Time Lord he’s lived too long, he’s gone past his own natural life span, and he’s starting to envy those who have managed to actually die. If anything his acceptance to regenerate again with the line “Oh, one more lifetime can’t hurt” almost feels like a last-moment act of cowardice, right at the end he couldn’t bring himself to do it. It’s quite dark, but definitely interesting.

The actual regeneration was alright, but much like Steven Moffat’s other big regeneration scene, it was a bit grandiose and near-fourth wall breaking (though at least the Twelfth Doctor had previous experience talking to himself in the TARDIS) but it wasn’t as bad as “I’ll always remember the time the Doctor was me”, and his last words were good (“Doctor, I let you go.”), even if it was along similar lines (oh and thank you for using the one actual recognisable and great bit of Twelfth Doctor era music, “Breaking the Wall”, for the scene!). Jodie Whittaker’s first scene, complete with big cliffhanger, was great, and set things up nicely.  My only complaint would be the line where The Doctor claims no one should know his name “except children” because they always know… I mean, what does that even mean and why would The Doctor say that? It’s just one last “Steven Moffat thinks Doctor Who is only for children and any adult who likes it is somehow inherently wrong” thing he’s always done…

The “enemy” actually being a perfectly pleasant program from the far future is a good twist. No evil inherent in the plan, it was just an idea to pluck people out of time and record their memories for posterity. It also implies that Bill Pott’s flying away with magic water girl wasn’t some immortal lovely send off, given she’s apparently “given her testimony” before death. The Doctor visiting “Rusty”, the Dalek he turned against the others, in order to get information was a nice nod to when the Twelfth Doctor’s era was actually really good and different… *sigh* … Any who, there were also some good scenes between the two Doctors that weren’t mired by Moffat’s idea of what the First Doctor was (see below!) especially the scene where The Doctor’s future selves / past selves (depending!) is displayed and the original Doctor is confused and slightly horrified at what he becomes. It’s a great point that the more heroic aspects of The Doctor don’t really get applied to the character until Patrick Troughton starts making “evil that must be fought” speeches.

As for the World War I soldier and relative of The Brig, he was fine, and had some great scenes, which is good because otherwise this would reek of Steven Moffat putting his best mate in the story and making his character canon-relevant as some sort of gift. The setting of the 1914 Christmas Truce was good, as it’s a beautiful story in our history anyway, one that’s fitting of what was still technically a Christmas story.

The Bad:

DW Twice Upon a Time 2

“I know it was a long time ago, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t like this…”

Well, let’s get the obvious out of the way: The First Doctor dialogue. Yikes! What happened here? The kindly but sometimes crotchety old granddad Doctor suddenly becomes your short tempered bigoted granddad that you’re embarrassed about at Christmas dinner. Seriously, why was he suddenly so hung up about women only being good at cleaning? Sure, 60s TV scripts dictated that women didn’t do much in the stories of the era, but I don’t actually recall any scenes where the original Doctor specifically treated women like that. I remember the Second Doctor telling Polly to go make tea in “The Moonbase”, I remember the Third Doctor treating Jo Grant like a dim-witted slave during her first story, but I don’t actually remember Doctor #1 being as blatant. It seems Steven Moffat wanted to point out how far we’ve come with women’s rights and equality at the expense of the First Doctor, and now a whole generation will probably look down and possibly even skip William Hartnell’s era of the show because they think the lead character is a blatant, out and proud bigot. Great stuff…

I could have done without the Testimony Bill restoring The Doctor’s memories of Clara, because now the one important and heartbreaking thing about her otherwise mishandled exit is now irrelevant.

The Continuity:

DW Twice Upon a Time 4

The last caption I write about a regeneration screenshot for many years!

Well, obviously this follows on from World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls, and also has straight up clips and re-enactments from The Tenth Planet (including reshowing the first regeneration, which was a funny full circle moment for this marathon!) I will also, for my own sake, ignore all the little past clips that play and the little nods to the First Doctor’s era (his TARDIS and such) that are prevalent throughout the episode.

“Rusty”, the now Dalek-hating Dalek, was created in the Twelfth Doctor episode “Enter The Dalek”. The Doctor meets him at the abandoned weapon forges of Villengard, this is a call back to Steven Moffat’s first (canon) contribution to Doctor Who, the Ninth Doctor story “The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances”, where Captain Jack’s weapon was created in “the weapon forges of Villengard”, which The Doctor claims to have been present when the core reactor went critical and “vaporised everything” at the site.

Helen Clay, the woman responsible for the Testimony, comes from New Earth in the year 5,000,000,012, a time period and setting that hasn’t been revisited since the Russell T. Davies years (with New Earth itself being present in the Tenth Doctor stories “New Earth” and “Gridlock”)

The Ninth Doctor is present at the 1914 Christmas Truce in the multi-Doctor comic story “The Forgotten”, but I guess he was further away, or something…

Overall Thoughts:

Twice Upon a Time works as a Twelfth Doctor send off, and as a set up for the Thirteenth Doctor, but fails as a nod to the First Doctor’s era, and is actually offensive to it. Still, that’s the not the point of the story, it’s all about saying goodbye to Peter Capaldi’s era, and for that I will bit a little more forgiving on it’s major failing, because it does do that well…

4 Star Watch

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