The Twelfth Doctor is no more. Long live the Thirteenth Doctor! Yesterday, the BBC aired the 2017 Christmas Special and Peter Capaldi’s swan song, Twice Upon A Time. I’ve not watched it enough to give it a full review, but here are my initial thoughts on the episode…
Okay, so let’s start with something that stood out to me; this is a Doctor Who episode with no villain. The “bad guys” that were the glass people who were part of Testimony were hardly bad, they were just a way of preserving memories into avatars, and Rusty was hardly a threat either. The juxtaposition of the Eleventh Doctor’s final farewell in The Time of The Doctor, compared to Twice Upon A Time is really interesting, although probably unintentional. The Eleventh Doctor had to face countless enemies before he regenerated, whereas the Twelfth Doctor only really had to face his past and his future. There was no grand battle for the Twelfth Doctor to fight; although we arguably got that in The Doctor Falls. To me, overall, Twice Upon A Time felt like it was tacked on. Mainly because it was. Steven and Peter had no intention of doing this episode originally, but Chris Chibnall didn’t want to start his showrunner tenure with a Christmas special. I know we in the fandom give Moffat a lot of flack sometimes, but without him, we wouldn’t have had a Doctor Who Christmas Special this year, and potentially, ever again, as the BBC couldn’t guarantee that the show would get one in 2018 if they missed 2017.
Speaking of Moffat, let’s talk about what he wrote. As he is a writer. And this is the last thing he’ll write as showrunner of Doctor Who. The Twelfth Doctor was fab, the Captain was beautifully subtle and really human, the First Doctor was… there, I suppose? Having the First Doctor involved in this episode could have taken it in so many directions; having the two oldest actors playing the Doctor being both the youngest and oldest Doctors could have been interesting. The disdain that the First Doctor has for the Sonic Screwdriver and Shades is really entertaining; but it would have been better, in my opinion, if he was just kinda crap as the Doctor. The First Doctor wasn’t the hero that his future incarnations were, he was barebones, and it would have been great to see that. The moment where the First Doctor sees all his future selves in those orbs was great, and really highlighted how the role of the Doctor has progressed over the 54 years, but Moffat chose to show the sexist side of the Doctor, which was never abundantly present in the character before. Now I know that the first few Doctor’s sometimes might have asked their female companions to do odd jobs, but it was never taken to this extent before. As I’ve said on Twitter, just because the first episode was shown in 1963, doesn’t mean the character’s attitudes belong there. I’ve listened to countless Big Finish productions, and I’ve never thought listening to any of them that the Doctor was a misogynist, but this is what was portrayed. According to Moffat’s writing of the First Doctor, women are good for cleaning, looking pretty and not talking back. No.
Now, a part of me wonders if Moffat was attempting to be really clever here, with the Twelfth Doctor being the progressive Doctor, which mimics the vast majority of the Whovians who have grown up with the revival, and the First Doctor was meant to parallel the fans who are more conservative in their views, and have already shown disdain for the Thirteenth Doctor being played by a woman. I hope Moffat’s intention was to hold a mirror up to these fans and said “Look how old fashioned and out of place you are”, and it just not quite working, but I’ll never know.
Speaking of Moffat’s mind and how it works, who expected Rusty to be there? Not me. Nor did he need to be, really. I admit I do like the callback to Into The Dalek, and it was somewhat fun and not too complicated for casual viewers to understand there might be a lone ‘good’ Dalek, but it would have been a lot cooler, in my opinion, if in that tower it was Davros. Or even Caan. Or both. That would have been a great duel of minds. But, alas. Rusty was there. It’s strange to think that the Doctor can remember Rusty, but not Clara; like who was filling that hole in his mind? Another question that will never go answered, I assume.
Even though the whole Dalek Databank thing didn’t really resonate with me, I will admit that the scenes in World War I were absolutely beautifully handled, and showed the humanity of soldiers in war. A lot of them didn’t want to be there, didn’t want to kill, didn’t want to die, and portraying that was great. This was easily Mark Gatiss’ best role in Doctor Who, and the fact that was he playing the Brigadier’s grandfather was really poetic, and showed that the First Doctor would keep his word, whether it was intentional or not. Oh, and my good friend Tom Dix is a soldier, try and spot him.
Now let’s talk about the bit we were all here to see really, the regeneration scenes. The Twelfth Doctor’s goodbye’s to Bill and Nardole were nice; they were nothing groundbreaking or extraordinary, but they were nice. And Nardy has glass nipples. But there was something about Clara’s that felt… off. Now, I know Clara is a polarising character, and I know her inclusion in Twice Upon A Time caused a mild uproar, but it was somewhat inevitable. To be perfectly honest, I was more surprised that River and the Eleventh Doctor didn’t show up, than the fact that Clara did. You could tell that Clara was dubbed and that she wasn’t there on the day, but it’s easy to say that’s just because the Doctor’s mind is fuzzy from finally remembering her and his impending regeneration I suppose.
Capaldi’s speech was great. There’s no denying it. It wasn’t spectacular by any stretch, it wasn’t as profound as some of his other speeches, but it got the job done. What I really enjoyed is that the Twelfth Doctor finally knew what it was to be the Doctor, especially after his “Am I a good man?” questioning we had in his early days. His summation of the Doctor’s character was great, and Peter’s subtle performance made it so much more impactful. He wasn’t going out with a tantrum like the Tenth Doctor, nor was he particularly looking back like the Eleventh, he was looking forward, and giving his next self the best chance at being spectacular, that’s how selfless the Twelfth Doctor was towards the end.
The regeneration scene itself was absolutely superbly directed by Rachel Talalay, and it was easily some of her best work; especially with Jodie. Those shots were so cinematic, poetic, and detailed. It really made it feel like something brand new.
Jodie’s first words too were great, as I’ve said on Twitter (which then became part of Twitter’s Moment for the Christmas special), I’m so glad it wasn’t overtly about the change in gender. And thank god that Yorkshire accent is there. The fact it ended with Jodie falling out of the TARDIS and hurtling towards Earth was somewhat reminiscent of the Eleventh Doctor’s beginnings, which in a way, brings Moffat’s tenure full circle. It started with his Doctor falling out of the TARDIS, and it ended with Chibnall’s first Doctor falling out of the TARDIS. In regards to the Thirteenth Doctor, all I can really say is, roll on Series 11.
Overall, Twice Upon A Time was a fun story; it wasn’t Moffat’s best, nor was it his worst. The World War I and regeneration scenes were the standouts, and I wish that he’d nailed the First Doctor better (as I’m hoping Big Finish have done), but other than that, it was a good Christmas special.