Friday 29 December 2017

Twice Upon A Time - A Review

The one thing that helps you to write a review some days after the event is that you have had time to muse on what you have watched - and to watch it again. I must admit that I enjoyed Twice Upon A Time on the second viewing more than on the first. First viewings tend to concentrate very much on the plot alone - what happened to whom etc. The second viewing allows you to pick up on any plot points that you might have missed, but also to let you sit back and admire the performances and savour the references. This story was brimming with nods to the past - some specific to the last four years and Peter Capaldi's tenure aboard the TARDIS, others covering the series since it returned in 2005, and - with David Bradley portraying the First Doctor - a look back to the events outside Snowcap Base in December 1986 (AKA 709 episodes ago).
Before proceeding, I just want to say how smug I feel at guessing that the Captain would be the Brigadier's dad all those months ago. I'm sure you all spotted it actually - when it became clear they were not going to give the chap a surname. Even though I knew it was coming, the confirmation was still a lovely moment, hinted at earlier in the episode with the mention of Cromer.

It was a wonderful performance from Mark Gatiss, who is taking a break from the programme after writing a number of stories, and appearing in one form or another in five stories. He reflected the turmoil of the two Doctors - facing death but resigning himself to it, except when there was the possibility of hope. The Captain spent much of the story baffled as to what was going on - something which his son would inherit - and only seemed at ease when he got to share a joke at the expense of the fairer sex. William Hartnell held views on gender, race and sexuality which were a product of their time - a time we would like to think was long past, except that 2017 has shown sexism to be alive and well and enjoying itself in sunny Hollywood. Moffat mercifully left off the racism, but he did frequently flag up the earlier incarnation's sexist attitudes. The only problem being this wasn't supposed to be William Hartnell. This was supposed to be the First Doctor, who rarely exhibited sexist attitudes. Treating the women aboard the TARDIS as if they were Dresden china was something that Ian was accused of - not the Doctor.
In all other respects, Bradley gave a charming interpretation of the Doctor. Some of the gags about how things had changed had already been done by Moffat, of course - when the War Doctor encountered Ten and Eleven.

Plot wise, it was a little thin - but this is nothing new when it comes to Christmas Specials. I have no real problem with a story in which there is little threat, so long as you don't realise there isn't any threat too early on. You need only look at the weakest of all the specials - The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe - for paper thin plot and little or no threat. The Glass Avatars - or Testimony - seemed to pose a danger, stealing the TARDIS and insisting that the Captain be returned to the point of his death. It transpires that they simply harvest memories so that they - the memories - can live forever, and so the people they take them from can also live on in a way. This allowed Bill Potts to return, demonstrating that her life with Heather will not go on forever, and allowing the Doctor to find out what happened to her after the events of The Doctor Falls.
The Doctor found out about the Testimony project after visiting a returning character - Rusty, the Good Dalek. Of all the things which they might have revisited, this one we could have done without. I suppose there was a thread hanging - what happened to him after Inside the Dalek, but we were hardly losing sleep over that one.
The inclusion of the avatars also allowed us to see Nardole for the last time, as well as Clara - the Doctor regaining all of his memories of her.

Peter Capaldi was, as always, excellent. I always knew he would be a great Doctor as he had proven himself a great actor for many years before landing his dream role. We've had longer to get used to this Doctor's regeneration. David Tennant took about 20 minutes, but Capaldi gets a whole story leading up to his transition. He spends his last moments reviewing what it means to be the Doctor - quoting Terrance Dicks along the way. He's leaving a reminder to his future self about who and what he is. Having gotten a glimpse of his future selves, the First Doctor goes back and completes his regeneration. How lovely it was to see clips of The Tenth Planet on BBC 1 on Christmas Day, 2017.
After Ten's regeneration, you would have though that the Doctor had learned his lesson about regenerating in the TARDIS. Neither Nine nor Eleven wrecked the joint, but Twelve went and smashed up the TARDIS. We only got a brief look at Jodie Whittaker, and I'm very pleased to hear that she is retaining her Yorkshire accent as the next incarnation of the Doctor.

A word about the music now. I'm sure you noticed that the story contained cues from all of the last four Doctor's eras. I did read somewhere that Murray Gold is going to be stepping down as series composer, so this sounded like his final hurrah.
And, of course, it was also Steven Moffat's last stand. I think he served Capaldi's Doctor well, but made some dreadful mistakes during Matt Smith's tenure - tying the series up in story arc knots which led to a deeply unsatisfying final story for his Doctor. On balance, I'd say the good outweighs the bad overall, however.
At some point late in 2018, everything changes. A new Doctor - the first female one - a new TARDIS, new companions and a new show runner. Chibnall comes to the series with more turkeys under his belt than Moffat did (a lot of Torchwood series one and the second series of Broadchurch for starters), so I will reserve judgement until I sit down and watch Series 11.


  1. As soon as I realized and accepted this episode was about character and not plot, I was fine.

    I'm going to miss a lot about Moffatt's writing - his mind-benders and some of his clever stand alones like "Blink," "Listen," and "Heaven Sent" are my faves for Who.

    But the ends of his story archs ("The Wedding of River Song" being even lower in my book than "Pandorica Opens/Big Bang")... Yeah, maybe Chibnall stays away from those messes.

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  3. Sorry about the blank comment above. I was trying to edit but it doesn’t seem to allow that. I just wanted to say that if the future Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart was born in 1914, that would make him 52 odd (UNIT Dating Conspiracy notwithstanding) at the time of the Web of Fear, when he was clearly much younger. Or did I miss something?