It’s two Who’s for the price of one as the Twelfth Doctor prepares for change…
Spoiler- free review
Starring: Peter Capaldi, David Bradley, Mark Gatiss, Pearl Mackie
Written by: Steven Moffat / Episode directed by: Rachel Talalay / aired in the UK and U.S. : 25/12/2017
What’s it about?
Fighting to prevent his inevitable regeneration, the Twelfth Doctor goes on one final adventure as his path crosses with his original self…
The Doctor Who Christmas special is all the more poignant this year in that it marks the end of an era and like “The End of Time” all those seven years ago we wave goodbye to not only the current serving iteration of the Doctor – played by Peter Capaldi – but also headwriter/showrunner Steven Moffat who took over the reins from Russel T. Davies in 2010.
“Twice Upon a Time” certainly is poignant, although it isn’t necessarily Moffat’s finest hour it’s still a fairly good one that’s bolstered by the reliably brilliant Peter Capaldi who delivers a strong, passionate and moving final performance. It’s quite a sombre affair at times but Steven Moffat still finds the odd moment to inject a stroke of sly wit and warmth into proceedings. The central plot is surprisingly quite light and what’s there is a bit overly complicated and slightly befuddling – something basically involving memory-stealing avatars made of glass and frozen time but woven in, true Moffat style, a bit of a twisty-turny manner.
There’s also a heavy dose of reverence and nostalgia to the franchise’s history that casual viewers will not fully appreciate, for hardcore fans it’s a sweet treat – particularly the transitions between archive footage of classic Who serial “The Tenth Planet” and modern recreations of scenes from that 1966 story.
These niggles aside, it’s the union of Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor and his original self that provides the special’s most enjoyable aspect. Played by William Hartnell between 1963 and 1966, the role of the First Doctor in “Twice Upon a Time” is taken on by David Bradley, who portrayed Hartnell so wonderfully in 50th Anniversary docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time and is equally captivating here. Bradley skilfully melds elements of his own performance with an unabashed homage of Hartnell and the argumentative but affectionate interplay between the two Doctors – of very different eras and attitudes (jokes surrounding the changing social landscape and political correctness adding a chuckle or two) – is a real highlight. Mark Gatiss is also solid as the First Wold War army captain drawn unwittingly into the Doctors’ adventure as they attempt to repair the damaged time stream and Pearl Mackie has a touching final bow as the endearing and sprightly Bill Potts.
For an episode of modern Who, “Twice Upon a Time” unfolds at a more gentle pace than expected, there’s a perhaps unnecessary tie back to series 8’s “Into the Dalek” that serves to up the ante but ultimately draws things out, but it’s in the focus of the characters and themes of regret, acceptance, change and hope in the face of darkness that are the main narrative thrust, it’s most ‘Christmassy’ part a fitting tribute to the Christmas Eve truce at Ypres in 1914.
As a regeneration story “Twice Upon a Time” isn’t as impactful as previous outings, it doesn’t quite achieve the gut punch of David Tennant’s sorrowful and dramatic exit in “The End of Time” or the tearfully heartfelt swansong of Matt Smith in “The Time of the Doctor” but this is arguably down to the fact that much of Capaldi’s departure had already been dealt with in the series 10 finale. It does make it all feel a little anti-climactic but it still pulls the emotional strings somewhat.
So, with a twinge of sadness, in a nicely executed (if a tad familiar) regeneration scene we see Peter Capaldi leave the TARDIS but it’s with a hint of excitement that we get a brief tease of Jodie Whittaker’s incoming Thirteenth Doctor and a promising glimmer as to all the fresh creative possibilities a female incarnation of the iconic Time Lord (Lady?) will bring to the franchise.
The bottom line: An enjoyable final romp for the Twelfth Doctor, “Twice Upon a Time” isn’t the strongest Christmas special for Doctor Who but a fitting exit for its outgoing lead non-the-less.
Doctor Who returns in 2018.
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