Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time

"Time to leave the battlefield."

Ah, brilliant.

I’ve only ever really watched NuWho, and I actually stopped watching at the end of the Smith era. It wasn’t until recently that I gave Capaldi a real shot, and I’m glad I managed to catch up because he did bring something different to the role. Also, having seen all his episodes recently, I really connected to his ending in an emotional way. I didn’t have three years to get to know him, but everything was very fresh for me.

This entire episode was about the Doctor. Specifically the Twelfth Doctor, and the question of whether it was time to regenerate or to finally die and put an end to his very long life. Throughout the episode it was clear he was tired and wrung out. He has lost too much, and seen only the worst in the universe for too long. He never got to see Missy choose to be good, and he didn’t see what happened with Bill and the return of Heather. He had no real memories of Clara, and in a lot of ways it felt like it was time for him to say goodbye.

So that’s what this episode was about. Sure, he still doesn’t know what happened with Missy, but he did encounter something truly good out in the cosmos with the Testimony. He found out that Bill did continue her adventures, and as a parting gift, his memories of Clara were restored. Perhaps those things helped him move on. In the end, he did pass the torch on to the Thirteenth Doctor.

As far as the regeneration goes, I liked his speech. I wish we didn't have another destroyed TARDIS. But this time, it was almost as if the TARDIS was throwing her out, maybe to keep her safe from the explosion, or something else entirely. I’m not so worried about the Doctor falling to her death because she did just regenerate, but that was a pretty nasty cliffhanger. Where did the TARDIS go? What will happen to the Doctor when she lands?

As far as the rest of the episode, I thought David Bradley as the First Doctor was amazing, from his stodgy charm and outdated opinions of women to his innocence about what was to come. His interactions with the Twelfth Doctor were a delight to watch, but his reactions to things like the Doctor becoming the protector of earth and Twelve's grand arrogant speeches about what he was going to do next were clearly absolutely foreign to him. But more than that, the First Doctor was a completely different man: observant, intelligent, refined even. Over the years, it seems as though the Doctor has become playful and progressive, but in their hearts, in their four hearts, they're both kind men. At the very least, I think as an exercise in comparison, this was a success.

Framing the Captain's story around the Christmas Armistice and having him turn out to be Lethbridge-Stewart's father was a really nice way of incorporating the hope of Christmas, the kindness in it. Just the historical event itself makes me tear up. Having the Doctor manipulate time just a little to make it the event that saves the Captain's life, it's kind of the theme of the episode because it defines who the Doctor is.

I would also be remiss not to mention that the production values and special effects in this episode were very well done, from the creepy Dalek Rusty and the other Daleks creeping round out of their armor, to the glass creatures from the future. But I think the best examples of those production values was the reproduction of the first Doctor's TARDIS, both inside and out. I especially loved seeing the two TARDISes side by side, and how completely different they looked. And the twelfth Doctor's explanation of why they looked so different was hilarious.


They didn't do much with Jodie Whittaker yet beyond "Ah, brilliant," but having seen her on Broadchurch, I am looking forward to what she'll bring to the role. And her smile upon realizing that she was now a woman was perfect.

The Dalek Rusty was first introduced in the episode "Into the Dalek."

Was that River's wedding ring that fell off the Thirteenth Doctor's finger?

I loved that it was the same the brandy snifter in that hidden compartment in both TARDISes, and that the Twelfth Doctor's was just a little lower.

I loved the First Doctor covering by calling the Twelfth Doctor his nurse.

This might be the only episode in Doctor Who history that contained two genuine regenerations.

This is a minor quibble, but if this was the final moments of the First Doctor, how did he not remember his previous experiences with future Doctors (in the other multi-Doctor episodes)? Has this been established in Who lore?


Twelfth Doctor: “Laugh hard, run fast, be kind. Doctor, I let you go.”

The Captain: "Am I going mad?"
Twelfth Doctor: "Madness. Well, you're an officer from World War One at the South Pole being pursued by an alien through frozen time. Madness was never this good."

First Doctor: “What’s wrong with the lights?”
Twelfth Doctor: “It’s supposed to be like this.”
First Doctor: “Why?”
Twelfth Doctor: “It’s atmospheric.”
First Doctor: “Atmospheric! This is the flight deck of the most powerful space time machine in the known universe, not some restaurant for the French.”

First Doctor: “What’s the matter?”
Twelfth Doctor: “Uh, I died a few hours ago, then I refused to regenerate. It catches up with you, you know. It’s like a big lunch.”

First Doctor: “There is good, and there is evil. I left Gallifrey to answer a question of my own. By any analysis evil should always win. Good is not a practical survival strategy. It requires loyalty, self-sacrifice, love. So why does good prevail? What keeps the balance between good and evil in this appalling universe? Is there some kind of logic? Some mysterious force?”
Bill: “Perhaps there’s just a bloke.”
First Doctor: “But… a bloke?”
Bill: “Yeah, perhaps there’s just some bloke wandering around putting everything right when it goes wrong.”
First Doctor: “Well, that would be a nice story, wouldn’t it?”
Bill: “That would be the best.”
First Doctor: “But the real world is not a fairy tale.”
Bill: “You dash around the universe, trying to figure out what what’s holding it together, and you really, really don’t know?”
First Doctor: “You know me in the future, do I ever understand?”
Bill: “No, I really don’t think you do. Everyone who’s ever met you does. You’re amazing, Doctor. Never forget that.”

Twelfth Doctor: “You were right, you know. The universe generally fails to be a fairy tale, but that’s where we come in.”

Bill: “You know what the hardest thing about knowing you was?”
Twelfth Doctor: “My superior intelligence, my dazzling charisma, oh, my impeccable dress sense?”
Bill: “Letting you go.”

Twelfth Doctor: “You wait a moment, Doctor, let's get it right. I have a few things to say to you. Basic stuff first. Never be cruel, never be cowardly. And never, ever eat pears. Remember, hate is always foolish, and love is always wise. Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind. Oh, and you mustn’t tell anyone your name.”

It probably goes without saying, but I really liked this one.

4 out of 4 TARDISes and regenerations.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.


Billie Doux said...

I had also skipped Capaldi but promised myself I would come back and try again when there was a new Doctor. And now I'm starting to think maybe I should give Capaldi another try. This was a wonderful Christmas episode as well as a wonderful regeneration episode, and I loved how they combined the story of the Brigadier's father with the Christmas Armistice. I actually cried, and Doctor Who doesn't usually make me cry.

Mark Greig said...

You're not the only ones who loved this. I think it was best regeneration story of the modern era, a strong contender for my favourite overall, and the send off that Peter so rightfully deserved. I just loved that these two old Doctors, both at the end of their time, and unsure if they want to go on, finding hope in one of the most hopeless places in human history at a time when an honest to god miracle took place.

I do think, though, that Moffet maybe went a little overboard with the First Doctor's unPC attitudes. The character did say and do some offensive things during his time (the smacked bottom line is a direct quote and way worse in its original context), but it wasn't really as bad as this episode implies. I get that he was trying to show how far the character and show have come since those early days, but maybe laid it on a bit too thick. That said, David Bradley was wonderful in the role and seeing the First Doctor's horror at his future self's more outlandish characteristics, which we now take for granted, was a joy to behold.

The highlight for me was definitely Twelve getting all his memories of Clara back and saying goodbye to her one last time. That was the moment I completely lost it and the tears started flowing. The absolute sheer joy on his face at seeing her again may have put years on my lifespans.

As for why the First Doctor can't remember, they've established now that when a Time Lord meets their old or younger self it puts the timeline out of sync and they can't retain the memories.

Too early to say what I think of Thirteen. I wish Chibnall had given her a few more lines before chucking her out of the TARDIS. Although, if I see one more moron make a stupid "women drivers, eh" joke I am going to thumb them.

So it is farewell then to Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat. These last seven years have had their fair share of ups and downs, but I honestly think they have included some of the best moments in the show's history and I am going to treasure them.

It's all yours now, Chris, hope you do us proud.

RB said...

I’m sad to see the end of Capaldi’s run. He brought something special to the role but I think was underserved by a clearly tiring Moffat. He could have been really special with some better scripts but even so he was mesmerizing in the role and there were times you couldn’t take your eyes off him. See Heaven Sent/Hell Bent.

And this was a beautiful regeneration story for him. No evil plan, no enemies to defeat, just a contemplation of mortality. “Doctor, I let you go.” Brilliant. I hope we get the new Doctor sometime in 2018. I’m really looking forward to the energy I think the gender swap will provide.

TheShadowKnows said...

"This is a minor quibble, but if this was the final moments of the First Doctor, how did he not remember his previous experiences with future Doctors (in the other multi-Doctor episodes)?"

In "The Five Doctors" the Third Doctor makes an offhanded remark that implies he knows what the Fourth Doctor (who isn't actually in the story) will look like ("all teeth and curls"). Make of that what you will.

migmit said...

Is TARDIS throwing 13 (oh, no, please don't remind me of Olivia Wilde) out was just it being sexist? Considering that TARDIS considers itself Doctor's wife, it's not impossible.

With Testimony — did they just introduced the way to resurrect anybody at all?

An Honest Fangirl said...

This episode was kind of "meh" for me, which makes me sad. Capaldi was fantastic - that goes without saying - but I kind of wish that this was a stronger story for him. (A reoccurring theme during his tenure.) I was just really confused about Testimony and whether or not Bill was actually there/what happened to her/what have you. I kinda just wanted to have Bill back. This is also probably just me but having Mark Gatiss in anything is just very distracting to me. Kind of like someone inserting themselves into their favorite story. I mean, he did a decent job. It just distracted me.

Still, the character interactions were all very good. It was lovely to see Clara again, and I wish that River could have made an appearance. The wedding ring slipping off of 13th finger (I think that's what it was too) seemed to signal that River's finally come to a permanent end.

My love for Doctor Who has been fading a little bit - it was a tough to get through this past season - but I'm excited for all of the new blood. Hopefully they can breathe some life back into this!

Patryk said...

Wonderful goodbye to the 12th Doctor. Too bad those were copies not the real Bill, Nardole and Clara who said goodbye to him, but I'll take it. Fitting to have Mark Gatiss in the episode as he represented the writers saying goodbye too. :)

I think the Tardis got mad at the Doctor for turning into a woman. The whole setup reminded me of Matt Smith's first epiosde. Wonder if Jodie will also crash land into her new companion.

Mallena said...

Nope, I tried watching several episodes of Capaldi's last season that were supposed to be the best ones, but couldn't get through any. I watched the finale, mostly on fast forward, until the ending and was just glad that I can try again with a new doctor. Capaldi just bothers me. I see his character from Children of Earth every time I look at him and the increasingly wild hair and tight clothes just bothers me more. Maybe I knew someone in my life that was a bad person that he reminds me of, because I just can't watch him at all. Maybe, I just mourn my Doctor, Rory, and Amy and blame him for their leaving. Oh well.

Dan Lee said...

This is a very thoughtful review, for someone who's had relatively little experience with Capaldi's Doctor. As it happens, he's one of my favorites(along with 2, 6, and 8).

I actually reviewed Twice Upon a Time as well, and despite its lack of narrative, I really enjoyed it -- and you should know that the First Doctor was never as sexist as that. Steven Moffat is a horrible writer when it comes to accurate characterization. I was so furious that he did that.

Katie Hart - Freelance Writer said...

Aaaa - why did people skip Capaldi? It was a little rough at first, but for me it's that way most of the time when the Doctor regenerates (I'll probably dislike 13 for half a series at least, maybe longer due to having a new showrunner and companions too). With Capaldi, I felt like I was getting glimpses of Doctor-ness in the first few episodes, but having Clara there helped, and I liked that 12 was much more likely to reference the past than 11. Then this sentence near the end of Capaldi's first series won me over completely: "Do you think that I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?"

A few points in response to this review (and comments): The ring was Peter Capaldi's. He wears his wedding ring no matter what role he plays, and it was never explicitly said what it represented within Doctor Who. It falling to the floor brought to mind 11 dropping his bow tie. When multiple Doctors meet, younger versions may retain a few hazy memories, but they mostly forget. The oldest Doctor remembers everything after the adventure is finished. Due to the long amount of time passing, the Captain is more likely the Brigadier's grandfather than father (still an absolutely amazing reveal and I had no clue!).

It definitely felt like the end of an era, and I love that Moffat began and ended with "Everybody lives!" That scene and all of The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances are what made me fall in love with the show, and I loved seeing a similar hopeful ending with The Testimony and the Christmas Armistice. While 10 is my favorite Doctor, Moffat is my favorite Who storyteller. Yes, he did get a bit repetitive in places as time went on, but in this episode I didn't mind. Moffat could play with time so much better than other DW writers, and I loved when the timey-wimey-ness made my brain hurt.

While it may be Moffat's time to leave, another rumored departure seems far too soon, despite more than a decade's worth of contributions. I really, really hope the rumors are false and that composer Murray Gold will stay with Doctor Who into the Chibnall era. We're already getting a new Doctor, companions, showrunner, and TARDIS - can't the show still sound like Doctor Who? The fact that so many of Gold's best themes made it into this episode lends credence to the rumor that this was his swan song.

In all, this was a great episode to say farewell to the Doctor Who I know and love. I hope that I'll eventually love the Chibnall era and 13, but right now it feels like I should prepare for a sometimes decent spinoff of the real Doctor Who (a la Class).

A big part of that is a female Doctor. I still am not comfortable with the change, even though 13's few seconds in this episode were promising and I thought Missy was great. But since Doctor Who is my favorite show of all time, I sort of view the Doctor as my TV boyfriend (especially since I identified most strongly with Rose and River as companions), and as a straight female, having him become a woman is just weird to me. I understand that others who connect to the show differently probably don't have that problem, and women who always wanted to see themselves as the Doctor are probably overjoyed.

But anyhow, I'm going to give the show and Jodie Whittaker a chance to win me over, and remind myself how long it took me to truly love Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi in the role. And even if I never love the new version of Doctor Who as much, I have 10 awesome series of the show I love to rewatch - every "Run!", every Fantastic and Allons-y and Geronimo, every Hello Sweetie and Spoilers, every Murray Gold tune ("Vale Decem" even came on as I was writing this), and every time Doctor Who showed me once again the importance of every ordinary person.