TL;DR – The beginning of the end, and the start of the new beginning, this shows what Doctor Who can be when it is firing on all cylinders.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
It is the end of an era as Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat say goodbye to Doctor Who (this is not a spoiler because this was announced 6 months ago) but while it is the end, it is also the start, and that is what is amazing about Doctor Who. So today we look at the last story of the Twelfth Doctor, and a new story of the First Doctor, and also the first story of the Thirteenth Doctor, it was a packed episode.
So to set the scene, at the end of Season 10 (see review) Bill (Pearl Mackie) is off exploring the universe as an alien entity, and The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is slumped on to snowy planet after being mortally wounded by Cybermen. But the TARDIS did not just take The Doctor to any random snowy planet, for indeed waiting for him there was none other than the first ever incarnation of The Doctor (David Bradley). Look when you can do a show about time travel it can be very easy to become self-indulgent and always be digging back into the past to re-visit episodes that have come before. However, while there are references and nods to the past, and villains return, but rarely does the show go back and visit Doctors of the past, bar on big occasions, and this is one of them.
As one can imagine today’s story is all about death, because we have two Doctors who are desperately trying to hold on and not let go, even though regeneration is of the Timelords defining features. However, when you approach the end things tend to coalesce, do you rage against the dying of the setting sun, do you sit calmly accepting your fate, or do you say bollocks to all of that and instead decide to find out the motive of the Glass Lady (Nikki Amuka-Bird) messing with the timeline?
We open today’s episode not with the Twelfth Doctor, but with a flashback to the First Doctor. To do this old footage from The Tenth Planet was used, shifting from black and white to colour and expanding in resolution size when we jump into the new material. This was a really interesting and effective technique to bridge the gap between the very different film styles of 1966 and 2017. It is here where we catch up to the end of The Doctor Falls, both Doctors fighting regeneration and the South Pole, when suddenly time freezes and there is an officer from World War One (Mark Gatiss) wondering around out of time and place. Now from here on in, there may be some [SPOILERS] as we look at the episode as a whole so just be warned for those who have not seen it yet.
It is really important to the episode that we do have that WW1 soldier in the narrative and so it is not just the two Doctors musing about the end of life. Firstly, because it allows you to have one more “but it’s bigger on the inside” joke, but also because he provided the heart to the episode. When we are introduced to him he is sitting in a crater with a gun trained on a German Officer (Toby Whithouse) deeply lamenting the fact that the other guy can’t speak English and that he can’t speak German. While he has hope that things will turn out for the best, he knows deep down that this is probably the end. Which is why ripping him out of time and place is such a big issue, because in the moment you are prepared to die, but what if you are taken away from imminent death for a bit, have time to think and ruminate on the past and then get thrown right back there again. Another bonus, other than having Mark Gatiss give a beautiful performance, is that it helped to give context to how out of time the First Doctor feels when compared to the Twelfth Doctor.
I do have to give the writers credit for walking a very fine line here in the episode. They have brought the First Doctor back, and they have also brought him back as he was, not as what we would like to think he was. So he says some things that were fine in the 1960s, but really not today, like that he is glad Bill (Pearl Mackie) is here because the Twelfth Doctor’s TARDIS needs a good dusting. David Bradley should really be commended for giving a wonderful performance channelling William Hartnell with his mannerisms, but also bringing something of his own to the performance.
So today is the last performance of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor and it is telling that one of the themes of today’s episode was making it count, because that is exactly what he did. He has always attacked the role of The Doctor with gusto, and you see that here, in those moments when even though he is dying The Doctor comes alive. Like when he has a mission to find out what the plan of the Glass Lady is, or when he is trying to save a friend. His interaction with the First Doctor was simply delightful, both of the actors were clearly having a lot of fun with the roles and the back and forth between them were some of the highlights of the episode. Also, I’m glad we got to see one more adventure with Bill, I think the show did a big disservice writing her out of the show after one season, because there is so much untapped potential with her role.
Now I have to give credit to the production and design departments for their attention to detail. A good example of this is the recreation of the battlefield at Ypres during WW1. We first get to see it in a wide shot from above, demonstrating the barren wasteland that war had turned the fields of Belgium into. Then when you get up close you see that same level of detail in the crater and its surrounds. You also see it the in the re-creation of the First Doctor’s TARDIS, getting the details right, and it is such a big difference from the atmospheric TARDISs of today and the bright TARDISs of the past. Also, the music hit every emotion beat, and the subtle ticking clock underneath the score punctuated the looming deadline.
In the end, I think Twice Upon A Time really succeeded in everything that it set out to do, marking the end of one story and the start of another. It was also more than happy to hit you right in the feels when it wanted to, and I am happy to say I teared up in that ending. One of the great sadness and joys of Doctor Who is that it is always changing. So more than you would normally in a TV show you have to say goodbye, but then that is one of the reasons it has lasted as long as it has, and now it is time to take a new journey, with a new doctor, and what an interesting journey that is going to be.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Doctor Who
Directed by – Rachel Talalay
Written by – Steven Moffat
Starring – Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, David Bradley, Mark Gatiss, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Toby Whithouse, Nicholas Briggs, Lily Travers & Jared Garfield with William Hartnell, Anneke Wills, Michael Craze, Matt Lucas & Jenna Coleman and introducing Jodie Whittaker