TV reviews

Doctor Who Christmas Special – ‘Twice Upon a Time’ – Review

So here it is.  The final curtain call for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor.

The Doctor Who Christmas Specials have been hit or miss over the years.  But 2014 onwards has seen Steven Moffat upped the ante in terms of quality and a psychological edge.  His stories are not without influence for parody (for example, the comic book inspired ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’).  But at the heart of it (and certainly one of the main reasons for the increased enjoyment), is that emotional and personalised core.

‘Twice Upon a Time’ is no different.  In fact, it might just be the best and most enjoyable Christmas special Moffat has made.

Nobody likes goodbyes and yet ‘Twice Upon a Time’ examines “letting go” with a melancholic sadness, watching characters going through stages of grief.  There’s defiance, denial and a refusal to accept the end despite time being against them.  Time has stopped.  A World War One Captain has been displaced.  Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) is somehow alive (or is she?).

Everything naturally feeds into the anticlimactic feel of the episode – there are no real monsters or villains to defeat.  There’s no heroic gesture to save the world so that the whole planet can fend off an invasion.  There’s no last hurrah.  That becomes a sad realisation for the twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi).  It’s just a slow and delayed descent towards the inevitable.  In his final hour, this is all about the Doctor saving himself, both in the past, present and upcoming future.

Sentimentality plays a big role in the Christmas special and largely it was unexpected.  As there were no villains or dragging out the regeneration like Tennant’s exit, the episode largely focussed on the partnership between Hartnell’s doctor (David Bradley) and Capaldi’s, conveying a relationship of that awkward relation you don’t invite to dinner!  The relationship of course is played up for comedic effect, not only crossing time and space but a generational and technological divide as well.  But it shouldn’t be underestimated how important Bill’s reappearance is to the special.  As she has done throughout the brilliant series ten, she grounds and challenges the Doctor and his conventions and pushing him to those depths of human understanding.

But arguably the most heartfelt moment belongs with the Christmas Armistice.  Gatiss as the First World War Captain quietly steals the show of a soldier believing in the audacity and miracle of hope when faced with a bleak outcome.  It is how he comes to terms with that mortal reality that definitely pulls on the heartstrings in a very significant moment in factual history.

There are a few dodgy moments in the episode but ultimately that is beside the point. Considering ‘Twice Upon a Time’ also serves as Moffat saying goodbye to the Doctor Who universe, he certainly leaves it on a high note.  The insane level of homages and references are like a love letter to the fans, showcasing how far the show has come in over fifty years of television.  We see versions of the Doctor on-screen which obviously echoes previous specials such as ‘The Day of the Doctor’ or ‘The Three Doctors’.  The episode begins with the recreation of ‘The Tenth Planet’ (Hartnell’s regeneration).  There are references to New Earth, past companions, family connections and the customary dalek.  There are also film and TV homages to Alien, Black Mirror’s ‘San Junipero’ and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Sure, Hartnell’s comments towards Bill will be divisive amongst fans, showing him as misogynistic in his outdated values from the 60s.  But it also represents how Moffat sees the future for Doctor Who, not something rooted by its past but able to embrace a liberating and open-minded future.

That’s why the regeneration scene was so significant, laced with raw emotion and power.  Given how tumultuous 2017 has been in terms of shifting world politics, divisive polices and the rise of hateful mindsets, the twelfth doctor perfectly sums up how we all should be (as well as the new incarnation) – kind.  Change should be embraced not feared and that’s the realisation the Doctor comes to terms with.

Capaldi has certainly been my favourite doctor of the new series and once the dust settles, he will be regarded as the best.  When he hits all the right notes, his epic driven monologues are like an education of the heart and worth the replay factor alone.  The Doctor of War can finally have a peace knowing the difference he has made to the lives of others and what it means for the universe.  Thanks to Murray Gold’s music and Rachel Talalay’s direction, the whole concept was beautifully done.

Goodbye twelfth and hello Jodie Whittaker’s thirteenth.  Like her predecessors, she is arriving with a bang!

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