Doctor Who – ‘Twice Upon A Time’

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Christmas Special

CONTAINS SPOILERS

I know we’re mostly taking down the Christmas decorations and trying to finish off all the leftover food by this point, but there are still a few days until Twelfth Night, so  it’s still OK to talk about Christmas stuff for now. This is also the last episode for the Twelfth Doctor. Arguably, this special does have a bit of a New Year theme to it too, given that it ends one era and begins another one.

At the South Pole, the Doctor is about to regenerate, but is putting it off. He runs into The First Doctor (played here by David Bradley), his original incarnation, and he is also refusing to regenerate. This is causing time to mess up a bit, and it stands still. Snowflakes freeze in mid-air. A World War I Captain (Mark Gatiss) is here too. He had been in Ypres, 1914, in a stand-off against a German soldier, but the timeline error caused by the Doctors causes time to freeze and for him to be displaced to the South Pole. There’s also a mysterious woman who appears to be made of glass (Nikki Amuka-Bird). The Doctors and the Captain go into the TARDIS, but it is taken by a spaceship, with them in it.

The glass woman is waiting for them. She says the space ship, and herself, are Testimony, an organisation which travel from the future into the past to find people at the exact moment they die. They have to return the Captain back to his timeline. She then shows visions from the Doctor’s other incarnations to show the First Doctor “what he will become”. The Twelfth Doctor, who has seen it all before, says “To be fair, they cut out all the jokes!”

Bill appears to be on the spaceship too, but the Doctor doesn’t think it’s really her, that she’s merely a clone. In any case, Bill doesn’t want them to take the Captain back, as it would be to his death. The Captain himself is willing to return, but the Doctors, Bill and the Captain escape the ship, and go to the First Doctor’s TARDIS. They use this TARDIS to go to Villenguard, a planet at the centre of the universe. The Twelfth Doctor meets the Dalek he met in ‘Into The Dalek’, who is hiding from the other Daleks, but can still tap into their hivemind. The Doctor requests information on Testimony. He finds out that the glass woman is actually an avatar of Professor Helen Clay, who invented the technology. As for what Testimony’s intentions are, it is to create avatars of people at the moment of their death, simply so they can archive them, and creating a copy will allow the dead to speak again and in effect live on. So, they aren’t evil!

The Doctors decide to take the Captain back to his timeline. The Captain tells them his name, Lethbridge-Stewart, and asks that the Doctors look out for his family. As it will turn out, the Doctor will meet the Lethbridge-Stewart family a lot, with the Brigadier, and his daughter Kate Stewart both being allies to him in the First Doctor’s future and the Twelfth Doctor’s past.

It turns out the time they are in is the First World War Christmas Day truce of 1914 when the British and German soldiers decided not to fight that day and met to celebrate Christmas. The Doctor admits that he brought the Captain back to a few hours later than he had been taken from to save his life.

The “Bill” we met in this episode was indeed a Testimony clone, but she says that she considers herself just like the real Bill as she has all her memories up to her death, and states that it is memories which ultimately make a person. To prove it, she gives the Doctor back his memories of Clara which he had lost, and an avatar of Clara appears before him. There’s also an avatar of Nardole who comes to say goodbye too.

The First Doctor and the Twelfth Doctor return to their respective TARDIS to regenerate.

The Doctor finally regenerates into his newest incarnation… and, for the first time, the Doctor is female! Seeing her reflection, she is happy, saying “Oh, brilliant!”. But the TARDIS has become damaged, and the Doctor ends up falling out, in the middle of the sky down to the ground below, as the TARDIS flies away! To Be Continued….

The series 10 finale ‘The Doctor Falls’ seemed more like the big epic send-off, ‘Twice Upon A Time’ seemed just a way to explain the Doctor regenerating. Apparently, the original plan was for outgoing Doctor Peter Capaldi and executive producer Steven Moffat’s final episode to be series 10 finale, however the incoming executive producer Chris Chibnall did not want to start with a Christmas special, so Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi stayed on for one more episode. This perhaps explains why ‘Twice Upon A Time’ felt a bit slight for a Christmas special, and indeed a signal for a big changeover in the show. But it was fine.

Rachel Talalay, who has directed the finales for series 8, 9 and 10, also directed this episode. She has a great visual style, and that was evident in this episode with the aurora australis and frozen snowflakes in the South Pole scenes, the red sky and ruins on the planet Villenguard, and the First World War scenes. The last in particular showed high production values.

The Christmas truce scenes were moving, a memorable and poignant Christmas historical event.

It’s more of a coincidence, but Testimony reminded a bit of the holograms in Red Dwarf, they are technically a copy but have the dead person’s memories from birth right up to the time of death, so aren’t they for all intents and purposes same person? It’s a bit more complicated with Bill I suppose, as the last we saw of her she is still alive in some form. Is this Bill after she died as a Cyberman, or as a Pilot? It seemed to implying the former, in which case she wouldn’t be just like the real Bill who would have new experiences and new memories, but then again, this Bill would be the last time the Doctor knew her, so I suppose it makes sense as someone for the Doctor to say goodbye to.

I’m not sure the group dynamic with the Doctor, the First Doctor, the Captain and Bill worked, they didn’t really gel. All the bits with the First Doctor making comments
about women doing the cleaning etc weren’t very good either. I get that they were saying “look how far we’ve come since the 1960s when the show started”, but it felt a bit hamfisted. But, again, the episode was fine overall.

One of my favourite parts was Clara’s return. It was nice, brief though it was, and it was good to confirm that the Doctor’s memories of her have been returned.

‘Twice Upon A Time’ had three people playing incarnations of the Doctor. The original first Doctor, William Hartnell, died in 1975, but David Bradley has played William Hartnell in An Adventure In Space and Time, a 2013 drama about the creation of the series itself.

I didn’t realise until I saw a repeat of it during this Christmas, but Peter Capaldi appears in the classic The Vicar Of Dibley Christmas special ‘The Christmas Lunch Incident’ from 1996.

This was Peter Capaldi’s last episode as the Doctor, and Jodie Whittaker’s first. Her entrance was my other favourite part of the episode, already she looks like she’s going to be good! I loved her first line, particularly her Yorkshire accent. Jodie Whittaker is from West Yorkshire originally, so I have that in common with her.

I am looking forward to Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, she looks promising already and honestly I think having a female incarnation of the Doctor is an exciting new change, and it opens up a lot of new opportunities for the show. Jodie Whittaker is canonically the first female Doctor, but technically the first actress to portray a female incarnation of the Doctor was Joanna Lumley, in the Comic Relief Red Nose Day spoof Doctor Who And The Curse Of The Fatal Death in 1999, which was written by Steven Moffat!

I have really enjoyed the Steven Moffat era. The stories have been very interesting, it has explored the concept of time travel, and visually it has been beautiful to look at. I loved the companions, Amy, Rory, Clara and Bill. Missy, while a new incarnation rather than a new character, was great too. Matt Smith is my favourite of the ‘new’ Doctors (for the classic series it would be Tom Baker).

While I’ll miss Steven Moffat, the show has lasted long because it, well, regenerates, so it always needs to change. As I said, I am very much looking forward to Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor.

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