Time to remember how to log into my WordPress again folks because it’s time for Moffat’s final Christmas special. Capaldi’s too. And we all know what that means, right? An Inkashlings Who review. So what did I think of Twice Upon A Time? It was an episode that felt more like a coda to the series 10 finale than anything else. It didn’t feel like a story as such. Having said that, it was less frenetic than Matt Smith’s regen episode and less annoying than David Tennant’s.
So what happened? The Doctor and The Doctor show up in the same time zone in the North Pole, both afraid to regenerate. A soldier (played by Mark Gattiss) turns up, snatched by a mysterious something from the battlefields of 1914 just in the nick of time. Two Doctors must work together to figure out what exactly is at play here.
Mark Gattiss may be a questionable Who writer in my book, but there is no doubt that he is a good actor. Gattiss played the part of the death resigned soldier to perfection, with the right mix of fright, gravitas, bravery and British stiff-upper-lip on display. It’s pretty soul destroying when The Doctor mentions World War One casually and the soldier replies with ‘what do you mean, one?’ It was a nice twist that the soldier was a Lethbridge-Stewart and I must have been the only viewer who didn’t see the 1914 Silent Night moment coming.I choked up a little. One last fairy tale moment delivered curtesy of Twelve. Twelve may have felt a more grounded Doctor than Eleven, but he never forgot to believe in fairy stories, and Moffat never truly moved away from writing Who as a fairy tale. Sometimes Moffat fairy tale trope moments don’t feel earnt, but this time I think it was.
The First Doctor
Appalling recasting of Polly and Ben aside, this was quite a good attempt at recreating The First Doctor’s era. The TARDIS exterior and interior looked right, and most importantly, David Bradley is excellent as a William Hartnell look alike. I agree with others who thought some of the sexist lines were overdone, but it didn’t bother me enough to destroy the whole episode for me, especially as Bradley played One with such gravitas and world weariness (what a versatile drama actor this man truly is) I couldn’t help but forgive.
Moffat goes in for one last retcon as he adds a coda not just to Twelve, but to One too.
One: You may be a Doctor, but I am the original Doctor… I have the courage to live and die as myself.
Or so One claims. Later we find out he is refusing regeneration because he is afraid, very, very afraid. It takes Twelve’s Christmas miracle in saving the soldier’s life to give One the courage to regenerate, knowing as it were, that he will become a very good man indeed.
But my favourite part of the episode for One, delivered perfectly by Bradley, is a small conversation he has with Bill about why he stole the TARDIS and ran away:
One: By any analysis, evil should always win. Good is not a practical survival strategy. It requires loyalty and self-sacrifice and love. And so, why does good prevail? What keeps the balance between good and evil?
Bill’s response that The Doctor never figures out how much of a hero he is to so many is laid on a bit too thick for my liking (it’s the heroism trope that makes Ten one of my least favourite Doctors and at any sign of it rearing its ugly head again I immediately start to panic), but the lines from One are a kind of poetry. Bravo Mr Moffat indeed.
Moffat has been interested in the theme of forgetting and remembering since Series 5 and Amy Pond and it rears its head again in an overt way with his finale. The Testimony are not an enemy (for once), but a way of storing the record of a person’s life so that the dead can continue to speak beyond the grave. Bill is a glass woman, part of Testimony, but she argues it is memories that make us and so, glass woman Bill is still Bill. Similarly, Clara and Nardole are able to say goodbye to Twelve through Testimony. The Bladerunner franchise asks us what makes us human, and it seems that Moffat, like Philip K Dick, believes that memories more than genetics and our skin and bones, makes us truly human.
Twelve’s final moments
I quite liked Eleven’s farewell speech. It was short, simple and to the point. Capaldi’s final moments are a little longer, but are delivered well.
Twelve: You wait a moment, Doctor. Let’s get it right. I’ve got 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 and never fail to be kind. Oh, and….and you mustn’t tell anyone your name. No-one would understand it anyway. Except…. Except….children. Children can hear it. Sometimes – if their hearts are in the right place, and the stars are too. Children can hear your name.
The lines that came after, in my opinion, were overwritten (but then, Moffat has a habit of over-writing in his speeches instead of letting people interpret what he means for themselves – see the series 8 finale), but I did like Capaldi’s final words… Doctor, I let you go.
Capaldi didn’t become The Doctor for me until the end of Series 8, but when he did, he did with a vengeance. I will miss the actor’s quiet dignity.
Having said that, I don’t know about anyone else around here, but I’m mega excited for Jodie Whittaker as Doctor 13. I can never tell from the 30 second short they give you of a new Doctor if they are going to be good or not, but I got a definite Matt Smith vibe from Jodie, and I liked Matt as The Doctor very, very much indeed. I’m not always a fan of Chris Chibnall’s writing, but he can write good quality drama when he tries so this could be a very interesting next series indeed. Why, oh why, do we have to wait months for the next episode?
Twice Upon A Time: 7/10 inky stars for a slight if heartwarming final story for Twelve