Twice the Emotions

Review of Twice Upon a Time
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

I am at such a weird crossroads of emotions, I hardly know where to begin. Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor has become my all-time favorite (just edging out the Eighth—sorry, Paul! I still love you!), so watching his regeneration story was even more bittersweet than usual. On the other hand, I'm eager to see Whittaker take the reins. Add in the other ups and downs along the way, and I'm just a mess.

As is often the case at the end of a modern Doctor's tenure, Twelve's last hurrah was full of looking back as much (if not more) than forward. We knew going in that he'd be sharing the spotlight with his first (sort of) incarnation, and I was okay with that. I was also okay—more than okay!—with Bill Potts making a return.

I'll be honest, though; it wasn't a whole long time after the release of the trailer that revealed Bill's return that I started thinking about how it might be possible. I never came anywhere close to being right (par for the course, with a Moffat episode), but I had enough difficulty concocting my own hypothesis that the Doctor's suspicions (and later, opinions) about her presence echoed mine. As a result, it was difficult for me to be as delighted by having Bill back as I wanted to be.

I was also oddly ambivalent about having the First Doctor on board. I had quite enjoyed An Adventure in Space and Time, so was rather looking forward to David Bradley's rendition. However, I didn't get quite the vibe from him that I have come to associate with One; some of that was obviously down to the writing.

While there are a lot of things I can appreciate about Moffat as a writer and showrunner, sometimes he really misses the mark for me. Perhaps it's not always the case, but here I believe it was from "over-egging the pudding." He had a lovely throw-away joke ("[Twelve is] my nurse. I realize that seems a little improbable, because he's a man. Older gentlemen, like women, can be put to use."), giving a nod to the way the show was written back during Hartnell's time. But when he brought it up again (and again and again: "In fact, this whole place could do with a good dusting. Obviously Polly isn't around anymore." and "Well, he clearly misses you! That ship of his is in dire need of a good spring clean!" and "Aren't all ladies made of glass in a way?"), I felt like I was being bludgeoned with Moffat's "See how progressive I am? My modern Doctor is appalled at how sexist these old-timey men were!" message. To me, this was an instance when the adage "less is more" could have been advantageously applied. (If I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt, I'd say that Moffat was trying to poke fun at those who are criticizing the casting choice for the Thirteenth Doctor, but I'm not really feeling that generous.)

The third known quantity from the preview was the mysterious soldier billed only as "the Captain." Fans on the internet were quick to devise pet theories (and worst-case scenarios) about the character. One that I saw early on and immediately resonated with me turned out to be accurate: that the Captain was a forebear of our beloved Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Given that I was completely expecting that to be the case, this was a facet of the episode that provided zero sense of mystery. Instead, I found myself nodding along knowingly to hints like the mention of Cromer.

It seems pretty clear to me, though, that the Captain has to have been the Brigadier's paternal grandfather rather than his father; the timing doesn't work otherwise. As the Captain is in his late forties or early fifties (Mark Gatiss himself is 51), and the Brigadier wouldn't be born until the late 1920s or '30s (Nicholas Courtney was born in December 1929), it has to have been one of the Captain's "boys" who was the Brig's dad. (According to the entry on the TARDIS Wikia page, Archibald Hamish Lethbridge-Stewart might instead be the Brig's great uncle rather than his grandfather. Headcanon that however you like.)

The characters were, of course, a major part of the episode, but there needed to be a plotline to bring them all together. For the most part, it worked fine (though you can always make an astronomer like me cringe with a reference to the "center of the universe," which (at best) doesn't exist in three-dimensional space). I didn't get the same thrill out of the "Doctor of War" montage in the Chamber of the Dead as I have in some previous retrospective scenes, but nor did it put me off.

However, I noticed the music a lot more this time than I usually do. With Murray Gold's reported retirement from Doctor Who after this episode, perhaps it's not surprising that there would be a musical retrospective as well, but I hadn't expected it. And though I noticed the Tenth Doctor's theme on my very first viewing, it wasn't until later that I also caught both Eleven's and Nine's hidden within the incidental music.

But it was the final farewells and the regeneration that really defined Twice Upon a Time. The interplay between Twelve and Bill was beautiful, though I suspect the entire premise of "memories housed in glass" as a basis for a story was an excuse for Moffat to pull that last trick out of his hat. It caught me completely off guard, and though I've never been a particular fan of Clara, I'll admit that I teared up.

Of course, Twelve's final moments were the worst to endure. I felt almost as if it were Capaldi himself giving notes to Whittaker, getting his own moment of closure on what has to have been the role of a lifetime for a fanboy who is clearly One Of Us. His final line, by my read, was 100% the actor coming to terms with this change: "Doctor, I let you go." Only one shot broke my heart more, and that was when the final vestige of Twelve slipped away, as his ring fell off of Thirteen's finger.

And then the roller coaster of emotion lurched around another bend, with a simple "Oh, brilliant," from our new heroine, and I was riding high again—briefly. With the touch of a button, the poor TARDIS suffered a "Systems Crisis" with "Multiple Operations Failures" (why the "old girl" hasn't figured out yet how to shield herself from the destructive nature of the Doctor's more recent regenerations, I'll never understand), and the new era is off to a cliffhangery start.

Although I wish these huge crises inside the TARDIS were the exception rather than the rule (both the Tenth and Eleventh incarnations crashed her right after regenerating, and the Twelfth got swallowed by a dinosaur), it is what it is, and I'm ready for the next chapter. It can't come soon enough.

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Comments

I thought it was awful. It took my favorite Doctor and rewrote him as a sexist imbecile.

And it was the last chance to not totally squander Peter Capaldi, who had the potential for so much more. Even in his finale, they did nothing with him. Hugely disappointing.

Looking back on the Moffat era as a whole, I genuinely thought, and still think, that season 5 was absolutely great. Sadly, he never equaled that level of quality again with any subsequent season - not that they were all bad. I did greatly enjoy the 50th anniversary special though - and rather wish that he had bowed out with that.

I would have loved to see the Capaldi under a different showrunner. To be fair, I've also greatly enjoyed Bill in the last series - and her presence, I guess, made the 1st Doctor meeting inevitable in some way. Although, I suspect that Bill and Heather Hartnell never imagined that one day Doctor Who would honor them with these particular characters.

By bingly (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

There are lots of things I've liked about Moffat's era, and a lot that I've loathed. I'm looking forward to seeing how someone else handles the show, though I'll admit to being nervous about that, too.

I also really wished for Capaldi to have had a different (additional, even) showrunner under whom to work. It would've been nice to see how his Doctor might have been different. (Even more so for Smith, whose Doctor suffered some indignities I think he might not have under someone else.)

Although the idea of bringing the First Doctor into it was intriguing, I agree that he was ... misrepresented. I think the first joke would've been a fun poke at the prevailing attitudes at the time Hartnell was in the role, but the repetition bled all the charm from the character.

And yes—Bill and Heather Hartnell would never have imagined this nod to them (nor, I suspect, would've appreciated it, much as I love it)!

By mrfranklin
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