Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: Rachel Talalay
WRITER: Steven Moffat
MUSIC: Murray Gold
The latest Christmas special for “Doctor Who”, titled ‘Twice Upon a Time’, was a fitting love letter to long time fans of the series. This is not particularly surprising as this is the final episode for one of those fans as we say goodbye to self-described Whovian Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. It’s still hard for me to think that four years has gone by since he replaced Matt Smith’s Doctor in the Christmas special, ‘The Time of the Doctor’.
The episode is also seeing the end of an era for showrunner Steven Moffat. For those not in the know, this is the man who has overseen the show’s production since series five and has written for the show since the first series when the show returned in 2005. Moffat himself has been a Whovian since the early days, so it really comes as no surprise that he would write a tribute the show he’s loved for so long.
In the finale for series ten, the Doctor is about to regenerate but he refuses claiming that he doesn’t want to continue on. Before we can see what will become of the Doctor, though, he ends up on an icy planet and comes face-to-face with the First Doctor (David Bradley). Here, we learn that the First Doctor does not want to regenerate as well and this causes all of time to freeze due to the potential paradox should the First Doctor not regenerate.
In addition to this, a Captain (Mark Gatiss) during World War I has found himself stuck in the same frozen timeline as the Doctors. As it turns out, he is supposed to die and was being collected by the Testimony, an AI that swoops in and gathers the memories of people just before they die, thus preserving the dead through their memories. The Doctors and the Captain are taken in by the Testimony and the Doctors are told that they can have Bill (Pearl Mackie) back only if they hand over the Captain.
Well, the Doctor doesn’t like this and takes his earlier self, Bill and the Captain away from the Testimony so that he can figure out who the Testimony really is and save everyone in the process. Now, despite all that is going on, what we’re really learning about is the Doctor himself and why he doesn’t want to change in both lifetimes. Unlike the complimentary relationship that the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors had in ‘Day of the Doctor’, the First and Twelfth Doctors don’t initially get along.
This is due mostly to the First Doctor’s outdated views and taking himself too seriously, which is sort of a meta statement on how much the times have changed since the show’s beginnings. Part of the humor found in the episode comes from the First Doctor saying something that isn’t exactly PC anymore and the Twelfth Doctor trying to correct him. I found this ironic considering who the Twelfth Doctor will eventually regenerate into.
Both David Tennant and Smith’s Doctors previously played the Doctor with energy and extroverted personalities and their finales matched their portrayals. The Twelfth Doctor was more of an introverted character, often wondering what his true role was in the Universe and whether or not he was a good man. This episode embraced that and by the end, we find a Doctor who tries to impart what he has learned in a great message for his future self.
In some ways, as much as the episode pays tribute to what has come before, it also embraces the future of what is to come. At the end of the episode, Jodie Whittaker makes her official debut as the Thirteenth Doctor and she also makes television history in the process as the first female Doctor. While I’m always sad to see the current Doctor pass on, I absolutely can’t wait to see where the Thirteenth Doctor, and new showrunner Chris Chibnall, will take us when the show returns for series eleven!