Don’t you think he looks tired? A review of Twice Upon a Time

Hello my dear Whovians

We’ve just had some of the hottest days of Spring and finally we may be full swing towards Summer but I’d like to take you back a few months to when we had Christmas lunch and presents and sat down as a collective ( well in my imagination I think we all did the same thing at 6,30pm in our different households ) with trepidation and excitement to view Twice Upon a Time. Moffat is to be applauded as tried to save the Doctor Who Christmas day episode which when Chris Chibnall decided he didn’t want to start his tenure on a Christmas episode. This was, of course, his decision as a showrunner but does the episode please the crowds or does it fall short of the epic mark?

I do wonder if in five years time I will look at this story contribution from of Steven Moffat after Chris Chibnall’s era is finished and be able to love this story. I will be honest with you, right now this story just fills me with disappointment and I will explain why. I think this was always going to be a hard episode for Steven Moffat to write. There’s a certain irony that when RTD was finishing his era, the last story ‘End of Time Part 2’ got so badly criticised for what seemed a real indulgence with an extended sequence of David Tennant’s Doctor saying goodbye to his companions. It lasted in all around fifteen minutes but here Steven Moffat gets a whole extra hour to mark a final hurrah for the 12th Doctor before he actually regenerates. He puts in so many requirements to fulfil this last story: a seasonal offering story, a multi-doctor story, a regeneration story with old characters returning and then saying goodbye to the last 8 years. And therein lies its weakness in trying to make those various elements come together for a cohesive whole.

When Moffat is in good form he can be amazing but it becomes a difficult story to pull off because of what Moffat has already written. If you consider this episode as the final part of a trilogy (so World Enough and Time/ The Doctor Falls/ TUAT) the emotional impact of the story has already taken place in  ‘The Doctor Falls’. Bill was accidentally shot, converted to a Cyberman, died and was revived by an alien oil. The Doctor was then mortally wounded by the Cyberman but destroyed them before his regeneration starts to kick in. The end point is going towards the regeneration but how do you do to create an even bigger plot peak before the regeneration? Bring back a previous Doctor of course.

I am ‘THE ‘doctor

The first doctor said once to Ian Chesterton ‘I am not a half-wit’ and it’s a pity that Steven Moffat didn’t remember those words when he was writing for him in ‘Twice Upon a Time’ If you look at some of the pre-publicity shots and the trailer for Twice Upon a Time the episode is sold to us on David Bradley’s appearance as the 1st Doctor and would seem to suggest the 1st will have an equal role in the episode than he did. Bringing back someone unexpected such as the 1st Doctor is a fantastic idea but what does the 1st Doctor actually do to progress the story? Not a lot…  He was in essence generally befuddled, asking questions to the 12th Doctor and behaving more like a companion. This aspect of the story really riled me after I rewatched the story again without the general bonhomie that Christmas gives you. I suppose not every era of doctor who can be liked equally by a writer and I get a sense of that here but then why introduce that particular doctor at all? The writing for the 1st Doctor is just off kilter so I do wonder if Steven Moffat actually understands Hartnell’s doctor. This is one of the real flaws of the episode. Actually, I am surprised that Mark Gatiss didn’t offer to co-write in this special given how much love he put into in ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’. He seems a huge fan of the 1st Doctor. I wonder if Moffat just fixed on a rather weak premise that the 12th doctor is the first doctor in a new regeneration cycle to then bring back David Bradley as the 1st Doctor of the original cycle where neither wants to regenerate? I cant see there is any evidence shown in the Tenth Planet that the first Doctor expressed feeling this way.

I do understand that when its Christmas there is by necessity some lightness required hence the wisecracks about the look of the Tardis and the use of the sonic screwdriver but the characterisation of the 1st Doctor in Twice Upon a Time was mostly a one-dimensional buffoon at times due to the awful lines. I did enjoy the quips about the 12th sunglasses but other lines did fall flat for me. It’s not David Bradley’s fault. David delivered the lines given and got some of the essences of the character although not quite the authority. The 1st doctor could certainly be irascible but had a powerful mysterious intelligence there which Moffat didn’t capture all. The 1st Doctor had been shown to be a highly intelligent man ( with a will and resilience as strong as steel. An early writers’ guide Howe, Stammers & Walker (1992), p. 16–17) by script editor David Whitaker describes “Doctor Who” as “frail-looking but wiry and tough as an old turkey”. Consider the way the 1st Doctor defeated the Celestial Toymaker by ordering the last piece of the Trilogic Game to move using the Toymaker’s voice or how he beat The Meddling Monk by taking his dimensional control.I felt a sense of relief that at least  Steven Moffat didn’t mess around with the actual 1st Doctor’s regeneration and we saw the Bill Hartnell regeneration at the end.

David Bradley captures the essence of the doctor but not the authority
David Bradley captures the essence of the doctor but not the authority

Regarding the 1960’s sexism and xenophobia as others have noted it is out of character for the first doctor. I did a complete watch of Hartnell stories a couple of years back and my impression was that the 1st treated his companions with respect including the female ones.  This story is meant to take place at the end of his era and although the 1st did show disdain for humans when Barbara and Ian first entered the Tardis in ‘ An Unearthly Child’  he changed as they all travelled together and he mellowed allowing and inviting new people onto the Tardis. Due to this influence of travelling with others, he became a much more curious man, certainly with more of a twinkle in his eye  .The Hartnell era was a hugely varied era which was built on learning and respecting other cultures. Look at the historical stories (The Aztecs, The Massacre and the Reign of Terror) where the crew came face to face with moral dilemmas on whether to interfere in history. Steven got so angry at the Doctor that he couldn’t take Anne Chaplet in the Tardis that he wanted to leave not understanding that the Doctor was all too well aware of the dangers of changing history. Barbara was also a strong character and more than once would challenge the Doctor’s view.  Was he really that concerned with females cleaning the Tardis? Not really. He wasn’t born on Earth in the early 20th century to mirror the opinions of some men in the 1960’s. Was the assumption made that because the Doctor was living in the 1960’s for a few months when Susan went to Coal Hill school that he would have developed those views?

The line to Bill about giving her ‘a smacked bottom’ was an actual line that had been spoken by the 1st Doctor but in context was originally spoken in a parental discipline way to his grand-daughter Susan, who we are told the Doctor had been looking after for years. Said to Bill, a grown unrelated adult, by the 1st Doctor it came across as bizarre. I did cringe quite a lot with the lines about ‘experience of the fairer sex ‘by the 1st Doctor because he has been a father, a grandfather. He isn’t a sweaty adolescent. The Doctor is an alien from Gallifrey and to honest I don’t ever think the 1st doctor would be so prudish to be overwhelmed as he seemed to be by Bill’s ‘So have I ‘comment. I’m not sure what Moffat’s point was portraying the 1st Doctor in this way but it did feel a somewhat disrespectful interpretation which hopefully will not put off newer fans from exploring the very varied 1st Doctor’s era.

An empty vessel

I’m not sure what’s most important to you as a Doctor fan whether you consider plot, look to characterisation more or enjoy the emotional moments. When I was a young fan watching Tom Baker and Peter Davison the emotional moments for the regulars were very few and far between in the stories and were normally reserved for when the companions left so I watched the stories for character and adventure. The plot of ‘ Twice Upon a Time’, besides the regeneration, felt uneven and under-developed.

I did enjoy the idea of what Testimony was and the prospect of holding onto memories in a physical way as it ties with the idea of regeneration and saying goodbye which Moffat seemed to be doing here. The reappearance of Rusty was however right out of left field and uninspiring. Of all the excitement to see someone return from the past who did you think it might be? Susan? Romana? And we got….. Rusty! It’s a bit contrived to suggest that Rusty’s database was the largest in the galaxy. Larger than the matrix? I really like the suggestion of some antipodean podcasters that Moffat could have created a credible reason very simply to go to see Rusty: The 12th doctor suggests to the 1st Doctor they return to Gallifrey to go to the matrix. The 1st Doctor says he cant return to Gallifrey being on the run from his people and so the 12th Doctor has to divert to Velingrad.

Testimony were holding onto memories of the dead
Testimony was holding onto memories of the dead

Talking of returns the return of Bill made sense in the context of who Testimony was, as she is dead as a human being even if Heather can reorder atoms. Knowing it wasn’t really her though but a glass avatar, considerably lessened the impact of her return on an emotional level for me as a viewer. Although Bill being rescued by Heather in ‘The Doctor Falls’ was cheesy after a suitably dark exploration of conversion as a Cybermen her personal arc felt complete. To see her again was, as with seeing Nardole, sweet and heartfelt on one level, because I really liked their characters in series 10 (Nardole, it seems confirmed, has died on the ship) but knowing they were avatars I couldn’t truly love that moment. My head was saying ‘but they aren’t real ‘‘

Bill -A glass avatar of memories
Bill -A glass avatar of memories

Peter Capaldi held the story together with a strong performance despite the script’s weaknesses. I can’t deny his doctor has become a firm favourite of mine in the new era. I did enjoy the brief moment that the Doctor got his memories back of Clara purely for the look on his face of delight. As much as Clara over-stayed her welcome just for that instant I let any dislike I had of her go. The last 5 minutes in the Tardis was a very long-winded goodbye from the ‘speech’ doctor, but we have history with this Doctor talking out loud, verbalising his thoughts and the ‘Doctor I let you go’ line was really end of era stuff  for both Peter and Steven so I did choke up especially when the ring fell off the 12th Doctor’s finger.

Peace over the trenches

The Christmas truce of 1914 was definitely the best idea of the whole story. I got ‘the feels ‘at this part as it resonated in a way the rest of the story didn’t.  Rachel Talalay did her usual superb direction to capture the moment when the war stopped. I do think Gatiss’s portrayal of the Captain was the most honest and interesting out of all the supporting cast as a restrained subtle portrayal of an ordinary soldier coming to terms with death. Trust Moffat to write a Lethbridge Stewart in the proceedings the little time meddler! He can’t resist giving a bit of a gift to his friend Mark Gatiss in his last story  Hamish saluting the Doctor seemed like a redeeming nod from Moffat for writing the terrible Cyber Brigadier. At least I hope so.

Mark Gatiss plays an ancestor of the Brigadier
Mark Gatiss plays an ancestor of the Brigadier

A last bow

Is this a classic regeneration story to be remembered for years? Personally, it’s not 24 carat Gold for me.  ‘The Doctor Falls’ should have been the 12th’s final story. It was Peter’s wish to meet the Mondasian Cybermen and Steven Moffat did him proud than with a story full of quality twists writing for that episode and also‘World Enough and Time’. Sadly the writing wasn’t held up in the Christmas episode.  It had moments where ‘Twice’ hit the right notes, the truce of the first world war, the ordinary soldier, saying goodbye but others which missed: such as an uncharacteristic first doctor with a reliance on tired stereotypes, Rusty (why Rusty?)    ‘Twice’ didn’t add anything special to the 12th doctor’s era which is a real shame for the departure of one of the closest interpretations to a classic series doctor I could have hoped for. I have loved Peter Capaldi as the D0ctor and will miss him tremendously. My Score 6/10

Let me know your thoughts on this story on here or on Twitter. Let’s talk!

Just a quick additional: Early days but Jodie Whittaker’s appearance has made me excited to see more. Brilliant!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Our Code of Conduct >

Be respectful. Play nice. Be kind.