Doctor Who - 2017 Christmas Special - Twice Upon a Time - Review


Well, here we go again. Doctor Who Christmas specials have been a tradition since 2005. Regenerations at Christmas have happened more often than not as well. This time we got both. The Twelfth Doctor teamed up with the First Doctor in both of their final adventures. Continue reading to see how it played out, and beware there will be spoilers if you haven't watched it yet!

Peter Capaldi is a very kind man. Any account you hear of him reaffirms this, but he is also very generous. He didn't get the run on Doctor Who that he deserved, but he did the best with what he had. He is the only Doctor who had to share his screen time with another Doctor in his first full episode, and last full episode. Matt Smith's Doctor made a cameo in his first episode, while David Bradley recreated William Hartnell's Doctor for his final episode. No one else had to deal with that, and even so, Capaldi shined through. It just shows what strength and grace he has as the Doctor, and how much the role really, truly meant to him.

As far as the plot goes.....well, there wasn't much. Hardly anything happened, and this time, that is okay. The reason it is okay is because the last two regeneration episodes - "The End of Time" and "The Time of the Doctor" were very convoluted and heavy. They threw everything but the kitchen sink in there, and it made it bogged down. Steven Moffat - in his last ever Doctor Who script - kept it simple here, and it paid off.

The funny thing is, the takeaway of this story is that everybody lives. Two words that Moffat wrote in his first ever episode of Doctor Who in 2005...and hasn't really killed anybody since. Lots and lots and lots of people - big important people - have died because of Moffat. River Song, The Ponds, Clara, Danny Pink, but in spite of their death, in one way or another, everybody lives. The same thing happened to Bill Potts who died as a human, became a Cyberman and then rescued by her water girlfriend and lived on as stuff. She returned in this episode, or a collection of her memories did, to help the Doctor decide to keep on going.

The notion of not wanting to go on was pertaining to the First Doctor as well. The original regeneration story is one of the lost episodes that no longer exist, with only a little bit of footage having survived. So the completist in Steven Moffat wanted to fill a gap there as well. Seeing his future self and using that as motivation to go on has been used before, in the 50th anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor". The idea was effective here though, as both versions needed each other.


One of the most heartwarming aspects of "Twice Upon a Time" was the World War I soldier that Mark Gatiss played. I have had my issues with Gatiss as a writer, but he is a wonderful actor, and played the soldier with grace and poise. Then when it is revealed that he is an ancestor of the Brigadier, the tears start falling, and they don't let up until the credits roll. 

It feels like the episode was treading water just to get to the last 10 minutes or so. Usually, that would be disastrous. But the joy of this episode was seeing the banter between the Doctors, and watching Capaldi relish in the role he was born to play. It is just too bad he only played it for one season.

Sure, he's had the role for three seasons, but he had played three very different Doctors. In season 8, he was the mean grumpy alien who saved people as a chore. In season 9, he was the funky hipster grandfather who still didn't live up to his potential (until "Heaven Sent" which I will forever defend). Then in season 10 it clicked. He became the Doctor! The Season 10 Doctor is the epitome of what the Doctor is and who he should be. I sorely wish we got three seasons of that version of the Doctor, but I am happy we got him at all.

Speaking of The Doctor, the way the First Doctor was written was a bit weird to me. David Bradley played him to perfection, but I don't remember the First Doctor ever being chauvinistic, sexist and borderline creepy. I understand that it was to highlight the different times and stuff, but the Doctor is an alien who had been in the future. His ideals wouldn't have reflected the current times. In other words, the Doctor would know that it was wrong of the men in the 60's to think that way. The show never tackled that back then, so it's not like it went against something done or said in the show directly, it just seemed a little tone deaf and a stretch for the sake of a joke. David Bradley is going to do audio adventures as the First Doctor, and you never know, he could always return to the show too. When he does, I hope the character is closer to what he was.

The episode had everything needed on the "regeneration episode" checklist - cameos, surprises, emotions and heart. As polarizing as the character of Clara Oswald is, the cameo was needed for this Doctor's closure. She was a big part of him, whether you like it or not, and like Rose for the Tenth Doctor, will always be intertwined with this incarnation. Matt Lucas popped up too, but while fun, wasn't nearly as important. Nardole had grown on me as a character, and as most of the people Moffat has written - the door is open for his return in some capacity, should Chibnall see a story need.

Even his last few moments of the Doctor, he summed up his season 10 Doctor. He was reiterating all of the things he learned while in this body, and what he should do to continue. His last words "Doctor, I let you go" were more Moffat and Capaldi speaking through the character it seems. It could have also been a response to the much maligned "I don't want to go" from the Tenth Doctor's era as well. But since Steven Moffat has been with the show in some capacity for 12 years, it was his message too.

Our first look at the Thirteenth Doctor

The Doctor's first words!
Then, as so many times before, the Doctor we loved was gone, and there was a stranger there instead. For the first time it was a female stranger. Everything else was familiar as Chris Chibnall's first scene written as showrunner: An exploding TARDIS (so it can regenerate too), the Doctor in distress - falling to an unknown location and time on Earth. Simple first words too, which I think was a wise choice. The last three Doctors have commented on some sort of body part when they came to be. It would be a little too easy and on the nose to do that now since she is a woman. But in the short time that we saw Jodie Whittaker's Thirteenth Doctor she already won me over. Her eyes have a sense of joy and wonder - akin to David Tennant's that is needed for the role. It was a great tease, and I am even more ready for her proper debut than I was before.

Overall this was the best regeneration since the first one of the relaunched series (Eccleston [9] to Tennant [10]). Moffat went out with a bang, and Chibnall has big shoes to fill. The Doctor will return in 2018 with a new showrunner, a new face and a plethora of new companions. 

Doctor Who airs exclusively on BBC One and BBC America.

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