Twice Upon A Time – Doctor Who Review
Steven Moffat has a long history of subverting expectations when it comes to Doctor Who. If there is any hallmark of his tenure as showrunner, I think that might be it. His greatest achievements as well as his greatest missteps have often come as a result of this, in my opinion. Twice Upon a Time is no exception.
For a regeneration story, many in the audience will be expecting grand excitement on an epic scale. Instead, Moffat delivers a somewhat subdued and introspective script. Performed brilliantly by Capaldi, Bradley and Mackie, no question. But how will it hold up in the legend of the show?
Spoilers to follow, obviously…
I Remember You
Here we have two Doctors contemplating their ending, and their inevitable replacement. Set alongside the tale of Glass robots called Testimony, whose mission is to snap people up at the moment of their death and records their memories.
The episode took memories as a central idea and pivoted everything around it. A line from The Five Doctors will ring a bell with classic era fans; “A man is the sum of his memories, you know. A Time Lord even more so!”
That this story builds on this concept is perhaps appropriate given that it is another multi Doctor Story. And given that, like The Five Doctors, it has a new actor portraying the First Doctor.
Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who can perhaps be characterised by its hold on memory. It was a theme in his first series as showrunner and has cropped up time and time again ever since. Littered with not only references to the classic era, but also allusions to the feel and atmosphere of it. The Moffat era is nothing if not rooted in its desire to recapture the glory days of old.
The Glass Robots seem appropriate for such a self reflective episode. It is self consciously addressing its metanarrative in a very classically Steven Moffat way. I’ll get on to if this is ultimately a good thing another time.
Capaldi’s final speech, given into thin air, but directed at his successor, was again full of references. Moffat’s line from his Doctor Who parody, The Curse of Fatal Death, that the Doctor was ‘Never cruel or cowardly’ has stuck, becoming now a central tenet.
The resolution, saving the Captain from death on the battlefield in World War One, felt in many ways to be a callback to Moffat’s first episode in 2005. “Just this once, everybody lives!”
The episode is stuffed with jokes, references, and callbacks to continuity as well as characaturing how the Doctor felt and thought in his early years.
This is an issue that may divide fans somewhat. Yes, attitudes in the 1960s were monstrous, and it is very appropriate to address this. But, perhaps I am misremembering, but I do not recall the First Doctor being quite so outspoken in his misogyny. Casual misogyny, but rarely blatant. But, again, I may be mistaken here.
Bill is Back… Kind of.
A big worry I had going into this story was that the return of Bill would undermine the ending she was given in The Doctor Falls. It felt like a decent send off and had given some rarely seen closure to a Doctor-Companion relationship. To do all that and then sweep the rug out from under the audience and say “no, she’s not actually gone!” felt a little cheap.
But, having seen the episode, it doesn’t quite do that entirely. There were certainly moments where I felt like we were heading down that road, but the Doctor instilled enough doubt to keep it interesting. And ultimately, it is up to the audience to decide if this really was Bill or not.
The return of Clara also happened. And… yep, that’s all that needs to be said there.
Actually, no, that’s not true. The concept of the Doctor recovering his memories of Clara was certainly something worth commenting on. It was thematically consistent, though still felt a little haphazardly thrown into the script to tie up a loose end. Still, it was okay.
With Murray Gold moving on from Doctor Who next year, this was his last outing and sharp eared viewers may have noticed a number of musical callbacks. Vale Decem – the Tenth Doctor’s farewell theme – resurfaced for a retelling of the First Doctor’s regeneration. But, most notably, we heard the Doctor’s Theme from series one in 2005 come back a couple of times.
This is significant. It is one of the first tracks by Gold you’ll find on the soundtrack, and perhaps the first signature piece he created for the show. To bring it back now feels very appropriate, and takes the show full circle. Murray Gold says goodbye to the show by returning to the beginning of his tenure. What’s more, that haunting, soft, mysterious voice that so shaped our view of the Ninth Doctor could perhaps hint at a return to those quieter moments of subtlety.
A New Doctor At Last
I could (and will) write reams about this regeneration. It is, perhaps, one of my favourites, but mostly because of the sheer stark contrast it presents. In terms of writing style, we see two very different showrunners in the span of these few minutes.
Capaldi’s final monologue was touching in all the right ways, playing of sentiments Peter has talked about in real life. But, at the same time, it has a certain Moffat-esque clunkiness to it that raised my eyebrows a tad. I did have to rewatch it and listen to it a few times to really parse what it was that niggled me.
Peter does an absolutely stellar job in his delivery. He’s one of the finest actors in the business right now, and as such has always had the ability to take slightly weaker scripts and make them shine. Here is no exception. But when you take a look at the speech on paper, bits of it feel a little over written.
“Be kind” is such a good message and seems so central to Moffat’s ideals for the show. I did feel it would have been more powerful as a final, punchier line. That he says it twice (once just dropping it in casually) reduced the impact of it, alas. Again, this took a couple of watches for me to notice, so perhaps it’s all well and good.
When Jodie arrives, we get these wonderful moments of quiet. The deep breath before the plunge. We see a slow build up, a rising excitement bubbling up in her face. And then, the only words she has spoken as the Doctor.
And then we’re off! The TARDIS spinning out of control, once again, as has become something of a tradition for New-Who. Reminiscent of Matt Smith’s first scenes to an extent, but done with less words and more action. No Doctor-explores-their-new-body scene, no self deprecating comments on her appearance, and no punchline.
I’m so optimistic for the 13th Doctor’s time.