Thursday 28 December 2017

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who 2017 Christmas Special - Twice Upon a Time

Doctor Who 2017 Christmas Special - Twice Upon a Time

After 13 years the annual Doctor Who Christmas special is pretty much a British television tradition. But every so often there’ll come one that stands out from the usual festive fluff, with this time of the year reserved for the current Doctor to bow out and pass the torch onto the next incarnation. Following in the footsteps of 2009’s The End of Time and 2013’s The Time of the Doctor, Twice Upon a Time serves as the swansong for Peter Capaldi’s twelfth Doctor and the debut of Jodie Whittaker in the role, with Steven Moffat also stepping down as showrunner before Chris Chibnall takes the reins. The episode also sees the return of the very first Doctor – now played by David Bradley on the back of his portrayal of William Hartnell in the excellent 50th anniversary biopic An Adventure in Space and Time.

Doctors 1 and 12The Captain

After refusing to regenerate at the end of previous series finale The Doctor Falls, the twelfth Doctor comes face to face with his very first incarnation at the arctic – a man who is equally unwilling to change. The pair momentarily put their worries aside when a British WW1 captain is plucked out of time and appears before them, chased by a race known as the Testimony.

Reuniting the Doctor with Bill Potts once again, the Testimony ask for the soldier in return. However the two Doctors go on the run – travelling to the centre of the universe to visit an old enemy to determine the origins of their apparent enemy. But no one can run away from time forever, and with Bill’s help the twelfth Doctor must decide whether to regenerate once again or finally rest in peace.

The TestimonyReunited with Bill and Nardole

Though Doctor Who Christmas specials have wildly varied in just how Christmassy they are over the years, it remains true that there’s always been something that felt different about them compared to an ordinary episode. Twice Upon a Christmas isn’t just about saying goodbye to the twelfth Doctor – it’s a story that plays heavily on the nostalgia. This doesn’t just come from the appearance of the first Doctor (along with the classic TARDIS as well as a nicely constructed segway out of the original The Tenth Planet footage), but also a second farewell to Bill and brief cameos from Clara and Nardole – the companions that made the Capaldi era. Even the captain is in on it, eventually revealed to be a relation of none other than the Brigadier. The whole episode was less action and more warmth, which is by no means a bad thing but tends to leave much less of lasting impression unless pulled off spectacularly. Twice Upon a Time has its moments (the Christmas ceasefire being the perfect historical piece to bring in this year), but only truly excels in terms of visuals and direction. Between the likes of Heaven Sent and World Enough and Time Rachel Talalay has quickly established herself as one of modern Who’s finest directors, and it’s a huge shame to hear that this may be her last episode. On this level Twice Upon a Time is absolutely stunning, with the sequences inside of the first Doctor’s TARDIS proving a particular highlight.

Inside the first Doctor's TARDISRusty returns!

Bradley’s portrayal of William Hartnell in An Adventure in Space and Time was enough to assure that he would do an excellent job as the first Doctor proper, however his personality brought through Moffat’s writing left much to be desired. It was revealed a few months before that this episode would address the first Doctor’s “casual sexism” – something that was brought about more from the time the show was produced rather than character himself. Though it did bring about a few laughs, the subject is hammered home where it begins to paint the Doctor in a rather unsympathetic light. It also goes against the idea brought about in World Enough and Time that Time Lord society had evolved far beyond the concepts of gender, as well as the whole scenario the show has created over the past few years to welcome a female Doctor. From an outward perspective it’s a jab at how society has changed and perhaps those vocally against a female Doctor, but from a story-standpoint it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and feels like a fairly damning character assassination. That said, moments like the first Doctor calling out his successor’s overuse of sonic devices and not simply looking with his own eyes captured the character perfectly.

One of the more surprising returns in the episode is that of Rusty – the Dalek-hating Dalek introduced way back in Into the Dalek. While its inclusion into the story as a whole feels incredibly forced (on top of the Daleks being wholly unnecessary to the story, it’s hard to believe they’d have so much trouble with a lone unit wired up into a tower), again it came as a nice throwback to one of Capaldi’s earliest adventures. Much more interesting were the Testimony, who filled the “villain” role nicely until it was revealed that this was one of the rare times where there wasn’t some sort of evil force in play. The CGI used to bring them to life may have been iffy, but the idea behind them was solid and created a nice twist (as well as some unfortunate implications) with Bill’s reappearance.

Clara (again)The two TARDIS

But of course for many the main event was simply Peter Capaldi’s regeneration into Jodie Whittaker, which judging by online reception looks to bring in just as many new fans as it has put off existing ones. After one final monologue from the twelfth Doctor about what it means to be the Doctor (which is either poignant or ironic given he spent a series and a half figuring that out, depending on how you look at it), the usual monotonous TARDIS regeneration scene took place and 13 firmly took her place with one simple word. In terms of Whittaker’s performance there was little to find fault with, but the relaunched series regeneration scenes are so similar to each other there was otherwise very little to truly distinguish it from the others. Even something as little as 11’s flash regeneration into 12 would have made a big difference, but a scenery change is definitely what these sequences are asking for the most. The cliffhanger ending of the Doctor falling to Earth after a forcible ejection by the TARDIS is likely to frustrate some fans given the long wait until Autumn, but will do a great job of keeping the energy of such a big change flowing into the next episode.

12 becomes 13Introducing the 13th Doctor

Twice Upon a Time is a solid farewell to the twelfth Doctor, even if it’s largely just an enjoyable piece of Doctor Who Christmas fluff propelled by both a crossover and regeneration. David Bradley performed wonderfully as the first Doctor even if the material he was given to work with was sometimes questionable, and the current Doctor’s story was wrapped up nicely before moving onto something entirely new. With the first female Doctor as well as a brand new showrunner, 2018 is about to embark on one of the biggest shakeups it’s had in its 54 year history. One way or another, it’s going to a pretty wild ride.

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