tue 16/07/2024

Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time, BBC One review – a defiantly small and personal goodbye | reviews, news & interviews

Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time, BBC One review – a defiantly small and personal goodbye

Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time, BBC One review – a defiantly small and personal goodbye

Capaldi and Moffat traded thrills for laughter and tears in their flawed but touching finale

The Doctor teams with his first incarnation and Bill Potts to face some terrifyingly bad CGIBBC/BBC Worldwide

And so, with one last speech on the importance of kindness, Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat bid farewell to the TARDIS. In their final Doctor Who episode, Twice Upon a Time subverted expectations with a small, sweet adventure which valued character above plot.

We picked up from the end of Series 10, with the Twelfth Doctor meeting his first incarnation (brought back to life by David Bradley). Both refused to regenerate, causing a paradox which disrupted space/time, and brought with it a WWI Captain (Mark Gatiss, pictured below) and a glass creature. All three were abducted by the creature, who revealed it had former companion Bill Potts captive.

Mark Gatiss as Captain Lethbridge-Stewart in Doctor Who: Twice Upon a TimeAlready confused? It didn’t get any simpler. In the end the plot was incidental, only serving to teach the Doctors a lesson on their importance. The stakes were far smaller than the usual fare; there was no risk to Earth, the Universe, or reality itself. The implication was that if the Doctor doesn’t regenerate, then he can’t keep saving people – that was the real threat of this episode.

This was typical of a Capaldi-era finale. Previous series endings have seen him refuse to let Clara die, and sacrifice himself to save families from Cybermen. In this episode, he tricks the glass avatars just to save the Captain. The message has always been the same: one life is as valuable as a million. The final moments between the two Doctors were beautiful, and showed that although fairytales don’t exist, a bit of kindness can make the Universe a nicer place.

The highlights came in the dialogue – seeing the modern-day Doctor play off his 20th century counterpart was a joy. Moffat previously had fun comparing Tennant and Smith’s mannerisms in The Day of the Doctor; here he doubled down with the sheer distance between the First and Twelfth incarnations. Archaic attitudes were questioned as the First Doctor repeatedly referenced the “fairer sex” and dated ideas about gender roles. It was a risky but worthwhile decision not to sugar coat some of the Doctor’s questionable past demeanours.

It was refreshing to see a final episode that doesn’t get bogged down in its own self-importance (à la Tennant’s The End of Time and Smith’s The Time of the Doctor). Instead, the call-backs were subtler and less integral to the plot. Along with Bill and the First Doctor, there were appearances from Matt Lucas’ Nardole, Jenna Coleman’s Clara (pulling double duty with ITV’s Victoria this Christmas), Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’s father, and Rusty the good Dalek, from Capaldi’s second ever episode. Even composer Murray Gold brought back some classic scores not heard since the Tennant era. He’s not committed his future to the show yet; perhaps this was a final goodbye to the series after 12 years of service.

Despite its heart, and its comedy, Twice Upon a Time wasn’t one for the casual viewer. The complicated and redundant plot made for an untense affair, especially for the uninitiated. Even the special effects were poorly conceived and executed – the floating balls of video clips were particularly laughable. The pressure is on new showrunner Chris Chibnall to bring back accessible family thrills to Christmas primetime; Moffat’s finale didn’t convince that Doctor Who still deserves the biggest slot of the year.Peter Capaldi regenerates into Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who: Twice Upon a TimeThe regeneration however, was a triumph. With swirling blues and purples, Capaldi hurtled through the TARDIS with one last lecture on pears, cowardice, and why kindness is the most important reason to act. He’s not had a smooth run; poor writing in the early series made for an inaccessible Doctor. But he’s been a fantastic ambassador for the show (and the UK) around the world, and for one last time he proved that he can deliver a speech better than any of his predecessors.

Like much of the Moffat era, this episode’s effectiveness depended on your familiarity with the show. For those who have stuck with Doctor Who, it was an emotional goodbye to Number Twelve. For everyone else, it was a dense affair with a lot of talking and some questionable CGI. Ironically, this episode's flaws were the opposite of Smith's finale, which "suffered from too much plot and not enough character" according to theartsdesk's review.

Over now to Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker, who was only given two words before being flung from the TARDIS in a typical new Doctor arrival. If Chibnall’s track record is anything to go by, expect a return to Russell T Davies’ lighter, more episodic, family-friendly Doctor Who – easier for the casual viewer, but less stimulating for the box-setters. But with the first female (and second Northern) Doctor in the fray, maybe we’re in for something different altogether.


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