There’s been a little tradition on the Stuart Reviews Stuff blog since 2013, and it’s that I never write a Doctor Who Christmas Special review on Christmas Day.
And maybe it’s that I’ve wanted time to digest it or maybe it’s because it’s Christmas Day and I just haven’t been bothered, but I feel that it’s time to change that.
Because this Christmas Special is that little bit more special. It’s an episode that I have been waiting on with both a sense of feverish anticipation and a large dollop of dread.
Anticipation not only because it is a regeneration episode, but also it’s one that follows on from the great cliffhanger from The Doctor Falls and has the First Doctor in it.
Dread because it’s the end of the Peter Capaldi era. And no, it’s not “Oh no, the Doctor is going to turn into a woman” dread, because I find that sort of mindset to be troubling, if not utterly pathetic; instead, it’s
dread because it is the end of the Peter Capaldi era. I’m not suggesting for a moment his episodes have been the better than any other Doctor, and the updated episode rankings for the upcoming print versions of Stuart Reviews Doctor Who will reflect that, but I will 100% nail my colours to the mast and say that he is my favourite and the absolute best actor to play the Doctor. He’s been superb and I will miss his Doctor greatly.
I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of it like this before, but while Doctor Who is one long and continuous series that has run since 1963, the style and tone that each actor brings means that to an extent, whenever they depart, it feels like it’s the end of the show as it is, rather than it simply being a case of a new person taking the role and keeping the plates spinning.
And that’s generally ok, because for as long as I’ve been watching, whenever an actor has left the part I’ve felt it was time for a change and have looked forward to it. But not this time. I really didn’t want the Capaldi era to end because of his quality, and so now that it is over, I feel quite sad.
But you’re reading this to find out my thoughts on his last episode – Twice Upon A Time – and as such, I’ll get to it.
Doctor Who – Twice Upon A Time Review: What’s This One About?
The Doctor(s) come to terms with regenerating.
Thoughts – First, The Story
In the run up to this episode, I’d read that because it was to be broadcast on Christmas Day, Steven Moffat wanted to keep it quite light and uplifting.
In fairness, he achieved that, but in all honesty up until the last 15 minutes it was so light that it was a bit of a nothing episode.
It seemed a little bit like Moffat felt having the First Doctor there was enough to carry things along, but if you were to take every other element of the episode to that point except for the First Doctor and all the little
nods to fans of the show who were familiar with him, then you’d be left with something that failed to deliver.
Put simply, the story was that glass people found a problem with time based around a WW1 soldier who should have died but didn’t, the Doctor goes to speak to a Dalek to find out what was going on and then when he realised it wasn’t a diabolical scheme, he went and sorted it so that the soldier didn’t die.
I mean…it’s not exactly The Girl in the Fireplace or Blink levels of sophistication is it?
There were lots of funny lines of dialogue which amused me, but as a story, it really wasn’t up to much.
The acting, however, was.
Of the four main actors, everyone – including the deserved Stuart Reviews Stuff whipping boy Mark Gatiss – was excellent. No, despite what Steven Moffat has said, David Bradley does not play the character of the First Doctor exactly as William Hartnell did, but he tried his best. If anything, the problem with him was that he was written as an old relic from a bygone age, and as a result of that, he couldn’t have played the part the same, but he was still very good. And Pearl Mackie too played the part to her high standard.
As for Capaldi, well I dare say every review I’ve written while he’s been in the part has been a love letter to his talents, and it won’t surprise you that I thought that again.
And that leads us to…
So while the first 45 minute were pretty light, the last 15 minutes delivered in spades.
When it came to it, I think everyone knew that Peter Capaldi would deliver a strong farewell monologue and that it would supported by the sort of powerful incidental music to bring out the emotion of the occasion.
That’s exactly what happened.
Outside the ship (yes, I did love the reference to how the First Doctor called it a ship), there was the sadness of his final conversations with Clara, Bill and Nardole heightened by the music from the death scene of The Doctor Falls and then inside when he decided he would regenerate, it was a more stirring music.
And you know what? It didn’t actually matter what he said – because I’ve watched that bit twice now and the words themselves didn’t have that much to them – but it’s how he said it. It was sad and yet uplifting.
Then once the regeneration actually happened, we were – much like with the last two changes of lead – left with a new Doctor in a chaotic and dangerous ‘To Be Continued’ situation.
And though I’m sad that it won’t be Peter Capaldi in the role when the story does continue, it’s still a story I can’t wait to see.
The Ends of Other Eras
This episode of course didn’t just close the book on Peter Capaldi’s time with Doctor Who; it’s also the end for Murray Gold and Steven Moffat.
I’m sad to see Gold go, even though it probably is time to give someone else a shot. What’s noticeable about Twice Upon A Time is how much music is reused.
I could be wrong, but I’m sure I’d heard every bit of it before, but when you consider that the aforementioned track from The Doctor Falls was new only six months ago and is absolutely one of the top three pieces of incidental music in Doctor Who history, he obviously has a lot left in the tank.
Moffat though I am glad to see gone.
Yes, he occasionally can still write well, and this year brought us one of the better companions in Bill Potts, but I totally get why so many people are sick of him. The show needs a freshness in terms of how it’s
written; a new perspective and bit of rejuvenation.
There is – as much as it appeals to me – too much time given to referencing past stories and events.
The show essentially needs the sort of shake up that it was given in Series 7 back in 1970 if it wants to stay relevant and popular in the eyes of the general public rather than just Doctor Who fans, and I hope Chris Chibnall can provide that.
So thanks for a lot of good times Steven Moffat, but as the old saying goes, off you pop.
- Endemic of the sort of problem I have with Moffat’s writing is the character of The Captain. The moment I saw that first trailer, I – and I’m sure most of you – said “I bet he’ll turn out to be Lethbridge Stewart’s dad”. Gosh, I was shocked to find out that’s exactly who he was.
- The running joke about the brandy provided plenty of laughs.
- As did the sexist lines by the First Doctor about how women should be cleaning and how he’d give Bill a jolly good smacked bottom.
- The Doctor really must have scarpered away from Ben and Polly pretty bloody fast, eh?
- Maybe that should be a random observation in my Tenth Planet review?
- I personally would have liked The First Doctor to be portrayed slightly more heroically than he was.
- And as you might have guessed, I let out a sigh of despair when I realised that the Daleks – or a Dalek – were in it. Let’s hope they get left behind for the next few seasons at least.
- Had this been just another Christmas story, the bit about the 1914 truce would have been fitting. As it was, it felt like the potential emotional impact was smothered by the regeneration.
- My family and girlfriend all took the piss out of me before it started, saying I’d probably cry. In fact, after our Christmas dinner and before she left the room to go watch a different TV show elsewhere (the philistine), my mum rather cuttingly said “Don’t cry too much now”. Well sod the lot of them, I’m happy to admit I shed a tear or two in the last few minutes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a testament to the quality of the presentation.
Doctor Who – Twice Upon A Time Review: Final Thoughts
Well, there it is, the end of the Peter Capaldi era.
I think I’ve made it clear already, but I’ll say it again…
He might not have always had the best material to work with, but he always made the best of the material he had to work with, and that is why he is so good.
And it’s why – to be like Steven Moffat and provide a reference that only the Doctor Who superfans among you will get – I shall miss him. Yes, I shall miss him.
But I won’t miss Moffat.