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Doctor Who Christmas Special Twice Upon A Time

Review by Paul Bowler

[Contains Spoilers!]

A glittering festive voyage awaits in this year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special: Twice Upon a Time as the 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi) teams up with his original self, the first Doctor (David Bradley – Harry Potter, Game Of Thrones), and former travelling companion Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) for one finale adventure in time and space.

The two Doctors with one destiny meet in the frozen landscape of the South Pole, each stubbornly refusing to regenerate, but soon the Time Lords and their TARDISes must unite against mysterious enchanted glass people that have been snatching victims from frozen time. A First World War captain (Mark Gatiss), fated to die on the battlefield, is also plucked from the trenches to play a role in the Doctor’s story. There’s an emotional reunion with Bill Potts for the Doctor as well in this moving tale of hope during humanity’s darkest hour. Twice Upon a Time brings the 12th Doctor’s era to a spectacular close as the Time Lord confronts his past to embrace the future, before a new lifetime of adventures begins as Jodie Whittaker becomes the 13th Doctor!

As well as being Peter Capaldi’s swansong after four years as the Doctor, Twice Upon a Time is also the final episode to be written by outgoing show runner of nearly eight years, Steven Moffat, and the special 60 minute episode is directed by the brilliant Rachael Talalay (Director of 2014’s Dark Water and Death in Heaven, 2015’s Heaven Sent and Hell Bent, and 2017’s World Enough in Time and The Doctor Falls).

Peter Capaldi is on sparkling form in Twice Upon a Time as the Doctor struggles to hold back his regeneration. Tired of becoming other people his world is turned upside down when he encounters the first Doctor! From its wonderful opening recap of events from The Tenth Planet (1966) – the 1st Doctor’s final story which also featured the first appearance of the Mondasian Cybermen – Twice Upon a Time magically revisits this momentous point in the programmes history via original footage, some digital wizardry, recreations of the Snow Cap Base and the interior of the Cyber-Ship, together with David Bradley in the role of the 1st Doctor (originally played by the late William Hartnell who Bradley also portrayed in 2013’s An Adventure In Space and Time, and featuring Jared Garfield and Lily Travers in the roles of the 1st Doctor’s companions Ben and Polly.

“Its far from being all over” for the pre-regenerative Doctors just yet, as this Christmas Special sends the Time Lords to the South Pole in 1986, the Western Front in 1914, a spaceship, and ruins on a distant alien world at the heart of the universe. The fabulous chemistry between Peter Capaldi’s 12th incarnation and David Bradley’s 1st Doctor positively lights up the screen. It creates a really fun and spiky dynamic too as each Doctor confronts the reality of who they were and who they will ultimately become. At times the 12th Doctor is clearly embarrassed and frustrated by his former self‘s old fashioned attitude, while the 1st incarnation is aghast as his future self’s reliance on sonic sunglasses and the like, making for some delightful moments that are sure to raise a wry smile – especially when Bradley’s Doctor steps inside his 12th incarnations TARDIS! The 12th Doctor epitomises the heroic force of nature that the Doctor has become, while the 1st Doctor is the adventurer he was before he fully became Earth’s protector, each has their own strengths and flaws, but it is their journey together and the respect they gradually find for each other that makes Twice Upon a Time feel truly magical.

Prolific writer and guest star of Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss, also gives a strong performance as the British captain taken away from a bomb crater frozen in time during the Great War as he was confronting a wounded German soldier (played by fellow Doctor Who writer Toby Whitehouse), and his subsequent adventure with the two Time Lords and Bill has a profound affect on how events gradually unfold in the episode – even influencing the Doctor’s own timeline.

It’s great to see Pearl Mackie back as Bill Potts for the Christmas Special as well. Her character was the undisputed highlight of Season 10, and Mackie excels once again in the role of the Doctor’s former travelling companion. She also gets to meet the Doctor’s original self, her scenes with the 1st Doctor are glorious fun, especially when the action shifts to the original TARDIS (Its interior recreated in exquisite detail), but it is the moving reunion of the 12th Doctor and Bill and the dynamic between their characters that really steals the show. Twice Upon a Time brings a nice sense of closure to Bill’s time with the Doctor, and I’m so glad Moffat brought her back for Capaldi’s last story.

Unusually there are no real monsters of bad guys to speak off in Twice Upon a Time, aside from the eponymous Glass Woman that’s actually an advanced AI controlling the Testimony, whose vast spaceship takes people out of time to harmlessly record their memories before death and returning them to their fate. They’ve now set their sights on the 12th Doctor’s TARDIS because the captain has somehow become removed from time to and embroiled in the Doctor’s adventure, and they must return him to his proper place in time. Its only when the Time Lords, the captain, and Bill escape in the 1st Doctor’s TARDIS to the most comprehensive database in creation at the centre of the universe – controlled by Rusty the Dalek from 2014’s Into the Dalek – that the 12th Doctor finally realizes there is no foe to fight as Bill reveals she is part of the Testimony as well.

Along with providing a fittingly epic finale for Capaldi’s era, Moffat peppers the scrip with numerous call-backs to various elements created during his tenure as show runner, but Twice Upon a Time never feels overly burdened by the need to explain every obscure nuance or overloaded with gratuitous continuity references. Twice Upon a Time is easily one of Steven Moffat’s finest scripts for the series. It works on so many levels, profound underlying themes resonate powerfully, there’s a beautifully philosophical speech for the 12th Doctor, and it brings some mystery back to the Time Lord while celebrating his past and of course some emotional goodbyes. Its all impressively directed by Rachael Talalay, from the battle scarred landscape in WWI, to the glimpses of the Doctor’s other incarnations the 1st Doctor witnesses in the Testimony spaceship, and of course that beautifully nostalgic original TARDIS interior, Talalay brings Moffat’s script to life amidst a wealth of stunning action set-pieces and dazzling special effects to ensure this Doctor Who Christmas Special provides a rousing send off for both showruner and leading actor.

With the timeline in Ypres 1914 restored amidst the Christmas Armistice the Time Lords also discover that the captain is actually Archibald Hamish Lethbridge-Stewart (an ancestor of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), and he asks the Doctors to look after his family. As the 1st Doctor and 12th Doctor finally go their separate paths to face their regenerations Twice Upon a Time will have made you laugh, it will almost certainly have tugged at your heartstrings too, and there’s even a surprise return appearance from Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald and Matt Lucas as Nardole to bid a fond farewell to the 12th Doctor as well before that moment of regeneration finally arrives and Capaldi’s spiky eyebrows and fierce-yet-sad eyes blaze away as the Time Lord becomes Jodie Whittaker – the female incarnation of the Doctor! Her debut is, quite frankly, “oh brilliant”, and the turbulent cliff-hanger aftermath of the regeneration will leave you on the edge of your seat with anticipation for the beginning of the 13th Doctor’s adventures!

Now the stage is set for Series 11 and the beginning of Chris Chibnall’s tenure as Doctor Who’s show runner. The new season will comprise of ten week run of fifty minute episodes (with an hour long episode for the series launch) that will air in the Autumn of 2018. I’m sure Jodie Whittaker will be fantastic as the new Doctor, she was great in Broadchruch, and no doubt her portrayal of the Doctor will be just as riveting and special. The 13th Doctor will be joined by a regular cast of new friends, including Bradley Walsh as Graham, Tosin Cole as Ryan, and Mandip Gill as Yasmin. We’ve already seen the 13th Doctor’s new costume and the TARDIS exterior (it reminds me a lot of the TARDIS exterior from the 1975 classic series story Planet of Evil) in publicity pictures, we can be sure that Chris Chibnall has plenty more surprises in store for us, and I can’t wait to see the 13th Doctor and her friends new adventures in Time and Space in 2018!

Happy Christmas Everyone!

And here’s that fantastic regeneration scene!

Images and Clip belong BBC