Twice Upon a Time (DVD)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 17 March 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Twice Upon a Time (Credit: BBC Worldwide)
Directed by: Rachel Talalay
Written by: Steven Moffat
Starring:
Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), David Bradley (The Doctor),Pearl Mackie (Bill Potts),Mark Gatiss (The Captain)
Format: DVD, Blu-Ray
Duration (Feature): 58mins
Duration (Extras): 100mins
BBFC Classification: 12
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin
Originally Released: January 2018

It’s an irony pointed out in last month’s Doctor Who Magazine that with 7.92m viewers more people tuned in to see David Bradley’s regeneration than William Hartnell’s back in 1966. Undoubtedly that’s partly down to the First Doctor’s original swansong being an event preceded by little fanfare. Good old Dr.Who simply has another of his adventures and then, once new foes the Cybermen have been dispatched with never to return, he has a bit of a funny turn and changes face. In fact, it feels less like the climax to The Tenth Planet than one of those cases where the beginning of the next serial is brought over to the end of the previous one in order to generate a cliffhanger. There’s certainly no sense of The Tenth Planet being about the Doctor’s decline and need to change.

Of course, it’s all different these days and modern regeneration stories and long goodbyes to beloved actors and a chance to take stock and sum up what their Doctor stood for and where the show may go from here. This has probably never been more true than with Twice Upon a Time, a story which takes place entirely during the regeneration, with the Doctor having been mortally wounded two episodes previously and, from the very opening shot, locked in a dilemma about whether he wants to go on at all or to finally, finally, go gently into the night. While simultaneously retroactively giving the First Doctor the chance to consider the enormity of that first regeneration – surely the most traumatic as everything you’d ever known is stripped from you, and even your forehead will no longer be the one your mother kissed goodnight, your fingers not the ones you learned to tie your laces with, your eyes no longer the ones that looked into your father’s eyes.

Ultimately a tale about self-sacrifice and duty, with both Doctors looking at the impact they’ve had, or will have, on the universe and deciding they have a moral obligation to march ever on, it’s appropriate that it intersects with World War I and Mark Gatiss’ Captain stoically prepared to die for his country as so many others had before him. The Twelfth Doctor has certainly had his issues with soldiers during his time in the TARDIS, so compassionate view of the Captain’s situation is an important component of the capstone on his era, while the “I’ve lost the idea of dying,” speech may be one of the lyrical things Doctor Who has had to say about the true nature of heroism.  It might also be the crucial moment where the Doctor loses the idea of dying himself.

Both Doctors do fantastic work here, with Bradley perhaps having the harder job – not because of the risk of comparison to William Hartnell (does anyone ever expect a note-perfect impersonation from this kind of thing?) but because of the balancing act being truthful to his own character’s drama while not stepping on what has to be, above all Peter Capaldi’s moment. As always, Capaldi dances wonderfully between gravitas, whimsy and the explosions of raw, tortured emotion that always bubbled under his Doctor’s stony exterior. It’s largely through his skill that the somewhat unlikely, and certainly disturbing, concept of the Doctor wanting to die somehow feels a natural development on the Twelfth Doctor’s journey. Even more impressively, he manages to make this conflict work for a Christmas Day teatime slot.

It all adds up to one last chance to appreciate just how great a talent Peter Capaldi is, and how lucky we were to have him on Doctor Who for as long as we did. If his impassioned final speech may be seen as a mission statement for whom the Thirteenth Doctor will be, for whom the Doctor will always be, no matter his or her external appearance, then his successor’s first line could just as equally be seen as a summing up of the man she used to be. “Brilliant.”

 

Extras

If it’s disappointing that Twice Upon a Time feels doomed to fall between the cracks – not included on the Series 10 set and near certain to not be included as part of Jodie Whittaker’s premiere boxset either, then at least it’s accompanied by a relatively decent set of extras for a one episode release. Between them the two documentaries and panel interview presented here, the extras clock in at almost two hours – about twice the length of the episode itself.

Doctor Who Extra: Twice Upon a Time covers the making of the Christmas itself, with contributions from Steven Moffat, Rachel Talalay, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas and Mark Gatiss. A highlight is the tantalizing glances of the partial remounting of The Tenth Planet that was ultimately cut from the episode itself (presumably because in aiming to be true to the 1960s original, it inadvertently creates the potential appearance of mocking the wobbly sets and wobblier acting). It’s a fascinating insight into the thinking behind the episode and full of anecdotes both fun and touching, from Mark Gatiss fulfilling a lifelong dream of having a Dalek mutant suck on his face to David Bradley and Peter Capaldi both almost corpsing with emotion the first time they found themselves amid the 1914 Christmas football match.

The End of an Era covers, in fact, the end of two eras – the first half placing Twice Upon a Time in the context of Peter Capaldi’s time on the show and the journey the Twelfth Doctor has gone on from remote, amoral alien to twinklingly inspiring university lecturer, the second looking back at Steven Moffat’s epic marathon of being responsible for making more Doctor Who than perhaps anyone else ever. It’s particularly nice to get Moffat’s personal highlight and lowlights on his run (Day of the Doctor being “the most miserable experience to work on") in his own words.

Rounding it all out is the full Doctor Who panel from San Diego Comic Con 2017. Watched from a point of time after the Christmas Special has been broadcast can make it a sometimes vague, fluffy experience as nobody can actually say much about the episode except in the most general terms. However, with Peter Capaldi, Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Michelle Gomez and Pearl Mackie in attendance there can rarely have been such a concentration of pure wittiness in one room before and they banter off each other and moderator Chris Chadwick delightfully. And it’s a proper lump in the throat moment to see thousands of people give Capaldi a standing ovation in thanks for his three seasons and for him, in turn, and in the manner of his typical kindness and lack of self-regard, turns into an opportunity to make a speech praising those he’s worked with and giving them full credit for what they’ve accomplished together.

It’s an essential moment on a disc strangely missing the voice of the big man himself. The absence of a commentary really bites on this most important of stories, and he’s only a very sporadic presence in the other extras on the disc, mostly represented by old encounters with the team from earlier in his run.  Perhaps on the cusp of his departure things were too raw and intense to dwell upon on camera, but it feels like there’s an important and revealing interview waiting out there in our future to be had. It’s not, unfortunately, on the Twice Upon a Time DVD.

 

Packaging and Presentation

For all fans’ efforts, from making their own covers to petitioning specials to be included in boxsets, the shelves on which our physical record of the show sits have always looked pretty chaotic, a mishmash of logos, shapes and formats. Twice Upon a Time, vanishingly unlikely to find a home on The Complete Series 11, doesn’t help matters and seems doomed to sit awkwardly between the two seasons, a thin streak of white.  The cover too is pretty uninspiring, simply being the main publicity image for the episode. Despite the reasonably full listing of extras, it certainly looks pretty vanilla and rushed out when in your hand.

 






The Eye of Torment (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 15 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Eye of Torment (Credit: Panini)

Written by Scott Gray, Mike Collins, & Jacqueline Rayner

Artwork by Martin Geraghty, Mike Collins, & David A. Roach

Paperback: 176 pages

Publisher: Panini UK LTD

We have now entered the most current era of the comic strip, with the First Volume of the Twelfth Doctor's run, The Eye of Torment.  While the Twelfth Doctor has already left the TARDIS behind on television, his adventures are still carrying on in Doctor Who Magazine, and his final strip adventures with Bill will most likely continue until after the Thirteenth Doctor's first full episode debuts. But before his tenure comes to an end, we still have his earliest strips to review!

This volume is somewhat similar to the Eleventh Doctor volume The Chains of Olympus.  Both don't feature too many stories and are a bit forgettable collections, but both technically feature solid stories that are well put together.  This collection has the edge on The Chains of Olympus because at least this doesn't start some grand story arc that doesn't get resolved until later.  All four of the stories are standalone, which means you can read this volume in one go without feeling like you only got half the story. 

The opening story, the titular "The Eye of Torment"  is quite a good epic opener for the Twelfth Doctor.  It involves a spaceship trying to traverse the sun and accidentally awakening an evil race of killers that had been imprisoned there centuries before.  It's a good read! Clearly the folks behind the strip decided to do something different, rather than wait until after the Twelfth Doctor debuted on television, and keep the Eleventh Doctor running right up until then, they decided to wrap up the Eleventh, have a buffer story featuring the Poternaster Gang of Vastra, Jenny, and Strax ("The Crystal Throne" which is also included in this volume), before launching into Twelfth Doctor stories, but knowing they couldn't really do much with him until he debuted on TV, the first part released focused heavily on Clara, and didn't show the Doctor until the final page, in a big tease for his official debut the following week.  It was a great way to introduce a new Doctor...make the fans wait for it, and build to that big reveal...and once he arrives they are off to races.

The second story is an average and somewhat problematic Sontaran adventure taking place in the Sahara Desert during World War II.  I found this one weird mostly because the Doctor and Clara kind of team up with the Nazis...they each befriend some Nazi, and I found it just off. I don't believe we should always treat Nazis as inhuman, because I think it very important that we remember that it wasn't some other species that committed those atrocities...it was us, but I also don't see the Doctor and Clara befriending a Nazi and getting all worked about them when they are in danger. I mean they are still Nazis.  Come on now.  So when the Doctor is forced to help Sontarans and Nazis, against a Rutan threat it just left a bad taste in my mouth. It wasn't a horrible story, I just don't think I want to see Nazis made too sympathetic. 

The final Doctor and Clara tale is "Blood and Ice" which has them trying to thwart a mad scientist in the Antartica at a University on the site of where the First Doctor's regeneration initially took place, and Clara meets Winnie, a girl who turns out to be one of the Splinter versions of her from The Name of the Doctor. An echo of Clara meant to die saving the Doctor, and the idea of them bumping into one of these fractures is neat, I mean she was supposed to have been split into a whole lot of different people to restore the Doctor's timeline, why don't they continue to bump into them?  The mad scientist is trying to turn people into walruses and stuff so they can more easily live in Antartica.  Which is goofy, but that's okay, goofy can be entertaining...and the real focus of this story is about how Clara, and ultimately WInnie, deal with what Winnie's own existence means. 

The final story featured in the volume is the aforementioned "The Crystal Throne" featuring the Poternaster Gang. It is a decent adventure, but I am glad it did not venture beyond two parts.  The characters are fun, but I think by the end of the second part I was done with the gimmick of their lead of the strip.  I think the fact that it also features some mad lady trying to transform people into some kind of creature (this time big bugs), it felt a little bland after the Antartica story. 

As a launch for the Twelfth Doctor, this is only a mild recommendation. His debut story is excellent, and I rather liked "Blood and Ice," but I had some philosophical issues with "Instruments of War" and only mildly enjoyed the Poternaster Tale.  It doesn't have a lot of meat, but it is an easy read, and at least feels like a fresh new start after the long sweeping arcs of the Eleventh Doctor comic era.  Probably for completists only, but that debut story really is great. 





Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension Book OneBookmark and Share

Friday, 23 February 2018 - Reviewed by Dustin Pinney
Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension Book OneDOCTOR_WHO_THE_LOST_DIMENSION_VOLUME_1_COVER_.JPG (Credit: Titan )

Writers: George Mann, Cavan Scott & Nick Abadzis
Artists: Rachael Stott, Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson, Mariano Laclaustra, Carlos Cabrera, Leandro Casco, & I.N.J. Culbard
Colorists: Rod Fernandes, Marco Lesko, Dijjo Lima, Hernán Cabrera, & IHQ Studios
Letters: Richard Starkings, Comicraft
Publisher: Titan Comics
Hardcover, 128pp
On sale: February 20, 2018

Book One of Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension, released by Titan Comics is all about setup. If the image of seeing Doctors Nine, Ten, Eleven, and Twelve standing together, each reacting in their own characteristic way, to some unseen threat (as depicted on the cover) gets you excited...consider it a bit of a tease.

Stories in which more than one Doctor feature prominently can be structured a few different ways. The two most common ways feature each Doctor in their own story which relates to the other in some way, until the stories collide, or, something forces these Doctors together rightaway. The Lost Dimension takes advantage of the former option with mixed results.

While the draw to this crossover event is, undoubtedly, the chance to experience our modern Doctors bringing their vastly powerful minds together to solve some universe-shattering problem, the creative teams behind it make you wait. It can be equal parts thrilling and frustrating.

Seeing the return of the Doctor's "daughter" is fun, especially her interacting with Twelve, but the time spent explaining how she got their slows everything down to a crawl. Her arrival catapults an epic story into motion, Upon her reveal, the reader is ready to take off through time to find Nine, Ten, and Eleven.

Unfortunately, the story breaks to let us know what Nine's been up to, and as cool as it is to see he and Rose hanging around with Lady Vastra and her...companion?...the adventure leaves a lot to be desired.

Doubly for Ten taking on an armada of Cybermen. At any other time, the story would be heart-poundingly exciting. It's a station under siege by lots and lots of Cybermen! Given the impending menace that we certainly know will bring these Doctors together, and an overabundance of technobabble weighs this story down hard. It's simply too difficult to become invested in the base when you can't understand much of what's being said and you're waiting for more Doctors.

Perhaps the most interesting story in the book tells of Eleven, on ancient Gallifrey, assisting Rassilon and other Time Lord scientists in developing TARDIS technology. On its own the story is exceedingly well done, with all the hallmarks of a great Eleventh Doctor story. It's mind-bendy, funny, suspenseful and a little sad. That's Eleven through and through.

Beyond that, the story appeals to any fan of the ethereal "Cartmel Masterplan" and the concept of The Doctor going by another name in Gallifreyan lore. The inclusion of it here is immensely gratifying, making Eleven's story by far the most entertaining of the bunch.

After such a gargantuan, unbalanced setup, one can't help but hope that the rest of the story, or stories, does justice to that phenomenally promising cover.

 




Doctor Who: The Complete Series 10Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 18 January 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Doctor Who Series 10 - DVD (Credit: BBC Worldwide)
Written by: Steven Moffat, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Sarah Dollard, Mike Bartlett, Jamie Mathieson, Toby Whithouse, Mark Gatiss, Rona Munro, Peter Harness
Directed by: Rachel Talalay, Lawrence Gough, Bill Anderson, Charles Palmer, Daniel Nettheim, Wayne Yip, Ed Bazzalgette
Starring:
Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Pearl Mackie (Bill Potts), Matt Lucas (Nardole), Michelle Gomez (Missy), John Simm (The Master), Stephanie Hyam (Heather), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Cybermen), Tim Bentinck (Voice of the Monks), Jennifer Hennessey (Moira), Ronke Adekoluejo (Penny), Justin Chatwin (Grant/The Ghost), David Suchet (The Landlord), Nicholas Burns (Lord Sutcliffe)
The Fan Show presented by: Christel Dee
Format: DVD, Blu-Ray
Duration: 10hrs 15mins
BBFC Classifaction: 12
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin
Originally Released: November 2017

It’s a tribute to the flexibility of Doctor Who that though these episodes represent the end of an era both before and behind the camera, they feel as fresh, if not fresher than the show has in years. As beloved as she was to many, after three seasons of Clara it was time for a new dynamic and, importantly, a companion specifically tailored to emphasize and complement the strengths of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. In Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), always questioning, always sincere, always learning, the Twelfth Doctor received the perfect student to his shock-haired professor.  The presence of Nardole (Matt Lucas) in the mix adds to the sense of this being something new. We’ve had TARDIS Trios before, but the previous pattern has largely been the Doctor’s own companion (Rose, Amy) gaining a companion of their own (Mickey, Rory). Nardole’s mix of a loyal manservant and nagging prison guard – hectoring the Doctor to keep to his vow – is something we haven’t seen before. The dynamic between the three is charming and funny and, nicely, the writing team avoids the obvious route of making Nardole antagonistic to new girl Bill. Instead, as much as he disapproves of the Doctor putting them all in danger to show off to Bill, he regards her as entirely blameless and is always kind and protective towards her.

Lucas and Mackie prove themselves more than equal to the challenge of the scripts. Although she was an established theatre actor, the mix of pluck, innocence and pure emotion Mackie brings to Bill is all the more remarkable considering that by the end of her first day working on Series 10 she had more than doubled her entire time on a set up until that point. Lucas, for his part, proves a clever actor, adept at judging a line of a scene and the extras make clear that a lot more goes into his approach than to simply steal every scene with ad-libs.

But without a doubt, this season belongs to Peter Capaldi. For an actor leaving the role because he fears he was running out of new ways of doing it, it's the mercurial, ever-evolving nature of his Doctor which astonishes most. Back in 2014, echoing the approach to the Sixth Doctor by making the Twelfth initially prickly and difficult so he could mellow over time was a high-risk policy. But the 2017 series entirely validates the idea, with the concept of Capaldi's Doctor as someone who only likes to think of himself as cold and aloof, but is actually an exposed nerve of love and anger giving us not only some interesting story possibilities but opportunities for some of the most compelling performances of any actor to play the Doctor.

After Series 9's barnstorming "Call this a war?!" speech, and the bravura one-man show of Heaven Sent, you wouldn't have been blamed for thinking the Doctor Who slot in Capaldi's showreel for his inevitable Lifetime Achievement Awards had been taken, yet the raw emotion of his pleading "Because it's kind" speech in The Doctor Falls gives them a run for their money. While elsewhere, he can speak entire novels without a word when asked if he can even remember how many people he's killed in Thin Ice. But most impressive is the continuity of character - there's never a sense of an actor changing gears as the Twelfth Doctor flits between passionate academic ("TARDIS... It means LIFE!") to ironic asides to towering rages.

This relationship between these three leads fits perfectly with the setup for the new series. The decision to make the Doctor a professor at Bristol University is genius. It gives the excuse for a number of the type of nerve shiveringly perfect monologues Peter Capaldi does so well, disguised as college lectures and echoes Rose’s introduction of “the War” as a mysterious event that’s scarred the Doctor since we last saw him? Why has he lived in exile on Earth for half a century? Is it self-imposed? What’s in the Vault?  This last question also provides a shakeup of modern Doctor Who’s formula for series arcs. Usually, some keyword or hint is scattered through the scripts, the significance to be revealed in the finale. Or, alternatively, the Doctor is faced with some puzzle and then sets out to… put off solving it until his Plot Alarm Clock hits “Series Finale.”  Here the mystery isn’t spun out for too long and instead replaced midway by a new one: is Missy (Michelle Gomez) really reformed? And the answer to that itself turns out to satisfyingly untidy and an opportunity to show not just how gloriously mad Gomez can be, but how great a dramatic actor she can be.

Meanwhile, though the arc may not reach the extent of serialization of something like The Walking Dead or Jessica Jones, there’s no doubt that the standard Doctor Who notion of ‘one parters’ or ‘two parters’ breaks down this season. This sense of a narrative flowing and building from one episode to the next makes Series 10 a genuinely fresh feeling and exciting ride. The building of the Doctor’s wanderlust, the recklessness that borders of death wish that comes with it, and the resulting consequences define the whole strand of episodes from Oxygen to The Lie of the Land which then segue effortlessly into the revelation of Missy and the Doctor’s deep need to believe she can change.The individual episodes soar to meet the quality of the arc, like the wit and fun of The Pilot, and the insanity and claustrophobia of Oxygen, and the meditations of how small random mistakes can so easily build to a nightmare in The Pyramid at the End of the World, while the final two-parter possibly finally gives the body horror of the Cyberman concept the treatment it deserves, Series 10 hits several highs. It’s a testament to this high bar that even the worst story of the series, Knock Knock, is merely a bit ordinary compared to the others rather than actively poor.

 

Extras

While sadly the days of commentaries on every episode appear to be long gone now, the three we get here are both witty and informative. Writers Steven Moffat, Mike Bartlett, and Jamie Mathieson provide insight into how their scripts reached their final form, with Pearl Mackie and Matt Lucas on hand with their own tales from the sets of The Pilot and Oxygen, and balance between being engaging and funny company with showing a genuine interest in the writing process and the roads untaken in the versions of the scripts they might have performed in. Director Bill Anderson appears on the commentary for Knock, Knock and the unique challenges that shoot provided. Good as these commentaries are, the reduced number means there’s less scope for hearing from a greater variety of departments.

That slack is taken up, somewhat, by Doctor Who: The Fan Show – The Aftershow (as host Christel Dee herself admits in the first episode, a mouthful of a title) which manages to give a voice for everybody from costume designers to prosthetics artists, as well as guest stars as varied as David Suchet or man-behind-the-Monks Jamie Hill. While episodes such as Matt Lucas and Mark Gatiss’ hilarious, and slightly naughty, ramble around the houses of every question, and Steven Moffat’s in-depth interview about the final two-parter, are genuine highlights of the entire box set.

Christel makes for a charming and personable host, so adept at making you feel like you’re simply sitting with her having a lively chat about Doctor Who in her front room that fans meeting her at conventions probably take a moment to remember they’ve never actually met her. Yet with The Fan Show also freely available online (and indeed, in a longer form than presented here) giving over an entire disc to it does feel a little pointless – except, perhaps, as future proofing for generations to come in case YouTube ever goes the way of AOL Online.

Elsewhere, Becoming the Companion delves into the process of casting an excited, and slightly daunted, Pearl Mackie and follows through her early days of being announced and starting work on set. It’s bookended at the other end of the series by twin documentaries The Finale Falls and The Finale Countdown, which present a similarly excited, and also slightly fraught, Steven Moffat as he scrambles to the finish line to get The Doctor Falls finished with only days left before broadcast. But the Inside Look which accompanies each episode is eminently dispensable – not only the fluffiest of fluff but obviously created as teases to be shown to people who haven’t yet seen the related episode. And how many of those will have bought the box set, let alone watch the extras about an episode before the episode itself?

 

Packaging and Presentation

The most inexplicable thing about this set is the absence of any way to tell which episodes or special features are on each disc. There’s no insert sheet or booklet with a listing and, even as a cost-saving measure, it makes no sense for the usual listing printed on the disc art to have been dispensed with. Fortunately, thanks to Matthew Purchase, a fanmade insert is available and downloadable here:

The DVD box itself is a slimline sort and though some complain they find the format flimsy, it’s sturdy enough for me and sits more tidily on the shelf. The cover art is striking and takes a greater risk than simply placing a previously released promo photo on the cover. Even better, the Blu-Ray Steelbook has typically stunning art by the dependably brilliant Alice X. Zhang.





Twice Upon A Time - Second ReviewBookmark and Share

Monday, 8 January 2018 - Reviewed by Elliot Stewart
Twice Upon a Time: Bill (Pearl Mackie), The First Doctor (David Bradley), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway)) BBC One (United Kingdom):
First Broadcast: Monday 25th December 2017
Nowadays, Doctor Who is a blessed show – whereas thirty years ago, it seemed cursed. After the sacking of a Time Lord the previous year, 1987 saw the show scheduled against a long-running and extremely popular soap opera, while starring a spoon-playing comedy actor who spoke out of his ‘R’s, accompanied by pantomime star Bonnie Langford and children’s television presenter Sophie Aldred.
 
When it returned in 2005 after a long hiatus, the show had evolved, instead of becoming a popular cult success through continued mass appeal. A declaration of love for the Time Lord quickly became a way into a quirky social scene celebration: geek chic rocks.  However, fashion – sadly – is fickle. But the makers of the long-running sci-fi show are well aware of this – so they intentionally reboot the show every few years to ensure they buck the trend of being left behind or dated. Doctor Who is therefore unlike most science fiction franchises; braver than the ever-popular duet of Stars Trek and Wars, it never stays the same show long.
 
But changing all the time is a risky business. Some eras of the so-called “classic” years are held up as “pure” Doctor Who, while others are seen as the show losing its way, being thought of as either too silly or too violent. So when Peter Capaldi was cast as the Twelfth Doctor in 2013, a cheer was felt across the fan-base as the show looked like it was returning to roots with an older lead. (Although both David Tennant and Matt Smith gave excellent performances, their appeal was their youthful energy – so Capaldi could be seen as a bit of a risk to the non-fan.)
 
Four years down the line, Twice Upon A Time saw Capaldi’s time as the Doctor come to an end, as well as introducing Jodie Whittaker as – another risk, but this time for fan and non-fan alike – the first female incarnation of the time lord (shock horror!). But before that, there was time enough for one more risk for Capaldi: this time, there’s no evil plan. Instead, similar to Tennant’s or Smith’s departure indulgences, we have the Doctor meet himself to debate whether its time to move on.
Following on from the fan-serving cliffhanger of the Twelfth Doctor encountering his first incarnation, the episode follows the unexpected duo as they quarrel and philosophise about what both the past and future has in store for themselves in a way only Doctor Who can.
 
Unfortunately, although some great humour is found as the more current Doctor finds his early persona less than PC – we all look back and cringe at ourselves in the past, the doctor being no exception – the story itself lacks a hook. We know our modern Doctor is leaving, and the Earth isn’t threatened, so there’s no real concern to the outcome. Even the effect of the Doctor’s emotional reunion with previous companions was severely lacking when it is revealed that they are just memories, rather than the “real thing”.
 
Also, the First Doctor’s desire not to regenerate comes out of nowhere. Just before his final moments, William Hartnell’s original First Doctor dramatically declared “it’s far from being over!” and walked out into the heavy Antarctic snow, determined to reach his ship; that’s an example of powerful acceptance rather than refusal. Bradley’s softer recreation of this scene doesn’t entirely change the meaning. So was hearing the Twelfth Doctor shouting ‘Nooo!’ to the polar skies what changed his mind?
 
Twice Upon a Time: The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))Throughout the episode, Peter Capaldi gives a superb final performance, as does David Bradley as the First Doctor, although he’s more a homage than a full-on virtual Hartnell. Show writer and occasional actor Mark Gatiss, meanwhile, gives a wonderful final turn as a confused and charming War World One soldier out of time in more ways than one.
 
Being both experimental while at the at the same time oddly similar to his previous episodes, Twice Upon A Time was also the last episode ever to be written by current showrunner Steven Moffat, who has helmed the show since 2010, and written episodes since 2005, and will be stepping down to be replaced by Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall. So it was no surprise that the episode featured a few nods to the Moffat era, including an obligatory Dalek cameo and the usual mix of knowing meta moments, both funny and fan servicing.
 
On a technical level, the various worlds and past Earth settings are fantastically realised, as was the all-too-brief recreation of scenes from the First Doctor’s final adventure from 1966. With such effort into detail, I was thinking (indeed, hoping) for a “Back To The Future” approach to the old meeting new – but sadly, for most of the episode, only the two differing TARDIS console rooms show the contrast in the show’s development.
 
As a coda for the explosive previous season’s two-part finale, it works perfectly well: the third and final part of Capaldi’s farewell.  The look, the laughs and occasional dab of poignancy of the episode made up for the narrative lulls. What plot there was – people being alive when they should really be dead – made the episode focus on the parallels being the Time Lord regeneration process, and bringing new life from death. Which was very appropriate, because as with Matt Smith before him, Jodie Whittaker’s fun and surprising entrance, though shorter than previous others, is a clear declaration of a new era in the show: the youthful energy is back.
 
Twice Upon a Time: The Captain (Mark Gatiss), The First Doctor (David Bradley), Bill (Pearl Mackie) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))Only the Twelfth Doctor’s actual final moments aboard the TARDIS – though exquisitely performed by Capaldi – felt completely indulgent, being more a chance for the Twelfth Doctor to go out speeching than saving a friend, a planet or the universe. Previously, we’ve seen this Doctor emote deeply against war; we’ve seen him plead for help to two versions of his best frenemy, and we’ve seen the heartbreak of him losing the memory of his closest friend. Wouldn’t it be better if we saw him leave as he arrived – cross and ranty?
 
But let’s be fair. As a piece of drama put on as Yuletide seasonal entertainment, it’s very strong. Though not that representative of the Moffat style or even the Capaldi arc, Twice Upon A Time gives a mature wave goodbye to the pure rebel Time Lord realising his war was over and to step aside and let new blood continue the fight. Yes, it is lacking any real sense of peril or threat, but instead, it is witty, moving and at times very sad. Anyone dealing with a family loss at this time of the year might wish it had been more a traditional festive romp with killer Christmas trees or robot santas.
 
But then, that’s the nature of risk – you end up with something you hadn’t had before, and change is good. So here it is: Doctor Who at Christmas. Look to the future – it’s only just begun.




Twice Upon A TimeBookmark and Share

Monday, 25 December 2017 - Reviewed by Simon Moore
Twice Upon A Time - The Doctor Who Christmas Special (Credit: BBC)
"Twice Upon A Time".
Written by Steven Moffat 
Directed by Rachel Talalay

Starring Peter Capaldi, David Bradley,
Mark Gatiss and Pearl Mackie

This review contains spoilers from the Doctor Who Christmas Episode 

 

To be frank, the more recent “Doctor Who” Christmas Specials have somewhat fallen flat in my humble opinion, predominantly due to Steven Moffat’s overreliance upon festive frivolities and holiday humour. Indeed, with the possible exception of Matt Smith’s swansong, "The Time of the Doctor", I haven’t ‘thoroughly enjoyed’ one of these seasonal-themed shows since Russell T Davies’ 2008 masterpiece “The Next Doctor”. I’m also not the greatest fan of Peter Capaldi’s tenure as the time-travelling Gallifreyan either, and believe the Scottish actor’s considerable talents were woefully wasted during his first two seasons, and only really came to the fore once he was ably accompanied by characters like Bill Potts and Nardole.

"Twice Upon a Time" however, does not seemingly fall into many of the tinsel-laden traps its predecessors have succumbed to, and instead tells a relatively straightforward story of the Timelord trying to understand whether a company capable of replicating the memories of the deceased should be universally viewed as a villainous malignancy or, somewhat perturbingly for the Doctor, an actual cause for the greater good. In fact, the realisation that this particular adventure specifically occurs on Christmas Day only becomes relevant (and resultantly noticeable) at the episode’s end when it enables the titular lead to engineer a military ceasefire through the manipulation of a few blessed hours of time.

Peter Capaldi’s portrayal of a Timelord desperately seeking peace after two thousand years of life, is also far more watchable (and likeable) than the version who required Clara Oswald’s hastily-written handy cards in “Under The Lake” so as to demonstrate even the smallest amount of compassion and humanity. Despite being tired of living himself, the Doctor isn’t about to stand by and watch a single lone soldier die if he can help it, even when Mark Gatiss’ World War One British officer nobly agrees to sacrifice his life in the belief it will save others. Such natural empathy and warmth on behalf of the Twelfth Doctor was sadly missing through so many of his earliest adventures, so it’s nice to see a far more agreeable attitude being shown throughout his final adventure.

Twice Upon a Time: The First Doctor (David Bradley), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))Far more impressive though, has to be David Bradley’s ‘tour de force’ as the First Doctor. For those old enough to remember, I thought Richard Hurndall’s performance in the Twentieth Anniversary special “The Five Doctors” would be hard to beat, yet the star of “An Adventure in Space and Time” effortlessly transforms into the grumpy grandfather’s role and proves a pleasure to watch; even if he is given the majority of Moffat’s less than subtle sexist jokes – ‘smacked bottom’ for Pete's sake… 

Admittedly, some of the “original” Doctor’s athletics are a bit hard to accept. The oldster’s zigzagging in between numerous Dalek disintegration beams as he fast approaches a watchtower belonging to the only ‘good’ Kaled in the galaxy takes a bit of getting used to, and one could certainly never imagine the frail-looking William Hartnell hurling himself from atop the TARDIS onto the ground, even if his fall was cushioned by a sheet of Antarctic snow.

Fortunately, such physicality doesn’t jar too much upon the senses, and are always quickly eclipsed by Bradley’s acting gravitas. In fact, one of the highlights of the story is the heart-wrenching despondency etched upon the old man’s face when he comprehends that he will become “The Doctor of War” his adversary is seeking after. This fate, despite being engineered through the sheer necessity needed in order to fight the universe’s many wrongs, clearly reaches down to the very core of the Timelord’s fears as to what his violent legacy may become should he accept the need to regenerate for the first time, and the Yorkshire man ‘nails’ this inner turmoil on-screen marvellously.

Twice Upon a Time: The Captain (Mark Gatiss), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))Mark Gatiss’ Lethbridge-Stewart is similarly an inspiring casting choice, with the English screenwriter putting in a remarkably charming, stiff upper-lipped performance. Such firm fondness for a non-regular character is particularly impressive considering his sombre introduction, trapped inside a bomb blast crater with a wounded German soldier pointing a pistol at him. Yet the World War One Officer (“Sorry… Spoilers.”) soon becomes a decidedly engaging companion, whose baffled bewilderments and naïve nobilities quickly endear him to both the audience and the Twelfth Doctor. It’s certainly a role which seems to far better suit the actor’s strengths than his previous foray into the world of “Doctor Who” as the decidedly over-the-top villain-come-monster Doctor Lazarus.

Plot-wise, "Twice Upon a Time" undoubtedly still suffers from some of Steven Moffat’s infamously head scratching discombobulations, as no-one ever seems to properly rationalise just why the Gallifreyan’s dual contemplation of ‘ending his travels’ causes a participant of the Great War to be erroneously dispatched to the South Pole in the year 1986? There’s also little explanation provided as to just how the universe’s mysterious benefactors ever came to be in a position to extract everyone’s memories just before their moment of death, nor how they developed the technology to travel back in time and do so retrospectively?

Similarly disconcerting, though perhaps understandable given this adventure is supposed to finish with a feel good finale, are the handful of sickly sweet cameos thrust upon the Doctor at the very end of the show. Rusty the Dalek’s somewhat bizarre appearance mid-way through the tale definitely caught me by surprise, but it at least provided a valid contribution to the plot, seeing as how the Matrix no longer existed, and even Mark Gatiss’ revelation that he was Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart’s ancestor made some sentimental sense. Yet the sudden materialisation of Nardole in No Man’s Land appeared to have been manipulated purely to provide the tenth season TARDIS crew the chance for a last group hug, whilst the ‘blink and you’ll miss her’ manifestation of the Impossible Girl, Clara Oswald, was seriously super sugary-strong stuff…

Sadly, this particular Christmas Special also insists on treating the Timelord’s regeneration as an opportunity for the lead actor to perform a lengthy swansong; a trend arguably initiated by Russell T Davies dreadfully drawn-out dramatics for the Tenth Doctor in “The End of Time”. True, Matt Smith’s “like breath on a mirror” speech from “The Time of The Doctor” was memorably magnificent and encapsulated much of his tenure on the television series within the space of a few minutes. However, Peter Capaldi’s soliloquy seemingly comes across as a bit of an emotionless rant, in which the show’s producer appears, once again, to be trying far too hard to be funny or clever, and thus disappointingly causes the Twelfth Doctor’s final moments to be far more reminiscent of his disagreeable early days rather than the more warm, likeable time traveller he has become over the past twelve months.