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.

 






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.