Directed by: Rachel Talalay
Written by: Steven Moffat
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.”
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.