Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time Review (SPOILERS)
***1/2 stars out of ****
If you have not yet viewed the Doctor Who 2017 Christmas special, stay away because I'm going to spoil it. I warned you.
In July 2017, when I saw character actor David Bradley emerge as the First Doctor at the end of the Doctor Who series 10 finale The Doctor Falls to determine to his future self played by Peter Capaldi that he was the original Doctor, I was so excited that I was instantly upset that they were making me wait until December 25th to see what these two were going to do together. And the various trailers released certainly made it seem like:
A. David Bradley continued to make the late great William Hartnell proud after playing him, and doing a wonderful job of it, in the TV movie An Adventure in Space and Time (coincidentally scripted by this episode's guest star Mark Gatiss) and now playing the man's favorite role.
B. Bradley and Capaldi looked pretty good together.
And last but not least C. Head writer Steven Moffat, Capaldi, and even director Rachel Talalay and writer/frequent guest star Mark Gatiss appeared to be going out with a bang.
And thankfully, when I viewed the episode last evening, all of that turned out to be true. The episode also features an extremely fun regeneration, that I viewed YouTube videos for all morning of the same fans who probably blasted Capaldi's casting three years ago crying over his departure but I digress and I will get to the regeneration and Jodie Whittaker's debut in due time.
The episode begins with a caption declaring: Previously on Doctor Who, 709 episodes ago and cuts to footage from (I believe, I haven't watched the serial in a while) William Hartnell's last episode of his last serial The Tenth Planet. During one of Hartnell's speeches, he morphs into David Bradley and it switches to color footage of the current episode. Then his companion Polly Wright notices his hand starting to glow and she and Ben Jackson inquire about it and he steps away declaring he won't change. He then encounters his future self, Capaldi, saying the same thing and as they have a fun exchange, the snowflakes in the South Pole are suspended in the air and the two Doctors are joined by an ambiguous World War 1 Captain, played in grand style by Mark Gatiss, who inquires if either of these two gentlemen are Doctors. Hah hah hah.
As the two Doctors clash over culture styles, they are confronted by a humanoid figure made of glass who offers them their freedom in return for the Captain. They are then joined by Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) whom the Doctor suspects isn't the real Bill Potts. When they arrive on the planet Villengard, they learn that the creatures are the Testimony, a group of creatures who extract people from the moment before their deaths so they can archive their memories and have them join the Testimony, which in itself accounts for Bill, as she is actually a Testimony avatar.
It is then revealed that by trying to put off both of their regenerations, the First and Twelfth Doctors caused the Captain to be put in the wrong timeline and prevented his own death (which was supposed to happen as he had a stand-off with a German soldier).
When the two Doctors return the Captain to his own timeline, he asks them to look in on his family and they agree. The Captain reveals himself to be "Captain Archibald Hamlisch Lethbridge-Stewart", hence he is a descendant of Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart and his daughter Kate and the Twelfth Doctor uses his wits to prevent Captain Lethbridge-Stewart's death. After the two Doctors part as friends, they agree they are ready to change. And thankfully, they don't recreate the First Doctor's regeneration, they just use the original footage (because the old footage used from Hartnell's last serial is a nice touch to begin with).
I will not spoil the Capaldi regeneration, I will just say that Jodie Whittaker's entrance into the last few minutes of the episode is exactly what she says it is. And I am looking forward to her debut episode.
Apparently this episode, like most during the Moffat era, particularly his Christmas specials, is one the fans either loved or hated. Thankfully, I am in the former category and I thought it was a fitting send off for not only Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi but also Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts and Mark Gatiss as a guest writer and (as in this episode) frequent guest star and director Rachel Talalay, who hit one out of the park for the third episode in a row. I hope Chris Chibnall keeps her in mind for Series 11. I admit that Moffat's Christmas specials, and Russell T. Davies's had this problem too, were either hit-or-miss but I had a good feeling about this one and thankfully I was right.
The Captain is an interesting character. He looked a lot like a young Brigadier to me and there had been a rumor going around that Gatiss was playing the gentleman who invented the Police Box in the special but it's much better that Gatiss played a member of the Lethbridge-Stewart clan. Anyone who knows Gatiss knows he loves the Third Doctor's era of the show (appropriately so too), and it certainly explains why the Doctor had such a connection to the Brigadier through most of his regenerations.
Now I must talk about David Bradley as the First Doctor. When Bradley (whom I remembered as the bad guy from the Matt Smith episode Dinosaurs on a Spaceship) was announced to play William Hartnell in the TV movie in 2013, I was skeptical because Bradley is in his seventies and Hartnell only looked like he was and he was actually in his fifties. However, when I saw the film, the only other time I was so happy to have been wrong was the next night about there being no good way to use Fourth Doctor Tom Baker in the 50th anniversary episode The Day of the Doctor. Bradley was so brilliant as Hartnell, when I first started reading online posts that said he should come on and play the First Doctor, I joined the campaign immediately. He spoke glowingly of Hartnell in interviews and of wanting to do him justice and he more than did so in my opinion.
A man I follow on Facebook whom I will not name, whose opinions I respect, who has written for the Doctor Who line of novels and fan films, said he disliked "David Bradley cosplaying as the First Doctor." Well, first of all, William Hartnell passed away in 1975. He couldn't have come on himself unless they had an actual TARDIS at BBC Wales. Second of all, it was Peter Capaldi's idea for this to happen and it was fun to see the First Doctor interacting with his most recent future self, marveling at the sonic screwdriver ("Will you put that ridiculous buzzing toy away?") and how modern a woman Bill Potts is ("I'll give you a spanking, young lady!"). David Bradley wasn't cosplaying as Hartnell in the TV movie. Richard Hurndall's portrayal of the First Doctor in the 1983 20th anniversary special was more like cosplaying as the First Doctor to me. No Hurndall are you, Mr. David Bradley. And anyone who thinks David Bradley didn't make William Hartnell proud of him last night is dead wrong.
This same man also said he acknowledged that the First Doctor was a sexist but he wasn't as bad as they made him last night. Well, sir, only children watched the show in Hartnell's era so there were only so many ways at the time to convey how patronizing the Doctor was to women. Now it can be as blatant as the writer wants it. And while Bradley had great chemistry with Capaldi, I dare say his banter with Bill Potts was even better.
It wasn't perfect, and even as much as I say Moffat was a better showrunner than RTD, I can admit that. I spent all of the last seven months wondering who the villain would be and there really wasn't one. Which is a shame because I would have liked to have seen a modern version of classic villain Omega before Moffat left. But overall, the good outweighed the bad. I will miss Peter Capaldi, but Matt Smith made me forget David Tennant, Capaldi made me forget Smith and I'm sure Jodie Whittaker (whom even with two minutes on screen looks like she's all over the role) will make me forget about Capaldi.
Fun episode, fitting send-off for Twelve and auspicious debut for Thirteen. Merry Christmas indeed.