Before I start, there won’t be a blow by blow account of the story but it’s not really possible to discuss the 2017 Doctor Who Christmas special Twice Upon A Time without… well, spoilers sweetie. There have been a few days since it was originally broadcast – I’ve already watched it twice, three times if you include the slightly skippy run yesterday to scavenge images from iPlayer – but, if you haven’t already seen it, carrying on might give away things you were trying to avoid before watching.
First off, as a long-serving Doctor Who fan – who was there in the “the wilderness” after cancellation, through the darker tones of New Adventures books and dashed hopes after the TV movie wasn’t picked up – I am a sucker for a multi-Doctor story. The fanboy in me just adores them and my Beloved had to literally suffer me screaming like a horror movie victim when the first Doctor appeared at the end of the last season because, despite my attempts to avoid spoilers beforehand, I’d heard rumours about David Bradley returning for Christmas and was only an organised religion away from praying it was true.
The main theme throughout was death; both of the Doctors were edging inexorably towards their regenerations despite railing against it, the Captain slowly coming to realise that his number was up having being snatched out of time and Testimony is, in essence, the Doctor Who universe’s version of the afterlife. That might all seem rather morbid especially for the time of year but Doctor Who is one of the few television programmes that can potentially carry something like that off and still resolve everything on what is essentially a positive note. The “Christmas miracle” was one of those moments in history where humanity did something positive so I was pleased that the writers didn’t alter what happened to give the Doctor credit, merely “borrowing” the event for a good purpose.
Peter Capaldi really shines as the Doctor, spending most of the story going from dark and brooding to full of joy before either rolling his eyes to the point they almost become detached or having his ego thoroughly punctured by what his former self just said. Mark Gatiss puts in a lovely, understated performance as the Captain who somehow comes across as befuddled and quietly frightened throughout whilst maintaining the stiff upper lip needed to support his moustache and Pearl Mackie as Bill is great as always, brimming with energy and asking sometimes difficult questions but also the voice of reason for those moments when the Doctor needs one.
But it’s David Bradley as the first Doctor who pretty much steals every scene he appears in, from the moment he takes over during a William Hartnell speech as the footage rather beautifully transitions from deliberately grainy black and white 4:3 ratio out to glorious 16:9 colour. It’s quite uncanny really; he nails the delivery and mannerisms yes, but isn’t merely doing an impression. I’ve seen a few people online complaining that the character is shown in a rather misogynistic light, but that tone is consistent with the original. My Beloved and I have talked about this and agree that we’d both rather see that level of accuracy with him subsequently being shot down by his future self or Bill than have those cracks be papered over. That’s the Doctor we get in the Hartnell stories so changing him now just wouldn’t be right.
As the Doctor himself notes, there isn’t actually an evil plan to thwart – most of the actual danger in the story comes from trying to find out what’s actually going on since Testimony insists on being rather vague until the Doctor’s worked it out for himself – but it’s still enjoyable to watch them getting to the point where they realise. Ultimately we knew where this one was going, but there were some lovely, tear-jerking surprises and references to stories past during that journey.Peter Capaldi’s final speech might be a little drawn out for some – it felt that way for me the first time as well presumably because I was waiting for the fireworks, but not on the second pass – but Twice Upon A Time was a solid story overall and a fitting final salute to the Moffat era of ‘Who and Capaldi’s time as the Time Lord.
We didn’t get to see much of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, but her entrance and rather abrupt, cliff-hanging exit were well done and I’m looking forward to seeing where she and new show runner Chris Chibnall are going to either take or indeed be taken by the TARDIS.