Watching Twice Upon A Time

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.

Watching Day Of The Doctor

It was Doctor Who day on Thursday (this was meant to go up on Friday but is a little late) but I was somewhat busy all day and had to put off the festivities until Friday evening. Well okay, “festivities” is overselling it and “watching something and then blogging” is far more appropriate. Day Of The Doctor was the story I chose, it was originally broadcast to mark the show’s fiftieth anniversary in 2013 and is a personal favourite to the point I can quote bits of it!

The plot deals with the Doctor’s actions during the Time War; this war to end all wars between the Time Lords and Daleks is something that’s often been alluded to since the show’s return in 2005 but never actually seen on screen. But there are two other stories starting alongside all of that doom and gloom revolving around the twelfth Doctor and Clara being literally picked up to aid UNIT to help with an issue and Queen Elizabeth the first having a romantic picnic with the eleventh. Some people complain about Moffat’s stories being caught up in their own cleverness – I’m paraphrasing various arguments seen online over the last few years – but personally I’ve always enjoyed how that tends to work, starting with those seemingly unconnected and watching them come together.

Quite early in the story there’s a scene where the sonic screwdrivers are used to carry out a complex calculation over the four hundred years between the War and twelfth Doctors and, because Clara bursts in during their bout of self congratulation, that sort of gets “forgotten” until later on where the same trick is used to both find another solution which doesn’t involve destroying Gallifrey and performing the calculations needed to actually carry that plan out.

A metric tonne of fan service is included throughout too with references buried in there to the show’s history; some were obvious like the photo wall or props around the Black Archive, whilst others are more subtle such as the activation code to Captain Jack’s vortex manipulator – 1716231163 for those who missed it, or 17:16 on the 23rd of November 1963 – but this is a multi-Doctor anniversary story and wouldn’t be the same without touches like those. And the scene where all thirteen incarnations of the Doctor rock up to save their home planet is wonderfully done considering it’s mostly existing footage and dialogue; it gets all of the previous incarnations into the story without having to worry about the age of the actors or indeed keeping all of those characters busy for the duration of the story.

Day Of The Doctor has comedic touches and a surprisingly light tone considering the Time War being a major part of the overall story and, although there are few things that I feel could’ve been done differently, its all little details like making all the TARDISes different in the shots where they’re milling around to match how the physical prop changed over the years. Of course that doesn’t stop it being great fun to watch and I still cheer when the “camera” zooms through the Dalek fleet to show first Doctor’s TARDIS arriving.

Unexpected reference

Today has been a pretty lazy one; the morning was spent writing a post for another blog and watching the back end of The Dave Gorman Collection (having binge watched the first five yesterday) whilst the afternoon being reserved for several rounds of prodding at Facebook, watching assorted YouTube videos and occasionally pootling through some of my more regular online haunts. Which is sort of how I ended up doing a quiz over at Us Vs Th3m called “How Obsessed With Doctor Who Are You”. My final score was a mere 68 out of 81 – although that’s apparently 83% and the average score was more around the 56% mark – so not as obsessed as certain family members and friends would claim me to be.

But I digress somewhat, because this post was prompted by a specific question in the test:

Now, whilst I know what the Paul McGann Estrogen Brigade is, realising that someone else does by having it turn up as a reference in one of these online tests was something of a surprise! I used to be a fairly regular poster at rec.arts.drwho around the time the PMEB was formed and my then girlfriend (we first “met” in one of the Weekly Stats threads and subsequently ended up being written into one of the Bernice Summerfield books by Dave Stone) was one of the earliest members, which is how I ended up being an honorary member myself. Not in the sense that I lusted after the gentleman in question or anything, but more because I’d be taken along on PMEB outings to things like the play Sabina (performed in a teensy little place which was, basically, a large room above a pub with grand ideas!) where Paul was playing Carl Jung; I was there to hold coats and take photographs with an assortment of cameras.

The memory cheats as JN-T used to say, because mine is insisting that these events happened in 1997 despite all of the evidence to the contrary like the play only running in early 1998… so now I feel old and confused!