Welp, the 2017 Doctor Who Christmas special has come and gone. There was a lot of skepticism leading up to it but I think, for the most part, that wasn’t warranted. Of course, I have coments about the episode. Before I dive in, I should give a spoiler warning.
Okay, with that out of the way, “Twice Upon a Time” started out exactly where “The Doctor Falls” left off. Twelve (I’m going to use official Doctor numbers here for clarity) has been refusing to regenerate for quite a while at this point. He arrives somewhere where time has stopped and encounters One who is also refusing to regenerate. The explanation for the time weirdness is that when a time lord refuses to regenerate, they die. The Doctor dying twice in his own timeline causes trouble so we get the timey wimey fun.
I have to give David Bradley credit for his performance as One. He nailed it as well as anyone else was ever likely to and he did a lot better than Richard Hurndall in “The Five Doctors”. That’s not to say Hurndall did a bad job. Just that Bradley did a lot better. I suspect much of that comes from Bradley’s portrayal of William Hartnell in An Adventure in Space and Time which chronicled the beginnings of Doctor Who, meaning he had a lot more practice.
Anyway, we get an amazing juxtaposition of the 1960s era One with the modern era Twelve and how much the Doctor’s character has grown over the centuries (in universe) and decades (real time). I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the portrayal of One in “Twice Upon a Time” but that criticism is unwarranted. The portrayal is accurate for the time period. One was a cantankerous old coot with what are, today, very old fashioned views
I do have to give the producers credit for how they wove One into the story. They actually restaged the sequence leading up to One’s regeneration and then had him jump out of the timeline. They did it with a brilliant fade from black and white footage to colour. They also introduced it with the caption, “709 episodes ago…”. Later, at the end, they faded from the David Bradley colour footage back into the original 4:3 black and white surviving footage of the first regeneration. It was very well done.
I do have a note about the 709 figure. I know of at least one commentator that misunderstood that number and read into it some easter egg significance based on the notion that there have been more than 709 episodes of Doctor Who in total. However, he neglected to take into account that the first regeneration took place in the fourth episode of “The Tenth Planet” which was, itself, episode 134 overall (the 8th episode of season 4). I have, since, done the working out to check that number. It turns out to be accurate. It counts “Resurrection of the Daleks” as four episodes (it was originally broadcast as two episodes but was produced as four). It counts “The Five Doctors” as one episode, which is correct since it was broadcast as a 90 minute special. It also counts the movie from 1996 (as one episode). It does not count the unfinished story “Shada” or the shorts made for the 50th anniversary. In other words, based on the original production episode counts of episodes actually aired officially as part of the series, from the perspective of “Twice Upon a Time”, One’s regeneration really was 709 episodes ago. (How many shows can say “709 episodes ago” and mean it?)
Over the course of “Twice Upon a Time”, we get a lot of references and easter eggs related to the entire series since 1963. A big one is the guest character, a World War I soldier (played by Mark Gatiss) who turns out to be a Lethbridge-Stewart. He gets to do the usual companion things including the bigger on the inside line and setting up Twelve for a “spoilers” line. It turns out the macguffin of the episode had taken him out of time to download his memories and was returning him to his rightful time when things got all munged up.
Speaking of the macguffin, it turns out that we were able to have a fairwell moment between Twelve and Bill and Nardole. And also a surprise cameo from Clara. It’s the appearance of Bill, Nardole, and Clara that I want to comment on here. Some commenters have complained that their appearance totally takes away their exits (deaths). However, anyone who thinks that wasn’t paying attention to the explanation. The Testimony (the macguffin) records the memories of people immediately before their deaths and then returns them to die at their correct time with no memory of their detour in time. Then the Testimony is able to make a simulation using all their memories available in an avatar. This in no way impacts the original deaths. However, it does raise the question of when Bill’s memories were recorded – before she went all water or after. I suspect before, but even if not, it doesn’t change anything, really. It does raise interesting questions but it need not affect anything else in the future of the show. The Testimony is clearly not advertising itself since the Doctor didn’t know who they were.
There is a potential timeline issue in the story given when they returned Lethbridge-Stewart to his timeline (just in time for the Christmas armistice, which really happened, BTW) which means he didn’t die there. But, then, timeline changes are nothing new.
As a side note before I leave off on the Testament, I want to mention that it reminds me a great deal of the Matrix on Gallifrey. I wonder if there’s any connection. I also liked when Twelve complained that there was no villain. That was brilliant. And rare for Doctor Who. (Though the first incidence of that goes back to the third serial way back in 1964.)
Now, there were a couple of other points I wanted to address.
First was the regeneration to Thirteen. That was well handled starting with Twelve’s impassioned speech to his successor through Thirteen’s first words and her expression up to the Tardis exploding over what I assume is the Earth. Yes, it really did look like the Tardis was going to explode. If that’s the case, we might finally have an explanation for why it was exploding in the pandorica arc back in Eleven’s first season. That’s one major “Moffat Plot Hole™” that people seem to enjoy complaining about. (But if you look more closely at some of the supposed plot holes, they really aren’t so bad.)
Also, if the first few seconds with Thirteen are any indication, we should have a much more energetic and upbeat Doctor. If that turns out to be the case, I think it will do a lot more to “save the show” than anything else they could try. Alas, we’ll have to wait until the fall to find out. Whatever happens, I really don’t think Thirteen is going to be “the death of Doctor Who” as so many whingers insisted back in the summer.
I’m going to leave off here. I’ll let you find all the back reference scattered through the episode. Whatever you do, however, go into it with an open mind. If you hated this episode, I suggest you let go of the hate, open your mind, and watch it without any preconceived notions you may have aquired due to all the whinging online since “The Doctor Falls”. If you have a good recollection of the original series, particularly leading up to the first regeneration, I think you’ll find it entertaining at least. But it’s fun looking for all the back references and easter eggs, too.
Welp, that’s all for now. Happy Doctor Whoing.