ASSESSING STRESS #13: “Twice Upon a Time”

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, to bid farewell to Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie and everyone’s favourite grumpy Scot, Stevie Moff, we are joined by Michelle Coats, media-commentator extraordinaire, mastermind behind the stfumoffathaters Tumblr, and awesome person all around (who you can follow on Tumblr at @disasterlesbianamelia).

Get your tissues ready – the Feelings are coming. Spoilers galore, as per usual.

1) General Thoughts

TIBERE: In a way, it kind of feels like an extended, one hour version of the farewell tour concluding “The End of Time”, except it plays it low-key, subtle and lovingly mournful instead of big and bombastic. In many ways, the meat of the story, the essence of the arc has already been tackled by what came before. You theoretically “could” have had the Doctor regenerate at the end of “The Doctor Falls” and not too much would have been lost – but at this point, honestly, Moffat and Capaldi have earned a victory lap. Or rather, a thoughtful, loving and sweet extended adieu to the character. The plot doesn’t really click, and if you want to dig in the way the story is put together, there are plenty of things that quite work and don’t add up – but I don’t think that’s what really matters. At the end of the day, it’s all about the love the creative team have for these characters and this show – and the love the characters have for each other. And the emotional honesty and genuineness of the episode goes a long way in excusing its flaws.

MICHELLE: Well, if I might be cheeky it’s actually a lot closer to being good in comparison to the farewell tour which felt like to me a lot of self-indulgence for the sake of it (though the Verity Newman scene is one of the best individual scenes that Russell T Davies ever wrote). Honestly I really did like it. I have some quibbles but they’re mainly on a plot level, though maybe just a  little bit with One’s sexism. It was just really great to play in this narrative space with the plot quite literally on pause: it gives the show a space to reiterate what Doctor Who is and why it deserves to continue; why One and Twelve should regenerate even as so many fall on the battlefield.

SCRIBBLES: An extended farewell tour is a good way to look at it, I think. This episode doesn’t really need to exist from a storytelling purpose. It’s to save the Christmas slot, as was pretty well-documented beforehand. But it turns that slow, empty space into a place for a few more character beats. And it is very slow indeed, I think certain sequences like Rusty verge a bit on the gratuitous side, despite the richness of character and theme. I suppose it’s no surprise that an episode that basically puts the plot on pause until the regeneration is literally about frozen time! It makes the most of what it can be, as a result, filling the time up with a little rumination on death and letting go. And that’s worth something.

SCARVES: I loved it. It’s hard to be subjective, and I have a couple of nitpicks, mostly to do with the First Doctor’s sexism (which we’ll get into more later, but the short version – he was in character, but the episode didn’t explore that aspect of his character with the necessary nuance for the amount it emphasized it). But overall, those nitpicks melted away, because the themes were explored in a way that makes the episode a joy to pick apart, the character work was moving, and it formed touching and kind hearted goodbye to the show from Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi. And as there’s no other place to say it and I want to respond to Scribbles here, I thought everything about the inclusion of Rusty was brilliant – it was the one thing that surprised me in an episode where you’re bound to know most of the major beats going in, and it was worth it for that alone.

MICHELLE: I’d go further than saying it doesn’t really need to exist. It feels like it shouldn’t exist. Not remotely in a bad way, but on both internal and meta levels, it’s a story in a liminal space to bridge a gap. It’s the meta-equivalent of writing a Doctor Who story inside the void (when you think of it that way, the unexpected reprise of the Doomsday theme actually makes a lot of sense). As a result all 4 of the principal characters are in a way, already dead. It doesn’t quite feel like any other Doctor Who story for that reason. This kind of allows a bleeding through of eras – earlier in the 12th Doctor era with Rusty and of course, Clara; The RTD era through New Earth and Villengard; the 1st Doctor era through…the obvious, and the Classic era in general through the Captain; even the Matt Smith era in places. It’s probably coincidental, but even the appearance of the Testimony avatars is similar to that of the ‘ghosts’ from Army of Ghosts. If we were to compare Logopolis”, the programme itself and Bill as its representative functions as the Watcher, haunting the narrative. As for Rusty, it’s thematically appropriate given it was essentially Clara’s victory, the result of her persuasion of the Doctor that evil is not born, it is fashioned (as Sam Baker pointed out in the column for World Enough and Time). In that respect, it functions almost as a herald of her return.  

SCRIBBLES: And even on a plot level, everything in this story is about the pause before a death. Bill, copied from somewhere around The Doctor Falls,” but before her proper happy ever after with Heather. The Doctors, both holding off regeneration. The Captain, pulled away before his doom, losing his peace with it.

TIBERE: And there’s of course the spectre of Clara hanging over the story – who is herself “trapped between a heartbeat and the next”, out of time. I’ve even seen some criticisms of the story stating that the aesthetics and themes of the episode fit her a lot better than Bill, and that the inclusion of everyone’s favourite space lesbian water goddess was a bit of an awkward transition.

SCRIBBLES: There’s some things only Bill can say. Clara operates on the level of the Doctor, above it all. She understands his complexes, but only Bill knows how to cut them all down. The episode needs her to observe and commentate, because otherwise the character arcs of the Doctors don’t land. It’s hard to see what other character could have fit that. A glass duplicate of Susan, maybe? But that’s about it.

TIBERE: I think Clara’s essential role in the narrative has been, since her ending in series 9 at least, to embody the future of the show, what it can and needs to become. So it makes sense for her to be there – as almost the trigger of the regeneration, in a way, not to forget that Twelve’s final words are very strongly echoing those of his parting speech to Clara in “Hell Bent”. Bill is not quite in that position – she is the witness, the fan of the show. Their purposes complete each other, and I think that at this point Clara’s inclusion would have felt superfluous – Twelve has pretty much succeeded in embodying the ideal she represents. In a way, that story reads very much as the final chapter in that recurring underworld motif that has persisted throughout the Capaldi years – it’s the Doctor’s own afterlife, in the Greek sense: a world of shadows and echoes. The clash of aesthetics Michelle noticed definitely is part of that – and bringing back Rusty not only allows for a great contrast between series 8 and series 10 Twelve, but also calls forwards that motif, which was I think for the first time explicitly formulated in “Into the Dalek”. Except the moral stakes under the Doctor’s katabasis, here, are not so much about the discovery of an inner evil or prejudice, but more about the nature of kindness. The Doctor wants to “just be kind” – but what is that kindness, what does the Doctor do? That’s the central question here, and one’s that resolved through this great idea of “the Doctor of War” – implying that the way people have interpreted the name of the War Doctor, since the beginning, was a mistake, and that it’s his involvement in turmoil and chaos that precisely gives him a chance to improve things, by willingly engaging with the events and doing its best to change history for the better. It’s taking the political themes that have defined 2017 Who and pushes them to an ontological, abstract level. Which is a bit clunky in parts, maybe because it’s too much of an obviously metaphorical epilogue, but which is still fascinating, be it only because of the size and scope of the storytelling. It’s making the afterlife not just a prison or a labyrinth or a crypt, but the entire history of Doctor Who – through One’s presence, through that great “previously on Doctor Who” opening sequence, that starts by reminding you just how much stories have been told within that universe, through the flash-backs to previous Doctors (framed through round holograms that very clearly seem to echo the ones present in “The Eleventh Hour”, the first story of the Moffat era).

SCRIBBLES: There’s been such a fixation on liminal spaces, digital spaces, and afterlives under Moffat, and with Capaldi in particular, that this all gets really interesting. Transhumanism is such a theme here. There’s the Library, saving people to the hard drive. There’s the Cybermen under Missy, which conceptually is basically the same Testimony without the good to it, editing preserved souls and memories to distort them into Cybermen. There’s the simulation from Extremisthat tells us you don’t have to be real to be the Doctor; those are the real Doctor, Nardole, and Bill, just responding to an alternate scenario within a computer. Their identities and choices and feelings matter, because they are, on a basic level of identity through memory, the same. There’s technology like what Heather becomes, beyond our comprehension but capable of granting immortality and undoing death. And there’s even Time Lord technology like the extraction chambers, taking people out moments before death. This episode hits the transhumanist themes home beautifully. Bill is Bill because she has lived those experiences. Digital River is still River. Danny Pink, wherever he is in that Nethersphere, is still Danny Pink. Clara’s frozen body is still Clara Oswald. And, I suppose, though a new copy in a new shape, the Thirteenth Doctor is still very much the Doctor. In a way, isn’t regeneration transhumanism of a sort? The memories get passed on to a new person, but it’s still the same person because they still have those memories?

TIBERE: The view that we are nothing but the sum of our memories is one that’s pretty easy to criticize, be it only because those memories and the lens we see them through are instrumental in pushing us to change and improve and become someone else – but I think Moffat’s aware of that, considering Eleven’s parting words including the phrase “we are all different people all through our lives”. Really, this story might be more of a farewell to the Doctor, in general, than to Twelve specifically (contrary to “The Doctor Falls”, which very much felt Twelve-specific). It’s the idea of the Doctor that’s important, and the decision Twelve has to make is to pass or refuse to pass that idea to someone else. Can he really take that risk? Of course, he can, and he does, but there’s this existential void implied by the idea of “letting go” – one the story conveys wonderfully well, for all its flaws.

 

2) A Farewell Tour: Characters

TIBERE: I guess that, considering the controversy that has surrounded his portrayal within the special, it makes sense to start by talking about the First Doctor? I mean, I’ll be honest, I can’t argue in all good faith that all the jokes revolving around his chauvinism were good. Some were – the “jolly good smack-bottom” line is glorious, all the more considering it’s a direct quote from “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”; some were overdoing it a bit. Or a big bit. Still, I don’t think it constitutes a betrayal of the character in any meaningful sense, and the very passionate reactions from fans who claim that this One is not their Doctor, while understandable, feel strange to me in a story that precisely argues that the ideal of the Doctor goes beyond separate incarnations and that no one can claim ownership of it. I like One a lot, as our live-blogging of his serials should make obvious – but you a one-hour episode that tries to integrate as much as possible of a complex, layered character with a complicated, messy, sometimes unpleasant history isn’t going to be without a few shortcuts and oversimplifications. Yes, this One is not entirely accurate to the Hartnell version, not in the writing, not the performance, but I think the spirit of his era is there – and that scene with Bill is probably one of the best, if not the best moment the character has ever gotten: the idea that he went away from Gallifrey to assess the morality of the universe, to understand the nature of kindness and evil, just defines the First Doctor, in his detached, fun-having mad scientist way. And of course, the episode embraces this idea that such a distant view of the universe must eventually disappear to lead into action, and yes, activism – which, really, is the message of the Hartnell era, perfectly embodied by serials like “The Romans”, or “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”. It’s rewriting the evolution of the Doctor as the slow adoption of a more radical praxis – but it’s not making things too clear-cut either. The First Doctor has a modesty and acuteness the Twelfth, in all his grandiose over-the-top theatrics, can sometimes miss. The First Doctor is not positioning himself as a living legend, and that perspective sometimes allow him to see things from a different, but equally valid point of view – just as there is prejudice and privilege in the past, there’s also a tiredness and lack of innocence in the future.

SCARVES: My hot take: this was the best, and most accurate, handling of the first Doctor we’ve had in any multi Doctor story. He gets character depth and a clear arc. He gets moments where he’s the voice of reason and advances the plot in ways that the Twelfth Doctor, by nature of the character he is – criticising Twelve for using his sunglasses and (as a result) missing the fact that the glass woman isn’t just an interface but was modelled on a real woman. He gets to make a moral stand for the kind of person he intends to be – “the Doctor, certainly, but never the Doctor of War“. He makes reasonable criticisms of his future self. He talks about his fear of going through the big change of regeneration for the first time in his life. Where “The Three Doctors” and “The Five Doctors” represent One as a crabby old man who takes charge of his other selves because he’s the oldest, this story grapples with the fact that he’s *really* the youngest Doctor. It explores why he ran away, in a scene that captures his characterisation in the 1960s, his “Victorian scientist” style of discussion, his seeming cynicism that belies the value he places on love and kindness, *perfectly*. He gets to recognise that his initial fears of his future are, while understandable, ultimately based on a misunderstanding of the surface appearance of his future self, and the true substance of who he really is. The episode pays attention to little details that made the first Doctor who he was, such as the observation that he still called the TARDIS his “ship” – that’s a level of character specificity and careful recreation “The Three Doctors” and “The Five Doctors” never got close to. Ultimately, the fact that he makes a few sexist comments is the least interesting aspect of his characterisation in this episode, and yet it’s getting the most discussion. Which is frustrating, but as it’s caused debate, it probably is worth unpacking. People who are saying the first Doctor’s sexism in this episode is a character assassination are flat out wrong. There’s nothing in this episode that is worse than anything he said in the 1960s – the most extreme of his comments (for my money, the “smacked bottom” line, though you may disagree with me here, I can understand disliking another one more) is a near direct lift of a quote from “The Dalek Invasion of Earth“. And I don’t care for the “he said that to his grandaughter!” argument – I’m sorry, does him saying that to Susan make it less sexist somehow? However, while I don’t think the episode was mischaracterizing the first Doctor, I don’t think it used that aspect of his character particularly well, in that it didn’t really say anything about it beyond “lol the Doctor was a bit sexist in the 1960s“. Which, while true, isn’t a deep or constructive exploration of what it means that the Doctor was written like that in the past. It’s just a joke that repeated a couple too many times, really, and then dropped in the final act so that we can focus on the resolution to the character arcs of both Doctors in the episode. Which could have worked if the jokes were just one or two very incidental lines, rather than the five or six we got. Either you say something constructive here, or you make this part of his character very incidental. Instead, we got an awkward middle ground where it’s a reasonably prominent part of his characterisation in the episode (though by no means the defining part of it for me), but isn’t explored in any depth beyond a simple joke done too many times. And there’s another aspect too, that bothers me – Gatiss said in post episode “Doctor Who Fan Show” that the episode captured the “delightful naughtiness” (or something to that effect, I’m paraphrasing) of the first Doctor. And Moffat did hint that they were going to show the more playful side of the first Doctor – but we don’t really get that – we don’t get the first Doctor who hides in an empty Dalek shell in “The Space Museum”, and pokes his head out giggling like a child. The only “funny” side of the first Doctor in this episode is that he shows some 1960s era political incorrectness. And if that’s your way into this aspect of his character – that it makes him “delightfully naughty”, I don’t think you’re going to approach it with the full nuance necessary.

SCRIBBLES: I think, overall, the sexist remarks were integrated into the episode well. I think the most exaggerated and unnecessary line of the lot was easily the joke about women being glass, which sounds nothing like any of the kinds of chauvinism he tends to display in the classic era, but that was bolstered by the sexist camaraderie it created with the Captain. But still, certainly, the episode leaned far more into that than needed, and I can see why it has caused many classic fans to bounce defensively right off the episode and miss its better aspects. I think something that isn’t commented on enough, though, is the way the episode plays into Capaldi’s incarnation’s own chauvinism. The biggest beat in his relationship with Bill, arguably, is right out of the Troughton era: telling her to wait in the TARDIS where it’s safe while he does all the adventuring. The sexist comments, if I recall correctly, were mentioned in a Moffat interview as helping subconsciously push the Doctor to becoming Thirteen. But given that subtext, I think the episode constructs that as being a fault on both sides situation. Twelve may not be calling women fragile glass, but he is still trying to lock them away in his wooden cupboard. And on a more out-of-universe textbook, there is still the arguable fault of Twelve just not being cast as a woman in the first place, despite Moffat’s clear belief that a woman could and should be the Doctor. That can very much be argued to be a failure, and if so, I think this episode is trying to engage with that.

SCARVES: That’s definitely something I’d have liked to have seen made explicit, actually, when the Twelfth Doctor tries to get Bill to go back to the TARDIS after arriving on Rusty’s planet – Bill saying something like “you’re still treating me like I’m made of glass” would have been a good way of explicitly critiquing the Twelfth Doctor’s flaws, and maybe adding a bit of subtlety and complexity to the episode’s somewhat limited critique of the first Doctor.

MICHELLE: It may not sound like the kind of sexism displayed in the era, but it’s a verbalisation and the most exaggerated endpoint of a certain attitude of the Doctor’s paternalism which then shows up in Twelve telling Bill to stay in the TARDIS. Which is obviously, understandably part of his grief at losing her the first time around, but it is still a certain thread that connects the two. He might never have verbalised it, partly because he would have been destroyed by Barbara if he said it, but it seems to come across that he thinks of all his younger female companions like this. It’s most evident to what he does to Susan – because he thinks Susan is dependant on him and this puts her in repeated danger, he basically finds her a man that will take her on. I do think that underscores his era, and that’s why I’m okay with it – it’s making the subtext text. Bill obviously doesn’t stand for it and destroys him in the way that Barbara would. Regarding the recognition of failure to provide a female Doctor as being a possible mistake, I do believe this is indeed where it engages with that failure and offers what it can as an apology for it. There’s an article on Vanity Fair about the episode called ‘Steven Moffat’s Final Episode Went to the Frontlines of the Culture War’ and while it gets more right than these things usually do, it does not say #NotAllWhiteMaleDoctors. It’s Steven revisiting this quote of his: ‘I think it’s important that there is a feminist critique of television, because things that go unquestioned go unchanged and what goes unchanged becomes institutionalized and what becomes institutionalized becomes your fault.’

TIBERE: Also, if they wanted to be fully era-accurate, they would have had to add some racism into the mix, and that … (No, I don’t think the First Doctor is racist, but he was occasionally given racist dialogue and some of his serials are iffy as fuck – this was a disclaimer please don’t crucify me). Yeah. No. Moffat’s meta reading, as broad as it can be, is a good compromise overall. As all compromises, it’s going to piss some people off, but it’s probably the best option possible in a scenario like that.

MICHELLE: I think ‘not a restaurant for the French’ has been interpreted as being meant as lowkey racism in some quarters, which I not only disagree with (it’s written by a man who repeatedly lampoons his own nation for god’s sake) but find absolutely hilarious. Touché, Tibs.

SCRIBBLES: I’ve often held a personal theory that, while living in the 60s, the Doctor and Susan picked up some of the attitudes of the time. Because, diegetically, there was never any explanation for the attitudes they espoused. I understand the fans saying, “of course he wouldn’t be sexist, he’s an alien from the future,” but the fact is the 60s did happen, and that’s what early Who came from. The ideology is tangible in the product. You don’t get lines like “Now, now, don’t get exasperated, Susan. Remember the Red Indian. When he saw the first steam train, his savage mind thought it an illusion, too” in a vacuum of ideology.

SCARVES: That line’s terrible in multiple ways – there’s colonialism combined with “calm down, don’t be hysterical” type sexism in one fell swoop.

MICHELLE: I’d be more sympathetic to the criticisms made by First Doctor fans if the reaction when it was announced that this sort of thing would be in a special wasn’t ‘oh, One was never like this’ and ignoring every bit of evidence where One was, in fact, like that. I kind of like that like a certain other relevant piece of media at the moment, The Last Jedi, there is kind of a perversion of audience wish fulfillment and we are denied our unproblematic nostalgic pleasure we expect. Instead, we’re forced to actually critically engage with media that we love. I’m biased but honestly Doctor Who actually executes this better than TLJ does, partly because DW has a richer textual history and partly because Moffat’s just a better writer than Rian Johnson. Secondly, this has kind of happened before. They’re calling this a character assassination? What about the The Two Doctors where Robert Holmes takes his trademark cynicism to the point of near ugliness and has Patrick Troughton’s Doctor being flagrantly racist about both Androgums and people to make a point (a point badly made because he also manages to lean into the nastiness surrounding the era) culminating in the Doctor strongly implying that cannibalism has been known on earth but is specific to the ‘Far Indies’. Yikes. At least Bill is here to remind us that it’s okay to like the show even as we critically engage with it! I’m not sure what The Two Doctors wants to do by comparison because it very obviously never achieved it. I don’t want to say that One fans have no reason to be mad, because it’s a valid response, but I do want to think about it. All the lines except possibly the two about the cleaning both work as something that gives another character a great moment in responding to it  as well something that he might actually at least think if not say. The glass ladies thing I’ve already discussed, but the line about Twelve being his nurse and putting women and older gentlemen to use is justified because of it being said to someone from 1914, and unlike other comments it’s clear it’s not something he actually believes. The real critique to be made here is One’s pomposity (definitely an accurate character trait) doesn’t allow him to think that a soldier from 1914 could be opened to more enlightened thinking and therefore chooses not to be honest about the situation (despite him having already seen the TARDIS). The ‘smacked bottom’ comment is an almost direct quote from The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and it sets up a wonderful moment between Bill and Twelve. The two cleaning comments are the only ones the episode could possibly do without, and the second one is what has Bill realise it’s the Doctor’s younger self (and the first exists to set it up, though it could work without it).  I agree with Scarves that One is better captured here than at any other point where he has been depicted outside his era and the only real problem is that the thread connecting him and Twelve; and one line like ‘you’re still treating me like I’m made of glass’ would fix most of that. I think on the whole this strand is justified by being Moffat’s practical application of the quote from above about not institutionalising. That being said, if One fans still really don’t like it and the volume of it, there is a potential explanation: Doctors leaning into their flaws when given time to think about regeneration is something that has been known to happen (‘Look at you. Not remotely important.’) – something I’d argue is present with Twelve here too, his being paternalism and self-sacrifice. YMMV if that helps you deal with it. I can’t really add any more about One’s depiction that hasn’t been said except for one small bit that’s really more relevant to Bill.

TIBERE: Like, I think there tends to be an obsession about wanting the media we consume to be ideologically pure. But that’s never going to happen. Hartnell’s tenure wasn’t, Moffat’s tenure as a showrunner wasn’t (god, it feels weird to use the past tense …) either. You can wholeheartedly enjoy something that has iffy elements and political flaws – it doesn’t make it bad and it doesn’t make you a bad person.

SCRIBBLES: I think the bigger flaw is that modern Doctor Who has generally been arguing that the first Doctor was more progressive. World Enough and Timewent on about the Doctor not even knowing what gender they were and having a crush on the Master, envisioning the early period as a sort of beautiful queer wonder. The reality of the Hartnell era is less than that, obviously, but “Twice Upon a Time” in some ways takes that even further. There’s quite a degree of whiplash to switch lenses within a few episodes. And given the choice, I do think I prefer the World Enough and Time approach. It’s not always perfect to pretend the Hartnell era is better than it was. I have serious issues with Big Finish’s introduction of a gay companion to his era, for example, which I think is very uncomfortably done, despite noble intentions. But it’s always hard to try to be progressive with television that’s fifty plus years old. Ideology changes with time.

TIBERE: There’s definitely an awkwardness there – I assume explainable by the fact this is an extra episode that wasn’t initially meant to exist.

SCRIBBLES: I suppose that’s the awkward thing. On a narrative level, this is the last of a three-parter, connected to the pre-credits of World Enough and Time.” But on a storytelling level, this is it’s own beast, so that results in a somewhat jolting change in feeling.

MICHELLE: I mean, that’s a good point, but One lived a long long time, with probably only Eleven and War being around a similar amount or longer (Ten describes himself as being just a kid when visiting the Medusa Cascade at 90 years old and we know it takes an awful lot of time for an individual Time Lord incarnation to visibly age per The Night of the Doctor” ” The Day of the Doctor ). You can just put that down to environment change and stagnation. Even in World Enough and Time the inherent contradiction between the two is pointed out – for all attendant gender fluidity they still call themselves Time Lords. The Time Lords were a pretty conservative society for people in the far future and all that time standing still does not tend to help the Doctor.

SCARVES: Yeah, absolutely – seconding Michelle’s point here – I think this episode ties in to the “We’re billions of years beyond your petty human obsession with gender and its associated stereotypes.”/ “But you still call yourselves Time Lords?” scene. In that scene, Bill undercuts the Doctors’ idealistic boast that the Time Lords are a post gender society, and in this episode, the reality of who the first Doctor was undercuts his claims about who he used to be.

TIBERE: If the First Doctor represents the past within the narrative, it’s arguable that Bill and Clara point towards that “all-girl future” the Master mentioned in “The Doctor Falls.”

SCRIBBLES: And that future is represented by more than just girl, I think, here. Though that’s a massive section of the subtext of this episode, the text also creates a very interesting arc for the First Doctor loosely tied to that. A Doctor looking for good and finding how to be the new series Doctor, and what that means. My favorite scene of the episode was when Bradley’s Doctor was confronted with the typical big boasting title speech the Doctor gets all the time nowadays, and has done since the Virgin New Adventures, and responds with fear. As far as great moments go, that’s rivaled only by the similarly great scene when Bill asks him why he left Gallifrey for me, which is a lot of the payoff on that.

SCARVES: That scene is beautifully tied into the story’s overall message about the importance of kindness: the “hate is always foolish…and love, is always wise” line from Capaldi’s final speech works perfectly a callback to the scene where the Doctor says he left Gallifrey to understand why good persists in a universe when hatred seemed to him, pre leaving gallifrey, more rational and practical (some of the most spot on first Doctor writing in a multi Doctor story ever, that scene – it gets his voice perfectly). His hypothesis was proven wrong: love and kindness are rational and wise choices. That’s absolutely beautiful.

TIBERE: I love the fact that his regeneration is set to a revamped version of “Vale”- it’s a really smart way to convey that evolution. And it makes sense within the context of the show’s history – I think it’s fair to say Patrick Troughton’s performance is the one that solidified a great number of the elements that came to define the Doctor within the pop culture narrative. That’s not a dig against Hartnell – he’s brilliant! But the consolidation of the mythical figure of the trans-temporal adventurer didn’t appear until later: and “Twice Upon a Time” rewrites that accidental course of events into a purposeful, character-driven evolution.

SCRIBBLES: It’s sort of trying to find a bridge in the Doctor’s whole arc, I think. To the new series, to modern progressive values, and to the massive, unmissable, immortal pop culture icon the Doctor never could have anticipated becoming. Tying that to the idea of the “Doctor of War” as how the Doctor can be good was surprisingly affecting. The Doctor is the Doctor most of all when he wanders out from the War and everybody lives. No wonder Villengard shows up in this. Seven, Eight, Nine, the War Doctor, they together are the bridging tissue, that whole massive wilderness period. A time where Doctor Who stepped back and reassessed what it can be. Here, we have that extended to the very beginning, as the answer to a question the first Doctor never quite asked originally, but makes sense to add on to who he is. “The long way round” would never work as a last line for the first Doctor originally, because there was no future to build to. But with all the history having happened now, nothing could be better.

TIBERE: I think that question, or at least something like it, was there somewhere in the subtext of the original era, and understood by the people who wrote and performed it – but the nature of the show, at the time, this sort of mad vortex of adventures, of crazy whirlwind of random fun, didn’t really create the best space to ask it. Having the oh so self-reflective Moffat era go back to one of the more elusive Doctors as a final beat works delightfully well. ISpeaking of re-writing unintentional coincidences into a deliberate narrative, there’s also the Captain turning out to be a Lethbridge-Stewart (which one exactly, that’s a tricky question, considering some complicated matters of intellectual property seem to be involved) asking the First Doctor to look after his family. Which provides some interesting closure on series 8 as well, with the Doctor fully accepting his role as part of War, and getting the salute he made to the Brigadier reciprocated by one of his ancestors. Which made me cry, by the way. The Captain really is well-integrated within the narrative, I thought – it’s a very abstract narrative about the lost of an identity, of a mythos, so tying it to the very concrete death of a real-world man with children and family, in the middle of one of the biggest human wastes in history allows for some much needed gravity and extra emotional punch.

MICHELLE: I have a little bit of a theory about the plot of this episode as it relates to the Captain. I wonder if the real reason for the timeline error is because of the Lethbridge-Stewart connection. The reveal implies that after regeneration the Doctor subconsciously sought him out, and the need to make the first connection of the Doctor is part of the real reason for the timeline error – it can’t be a coincidence that he specifically is drawn out of time because of the whirlpool. It is important though that we are made to care for him independently of this. His offer of self-sacrifice for Bill ties him to Twelve and he can almost sense that despite his genuine love and care for his wife and sons, he believes they can better cope with his loss than the Doctor can with Bill’s. He’s probably not far wrong. There’s also that lovely bit about hope in isolation just making you afraid (you might even say it’s a terrible thing on the scaffold). To be honest, I think he likely dies during the war anyway (it’s only 1914) but just to have had that moment of unique human connection he wouldn’t have is what makes it all worthwhile, regardless.

SCRIBBLES: I like how a lot of the episode doesn’t care who his identity is, massive as it is. The Doctor’s comment to the first Doctor about how everybody’s important to somebody made me very happy. And it’s also a nice little moment for Twelve himself, given how his biggest screw-up all came from telling Courtney Woods she’s not special. The Captain’s scene talking to german Toby Whithouse at the beginning was a fantastic way to introduce those stakes.

TIBERE: As Phil Sandifer pointed out, the episode is basically a giant case for not killing Toby Whithouse. I’m not sure everyone will be convinced, but I appreciate the effort. Seriously, though, that beat builds nicely on the themes “The Eaters of Light” touched on – how one of the Doctor’s greatest powers is to allow for communication between people, for dialogue to take place. Really, none of these characters want to kill the other, but the miscommunications and xenophobia inherent to nationalistic wars nearly end them.

MICHELLE: But how else are we meant to stop his version of V for Vendetta? (Oh god, why.) Ha, it’s an interesting extra-diegetic reading of the episode but I very much doubt that it was  intended by Moffat in that way. In any case, anyone who knows me knows and I hope respects that I would absolutely still shoot his weaseIly arse (well, head), so I’m forced to stick to the diegetic reading here. I do like the point made about miscommunication, it’s a very Moffat trope but it’s never come up in quite this way, where two people are trying to communicate the same thing to each other but can’t understand because neither speaks the other’s language  (TARDIS translation circuits usually rule that out). On that note, Testimony’s timeline error is one last bit of Moffat playing about with miscommunication caused by ‘glitchy tech’.

SCRIBBLES: There’s a nice thing with the whole Captain’s death as a connection to the Doctor’s going on. It’s not exactly a subtle parallel, but it does add a lot of gravitas to them in a way regeneration itself can’t. We know the Doctor is going on. But we don’t know if the Captain will. Connecting the stakes of his life to the decisions of the Doctors of whether to go on makes them mean something. He’s the emotional core here. His life decides whether the Doctor lives. It reminds me a lot of the other idea Russell T Davies originally had for what became “The End of Time.Instead of a big throwdown with the Master, he also considered a small story about the Tenth Doctor dying to save a family of aliens alone on a ship. Going small reaps rewards here. I can’t say the decision to save the Captain hits quite as hard as saving Wilf from a glass box, Mark Gatiss is a very talented actor but no Bernard Cribbins, but his role in this episode is crucial to making it all fall in place, with the little jab of continuity to give it a bit of extra emotional kick.

SCARVES: I like that this story weaves the four arcs of the main characters together so neatly – they’re all, in their own ways, confronted with death and responding in different ways, or in the case of the two Doctors, responding in the same ways for different reasons. With regards to the Captain, Kudos to Mark Gatiss here – his acting in the scene where he discusses his fear of death with Bill (directly paralleled with Twelve and One discussing One’s fear of going through regeneration for the first time) is utterly outstanding, as is his confrontation with Whithouse’s German soldier in the crater scene.

TIBERE: So that leaves us with Bill and Clara. Also, Nardole and his glass nipples. Which was an image I didn’t need.

SCRIBBLES: You totally did.

TIBERE: I have enough kinks to fill a library, but that one’s not part of them.

MICHELLE: The best thing that can be said of Nardy’s Nips is that they’re not Kylo Ren’s. But as a character I never really quite got, Nardole’s role here is as the last connection to River. Which is why his suggestion of ‘Don’t die, because if you do, the whole universe might just go cold.’ sounds like such a deliberate echo of her speech at the end of Forest of the Dead – it’s not a coincidence, this is the story that reveals the true depth of meaning to ‘if he ever, for one moment, accepts it’: it means he accepts his own death, and that means nobody else is saved. No more days when the wind stands fair and the Doctor comes to call; that everybody lives.

TIBERE: Clara’s framing within the story is a little bit over-the-top, with her angelic halo and all that, but I do enjoy what she brings, in a way – the Doctor’s transgressions and privileges caused a rift within the show, causing him to lose his memories, and at the end of his journey, that rift his healed, right in time for him to start his next life. His original sin, so to speak, disappears and allows him to start afresh and with a full, entire life.

MICHELLE: I thought the halo was at least partially because Jenna was CGI’d in? But yeah, it has a certain effect, was perhaps OTT. But, not to be too gay, but she kinda is. Okay, that was quite gay, but I am a huge lesbian. Occupational hazard.

TIBERE: I mean, yes, that too, that’s an useful way to camouflage the dodgy effects, but they didn’t have to make her so angelic. It’s a little Talalay bonus.

SCRIBBLES: I’ll be honest, the halo was a bit too much for me. It took me out of the episode a bit. Whereas some of the other direction here is beautifully subtle. She mentioned on Tumblr, for example, that the use of a gold palette was to tie in to regeneration imagery. It also ties very well to her work on series 9, which had a lovely gold palette throughout “Heaven Sent” and “Hell Bent.” The halo, meanwhile, combined with the production necessities of green screen, was a bit too much.

TIBERE: Oh, I can see why. It’s unsubtle as all fuck. I kind of love it for it, though. Speaking of direction, though – that looked absolutely gorgeous. I still might end up picking “The Doctor Falls” as Talalay’s finest work, but this is pretty damn close. I don’t want to fall into listing all the really great moments of visual storytelling in this – but the bit within the Testimony’s ship, whose very design purposefully echoes both the Confession Dial in “Heaven Sent” and the castle from the beginning of “The Witch’s Familiar” …

SCRIBBLES: I think my favorite part visually was how in the Testimony ship, the lighting cast massive shadows of the two Doctors up against the wall, inflating their legendary status side by side.

SCARVES: That was yet another of Rachel Talalay’s utterly perfect shots on Doctor Who.

TIBERE: Well, he beat me to it. Exactly that. The legend bigger than the men – and also some nice Plato-like echoes, with the Myth of the Cave, shadows as illusions, projections of the reality that don’t tell you the truth of the things, the truth within the man. Within the Doctor, in that case.

MICHELLE: If we move back from the direction, because it’s a conversation I can’t really contribute a lot to apart from saying most things that weren’t the CGI looked quite delightful. I really like how the episode does so much with Clara despite so little screentime and material. Saying the Doctor forgetting her was offensive is Clara Oswald encapsulated in a single line (at least as far as it’s possible to do) – it’s exactly the kind of joke she would make with Twelve, but it’s also her demonstrating how strong her grip on the Doctor Who narrative and her place in it that she cannot be permanently erased. Which is perfect considering that before she disappeared from it she too became a Master of the Land of Fiction and thus symbolises the programme’s future. That is why in the era of ‘we’re all stories in the end’, the narrative punished him for trying to erase hers by only letting him know the plot – her return lifted that, because she has her own power over fiction (it’s this power that protects Bill’s memory from being erased in “The Pilot” as well as she’s unknowingly invoked). She’s the female Doctor that arrived early. This also completes the critique of Donna Noble’s memory erasure that “Hell Bent” began – the Doctor’s memories are restored without harm to either him or Clara; and in the episode which implies our memories are the largest part of who we are; I have to ask: is the Donna we see during “The End of Time” really Donna Noble? In my opinion, no. No offence but fuck you, RTD.

SCARVES: “She’s The female Doctor that arrived early” – there’s a nice idea in that, actually, that Clara is this story’s version of the Watcher from “Logopolis”.

TIBERE: Which I guess leaves us to tackle the topic of the testimony and of Bill’s sort-of-duplicate-who-kind-of-is-her-but-that-is-not-the-point (hi, Osgood, you have company now I see!)?

SCRIBBLES: It should have been obvious this wasn’t the “real” Bill when she didn’t know where she put her girlfriend. Gay is too strong.

MICHELLE: As I demonstrated earlier.

TIBERE: “Short story: I totally pulled.” Best. Line. Ever. But yeah – much like Twelve’s, Bill’s arc was pretty much closed by the last story, and that’s more of a tribute to who she was and to what she brought to the show. It’s certainly a great way to inject femininity and queerness into a story that could have been a bit of an angsty sausage fest otherwise, so I shan’t complain. The plot mechanics surrounding her return are messy, to say the least, and the episode does probably a bit too much twisting and turning to justify her appearance (to the point where I wonder whether having her in her puddle form wouldn’t have been a simpler, better solution, but eh!).

SCRIBBLES: She didn’t need to be in this story, but the Doctor needed her in it. So the messiness is forgivable. This story really wouldn’t work without having Bill to comment on the Doctor. As for the mechanics of her return, I think they mostly hold up okay. Bill’s original ending is a transhumanist triumph, and the idea that another version of her might also have been extracted from the ending of The Doctor Fallsis pretty sound.

TIBERE: She manages to transcend and cheat death twice. Lesbian Plot Armor.

SCRIBBLES: Cheating death twice. That’s sort of this whole episode all over, isn’t it? I think the only real shortcoming with Bill’s return here is it’s a bit murky what she knows at any given moment. Her motivation is ambiguous. Clearly she doesn’t initially realize she’s part of Testimony, but she has that realization over time. Is she just a sleeper agent that gets that knowledge after the hug? Does she know all along but lie really well? I think clarity there would have helped, even if I’m not entirely sure how it could be done. Also, on a shallower critical note, I would have liked to see her happy ending with Heather, as I’m sure would many fans. LGBT fairy tale telly at Christmas on BBC One would have been marvelous.

TIBERE: I mean, that’s really what the aesthetics of Who should be, going forwards, and it’s sometimes frustrating that the Moffat era, who has clearly heralded this direction, doesn’t go all in. Still, it’s a story that’s more about thematic closure than new bold directions – an epilogue, not a prologue.

MICHELLE: As the only LBPQ woman present (well, the only woman present in general) I don’t feel that either Heather or Bill in her puddle form; or lesbian hydrology to use a cunning linguistic terms (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist); would have worked in this episode. We need to look at what Testimony is for why. My good friend James Blanchard pointed out the duality of the big bad of the Moffat era being the Silence and the utopian society of the far future being called Testimony – the Silence want our trauma silenced. What then, does Testimony want? The truth of our trauma and our pain so that it can be used to improve the future. How does this relate to Bill? I’ll get back to that. If Clara’s role in the Capaldi era is to alongside Missy be a harbinger of the female Doctor, what is Bill’s? To question sacred cows, to be the lynchpin between the Doctor’s world and ours – she’s a sci-fi fan. Bill is us, trying to question and improve narratives. In other words, she is the era’s representative of material social progress (a concept which should be familiar to anyone who has read TARDIS Eruditorum). She’s here to progress the show, which is only appropriate for a character who is a black, working class woman and a lesbian – four class categories in need of material social progress. This is also explicitly Testimony’s goal in-universe. Free from the constraints of her body and her mortality (of which her puddle form would only be free of one), Bill is now the ultimate agent of material social progress and immediately sets to work on the show – turning the wound of losing Hartnell into a narrative of material social progress, and healing the Doctor’s psychic wounds by returning Clara, preparing him to become a woman. Speaking of Clara, there’s a bookend to Deep Breath where this time instead of her who can’t see the Doctor, it’s him who now can’t see Bill. To drive the point home, the ‘here standing in front of you’ line is quoted almost verbatim.   To crib from Will Shaw, his unusual coldness towards her at this point within the narrative is where it becomes necessary for Twelve to die – he’s exhausted his potential for material social progress.

 

Doctor Who Christmas Special 2017

3) Vale Duodecem: a regeneration story, Memories, Kindness, and thematic closure

TIBERE: One of the great originalities of “Twice Upon a Time” is that it’s a script where the regeneration has already happened. We’re just suspended in time, waiting for it to happen – it’s even seeping into the look and aesthetics of the episode, as Scribbles pointed out when he quoted Rachel Talalay’s points about the golden colours of the cinematography. That’s a really interesting change of pace – really, the big regeneration speech that closes the episode is not about concluding character development; it’s above all prescriptive, it’s a manual of Doctoring 101 passed to the next Doctor and to the viewers. That’s an important point, really – by stating out loud the principles that determine what makes the Doctor who they are, the writers are giving the possibility for the viewers to adhere to these principles and join the Time Lord in spirit, if nothing else. Which is very much in line after the way “Extremis” played with the idea of the Doctor earlier this year.

SCRIBBLES: I suppose, in a way, that’s what every modern regeneration story has been. We know the end is coming, but we are suspended in a moment of grace, waiting for it. Only The Parting of the Ways doesn’t signpost it early on. The rest are about suspense awaiting the inevitable change and trying to make a final statement on an incarnation within that moment of breath. Twice Upon a Timeis just weird in that it’s already come after that statement in the series 10 finale, and in that it’s more up-front about the liminal space it is.

SCARVES: In spite of the fact that the big, definitive statement on who Twelve is did happen in “The Doctor Falls”, this episode is also an important extension of his character arc. I think Steven Moffat said in the post episode “Doctor Who fan show” that he felt it would have been wrong for Twelve to just immediately regenerate having made a final stand for a good cause, when he made that stand thinking it would bring about the end of his life. And I think, as Twelve has been an incarnation who is incredibly tired of the continuing struggle of his life – see his “I’m sick of losing people” in “The Girl Who Died”, his “Why can’t I just lose?” scene in “Heaven Sent”, and his repeated attempts to sacrifice his life in series 10  (“Oxygen” and “The Eaters of Light” in particular stand out, also “The Lie of the Land”). He even calls his regeneration a “clerical error” in “Before the Flood”. All Doctors have moments where they are self sacrificial, or put their lives on the line, but with Twelve, there’s long been a sense that he doesn’t want to keep going after living longer than most Time Lords can or should. This episode makes that aspect of his characterisation explicit in the “a life this long is a battlefield” speech, and gives him a reason to keep going – well, multiple reasons, actually – it gives him back some of the things he lost over the course of this regeneration, lets him see the same fears in his original incarnation, lets him see that sometimes, people are just kind – the apparent villains, aren’t actually villains, there’s a good Dalek in the universe, and one day, soldiers stopped fighting and started singing. And it reminds him that he still cares – that he doesn’t want to let the universe fall apart without him.

MICHELLE: One my favourite things about the episode is the comparison drawn between this and The End of Time as regeneration stories. It’s almost a mirror image of the latter (though, fittingly for the coda to S10 reflection is not quite symmetrical), starting with going small-scale in helping a small group of people, the story TEoT rejected being. It then proceeds to reject almost all of its emotional beats despite superficial similarities – ‘Look at you. Not remotely important.’/’Everybody’s important to somebody.’ Finally, while we have the parallel of Ten and and Twelve not wanting to regenerate everything about the context is different. Unlike Ten who vainly clings to himself, Twelve is just so exhausted by loss that he just doesn’t want to go on any more. This is why the battlefield metaphor is so apt here; because it’s exactly what the Doctor who was born in the aftermath of Trenzalore would think. He’s literally bathed in survivor’s guilt, and the arc of the Doctor from Deep Breathis about that guilt slowly drowning him as more and more is poured on top. The victory he won in The Doctor Fallsisn’t good enough for him, he knows it may only be a stay of execution. Saving everyone is what a he thinks a Good Man would do, and he cannot. Capaldi is just beyond magnificent in the final 20 minutes, it’s incredible to see the rawness of that pain fully revealed (I don’t know about the Testimony, but he certainly shattered me). He didn’t have a choice not to regenerate in The Time of the Doctor because regeneration was what would save the people. Here, he’s already made his sacrifice and is very reluctantly pulled back from the brink when he doesn’t want to be. Nobody’s immediate safety is compromised by him dying, so feels like he’s finally earned the right to just wants to give up. Honestly, I’m finding this incredibly difficult to write, but I relate so deeply to that urge. It’s probably why the Doctor in being left in an empty embrace after being hugged by Bill and Nardole and is such an strikingly affecting image, one of the most poignant individual shots in the entire history of the show for me: I’m hoping we can all relate to that feeling of being alone and missing people who helped us through things because for whatever reason they’re lost to us. Our memories might help us to an extent, but they’re still not really here. Bill can heal the wound in Doctor Who’s narrative by restoring the Doctor’s memories of Clara, but she can’t heal him. She, Clara and Nardole (and River and Missy and everyone else) are still gone; and he is alone. Except…not quite. There’s one last person (and yes, person is the right word) who is yet to have her say. The companion that will not and cannot ever leave; and with a wheezing, groaning sound she brings hope  It is only fitting that as the Sacred Feminine of Doctor Who, the TARDIS is what gives the Doctor the final push over the edge to regenerate, and ultimately to become a woman. She knows the fairytale must continue, and she delivers one instruction to make it happen: ‘Physician, heal thyself.’

TIBERE: One of the most interesting elements of Moffat’s writing, I feel, is that his love of kindness extends to his characters. He said about reversing the end of the Time War in “Day of the Doctor” that he really wanted to give the Doctor a gift for their fiftieth birthday; and that’s very much the same here. A last hurrah, to quote “Mummy on the Orient-Express” (and really, this idea of impending finality is very, very much a defining feature of the Capaldi era, so I guess it’s not that awkward all things considered) – a last chance for Twelve to have fun and be validated, and for Capaldi to shine and have fun with the role. I can’t get disliking this episode, honestly – it’s just too fluffy and too full of good will from all parties involved. See for instance Nardole’s arrival at the end of the episode, just in time to replicate the “… cuddles” scene from “Oxygen”…

SCRIBBLES: Cuddling must feel very awkward with glass nipples.

TIBERE: …(of course, lovely parallel to have Twelve end his first episode by saying he’s not a hugger only for him to leave on a hug) – it’s really nothing more than a bit of fanservice, but damn, it’s so damn adorable. Including at the extra-diegetic level, with Matt Lucas’ own jokes about Nardy’s invisible hair finding their way into the script; an observation that can also be made of Capaldi’s final speech including lines he came up with in interviews, about children being the only ones who can hear the Doctor’s name.

SCRIBBLES: It seems weird to say about a magnificent departing Doctor and the end of my favorite writer, but the end of this episode made me very, very happy. It was so sweet and upbeat for an ending, looking forward to the future. I think Doctor Who has always been at its best when channeling a sense of wonder, and I think that entire ending sequence found that magic. Jodie is set up to live in a world of wonder, and I am utterly hooked.

SCARVES: I’m very much in the “Twelve’s final speech was beautiful and perfect” camp – I loved that it felt like the Doctor’s stream of consciousness, rather than just a beautifully crafted speech, very much in keeping with the rawness and desperation of the “just be kind” speech in “The Doctor Falls”. Rachel Talalay uses lighting on that TARDIS set incredibly: the first long shot of Thirteen post regeneration was utterly gorgeous. And Jodie had me hooked with that smile, two words, and her glorious northern accent. So yeah, the last ten minutes minutes just left me feeling wonderfully warm and whole.

MICHELLE: It’s very interesting to me how Twelve’s last lines before his regeneration – ‘One more lifetime never hurt anyone. Well, except me‘ – positions it as an act of self sacrifice – the only way Twelve is able to accept it and continue on. Yeah, Twelve’s final speech is just magnificent, it’s a beautiful stream of consciousness…thing. Certain curmudgeons are saying it’s notable that gifsets exclude the ‘detour about the Doctor’s name’ (do they?) but if they do, it’s wrong – it’s Peter and Steven beautifully paying off their debts to each other and it’s very much in tune with the rest of the speech. It’s Moffat is summing up his ethos and acknowledging his debts – to Dicks and Cornell and with the final line to RTD (a deliberate but different echo). rubbishrobots on Tumblr wrote that ‘Doctor…I let you go.’ is so very poignant a goodbye for a pairing who both had the job they’d always wanted more than anything else but recognised they had to go now or they’d never leave. It’s also much kinder to the incoming Doctor and showrunner than ‘I don’t want to go.’ (Yeah, I still kinda hate TEoT, sue me.) As for Jodie’s first appearance, I adore Talalay’s decision to make the result of the regeneration a dramatic reveal, which results in some spectacular shots. That shot in of the control room in Thirteen’s eyes before the focus on her angelic face is just…majestic. If she never returns it’ll be a disgrace. Whatever doubts I might have about Chibnall (and I have a fair few), there’s been much discussion about how to acknowledge the Doctor being a woman now, and in ‘Oh, brilliant.’ he’s picked the best way possible to do that. Despite the similarities to previous post-regeneration crashes I love that this time she actually falls out of the TARDIS, it creates a different dynamic for 11×01. Jodie is of course so magnetic and funny, and I relate to the TARDIS in that I am experiencing multiple operations failures on account of her. The use of The Doctor’s Theme, the leitmotif for all the post-2005 Doctors  is not only perfectly haunting and eerie but on a meta level functions as the ultimate musical ‘fuck you’ to those who still won’t accept her. Or at least it tries to but fails because half the audience failed to pay attention to exactly when it was used in 2005/6 or have never listened to the soundtrack and therefore think it’s Rose’s theme. Oh well, it’s the thought that counts.

 

4) Final Thoughts

SCRIBBLES: As an end to an era, it’s far less self-conscious than The End of Time.” This episode is a small and delicate thing. Hell, one big breeze and the veneer of plot would fall down. How far that works for people is, I think, a very personal question. This is, above all, character first, a series of intimate vignettes musing on the same thing. For me, I think, it put a big smile on my face, as a comforting breath between bigger things. But that’ll be different for everyone. It’s not an episode that really benefits from the massive scrutiny that is inevitably to be placed on it. It’s an episode that benefits from watching with loved ones on Christmas day, knowing a great series of Doctor Who finished earlier this year, and that the future is in safe hands.

SCARVES: I loved this episode. I loved the decision to go with a small scale regeneration story (something RTD considered doing before “The End of Time“, before instead going full epic). The core story, of the first Doctor being terrified of the “Doctor of War” he seems to have become, before recognising the true nature of that phrase, and his future self, was lovely. A “Doctor of War” isn’t a great and terrible warrior, they’re someone who heals and helps people trapped in conflict – like the volunteers who go to warzones not to fight, but to help wounded soldiers and endangered civilians. As a result, setting the story during the WW1 Christmas truce and, to have the Testimony not be villains with an evil plan tied in perfectly with this theme. “The Doctor of War” is not a warrior, the Testimony don’t have an evil plan for the Doctor to stop, and World War One can be a site of peace, just for a day. That this is all the backdrop for the first Doctor to realise his future isn’t as bad as he thinks it will be, and for the Twelfth Doctor to accept one more lifetime won’t hurt, is utterly beautiful. I’ll miss the Capaldi era: it’s given me so much, but this felt like the right way for it to end. Steven Moffat, Peter Capaldi, and all the other cast and crew have earned the right to leave here knowing that they’ve done a great job. I can’t wait to see what Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker will bring us next.

MICHELLE: I just find it so thematically rich and worthwhile and love it as a result. I am delighted that Moffat was able to give us an episode that so completely encapsulated the arc of Twelve. I also appreciated that he recognised that he was working in space where a Doctor Who story should not really exist (twice!) and therefore kept it light on plot through doing a character piece, one of his most underrated skills and playing up the episode’s liminal nature. My first watch was an interesting one, because I watched it around a family member I cannot show my emotions around and therefore most of the painful bits barely registered with me. This was good in a way, because it meant my reaction to it was all about Jodie and falling in love with her. The second watch on my own though, that was a very painful experience. Doctor Who, and most specifically Steven Moffat’s stories and era have been a refuge from everything in my life for the past 12 and a half years, and to deal with that passing is actually incredibly difficult. I’m also going to miss Murray Gold and his wonderful compositions (I hope they don’t completely disappear, especially if Blair Mowat is his successor) that have been able to touch my soul for the same period of time, and really appreciated his greatest hits reel. As for Peter and Bill, I would gladly have them around forever and this is a magnificent showcase of why. I want to thank them all for everything they were to me. The new era is something I’m approaching with a lot of trepidation, but none of that is down to Jodie, who I’m already completely sold on. To be honest, whatever happens with Chibnall, whether he manages to gain my trust and acceptance or not, at least I’m able to say that ‘the Doctor is a trans lesbian, like me’ and not really have anything to contradict me, and honestly, that’s just a joy in itself.

TIBERE: Really, it was a bit weird to watch – after the utter joy that was “The Doctor Falls”, to come back to these characters and this story, with so much time between the two … I think a lot of the reproaches we made to the episode can be summed up by stating there’s a sort of awkwardness at the heart of this story – the Doctor isn’t good at goodbyes, and somehow that extends to the writers that tend to him. But that’s something that can change with time, and rewatches, and nostalgia, I think – watching the episode as being an integral part of series ten and not a wintery coda, when some time has passed and we are truly able to look at this era of the show with perspective, drawing conclusions and making big statements, might make it flow considerably better. That’s definitely what happened with “Time of the Doctor”, for instance. As it stands, “Twice Upon a Time” is a pretty damn flawed episode of television, but being an episode of television is secondary to its true purpose as a greatest hits reel for Mackie, Capaldi, Talalay and Murray Gold, whose departure is all but confirmed, and who has offered us a true medley of all his contributions to the show (the fact his tenure as composer basically begins and ends on “The Doctor’s Theme” is really lovely, too), and as a warm homage to a time of the show that has now officially gone. Makes sense, really, when it continues from a story that told us all to “keep warm” … The Moffat era obviously means a huge lot to me, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to let it go straight away, but I have faith in Whittaker and Chibnall. Let’s hope for a bright future – and, to quote the First Doctor, a merry Christmas to all of you at home!

6 thoughts on “ASSESSING STRESS #13: “Twice Upon a Time”

  1. also although it doesn’t actually cover the christmas episode much despite being put out in conjunction w/ it, toby hadoke’s latest who’s round w/ steven moffat as a guest is well worth listening to (https://www.bigfinish.com/podcasts/v/toby-hadoke—who-s-round-232). there’s a digression into politics early on that’s interesting but only fully comprehensible if you know the context of uk politics over the last year or two pretty well- moffat doesn’t name any names but it’s pretty clear who he’s talking about if you know, but if you don’t it might be easier to skip & get on to the bits where they natter on about doctor who: there’s some great stuff about the female doctor, bill’s sexuality, bits that didn’t quite work, etc

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  2. I watched episodes 3 and 4 of “The Aztecs” the day after watching “Twice Upon a Time”. Two things stood out about Hartnell’s Doctor and how he was portrayed in the Christmas special. First, it’s virtually impossible for anyone to capture his playful curiosity. He’s old, but he can be almost childlike in his delight about discovering new things. Recall also that he tricked his companions in “The Daleks” to enter the Dalek city because he wanted to investigate it. I think that it would have been better to have had him respond to 12 in this way.

    Second, his romance with Cameca in “The Aztecs” was genuine. He was clearly attracted to her because of her intelligence and independence. While this doesn’t preclude his paternalistic misogyny, there was nothing in “Twice Upon a Time” that hinted at this aspect of his personality, except possibly his dialogues with Bill. Perhaps, it is unavoidable, but Moffat’s characterization of the First Doctor was a bit reductionist.

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    • I think it’s impossible not to be a bit ‘reductionist’ in a sixty minute episode (The Day of the Doctor is arguably quite reductionist in its portrayal of the Tenth Doctor but it is rare to hear complaints about that) where he isn’t the main character and, as was pointed out in the post, it was far less ‘reductionist’ than his portrayal in The Three Doctors or The Five Doctors as it gave him some personality beyond being ‘the old one’.

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      • Yeah exactly: returning doctors are always somewhat caricatured in multi doctor specials esp to draw a contrast w/ the current incarnation (btw there are plenty of hardcore rtd stans who do complain about moffats crimes against ten in dotd). There’s actually a very good discussion of this during the best dw commentary, at least of new who, the podcast/web one for forest of the dead w/ rtd, tennant & Moffat: bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0208qdt

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