In the aftermath of ‘The Doctor Falls’, the Twelfth Doctor refuses to regenerate in an icy wasteland. 709 episodes early, a fact revealed by the special itself, the First Doctor is dying and comes to a similar conclusion, leading him to wander into the icy wastes of Antarctica, refusing to die. Both men meet and from there mayhem, call-backs and the end of an era follow.
‘Twice Upon a Time’ has a lot riding on its shoulders as it marks the end of the Moffat era and Peter Capaldi’s tenure as the Doctor and on the whole, it’s generally good, albeit very flawed. At the centre of the episode are David Bradley and Peter Capaldi as their respective Doctors and both actors give their all. However, their material while containing a number of laughs and allowing them to work off each other well has issues. The relationship between them is mostly defined by how old-fashioned and sexist the First Doctor is compared to the progressive Twelfth.
‘Twice Upon a Time’ is constructed to give Capaldi the most fitting send-off
While I won’t deny that the First Doctor comes from a sexist time, he wasn’t, at least so overtly. Instead the episode frames him as a patronising old British stereotype, complete with disdain of the French (odd given how his favourite time/place was the French Revolution) and an expectation to make female companions cook and clean. While it keeps the special’s tone light it unfortunately means we don’t see how Bradley’s Doctor reckons with what is shown to be a troubling future complete with Moffat’s ominous titles and footage of destruction. Though the point is raised as to what the First Doctor will go through if he continues to live, it’s never followed through or discussed – instead it’s shoehorned aside for more digs at the sonic glasses and shock at the idea of a lesbian which makes it feel a somewhat wasted opportunity.
Thankfully the rest of the special holds up pretty well. Murray Gold’s final score has some nice call-backs, Mark Gatiss and Pearl Mackie both do well and there’s a few unexpected cameos and it all builds up a beautiful scene in the World War One trenches that works extraordinarily. Looking over it, ‘Twice Upon a Time’ is constructed to give Capaldi the most fitting send-off and when it comes down to it, that is what this episode really gets right. All the ‘plot’ is mostly superfluous fluff and when it’s time to say goodbye, it’s beautifully shot, gorgeous to look at and nails the emotion. Yes, the big dilemmas of the Doctors are more than a little anti-climactic and the build-up doesn’t quite match the pay-off, but it doesn’t matter.
It is a very flawed episode, not taking advantage of all the potential drama it could have done
When it comes down to it, Capaldi’s exit works in a way that David Tennant’s (at the end of the Russel T Davies era) didn’t. Instead of the Doctor clinging to life, begging not to go and alienating the audience from a new Doctor and showrunner, Capaldi comes to term with his era’s end and he does so with restraint, maturity and in a way that makes us realise how lucky we were to have him as a Doctor. As ‘The End of Time’ was portentous and overblown, ‘Twice Upon a Time’ is restrained and stripped of self-importance. It is a very flawed episode, not taking advantage of all the potential drama it could have done but it still feels charming and fitting. By the end of it we have a new Doctor and as she smiles the realisation is cemented that yes, Doctor Who is in good hands.
Farewell Capaldi. Farewell Moffat. Thank you for knowing when to let go.