DOCTOR WHO Review: “Twice Upon A Time”

It feels strange typing these words: that was the Twelfth Doctor’s last episode. It feels like we only just met him – such is the curse of British shows only having twelve episodes a season, I suppose. But looking back over those seasons, I realize how much I’ve loved them – Mummy on the Orient Express, Flatline, Dark Water, The Zygon Inversion, Face the Raven, Heaven Sent, Thin Ice, Smile, World Enough and Time, and even some of the rockier patches in between, where Peter Capaldi still shone above the ups and downs of the writing. 

What I’ve loved the most about his tenure is seeing the Doctor change – when he first emerged from the TARDIS, he was a gruff, blunt, uncaring man who abandoned Clara and Earth, and didn’t really give a damn about saving the world. To watch him evolve over time into someone who’s first mission is kindness, who fights for others even when there’s no hope left – that was what I love about the Doctor, and it was wonderful to see him remember the person he was supposed to be as he met new friends and companions along the way. As the Doctor said, “My friends have always been the best of me.”

This episode is a regeneration episode – everyone knows that going in, so I was wondering how Steven Moffat would choose to handle it. I should probably also mention that this is Steven Moffat’s last episode as show runner of Doctor Who.

Steven Moffat has been around since the reboot of the show in 2005, when his episodes “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances” cemented him as one of the best new writers of the show. He followed those up with New Who classics such as “The Girl in the Fireplace,” “Blink,” and “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead,” so it was no real surprise when he took over when David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor regenerated into Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, with another classic episode, “The Eleventh Hour,” kicking off his first season. 

While Season 10 was probably the best season we’ve had since Moffat’s first season (Season 5), I would say I enjoy him more as a writer than a show runner, and I believe it was time for him to give up the reins.

For the Doctor, though, it’s always hard to say goodbye. And, as excited as I am for the new Doctor, I wish Peter Capaldi could have stayed for one more season. But, credit where credit’s due, this wasn’t a bad episode to go out on.

I wondered how Moffat would handle this. Would he make the same mistakes he made with Season 7, especially with Eleven’s regeneration episode “The Time of the Doctor,” where everything is so huge and overcomplicated and overbearing and huge explosions and just too much crammed into too little time? Or would it be like Ten’s, with its farewell tour of the companions guaranteed to rip your heart into a million pieces?

Well, we got sort of an in-between, and, though it lacked plot, I think it was the right note to end on. It’s sad, but not too sad; it has an interesting adversary, but it doesn’t overcomplicate itself with a time war to end all universes or any nonsense like that. It’s the Doctor, facing himself, and seeing his friends one last time before he changes. And that’s really all we needed. 

David Bradley is great as the First Doctor; we get to see Bill again, who I wish could stay for another season, but I understand that Moffat wanted to leave a clean slate for the next showrunner; the Doctor was finally able to remember Clara, which was a sweet moment and some much-needed closure; and Captain Lethbridge-Stewart was a nice nod to Classic Who and one of its most beloved companions.

And then, of course, we have the regeneration scene.

The Doctor’s last words are always very important. They sum up what this regeneration’s time has meant, what the Doctor means to the people he’s saved, to the companions, to the audience, and to the actor who plays him – the actor, in fact, usually gets a say in the Doctor’s very last words. 

I’ve cried at every single Doctor’s regeneration – at Nine’s “You were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And you know what? So was I!”, at Ten’s “I don’t want to go!”, at Eleven’s “I will always remember when the Doctor was me.” But this regeneration – this one felt different. It wasn’t fatalistic, or full of despair and denial, or regretful, or even putting on a brave face. It was full of hope – and I loved that.

The Doctor: “Never be cruel, never be cowardly, and never, ever eat pears! Remember, hate is always foolish…and love is always wise. Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind. Doctor…I let you go.”

It’s a speech to his next self – to keep going, to keep saving the world, to remember the friends he’s had, and to keep being kind. It’s a testament to compassion – to being a Doctor. The Doctor.

And then…we get our new Doctor. And she is wonderful.

I was wondering what her first words would be – normally it’s something humorous, and somehow usually related to a body part (Nine – “Ears!” Ten – “Teeth!” Eleven – “Legs!” Twelve – “Kidneys!”). For Thirteen, since she would no doubt realize how much she had changed very quickly, I was hoping they wouldn’t make some kind of awful joke about it. And, to their credit, they didn’t.

No, our Doctor’s first words are “Oh, brilliant.” And I love that. No awkward jokes, no cringe-worthy lines, just “Oh, brilliant” – an optimistic outlook for new adventures with a new regeneration.

And there we have it – the Thirteenth Doctor falling out of the TARDIS, descending towards Earth below. What a way to start Season 11. Welcome, Jodie Whittaker, our new Doctor, and welcome, Chris Chibnall, a Doctor Who writer who is now our new showrunner! As Nine would say, I’ll know you’ll be “fanTAStic!”

TB-TV-Grade-BSeason 10, Episode 13 (S10E13)
Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9PM on BBC America

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Cailin is a screenwriter and an aspiring TV writer. When not writing, she’s busy convincing random passersby that Firefly was the best show ever, converting her co-workers into Whovians, and waiting for the next season of Sherlock.
Follow Cailin on Twitter: @sherlocked1058
Keep up with all of Cailin’s reviews here.

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One Response to DOCTOR WHO Review: “Twice Upon A Time”

  1. “and somehow usually related to a body part”

    Well it would have been inappropriate for her to say “Two boobs” in a children’s/family TV show.

    And for the record, that was Captain Archibald Hamish Lethbridge-Stewart, the grandfather of Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.

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