Doctor Who: “Twice Upon a Time”
Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, David Bradley, Mark Gatiss
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While it has glimmers of greatness, overall it fails to impress or convince.
Two Doctors – the First (David Bradley) and 12th (Peter Capaldi) – meet in the Antarctic. Both are near the end of their lives. Both refuse to regenerate, and would rather die than change into another person. When they encounter a British Captain from the First World War (Mark Gatiss), thrown decades out of time and chased across the snow by a glass alien, they are thrust into one final adventure before each man dies.
After three seasons, Peter Capaldi hangs up his coat as the 12th star of Doctor Who. Departing along with him is writer and executive producer Steven Moffat, who moves on from the series after eight years and 84 episodes. It is the end of an era, and with new showrunner Chris Chibnall and 13th Doctor Jodie Whittaker waiting in the wings “Twice Upon a Time” presents Capaldi and Moffat with the chance to go out on an absolute high.
Sadly, the episode feels more whimper than bang. It has a storyline that is oddly busy yet frustratingly simple. The ingredients all seem to be perfectly suitable, but they have been baked together in weirdly sub-standard ways. While it has glimmers of greatness, and certainly its final minutes pull everything together for an emotive farewell, overall it fails to impress or convince. Things happen, but they do not sufficiently build to a satisfying conclusion. The episode simply seems to run until it stops. To its credit the episode does pull things together during its lengthy epilogue, but at that points it’s more about softening the blow of a bad episode than in being anything exceptionally good.
One major hurdle that Moffat fails to clear is how precisely to incorporate the two Doctors alongside one another. While David Bradley (Game of Thrones, Broadchurch) gamely replaces William Hartnell in the role – and wisely does not attempt to directly recreate it – Moffat’s script forces an unnecessary contrast between the two Doctors by making the original an insufferable sexist. It is not a characterisation that rings true, and winds up running a fair amount of character assassination on an iconic television character. Contemporary audiences may not notice so much; dedicated fans will be up in arms.
There was an opportunity here for the 12th Doctor, tired of life, to be reinvigorated by the possibilities of his future by seeing those same possibilities on his younger self. Instead the episode works in the opposite fashion: the original Doctor is convinced to regenerate by seeing his future, and the 12th simply changes his mind and allows himself to change. It feels more than a little muddled throughout.
Both Peter Capaldi and David Bradley do excellent work here, as does Pearl Mackie in a return appearance as companion Bill Potts. Sadly Mark Gatiss’ anonymous “Captain” is more of a list of stereotypes and tics than an actual performance, and weakens most of the scenes he is in. An ever more damaging element is the surfeit of comedy gags and sexual references. They have been a growing bane of Moffat-produced Doctor Who, and with one episode left he goes all out with the smutty jokes and almost derails the entire enterprise.
Peter Capaldi has been a fine Doctor, but his entire tenure has been hampered with irregular script weaknesses. Despite some great episodes in recent years – “World Enough and Time”, “Listen”, and “Heaven Sent”, to name a few – looking back from the end his time on the series feels somewhat like a missed opportunity. Thankfully there’s every chance Jodie Whittaker’s first series in 2018 will be a breath of fresh air.