Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time review – ‘the show regenerates, and not a moment too soon’

Peter Capaldi's final turn as the Doctor is over, but was that Christmas special the swansong he deserved?

Photo: BBC

In October 1966, the BBC broadcast The Tenth Planet, the last serial featuring the first incarnation of the Doctor. “It’s far from being all over,” the Doctor proclaims near the end, and, not long afterward, viewers were confronted with the unexpected sight of the Doctor regenerating for the very first time. This is the moment which Steven Moffat decides to revisit in Twice Upon a Time, Peter Capaldi’s swansong. The dying Twelfth Doctor, who is refusing to regenerate, bumps into his own past self, who is similarly reluctant to change. It’s an ambitious premise, and one which isn’t realised quite successfully.

It’s worth noting that Moffat hadn’t always wanted to write this episode – the original plan was that the Twelfth Doctor would regenerate after the explosive heroics of the Series 10 finale. The journey towards his regeneration, consequently, feels rather dragged out, and I can’t help but feel as though he goes out on more of a whimper than a bang.

The plot revolves around the two Doctors investigating Testimony, a mysterious organisation who have been interfering with the past. However, it turns out that they are merely seeking to preserve the memories of the dead; there isn’t actually an evil plan to be foiled. While all feels a bit insubstantial, I admit that this wasn’t much of a problem for me, as I found most of it to be a fairly entertaining runabout. What really captured my interest was the interaction between the Twelfth Doctor and his past self, and, unfortunately, this is the point where the episode really falls down.

William Hartnell, who played the First Doctor, passed away in 1975, and his performance is here recreated by David Bradley. Bradley offers a strong performance, convincingly capturing Hartnell’s mannerisms. However, he’s let down by the writing: Steven Moffat seems to have forgotten that he’s writing for a time-travelling alien as opposed to a human being from 1960s England. The First Doctor was certainly never as sexist or reactionary as he’s shown to be here, and the disappointing result is that Moffat’s vision of the original Doctor feels more like an unflattering caricature than a faithful homage. One consolation, though, is that Peter Capaldi is on fine form. His last moments are a poignant send-off to a character I’ve grown to love, and it was very moving to see old companions Bill and Nardole, and even a shoehorned-in Clara, brought back for a last goodbye.

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Ultimately, this is an episode that makes an attempt – albeit not a perfect one – to proclaim that we all have to evolve and move on, while still remembering the past. It’s an admirable moral, and one which is perfectly captured by the explosive moment where the Twelfth Doctor whispers “Doctor, I let you go,” before finally regenerating. Despite its failings, Twice Upon a Time ends on a confident note, and I was instantly captivated by Jodie Whittaker’s two-word introduction as the Doctor. Doctor Who has shown, once again, that it’s far from being all over.

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