THIS ARTICLE MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS. Apologies. Again.
This is so much more than just a Christmas special. This is the end of the Peter Capaldi era; the end of Steven Moffat’s time as showrunner and the debut of Jodie Whittaker. It’s a lot of changes in a show that has survived because of change but whose fanbase – or some of that fanbase – can be uncomfortable with changes.
We invest ourselves in Doctors and their regenerations can feel like a personal loss. Doctor Who fans will talk about ‘their Doctor’ long after that Doctor’s era is over. My Doctor is Tom Baker. The first Doctor I watched and the one by whom all others will be judged. But Peter Capaldi is my favourite. And I’ll miss his Doctor. The hardest thing, as Bill Potts says in this episode, about the Doctor is letting him go, but let him go we must. Time stands still for no one.
For some reason – looking at my arbitrary scoring system Excel spreadsheet* - I was harsh on this story on first watch. I thought Rachel Talalay’s direction was superb (as it has been with every episode she’s worked on.) I thought the performances were excellent. I can’t say anything about my admiration for Capaldi’s performance than I already have. He’s majestic. David Bradley’s First Doctor is also good. He’s not trying to be Hartnell, which is great, but he’s giving us his take on the First Doctor.
Now, the way the First Doctor is portrayed in this story is one of my quibbles. It’s all casual sexism and a recycling of that line about ‘a good smacked bottom’, which takes the dent off Hartnell’s performance. Anyone who has watched – or listened to – the Hartnell stories knows that the Twice Upon A Time First Doctor is a caricature. It really annoyed me at the time. It did less so on this watch. It’s just an odd thing to do when – and I think this is a nice touch – you go to the lengths of making the First Doctor’s first appearance in this story Hartnell himself and the last appearance of the First Doctor Hartnell too. All that respect and then all those silly speeches. But then perhaps I’m taking it all too seriously. I do occasionally. It’s the dangers of thinking too much about these things.
Mark Gatiss gives a lovely performance of The Captain. His little speech about having dying, rescue and the dangers of hope is a highlight. The revelation of The Captain’s identity didn’t really come as a surprise to me, but it was nicely played.
Then Pearl Mackie’s back as Bill. I’d forgotten how much I missed Bill. I thought she was the one companion of the Moffat era that worked without reservation. No mystery to be solved. No woman to be fallen in love with. Just a proper friend of the Doctors: travelling, learning and finding out about herself. Pearl Mackie is wonderful too. She should be a superstar one day.
Matt Lucas and Jenna Coleman get little pop up visits at the end, which is nice.
The story itself isn’t the most exciting but I like the fact that the Doctor(s) were both struggling with their futures. It was more of a commentary on Doctor Who itself than an adventure, but it used history well and that Christmas truce, which people talk about movingly but when you think about it is a terrible thing. These men went back to killing each other. It should have been the seed for the end of the war. It wasn’t. And no one at home would have understood it if it was. But that’s a horribly cynical way to see it I admit.
There’s no real villain for the Doctor to fight against. It’s fundamentally a little misunderstanding.
*Of course, I’ve got one. What kind of person do you take me for?
Tony Cross is the creator of the wonderful Centurion Blog's found HERE and HERE.
Image – BBC.