Unless you’ve spent a considerable number of months trapped in a frozen moment of time, you can’t fail to have noticed that this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, Twice Upon A Time is the end of an era.
It’ll be Peter Capaldi’s last tale as the Twelfth Doctor, Steven Moffat’s last as showrunner, and Pearl Mackie’s last as companion, Bill Potts. And so it falls, once again, to Christmas to bring about great sadness. Except we’re still excited – after all, it’s another episode of Doctor Who! Some very lucky folk have already seen the hour-long special (albeit minus the actual regeneration), so what do they think?
Now, we’ve tried to keep things as spoiler-free as possible, but it naturally depends on your mileage. If you think finding out Bill Potts is back is a spoiler, then this isn’t the right place for you. If you’re more troubled by plot developments that you don’t want to be privy to until Christmas Day, you can happily proceed.
First and foremost, let’s focus on Peter Capaldi. It’s his swansong, and Den of Geek says:
“Capaldi’s performance? Well, what do you think. From the moment he stepped into the world of Doctor Who, it felt like he owned the role. For his finale, his work is sublime. Generous, haunting, funny and utterly moving, his farewell is brilliant.”
The Herald Sun agrees:
“The final quarter hour of Twice Upon A Time is where things get deeper as Capaldi’s Doctor considers mortality and his legacy.
“The end result is a master class of Capaldi’s talents as scenes range from comedy to serious drama capped by two wonderful monologues.
“Fans could very well find themselves reaching for the tissues and even novice viewers will be moved.”
Digital Spy also teases his final few scenes:
“Peter Capaldi gets not one but two epic final monologues. His final scenes are properly heartbreaking and his grandiose final speech is capped off with a fitting final line.”
And the Metro concludes:
“As the Doctor’s final battle was wrapped up in The Doctor Falls, the Christmas special can simply focus on Capaldi’s acting. His comedy timing shines through brilliantly, with his back and forth with Bradley a standout moment. And when it comes time for him to regenerate, we can promise you there won’t be a dry eye in the house.”
Ah yes, David Bradley, here playing the First Doctor (and apparently we do an explanation about why he looks different; presumably it ties in with what was said during Timer Crash). This might be Capaldi’s finale, but the Independent’s Darren Scott reckons Bradley “steals the show.”
He goes on:
“Awful generalising about the era the character originally comes from aside – rather than focusing on him being a superior being from the future – (references to male nurses, lesbianism and smacked bottoms) it’s an incredible homage, given further credence with nerd-pleasing costume and set design. In fact, many of the in-jokes that will go right over [a relative]’s head refer to grumbling fan complaints about the series in recent years.”
Doctor Who TV further says:
“David Bradley of course is the biggest guest star of the episode and makes for a mostly impressive First Doctor. His intonation is spot on and he nails many of William Hartnell’s mannerisms and foibles.”
Den of Geek explains:
“[A]t the heart of [Twice Upon A Time], the bickering between two Doctors, both in different ways exasperated with each other. David Bradley is clearly having an absolutely ball recreating William Hartnell’s first Doctor, a man confused with the state of what’s going on around him, and not afraid to voice it. Capaldi’s Doctor, meanwhile, is hardly in the best of shape, correcting his earlier self but also having his fair share of fun. There’s a lot of laughs between the two of them, in the midst of an episode with an otherwise slightly more sombre feel.”
The Radio Times also enthuses:
“[T]he chemistry between the two Time Lords is terrific, and involving the First Doctor is a great way to make this episode FEEL momentous despite not that much actually happening story-wise… Bradley’s also brilliantly funny in the role, mining the First Doctor’s political incorrectness and slightly sterner outward persona for laughs throughout the episode even if one or two of the slightly sexist gags (volubly protested by Capaldi’s more PC Doctor) do start to grate as the episode goes on.”
As many of us were already weary about, it does sound like the First Doctor is played as someone not at all liberal (which really isn’t the case). Prepare your eyeballs for some vigorous rolling.
So what of Twice Upon A Time‘s other guest stars? Jared Garfield’s and Lily Travers’ Ben and Polly, respectively, only get cameos at the start, so otherwise, we have Pearl Mackie, Mark Gatiss, and Nikki Amuka-Bird. The Radio Times goes on:
“The back-and-forth between Miss Potts and the Doctor works as well as ever, and while Mackie’s arc is a little unusual in the episode it’s still a nice final showcase for her wonderful performance as Bill, a character who seems to have been a sad casualty of the big changes in Doctor Who this year.”
And DWTV says:
“Of the two Gatiss’ The Captain is the most significant, with a largely endearing character that, like the two Doctors, is forced to face his own fate on the battlefield. Amuka-Bird meanwhile spends most of the time as a CGI creation in a limiting, but functional role.”
Meanwhile, Den of Geek lavishes praise on the episode’s writer:
“Moffat’s script gives him slightly fewer balls to juggle than he occasionally has tasked himself with, and it really pays dividends. The pacing of Twice Upon A Time is terrific. There’s no rush to suddenly wrap things up, there’s no skimping over the Doctor Who story at the heart of the episode (and there very much is one), and there’s time built in for some often really quite profound conversations. There are surprising moments that hit really hard, because they’ve been given the space to.”
But what’s Twice Upon A Time like, as an overall package?
The Independent isn’t too impressed, sadly:
“Is it a sufficient swansong to one of the best Doctors we’ve had in years? No, not really. Is it a fabulously festive offering for all the family to enjoy? No, not really either. But it is the end of an era – it’s the last time you’ll see Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, the last time you’ll see the current design of the TARDIS, the last time – anniversary specials pending – that you’ll see whatever version of Bill this is. It’s also the last time you’ll hear this bloody awful version of the theme tune, so every snowy cloud.
“Wonderfully nostalgic, though perhaps not for Christmas but the ghost of fandom past.”
Digital Spy is more cheerful:
“The magic of Christmas – peace on Earth, good will to all men and all that – is absolutely integral to the episode.”
And the Radio Times concludes:
“Capaldi spends his final minutes alone delivering a barnstorming address that tries to define his complicated Doctor one last time, finding humour and gravitas even as exhaustion and sadness threatens to overwhelm him.
“It’s a moving coda to both Capaldi and Moffat’s time on the series, and an invigorating end to a solid episode.”
Overall, it sounds like we’re in for a festive treat.
Twice Upon A Time airs on BBC1 at 5:30pm on 25th December 2017. The DWC’s review will be up shortly after it screens on Christmas Day.