Twice Upon a Time Review
So that’s the Moffat era. There’s a very small number of stories we might compare this to, and most of them are unenlightening. Understood as a multi-Doctor story, it is simply perplexing. As a regeneration story, it’s similarly perplexing, but at least Time of the Doctor (and I suppose technically The Tenth Planet) provides a vague point of comparison. Which leaves The End of Time, the series’ sole other example of a Christmas special showrunner/Doctor send-off. Here to, Twice Upon a Time looks odd, but at least the contrast is consistent. Davies talks in The Writer’s Tale about his discarded initial plan for Tennant’s regeneration, which was to do a self-consciously small episode with none of the epic grandeur you’d expect. And so Moffat, finding himself with an extra episode after the bombast of World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls, takes up Davies’s discarded idea for a story in which the Doctor waits around to die and there’s no actual villain.
On one level, this confirms that Davies had a good idea there. Going small in regeneration stories works, as Time of the Doctor (which I’ll defend to the bitter end) demonstrates. Yes, it only works if there are also regeneration stories that go the other way (and Time of the Doctor at least had it both ways), but a small and intimate regeneration story is a move that works and works well. Indeed, it’s worth noting that the previous time Moffat thought he might be on the way out, he had similar instincts, penning a River Song farce. The trouble is that in Twice Upon a Time, the quietly striking impact of going small works to cover up a myriad of fairly aggressive faults.
This isn’t surprising. We’re two Christmas specials past The Husbands of River Song. For all its genuine heights, it’s clear that Series 9 was the natural endpoint of Moffat’s tenure, and that Series 10 was essentially the television equivalent of a bonus disc of album outtakes and remixes. This is nowhere near Moffat’s best work, but we had no right to expect that given the circumstances. But none of that gets rid of the persistent sense of “will this do?” underlying the entire thing. There’s a persistent misjudging of weight through the entire thing. I don’t think there was anyone who, when making a list of the ten loose threads from the Moffat era they hoped got resolved in Twice Upon a Time, would have picked Rusty the Good Dalek. (Indeed, I’m pretty sure the Dalek Eternal would have appeared on more lists, if only because I’d have picked it.) Likewise, the return of Clara was an obvious delight, but going from that to the return of Nardole is clearly just sequencing the emotional beats in what’s clearly the wrong order. And it’s notable that virtually every Twitter and Tumblr quotation of Capaldi’s regeneration speech simply omits the detour about the Doctor’s name.
And then, of course, there’s the big one, which is that it’s not entirely clear why David Bradley is here. I mean, he’s generally delightful in the part, turning in a performance that is clearly not William Hartnell, but that feels believably like the First Doctor. But his narrative role is, charitably, fuzzy. He has no real agency in the plot, he doesn’t seem to actually be involved in Capaldi eventually deciding to regenerate, and he mostly seems to be there to let Moffat go “oh, you think I’m sexist?” Which ends up being odd, because while Moffat isn’t entirely off base in critiquing the social justice credentials of the Hartnell era (the “jolly good smacked bottom” line is a direct quote, after all), he both inflates it to a ridiculous straw man and fails to have it really comport with his reconceptualization of the Time Lords as a genderfluid species. (Harold’s misogyny in The Doctor Falls could at least be handwaved as “well yes, he’s evil,” but there’s really no plausible reason why the First Doctor would go full m’lady.) And past that, it’s just a weird “doth protest too much” on Moffat’s part. His feminist credentials are well-proven for anyone willing to expend more effort on the question than reading Tumblr or the Guardian. He didn’t need to go out shitting on the Hartnell era to prove this point, and nobody who still thinks he’s a sexist is going to give a shit that he has.
And yet for all that it’s about as easy to enumerate the faults of Twice Upon a Time as any other Gatiss or Whithouse story, on the whole this worked. The glass people who freeze time are enough of a mystery to drive the first forty minutes, the cheeky thrill of switching TARDISes and the contrived Dalek provide shots of energy at the right spots, and the emotional beats of the denouement, though they don’t all land solidly, are enough to take it over the line. It’s on the whole pretty good. Which, I mean, is hardly a surprise. The last time Moffat wrote outright bad Doctor Who was… well, arguably The Return of Doctor Mysterio actually, but over the whole of his era the list of his stinkers remains short. Certainly shorter than Chibnall’s. He can write Doctor Who in his sleep, and so a bit longer than he wanted to is no gruesome task. He doesn’t go out with anything close to his best work, but hardly anyone does.
- Let’s start the bullet points with the big shill, since this is the only big Doctor Who post we’re going to have before March. What’s in March, you ask? Well, TARDIS Eruditorum. There’s a new finished era of Doctor Who, after all. Right now it’ll just consist of the thirty-five posts on the actual televised stories. But if the Patreon goes up by another $39, it’ll include a full complement of Pop Between Realities, Home in Time For Tea, You Were Expecting Someone Else, and Outside the Government posts. I’ll have an inventory of what those will be in the next couple weeks.
- Right. Moving on to the normal bullet points. One obvious fix to this story that would have made it work better on its own terms would be to have Susan fill BIll’s role. The Doctor (and the audience) just saw Bill, and so the impact of her as a psychopomp is lessened. Whereas her presence would make almost all of the First Doctor material, along with the idea of pushing Capaldi’s Doctor to regenerate after all. There are a myriad of reasons why it had to be Bill instead – folding in The Tenth Planet is already a massive ask of casual Christmas viewers, Moffat needed someone more than just the Doctor to be the modern show’s viewpoint on David Bradley, and it would have been insulting to have Clara there for the farewell but not Bill. But Moffat ends up trading those problems for another set.
- Bradley is firmly in the tradition of playing a fan memory First Doctor. For all that the visual morph in the midst of the “have you no emotions” speech works – and while it’s (deliberately) uncanny it really does – his delivery of the line lacks any of Hartnell’s mannered theatricality. (On a related note, the oddness of lapel pulls in widescreen demonstrates the soundness of Hartnell’s “television is small” logic.) But as a transformation of Hartnell’s character into something that’s actually built for the high density/low subtext structure of modern television, it’s effective. The moments when it becomes awkward to think of him as the First Doctor are generally Moffat’s fault, not Bradley’s.
- Adding to the sense of “huh, really?” around the return of Rusty is the fact that Moffat is recycling the mid-episode jaunt to find the ____est _____ in the universe (which turns out to be a Dalek) from The Pilot.
- Murray Gold music over the Hartnell-Troughton regeneration is a deeply bizarre experience. As are the First Doctor’s last words getting changed to a Moffat catchphrase. One last bit of naughty graffiti over the show’s mythology.
- I haven’t talked much about Rachel Talalay, but she’s typically magnificent. For all that she’s methodically against having a style beyond servicing the material, she has very distinctive approaches both to exterior landscapes and spooky, haunted spaces, both of which are on display here. I generally love her spooky, haunted spaces (she semi-redoes both Heaven Sent and Hell Bent between the Chamber of the Dead and the Weapon Forges of Villengard), but I actually don’t love her exteriors, which have been a weak point for me since Death in Heaven. Still, she’s mostly phenomenal here – her handling of Mark Gatiss’s “I’ve stopped being ready to die” scene is a particular masterpiece. For Chibnall not to bring her back would be like failing to bring back any of Harness, Mathieson, or Dollard.
- Oh, enough ragging on Chibnall. Is Jodie Whitaker’s “oh brilliant” the best-delivered first line of any newly regenerated Doctor ever? I think it might be. Against my better judgment, I’m excited…
Ranking (Pre-Eruditorum rewatch)
- Kill the Moon
- Hell Bent
- The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion
- World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls
- Dark Water/Death in Heaven
- Face the Raven
- The Girl Who Died
- Mummy on the Orient Express
- The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar
- Heaven Sent
- Thin Ice
- Last Christmas
- Deep Breath
- The Husbands of River Song
- Twice Upon a Time
- The Eaters of Light
- The Pilot
- The Woman Who Lived
- The Pyramid at the End of the World
- In the Forest of the Night
- Into the Dalek
- Empress of Mars
- Robot of Sherwood
- The Caretaker
- The Return of Doctor Mysterio
- Time Heist
- Sleep No More
- Knock Knock
- Under the Lake/Before the Flood
- The Lie of the Land
December 29, 2017 @ 11:07 am
“while Moffat isn’t entirely off base in critiquing the social justice credentials of the Hartnell era (the “jolly good smacked bottom” line is a direct quote, after all), he both inflates it to a ridiculous straw man and fails to have it really comport with his reconceptualization of the Time Lords as a genderfluid species. (Harold’s misogyny in The Doctor Falls could at least be handwaved as “well yes, he’s evil,” but there’s really no plausible reason why the First Doctor would go full m’lady.) And past that, it’s just a weird “doth protest too much” on Moffat’s part. His feminist credentials are well-proven for anyone willing to expend more effort on the question than reading Tumblr or the Guardian. He didn’t need to go out shitting on the Hartnell era to prove this point, and nobody who still thinks he’s a sexist is going to give a shit that he has.”
What annoyed me most about the BradleySexismFiasco wasn’t so much a kind of frothing-at-the-mouth about how unfair it was on William Hartnell – which I know has been the case in some circles – but that I am just really opposed, politically speaking, to the kind of “ooh, look at how far we’ve come”/celebrating progressive achievement branch of neoliberalism that it actively embraces. “How much better society is!” Yuck. It does two things at the same time – 1) it risks colossal complacency about the present, reducing sexism to a silly boogeyman from the 1960s that scarcely exists any more because only daft old grandpas would say this kind of thing, and 2) it is almost always irritatingly patronising about the past in an often rather disingenuous way. “Let’s all point and laugh at the unenlightened”, say we, the (apparently) enlightened who seem unable to sort most of the same problems. It’s the same phenomenon as most moderns laughing at medieval ‘primitiveness’ – a kind of ignorant snobbery. Should have been beneath Moffat but, sadly, wasn’t.
Toby Hadoke’s podcast with Steven Moffat that came out this week is terrific and worth a listen, by the way, for anyone who hasn’t heard it yet.
December 29, 2017 @ 12:27 pm
I think my biggest frustration with the handling of the First Doctor’s sexism wasn’t that they shouldn’t have gone there (I think the flaws of Doctor Who’s past are worth acknowledging and exploring), or that it was out of character – there’s nothing in there that’s more extreme than anything he said in his own era, although there are some lines that arguably don’t capture the kind of sexism he displayed – he could be overbearing and paternalistic, yes, and the episode gets that, but his “I have some experience of the fairer sex” was, well almost jockish, which doesn’t fit with the first Doctor in any meaningful sense (Bill’s response to that comment was a delight, though).
My biggest frustration was the way this aspect of the first Doctor was handled, and the sense given in interviews that they came at this aspect of the Doctor from a slightly wrong understanding of it. Gatiss said in post episode “Doctor Who Fan Show” that the episode captured the “delightful naughtiness” (or something to that effect, I’m paraphrasing) of the first Doctor. And Moffat did hint that they were going to show the more playful side of the first Doctor – but we don’t really get that – we don’t get the first Doctor who hides in an empty Dalek shell in “The Space Museum”, and pokes his head out giggling like a child. The only “funny” side of the first Doctor in this episode is that he shows some 1960s era political incorrectness. And if that’s your way into this aspect of his character – that it makes him “delightfully naughty”, I don’t think you’re going to approach it with the full nuance necessary.
When the Twelfth Doctor tries to get Bill to go back to the TARDIS after arriving on Rusty’s planet, the episode was really crying out for a parallel to be drawn between the Twefth Doctor and the first Doctor – Bill saying something like “you’re still treating me like I’m made of glass” would have been a good way of explicitly critiquing the Twelfth Doctor’s flaws, and maybe adding a bit of subtlety and complexity to the episode’s somewhat limited critique of the first Doctor.
December 29, 2017 @ 12:57 pm
Yes, I think that’s all pretty fair. I’d also add that even if there’s nothing in there that’s more extreme than what he said in his own era (debatable, mind – you highlight one instance already that is something he wouldn’t have said, while I don’t think he would ever have said the “women are made of glass” line either), there’s no instance where you get as many lines as this in 60 minutes. That’s like, what, the Doctor making five or six sexist comments in the first half of An Unearthly Child alone? So it’s a glut of them in comparison to an entire 3-year era. Some of that is down to the inevitable “bring back a folk memory version for a multi-Doctor special” thing, but it still rankles.
December 29, 2017 @ 1:36 pm
Agreed with all of this – when I say there’s nothing more extreme than there is in the Hartnell era, I simply mean that “aren’t all women made of glass?” is no worse a thing to say than the “smacked bottom” line in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” – they’re all sh*tty, sexist things to say, even if the sexism was more overbearing paternalism than frat-boy sexual prowess boasting.
And yeah, the number of lines is a lot for the way they handle the first Doctor’s sexism – if you’re just going to do the “lol, the first Doctor wasn’t very PC” joke, then one or two lines is the most that merits. If you’re going to make it a prominent part of his characterisation (and the five or six lines we get in a sixty minute script is quite prominent), then the episode needed to explore what the first Doctor’s sexism means for the characterisation of the Doctor, and our understanding of the character as an audience, for it to be worth including, in my opinion.
John G. Wood
December 29, 2017 @ 4:16 pm
Well, while I intellectually agree with Tom’s original political point regarding sexism now & then being more important, emotionally it was the misrepresentation of Hartnell that seriously damaged my enjoyment of the episode. I’m going to have to watch it again before I can get any better appreciation of the thing (and I have an excuse, because my wife was working Christmas night so missed it). My main thoughts (some of which you two have come up with independently) included
Even the “smacked bottom” line is placed in a completely different context. Him saying it to Susan – someone who was a schoolchild a year ago, to whom the Doctor is effectively a parent, and whose maturation he is explicitly strugging with – is very different from him saying it to Bill, who’s both older and not his responsibility. I’ve always seen it as at least as much a failure of parenting as sexism in its original context (it’s certainly a threat that was used against both boys and girls when I was growing up, though admittedly not ones as old as Susan). Using it with Bill conjures up images of Prison in Space instead, which is just…ugh.
The condensed sexism thing was also a problem. I think Pertwee’s Doctor was far more sexist than Hartnell’s, but even so if you take just the worst bits of The Time Warrior and Terror of the Autons and ignore the rest of his era you’ll get a totally misleading impression. One or two comments here would have been fair enough, but going full 70s sitcom was painful.
All of the above might have been lessened if he’d actually been given anything to do other than reacting to things he’s told about his future or being sexist. I mean, was there anything? Bradley’s performance was fine, but he wasn’t exactly given a lot to work with.
Enough ranting. I suspect everything else in the episode is good (though I saw the Ypres ending coming within seconds of the initial battlefield shot), I was happy to see Rusty, and I am actually looking forward to watching it again with my wife when I won’t be so sideswiped by the Hartnell thing.
December 29, 2017 @ 2:03 pm
I can see where you’re coming from but I feel like celebrating progress (and some progress definitely happened) is an important feel-good part of trying to change the world. Our reward, if you will. If we can’t admit that there were at least some small triumphs then there’s not much emotional motivation to participate in this whole neverending battle against society’s faults.
December 29, 2017 @ 4:46 pm
I would agree, but I don’t think the point of the First Doctor’s sexism is to make it seem like “a silly boogeyman from the 1960s”, because this story isn’t really about celebrating the present. It’s about change, and the necessity of moving forward, and most importantly it’s the first story to feature a female Doctor.
So I read it more as being about two versions of the Doctor, both equally flawed, giving way to a third. It’s not “look how much better the Doctor is today”; rather, Bradley seems to be an exaggerated reflection of Capaldi’s Doctor. After all, this era has made a conscious effort to problematise its lead pretty much from the offset, and then continuously in very specific cases… calling out his condescension in Kill the Moon, his attitude to the military in Death in Heaven, the horrific violation of consent involved in wiping his companions’ memories, etc… not the sort of character we’re going to celebrate as the personification of progressive achievements, except in how he’s improved over the course of his run. This story is all about our Doctor undergoing a necessary cathartic change, and I think that evades the unpleasant neoliberal connotations which you very astutely point out. And the fact that the change is into a woman, freeing the character of his uniquely patriarchal flaws… well, all I’ll say is, I don’t think this story would have used the First Doctor had Thirteen been Kris Marshall.
It’s just alchemy really… the Doctor we know, the troubled hero, confronting his shadow aspect and emerging from the experience a different man. Or rather, woman.
January 1, 2018 @ 5:16 pm
I think you’re right to point to the problematising of the lead throughout the Capaldi era in particular, but “Twice Upon a Time” does very, very little to make this explicit – even the “…just as I have always respected you” gag essentially lands the charge of sexist behaviour at the feet of the First Doctor as a separate entity rather than particularly the Twelfth. And the whole time we’ve got him telling his younger self “no, you can’t say that!” etc, whereas he only gets a light scolding for being a bit showboating.
December 29, 2017 @ 11:08 am
Well personally, I thought it was the best Regeneration story since “The Parting of Ways ” mainly because it wasn’t the also the finale of a story arc that went on for far too long and got tiresome already after two seasons like Time of the Doctor or some big hollow epic of diminished returns like The End of Time.
It was Moffat summing up his entire philosophy on his work on the series in a single episode from his debts to Paul Cornell to “Everyone lives” and chooses to be “kind”. It’s the final thesis statement of why he believes that Doctor Who makes the world a better place before letting it go. It was Gatiss saying goodbye with the absolute best performance I’ve ever seen out of him as an actor. It was Murray Gold breaking out all the hits for his farewell and bringing us right back to the beginning with “Flavia’s theme”. And Peter Capaldi who you didn’t talk about at all during the review… He was just on fire. This was his dream and until he gave it his full passion to the last shot. He has become to me what Troughton is you. The most magical of Doctors.
Twice upon a Time was something quiet, affectionate to all parties involved and hopeful about the future. Until 13 pressed the wrong button that is and fell out of the Tardis. It’s almost like Chibnall wants there to be a deliberate metaphor for the oncoming plunge into the dread and uncertainty of his era and the show’s future.
December 29, 2017 @ 11:52 am
Yeah, I’d agree with most of that: Gatiss was very good, Capaldi was excellent especially in the “battlefield” monologue, and Murray Gold went out with all his greatest hits.
Plus “Oh, brilliant” was absolutely the most perfect first line Whittaker could have had. Simple, straightforward, has about 4 or 5 different meanings depending on how you want to take it (i.e. she could think it’s brilliant that she’s a woman now, or she could think it’s brilliant that she’s blonde, or that she’s younger, or just sheer joy of being alive, etc., etc.).
December 29, 2017 @ 4:49 pm
Interesting that you mention Moffat’s debt to Cornell, since it’s Cornell – and not Moffat – who’s going to be penning the Target novelisation of this story. I’ll be very interested to see how he fleshes out the Testimony in particular.
December 30, 2017 @ 10:43 pm
I think this is the best regeneration story to easily the best era of Doctor Who since Christopher Eccleston’s series. The heights of Peter Capaldi are brilliant, and this was a final narrative substitution after a series that mastered them brilliantly.
January 2, 2018 @ 1:29 am
I was so glad to see how the story turned so many of the expectations we’ve come to develop for Xmas Specials upside down and out the window. The whole thing was essentially an epilogue in disguise, which will probably end up playing so much better for general audiences on DVD rewatch down the road, rather than as a stand-alone story bracketed by several months of no Doctor Who at all.
Piggybacking as usual, even though I didn’t get to see the story until New Years’ Eve myself.
December 29, 2017 @ 11:29 am
So I’m not the only one who was expecting it to be Susan emerging from the shadows on the line “she’s here, you can see her again” even when it became clear that it was Pearl Mackie’s afro not Carole Ann Ford’s bouffant. I mean, they’d teased it with enough extra material of Capaldi going teary-eyed over Susan.
I wonder if it might have been the original intention before they realised how popular Mackie had become?
Bradley’s line delivery was…odd. Almost Mondassian Cyberman in its random pauses. I think he was aiming for Hartnell and ended up with Lawrence Olivier’s Richard III.
I didn’t mind Rusty. The idea that the Daleks’ data base is better than the Time Lords is chilling. Reminiscent of the Nazis obsessive archiving.
I’d have put Robot of Sherwood higher and The Eaters of Light much lower otherwise, yeah good ranking.
Will you be doing a ‘Now, my Doctor…’ on Capaldi?
December 29, 2017 @ 12:48 pm
You are certainly not the only one who thought it would be Susan. Even my wife, who didn’t grow up with the show (she’s Japanese) exclaimed ‘Susan!’ before we saw the figure clearly.
I also noticed the way Bradley’s delivery was like a Cyberman, and decided it was deliberate. We know that there was a weird connection that the Tenth Planet suggested, and which of course came to nothing when the Cybermen were repurposed as Daleks.
December 29, 2017 @ 5:01 pm
I notice the Capaldi era has a tendency to evoke the memory of Susan at random moments – the Coal Hill setting recurring through Series 8 (and Susan’s name in Class, though I tend to ignore that spin-off), the picture on the Doctor’s desk, Bill calling him “grandfather”, the return of the First Doctor, and then positioning Bill as Susan, almost deliberately out-of-focus…
Like River, Susan is a ghost who’s haunted this era, but the show hasn’t quite managed to invoke her properly… hasn’t quite managed to exorcise her, either. The Problem of Susan is conspicuous but unresolved, and Moffat seems simultaneously attracted to and repelled by the prospect of engaging with it.
Is this now ‘The Problem of the Problem of Susan’?
December 29, 2017 @ 9:08 pm
Oh, now I like that reading! I’ve been wondering since, if Carol Anne Ford ( or worse a Polly and Ben style lookalike) had walked into shot, what I’d be thinking about it. Perhaps, as you say, some ghosts are best left unsummoned.
December 29, 2017 @ 12:12 pm
I rather loved it, all told.
Contrary to popular opinion, I quite liked the decision to bring back Rusty. Sure, he’s not the immediate character you’d expect to go to for a regeneration story, but that’s a large part of what made him so right for this regeneration story – one that goes small scale and intimate rather than epic, one that emphasizes the hope and kindness where you’d expect cynicism and cruelty – the day of peace in the first world war, the aliens who have no evil plan – the Dalek the Doctor managed to convert to a good cause fits rather nicely in all of that. Heck, Rusty coming back was the one surprise in the story.
And sure, the first Doctor is still something of a folk memory, but this is easily the best written and most accurate recreation of him in a multi Doctor story. He gets an actual character arc, about coming to terms with the change he’s going through, being scared of, and ultimately accepting and recognising the truth of, the person he’s going to become. The story acknowledges, unlike previous multi Doctor stories, that he’s actually the youngest incarnation and is the least like what we as an audience consider “The Doctor”, and gets interesting material. The scene where he discusses why he wanted to go and see the universe with Bill captured his voice and original characterisation so perfectly, it was nothing short of astonishing. Frankly, I think the (in character, but over -emphasized and poorly explored) sexism of the first Doctor was the least interesting aspect of his characterisation in the episode, and it frustrates me that that’s what’s getting most of the focus in the analysis of his appearance here. Even in little things, like the observation that he still called the TARDIS his “ship”, there’s a character specificity that there really isn’t in other attempts to recreate the first Doctor.
And I loved the overall themes and messages of the story -the emphasis on the intertwining of memory and identity, the subversion of the Doctor’s epic reputation with the reveal of the true, gentle nature of the actions that inform that reputation (“so this is what it means to be a Doctor of War”) , and the importance of kindness, and finding it and holding onto it, even when the world around you is cruel, and fails to be a fairy tale. It’s easy to call this Moffat reusing his central themes and preoccupations, because, well, it is, but if you can’t reflect on what your era’s been about in the final story, I don’t know when you can, and this one did so beautifully.
I’ll also back up the comments saying this review really should have mentioned Peter Capaldi’s performance, what with it being his regeneration episode, and the fact that he was nothing short of astonishing in it. I think my favourite moment was the little beat after Bradley’s first Doctor has left where he pulls his coat around his face to keep off the cold – such a tiny detail that really makes you feel the Twelfth Doctor’s vulnerability in that moment.
December 29, 2017 @ 12:36 pm
Well. I am thoroughly shocked by the Capaldi story ranking list. Extremis < Twice Upon a Time? Flatline > Last Christmas? Color me excited for the Eruditorum posts; I need to see your revised opinions (also, I gather you’ve switched out Oxygen with Extremis to be your “great episode that gets a thorough drubbing”).
December 29, 2017 @ 12:38 pm
I was disappointed by the lack of banana trees. Bananas are good.
December 29, 2017 @ 12:52 pm
Ever since the suggestion by the friend of whoever it was that relayed the suggestion here, I have been having to remind myself that the episode is not called Twelfth Night, because that would be such a patently superior title, both for Christmassiness and as a full circle from The Eleventh Hour.
Relatedly, this title would not even have been available if Moffat had given The Time of the Doctor the likewise patently superior title of Onze Upon a Time.
December 29, 2017 @ 1:22 pm
I was pretty disappointed, personally. The characters all felt like there was no time in the story to address their conflicts and arcs, but also the story itself was so small and simple that I don’t get why there wouldn’t have been time. The Captain is fine with dying but then doesn’t want to but still has hope, but then willingly goes to die having done nothing in the entire episode? What changed his mind? Maybe GlassBill showed him his amazing grandson the Brigadier or something? The only thing he did in the story was reveal his name at the end.
The First Doctor comes to terms with being the “Doctor Of War” at the end, but apart from looking shocked when the Testimony shows him the big clip show, any conflict in that area was never brought up. Later he’s asked why he’s refusing regeneration and he just says “fear”. Maybe he’s afraid of becoming the Doctor Of War, but he was too afraid to regenerate already before finding that out.
I also wasn’t clear on why Capaldi decided to regenerate. One of the last things he says to another character is “Can’t I have peace? Can’t I rest?” He seems to just regenerate because it’s the end of the episode and you know he’s going to.
A lot of the good bits are just reusing dialogue from previous episodes. I suppose a final episode is a good place to do that, but it doesn’t work for me.
I’m a little sad that I don’t like this episode very much, because while I’ll pop Time Of The Doctor or The End Of Time on now and then and enjoy them, I don’t see myself rewatching Peter Capaldi’s final episode.
December 29, 2017 @ 1:45 pm
I think the beat where Bill recognizes One is the same person as Twelve after he makes some sexist remark was a comment that despite the jokes, it’s not like Twelve is that much better and all the Doctors have still had moments since where they act all entitled/privileged and sometimes even sexist. But it could’ve really been further explored beyond that moment.
I get the feeling that Moffat just couldn’t resist the sexist comments/jokes once he came up with them and just threw them all in there.
But the other side of the First Doctor was incredible, especially as he talked about leaving Gallifrey. And the way he spoke, Moffat has a fine way of finding or understanding the right style of speech for a character.
December 29, 2017 @ 6:25 pm
The sexism was a little overembellished for the sake of letting the Doctor be Meathead to his own Archie Bunker. But there were levels to Bradley’s characterization that I think have been mostly missed. At one point Twelve launches into a speech about how he’s going to fight the Testimony, and One says – I’m paraphrasing – “Why are you telling them that?” Moffat here seems to be admitting that the NuWho Doctors, not just Moffat, must seem grandiose by the lights of someone like One. Taken on more responsibility, but also more of a “me me me” attitude. How Chibnall and others weigh in on this in the future remains to be seen.
December 29, 2017 @ 11:23 pm
Nice observation about the different ways classic and new era Doctors behave. On both sides there would be work to do to properly understand each other. I’ve no doubt Chibnall’s era will have a very different feel to what’s gone before – it is going to be interesting to see where it leads.
December 29, 2017 @ 1:54 pm
A very good review and some on point observations, as always.
I feel like the narrative and conceptual hollowness of this episode perfectly captures the place Moffat found himself in. A tacked on extra episode of a tacked on extra season of a series he was ready to leave for a few years now. No wonder the Twelfth Doctor spends an hour wandering about this empty land of frozen time and no plot, filled only with his memories of companions, enemies and himself. It’s so strange that “Twice Upon a Time” is so disconnected from both “The Tenth Planet” (despite the wonderful “Previously on” bit and the natural connection with series 10 finale the Mondasian Cybermen should’ve been able to provide) and “World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls”. It’s a non-story. I can enjoy episodes with thin plot and no antagonist (and I enjoyed this special) but here even the Doctor admits that he doesn’t know what to do next.
Funny how the episode that wants to be about two Doctors convincing each other to regenerate ends up both creating and solving the false problem of the First Doctor refusing to change (Capaldi even says that this problem didn’t exist originally and we get no explanation of why this even happened)… and also not giving us one solid reason why Twelve finally decided to live on. Was it meeting himself? His companions? The memories of Clara? Him saving the Captain? Did the TARDIS convince him at the very end? The Doctor’s decision doesn’t seem out of place but it also doesn’t really seem motivated by anything in particular.
“Twice Upon a Time” was also the final argument that convinced me that “fighting against the regeneration” is a fundamentally flawed idea for a “Doctor Who” story. It’s hollow, it doesn’t fit with the Doctor’s character (or, for that matter, the very idea of regeneration as a biological healing mechanism) and only exists because we indulge the actor’s/creator’s/audience’s desire for an extended goodbye. It’s an invasion of the real world upon the show that warps the Doctor’s story and – for the second time in New Who – produces only some overlong and self-indulgent moments like Ten’s “reward” or Twelfth’s last speech. (What did that bit about children even mean?). Can we please go back to Nine-style regenerations?
In a way, this episode is not surprising. Moffat’s era is full of false (and sometimes slightly disappointing) endings. Clara had like three or four goodbyes, River Song had at least two (three if we’re counting “Forest of the Dead” as an early part of Moffat’s era), Bill had two as well. The Doctor himself faced his certain death at least three times (season six, Trenzalore and Capaldi’s last finale). I kinda like the fact that Moffat prefers to tell stories about life and survival over death and grief but I feel like his era could use more balance on that front. As he himself said in his first River Song story, (sometimes) you need a good death.
Having said all that, I enjoyed the episode (the Christmas armistice was especially lovely) and I loved Capaldi’s last line. That delivery was just wonderful. As was Jodie. “Oh, brilliant” indeed. Bring on the Chibnall era!
December 29, 2017 @ 2:09 pm
Also, your ranking of episodes is wrong and you are wrong.
December 30, 2017 @ 12:17 am
When he said that only children could understand his name, I was reminded of Ten’s statement to River that there was only one time he could have told her his name. Perhaps not the most urgent loose end to deal with, but there it is.
Of course there was also Missy’s trolling that his name really is a knock-knock joke.
December 31, 2017 @ 4:10 pm
For what it’s worth, I think the TARDIS had a hand in convincing him. He does seem to have a conversation with her.
December 29, 2017 @ 2:14 pm
On the one hand, I’m glad 12 can remember Clara now, but on the other, Donna still can’t remember her travels with the Doctor and I appreciated Hell Bent’s commentary on that which is kind of gone, now.
I was surprised how much of this episode was a “good bye and thank you” to Gatiss, as well – he gets to be in a regeneration story! He gets to pal around with the First Doctor! He gets to play Lethbridge-Stewart’s grandpa! That he was very good in the part was a blessing, and that I even liked his inclusion at all was a surprise.
Davies going out with “I don’t want to go,” and Moffat going out with “Doctor, I let you go,” was cute.
My biggest complaint about the episode remains Bill being a little weirdly inserted into this episode. Yes, I accept that it was really her, but the Doctor didn’t for the majority of the episode, so he’s weirdly cold towards her in most of this. I wish it had been a more joyful reunion.
I wondered if it would make it into your review somehow, but seeing as it didn’t, I’ll quote your tweet because it was the hardest I laughed at any reaction to this episode yet: “Insincere and cynical Twice Upon a Time take: It’s the perfect summation to the Moffat era – a slightly overlong and unconvincing attempt to argue that Gatiss and Whithouse shouldn’t be shot.”
September 16, 2018 @ 12:20 am
I don’t think it was really Bill, and I think the Doctor didn’t either.
December 29, 2017 @ 2:21 pm
On one hand, I agree with Phil’s critique of the jokes about the First Doctor’s sexism. On the other hand, it was fun to watch Capaldi wincing and telling him to cut it out—and I’d hate for this self-indulgent episode to lose one of its few fun bits. And I guess it’s interesting to see the full arc from Male Chauvinist Doctor to Woman Doctor in a single hour.
Re: the list: The best Capaldi story is Listen. Or possibly Last Christmas. This one should rank close to the bottom.
December 29, 2017 @ 3:13 pm
I was disappointed with this, I’ve loved the Capaldi era and I’m surprised by how well received this was.
I genuinely thought the show’s never been uglier on a purely visual level (5 and 8 are the best looking modern seasons for me), I genuinely feel my tastes must be way off where other people are at cos I thought this ep was a real shocker on that side.
December 29, 2017 @ 3:22 pm
Including Rusty does seem odd. “So, Steven, it’s your last episode, a time to look back and sum up your era. Anything you’d particularly like to revisit – important points you want to reiterate, mistakes you’d like to correct, or just triumphs you feel like revelling in?” “Hmmm. I think what I really want to do is to go back to a Phil Ford story from three seasons ago and remind everyone of how it didn’t make any sense.” “Uh … OK?”
But there is some thematic logic to it. ScarvesandCelery mentions aspects of that, and I think there are other things going on. The fact of Rusty having been convinced to change, and the resistance to change inherent in the Dalek norm, makes a parallel with the Doctor here, reinforced by explicitly referencing the idea of the Doctor as a “good Dalek”.
Given what the viewer already knows to be the nature of the Doctor’s upcoming change, I think there’s something of a “men are like Daleks” subtext going on there. Given how the Daleks have always been about the brutalising effects of war and of fitness for war as an ideal, especially with the specific element of shutting-off in an armoured shell, they’ve always been applicable to a critique of masculinity, though I don’t think they’ve been used in quite that way before. I may be imagining all this, but it seems like the kind of thing Moffat would do at this juncture.
Also probably an element of that which is jabbing at hostile fan responses to casting a woman (and that’s definitely something Moffat would do), classifying this as Dalek-like. The description of the uncased Daleks as “old friends of ours” and the otherwise odd allusion to them as “the dispossessed” would have a resonance with that.
There’s also the choice of Villengard as a setting, which could just be there for the sake of harking back to Moffat’s first story, but could play into this theme too, given its original context in relation to the Doctor’s deflation of Jack’s big gun, and the definite phallic symbolism going on there.
December 29, 2017 @ 3:48 pm
I think you’re reading far too much into this but I like this reading anyway. Now I want to see an episode where Daleks are used as a critique of masculinity. Or rather, a specific ascpect of toxic masculinity.
As for Rusty, I feel like he’s a strange remnant of the Capaldi era finale this episode could’ve been but wasn’t. You know, the one that’s big and epic and full of easter eggs and is probably changing the show’s mythos in a fundamental way. In this nonexistent episode Rusty would be a delightful surprise – the one dangling plot thread nobody expected to be addressed among many others that were. But that episode apparently got eaten by the cracks in time or something so only Rusty remained.
Rusty’s also strangely fitting for an episode that’s basically Twelve stepping outside his own story(because he interrupted it by refusing to regenerate) and wandering around the backstage area. Of course Rusty is there as a warped echo of the Daleks as a fundamental part of the show. Just like the First Doctor here is a warped echo of himself, the Captain is a warped echo of the Brigadier and both Bill and Nardole are memory constructs.
December 29, 2017 @ 4:32 pm
I am wondering what these “dangling plot threads we should have revisited before Rusty” are that people keep talking about – after Moffat wrapped up going back to Gallifrey and the finally had the Doctor and River go to Darillium, everyone seemed to agree that Moffat had wrapped up all the major plot threads in his era, but I’ve seen multiple reviewers and commenters suggest there are “dangling plot threads” that could have been revisited instead of Rusty. I mean, I get wanting to bring back more significant characters from the Twelfth Doctor’s era in the final episode than Rusty the Dalek, but the way people voice that complaint is sounds almost exactly like the common mid-Moffat era criticism that “Moffat won’t wrap up any of his story arcs”, which seems to me to be a different criticism.
December 29, 2017 @ 5:03 pm
You’re right, some reviewers are probably confusing these two criticisms. I personally don’t care much about dangling plot threads and I feel like most of them were wrapped pretty satisfyingly (as much as one can call the trollish, barely expanded upon answers given by “The Time of the Doctor” satisfying).
But I’m sure there are mysteries people that were hoping would be explained in this episode. I’ve seen a reviewer mention the exact fate of Bill, Nardole and the spaceship after “The Doctor Falls” as one such mystery. Others had questions about the mastermind behind “Mummy on the Orient Express” plot or the exact story behind the Doctor’s confession dial and the Hybrid. I think even the Monks from series 10 trilogy were more of a dangling plot thread than Rusty the Good Dalek.
December 29, 2017 @ 5:41 pm
Apropos TEC/TDD, we never did find out what Jack’s missing memories were about, did we? 😉
December 29, 2017 @ 10:14 pm
I mean, they were clearly about seasons 1, 2 and 4 of “Torchwood”.
September 16, 2018 @ 12:29 am
Wait, how does that work? And why not season 3 in your list?
December 29, 2017 @ 6:20 pm
Yeah, I’d see pretty much all of those as things were deliberately left open ended, rather than “dangling plot threads that demanded resolution”. I’d say the same the same about Rusty’s fate post “Into the Dalek” – some of those things could be worth revisiting, although some definitely should be left alone. Asking what happened to Bill after “The Doctor Falls” is (to me) just asking a question that the show never asked – the answer’s clearly “she went on adventures with her new space girlfriend” (Nardole’s fate is arguably more worth exploring, as that does fall more into the “left deliberately vague” category).
December 29, 2017 @ 6:25 pm
Re. The Monks, I don’t want to leave the impression that I thought they were “left deliberately vague” – the storyline was resolved, just with a bad episode (so while I understand fans wanting more of a resolution out of it, they’re definitely not something that I think badly needs revisiting).
December 29, 2017 @ 10:23 pm
Yeah, most of those were deliberately open-ended. Still, some people wanted to know more. The Monks I can even understand – they simply escaped at the end of their trilogy so it was possible that they would return at some point (there was a lovely theory about them being disguised Mondasian Cybermen). Moreover, their impressive whole-world simulation was never really addressed after “Extremis”, so…
I remember a lot of people who were adamant that we will at some point learn more about the unseen creature from “Midnight”. I wonder if they are still waiting.
September 16, 2018 @ 12:31 am
Oh god I definitely am. That and Listen.
September 16, 2018 @ 12:27 am
Yes, Time of the Doctor gave horrible answers to very difficult, very interesting questions.
So I think the thread he should have picked up is the Silence.
We are told they served in confession situations, which connects to the theme of the Testimony and giving an account of oneself. The whole memory thing could be a neat connection, too.
Also, they’re scary as hell, so that would be one thing happening in this episode.
December 29, 2017 @ 10:52 pm
I certainly don’t mean to suggest that there were any pressing things that needed resolution. Even the one thing that actually did seem like overt setup for a story we never got – the real identity of GUS (who is obviously the Rani) – is perfectly fine left where it is. But there’s lots of things that could be picked up on. A full-blown return of Clara and Ashildir was obviously never going to happen with Coleman and Williams’s schedules, but is an obvious one. The Time Lords could have easily been revisited. Tasha Lem remains something of a mystery. Doctor Who is always full of dangling plot threads. This is not a problem, but equally a finale like this has a certain expectation of payoff that means we’re likely to see one. In this context, Rusty was… a surprise.
December 29, 2017 @ 11:58 pm
Wasn’t GUS addressed (albeit maybe unsatisfyingly) in Dark Water / Death in Heaven, or am I misremembering? I thought it was definitely Missy behind that? I mean – it definitely felt like she was the answer to a slightly different question than that episode had posed when it aired, but still, that all seemed squared away by Death in Heaven?
Rusty I thought worked, and as others have suggested does make a lot of thematic sense whilst remaining a surprise, and it bookends Capaldi’s run nicely.
I can’t imagine an answer to ‘who is Tasha Lem?’ being more interesting or appropriate than what we got here.
December 30, 2017 @ 3:12 am
Actually Gus was suppose to be in Oxygen…
“It was revealed on Jamie Mathiesons’s blog that Gus was supposed to appear in Oxygen, But was cut as Steven Moffat thought this would end the story on an anticlimax. Mathieson still left some hints. If you get the corporation’s name, Ganymede User Systems, and make it into an acronym, you get GUS.” – Tardis Wikia
December 30, 2017 @ 10:00 pm
interestingly there’s actually some discussion of tasha lem in the latest who’s round that toby hadoke did with steven moffat with regard to things in his era that didn’t completely come off the way he wanted/intended them to
January 2, 2018 @ 9:35 am
She always seemed like a knockoff River Song to me.
January 17, 2018 @ 9:41 pm
I still don’t think we learned why and how Missy “picked” Clara to be the Doctor’s companion. In how much detailed exactly did Missy manipulate events? How could she have known or engineered that Clara would demand that the Doctor take her to the Other World?
Also, did she kill Danny Pink deliberately so that could happen?
What the fuck is up with Martha Jones, Jack Harkness, and Gwen Cooper these days?
Why are there such weird similarities between Listen and Midnight? Why is “listen” an anagram for “silent”?
What happened to the guy Ashildr turned immortal? And why wouldn’t Jack Harkness be involved in Ashildr’s Trap Street alien refuge if administering aliens is what he does? Why was the Trap Street in London and not in Cardiff where there is a Rift?
December 29, 2017 @ 3:25 pm
I thought Clara was a bum note, but then I didn’t like the appearance of (adult) Amy in TOTD either (just the glimpse of Amelia would have worked). And, well, I’m not sure anyone likes Tennant’s farewell tour at this point. I just don’t think the bring-back-past-companions-to-say-goodbye thing works in general. But that’s probably just me.
December 29, 2017 @ 4:33 pm
Even whilst agreeing with pretty much everything in the review and other comments, I really liked it a lot, and got suitably teary for Christmas Day.
Since no-one has mentioned it yet: one moment that particularly stood out for me (and particularly for its ambiguity) was the ring falling off during regeneration.
On the one had this is just a reminder of the physical character changes taking place (ring no longer fits and simply slips off a now-smaller finger) and also marks a symbolic end to the River Song story started back in the Library.
But it comments more broadly too and perhaps quite weirdly.
In one (probably popular) interpretation it unfortunately suggests that the relationship with River is over (or different) just because the Doctor is now a woman, which cuts against a lot of the queering (and specifically bi representation and timelord gender fluidity) that this era has (albeit sometimes clumsily) been otherwise doing.
It works as moving on from a now-definitely-dead River, (but only really for as far as she doesn’t come back), but it’s slightly a shame that that happens to coincide with the Doctor herself becoming a woman.
With a female doctor River is no longer narratively ‘necessary’ in quite the same way either, but making that point through a symbolic divorce is perhaps a bit confused.
Alternatively, and more excitingly, of course, it’s the institution of marriage that is being symbolically being rejected there, which is a brilliant way to begin the first female Doctor’s tenure! It’s just a shame that she has to split up with her wife first.
It ties up the ‘this series is all about the Doctor moving on from River’ threads that have been there, but as with much of this last series, were a little underrealised in some ways.
It is also Capaldi’s wedding ring though, as well as (more than?) the Doctor’s, so it’s anoother part of the paratextual production team regeneration too.
There were a few little moments like that which I couldn’t come to clear readings of – and as a sucker for ambiguity I was a fan.
December 29, 2017 @ 4:44 pm
I thought the ring falling off was just a reference to Hartnell’s ring not fitting on Troughton’s finger in Power of the Daleks – you’ve given me some things to think about…
December 29, 2017 @ 4:55 pm
Ah! Of course! Thanks, I’d forgotten that Power of the Daleks bits. It’s very definitely referencing that then isn’t it – but still, carries a lot of other things with it.
December 29, 2017 @ 5:16 pm
The characterisation of the First Doctor was definitely a bit off in places, but I’m not sold on your argument that it jars with Moffat’s “reconceptualization of the Time Lords as a genderfluid species”. I keep seeing this argument, particularly in YouTube/reddit threads (need I say no more?), and it usually involves quoting that scene between the Doctor and Bill at the start of World Enough and Time.
Which ignores the punchline – “so why do you still call yourself Lords then?” (or something to that effect). I don’t think Moffat has ever gone so far as to suggest seriously that the Time Lords have always been above such notions as gender, but rather that they think they are. Guess it’s still a strawman, though.
Like others, I find it baffling that you fail to mention Capaldi’s stunning final turn as the Doctor. This really wasn’t a very insightful review, and like last series, I’m left with the weary sense that you aren’t too interested in this era anymore but are also dreading the next one.
Still, Eruditorum in March! I suppose you’re saving your best observations for those, which I eagerly look forward to reading.
December 29, 2017 @ 7:59 pm
There’s a couple parts to this, many of which you identify.
1) I basically think the Moffat era should have ended with Husbands of River Song. Series 10 was nice, but its nature was hanging around for an encore after you’ve already played the big hits. This results in a lot of “yeah that’s pretty good,” and that’s generally the hardest type of review to write because you can neither get impassioned about the good bits nor really eviscerate the bad ones. This review is a prime example – it’s much easier to talk about what doesn’t work, but doing so unbalances the review.
2) I don’t actually like writing reviews very much.
3) I am starting to save things for the Eruditorum. I don’t want to write a big soaring farewell to Moffat and Capaldi now and blow half my best lines on it when I have to do another one in a year.
4) I didn’t actually think Capaldi’s final turn was all that good. It had its moments, but his final speech was weak and his final big moment of triumph, the “I’m going to escape and blah blah blah” was, I thought, fairly flat. There were moments, but for the most part I thought his big effective farewell came in The Doctor Falls. Again, it wasn’t something that seemed interesting to snark about, but it wasn’t something I felt particularly impassioned about praising either.
December 30, 2017 @ 12:07 am
Thanks for the explanation, Phil – I appreciate it. I had long suspected 2), and I look forward to seeing you cover Series 10 in the Eruditorum posts (even if I do end up disagreeing, since I view it as an absolutely pivotal series for Moffat).
December 29, 2017 @ 8:24 pm
The story retrospectively refocuses Season Ten around memory and what makes real people different from our memories of them.
Unfortunately, that means that The Lie of the Land becomes not only the end of the mini-season but central to the season as a whole.
Phil’s episode ranking can be scientifically proven to be wrong in several important ways. (In particular, The Eaters of Light and Heaven Sent are far too low. The Caretaker is in about the right place.)
December 29, 2017 @ 8:43 pm
Flawed this episode may have been, but I have to say it was the first Christmas story to get me hooked for about eight years. Okay, so it helps that it was the first chance to see and hear our new Doctor (who seems to have her Yorkshire accent intact – hooray!)
Capaldi did a fine job here and I can only lament again that his tenure was marked by messy scheduling of the show and patchy writing. I’m so glad we got to see Mackie with him again, because the series they had together was a serious breath of fresh air.
Watching with a family member who isn’t a big fan, her take on Bradley was that he lent a nice ‘astringency’ to the proceedings. My understanding of this is that she felt he prevented the episode from becoming too sentimental. We both enjoyed seeing his take on the character – although his ‘retro’ attitudes were way overplayed. Paying tribute to the past doesn’t mean repeating its mistakes. And there were about eight sexist comments thrown in… A tad excessive. It also doesn’t throw such a strong contrast between the era that’s just ending and 1960s Who, given the fair number of mildly sexist moments that exist in recent series. We’re not always so much smarter than our predecessors as we’d like to think.
So – onwards. I have seen some rather immature comments online about The TARDIS kicking out the new Doctor because she’s ‘wrong’, but we can safely ignore them. I’m now very curious to see where she’ll end up!
December 30, 2017 @ 10:12 am
I’d be surprised if someone on Tumblr hasn’t already analyzed all of the maps of Great Britain and identified the illuminated city we see after 13 falls.
I’ll be even more surprised if it doesn’t turn out to be London.
December 30, 2017 @ 9:29 pm
London is a strong possibility, yes. I don’t mind too much if it is, to be honest, since there was a while where the show left London (and Cardiff) behind almost entirely. As Jack Graham’s Moffat essay put it, series five took viewers away from the urban to the mythical England of ‘long shadows on village greens’. I am hoping Chibnall makes less use of Victorian London though – which did feature more than once – and other pseudo-Victorian settings.
December 31, 2017 @ 9:08 am
The consensus seems to be that it’s Sheffield. Which (given that this is where the Doctor will likely meet her companions) offers the enticing prospect that the whole TARDIS crew might have Yorkshire accents…
John G. Wood
December 31, 2017 @ 11:11 am
Oh, brilliant! Perhaps she’ll land in our garden…
December 30, 2017 @ 6:11 pm
An interesting exercise which I do not propose to do would be to count whether the First Doctor makes more sexist comments in this story than in the entirety of Hartnell’s time in the role.
December 30, 2017 @ 9:42 pm
Yes, it would be interesting to compare! Probably too difficult a feat to undertake given the amount of missing material, though.
Roderick T. Long
December 31, 2017 @ 1:37 am
But it’s only the visuals that are missing; we have audio for all the missing episodes, and therefore transcripts, e.g. here:
So if someone wants to read through all the Hartnell episodes looking for sexist remarks, it’s certainly possible. I even find the prospect tempting — though the main reason i find it tempting is also the main reason I’m not going to do it, namely, that it conflicts with a multitude of other more pressing but less enjoyable tasks I must tackle.
December 31, 2017 @ 8:39 pm
Even though the audio material is available I think you would still lose some of the nuances by not seeing what Hartnell was doing. Body language and facial expression can exaggerate or tone down the actual words. Anyway, this kind of thing is an exercise most of us probably don’t have enough hours in the day to do!
December 30, 2017 @ 10:23 pm
I have seen some rather immature comments online about The TARDIS kicking out the new Doctor because she’s ‘wrong’,
I’ve missed that, thankfully. Stupidest thing I’ve seen so far; the Daily Fail apparently having a headline making a joke about woman drivers. Which, I mean, would be moronic even if “TARDIS crashes during regeneration scene” wasn’t a standard trope by this point…
December 30, 2017 @ 10:59 pm
Wow – I don’t think I’ve seen a ‘woman driver’ joke in print since last reading one of my mother’s old ‘Broons’ annuals – from the 1960s…. The Fail surpasses itself with its wit. The male versions of The Doctor never seem to be able to park the TARDIS in the right place, but I don’t suppose that’s commented on when this topic comes up.
For some reason, the idea of a woman playing The Doctor upsets a small, but vocal section of the viewing population. It’s odd to see, but attacks change incoherently from actual bile to mockery (the woman driver thing is clearly in that second category). I assume these comments are driven by fear of change – it’s very sad.
January 2, 2018 @ 9:40 am
It’s especially stupid in this case because given the explosion of the console at the end one can easily read this scene as the TARDIS saving the Doctor by ejecting her from a crashing vehicle.
December 30, 2017 @ 8:33 am
The cliffhanger seems an attempt to redo End of TIme / the opening of Eleventh Hour except instead of the Doctor hanging out of an exploding TARDIS she’s fallen right out of it. I’m not sure that’s altogether wise.
On the other hand, the Chibnall era’s going to have three companions. The last time that happened was the Davison era I think? Trying to do the Davison-era as Nathan-Turner originally envisaged it seems to me to play to Chibnall’s strengths which is promising.
December 30, 2017 @ 10:43 am
What was the original plan for the Davison era?
December 31, 2017 @ 1:03 am
On the assumption that I understood the relevant bit of Phil’s blog:
Nathan-Turner wanted Doctor Who to be more soapy with a greater focus on relationships and conflicts within the TARDIS crew. (But no sex and no touching.) So he cast three companions. The plan was scuppered when he gave the job of script editor to Saward, who was entirely uninterested.
December 31, 2017 @ 9:52 am
Thanks! (Seems like finally reading the most recent volume of TARDIS Eruditorum might be a good thing to tide me over until the first Whittaker season debuts.) What you’re describing really does sound like being in Chibnall’s wheelhouse. And like something I’d personally really enjoy as a fan of the soap opera-inflected aesthetics of the Davies era.
December 30, 2017 @ 2:05 pm
I’m neutral on Moffat’s work, but I do think it’s curious how Phil hand-waves much of Moffat’s flaws away, much as Moffat himself is said to hand-wave unresolved plot elements. There’s a determination to forgive Moffat (in Sherlock posts and Who), and afford his work a redemptive reading which it does not always deserve.
December 30, 2017 @ 4:30 pm
I think this badly misunderstands how artistic flaws work. As a host of generally shitty YouTube channels (CinemaSins is, I believe, the current one people point at) demonstrate, enumerating the flaws of a work is easy. Worse, it’s easy to do in a way that’s entertaining. Bad reviews are literally the easiest type of criticism in the world to write. But to my mind the more insightful observation is the old saw that one’s artistic style is just all the things one never stops doing wrong. All art has flaws because no art caters to all possible aesthetics and ways of doing things. And flaws only become interesting when taken in the context of what a work is trying to do in the first place. (To use an obvious example here, most objections along the lines of “the moon’s an egg is silly and makes no scientific sense” mistake Kill the Moon for the sort of story that gives two shits about scientific accuracy.)
It is true that I am generally interested in and credulous towards what Moffat tries to do. This can hardly be called a surprise given that I started TARDIS Eruditorum on the back of my excitement over Series 5. But as a result, I’m generally willing to accept his artistic priorities. I recognize how this could appear like “hand-waving away flaws” to someone who does not accept those priorities, but the objection rather misses the point.
Roderick T. Long
December 31, 2017 @ 1:50 am
I don’t think CinemaSins is shitty. The flak it’s gotten (including from its targets) seems based on misunderstanding the genre of the project. That genre is not film criticism, it’s the comedic roast. They’re just roasting movies instead of people. And it’s part of the convention of the roast (usually!) to feign a more negative attitude than one actually has. I mean, it’s obvious that most (not all!) of the movies they pick to roast are movies they love.
Compare the film parodies in Mad magazine (actually I haven’t picked up a copy for decades, so I mean the kind they used to do; don’t know if they still do). The theme of those parodies is usually how awful the movie being parodied is; but clearly the writers don’t actually (in most cases) think anything of the sort.
December 30, 2017 @ 10:18 pm
Likewise, the return of Clara was an obvious delight, but going from that to the return of Nardole is clearly just sequencing the emotional beats in what’s clearly the wrong order.
Honestly, “return of comedy sidekick” followed by “return of emotionally-charged important character” feels the wrong way round to me. In the version we got, Nardole’s role was (I think) intended to undercut the big emotional scene. If he does his bit before the big emotional scene, I’m not sure he serves a purpose at all beyond “Look! It’s Nardole! People like Nardole!” Closely followed by “But never mind him, it’s Clara!”
Now, you might wonder why Moffat would want to undercut his big emotional scene. And it’s for the same reason I would; he’s instinctively a comedy writer and that’s the version that works as a gag.
December 31, 2017 @ 12:05 am
You’re right about Moffat comically undercutting the big emotional scene, but it’s not a sequential thing or one with a division of labour between characters (though I’m not entirely sure that’s what you meant anyway). Nardole was never just comic relief, and isn’t here. The emotional climax of the scene comes after Clara’s bit, and it’s Nardole, along with Bill and of course the Doctor, who has to sell the heavy emotional material as well as the humour. Clara’s appearance is basically superfluous.
December 31, 2017 @ 4:40 pm
Yeah, I realised while I was writing that I was kind of saying that once Nardole pops up the emotional stuff stops, which is wrong, but I couldn’t think of the right way to phrase it.
Thinking about if further, I suspect where the main emotional beats of the scene are depends on how much you care about Clara. My reaction was honestly “Meh, okay then” I also know people for whom it would have been more like “Oh for God’s sake, her again?”
December 31, 2017 @ 12:57 am
It does mean that Clara was snatched by time travel from the moment of her death and replaced twice. (Presumably Testimony got there before the Doctor did which would explain why Testimony-Clara doesn’t remember the Doctor forgetting her.)
December 31, 2017 @ 11:02 am
Why do people keep reading so much into Clara’s line about being offended? It was obviously a joke. The Doctor even smiles after she says it.
January 17, 2018 @ 9:52 pm
She doesn’t remember??? How could she make the joke then?
December 31, 2017 @ 7:03 am
Thanks, Phil. Great to have some Dr Who content on the site again, and very much looking forward to the revival of the TARDIS Eruditorum in the new year and will be supporting your Patron as it progresses.
I’m sad to say the I found this episode a disappointing end to what turned out to be a disappointing Doctor era. The re-imagining of the first Doctor has put my wife off ever watching old episodes with him in them. She now only watches the Christmas specials with me as a sign spousal devotion at that time of year and was bored with this special from the first few minutes; and utterly hated the first Doctor. Great job, thanks BBC.
It was a misfire again, and I had such high hopes for Capaldi, combined with Moffat, to usher in a NEW GOLDEN AGE of Doctor Who. I was probably let down as much by my own high expectations as anything the production team did during their three series. ‘Deep Breath’ did feel like a new beginning; slightly awkward and stumbling about a little straight out of the gate, but a solid enough foundation on which to build something wonderful. I was genuinely excited for new Doctor Who.
Since then it has, for this viewer at least, felt like a slow decline into mediocrity. For the first time in forty-six odd years of watching Doctor Who the last few series have not been something I was looking forward to with any sense of anticipation. Story and Character seemed to be taking a back-seat to agenda and message (whether deliberate or subconscious). Terrance Dicks had something to say about that back in the day,
“If you’re concentrating on putting over a political message rather than on doing a really good show I think there is a danger – you know maybe you can do both, but it would be hellish difficult – and I think there’s maybe a danger the show wouldn’t be as good as it could or should be because you’re not looking at the right aims.”
And I do believe that has harmed the last few series. The past three years has seen my entire family stop watching with me. Doctor Who was the only show we watched as a family. The only one! Me, the wife, four sons (now 21, 19, 16, and 8) all sat down and watched each episode. It was a THING. And all have given up on the show and are not coming back. They have moved on. Mum, a watcher since Troughton has stopped (she never liked Capaldi as an actor, even prior to Who) and doesn’t like the idea of a female Doctor, She’s an old-fashioned gal, and I know not the future of the show, but still a lost viewer. Dad quit at what he likes to term ‘creeping socialism’, something he has been muttering about since I was a lad!
Lambast me if you wish, but I can’t control the mind of an eight-year-old, and would never want to do so (and would vehemently disagree with anyone who suggested I should) but the casting of Jodi was his final straw. He has gone off to the Marvel movies where instead of watching an intelligent, (mostly) peaceful, male role model solve problems with wit and charm, he watches muscle-bound millionaires, playboys and showoffs PUNCH each other to a resolution. Despite the beliefs of many ideologues (how many of which I wonder actually have children), little boys and little girls choose to watch different shows, and choose to play with different toys. It is a fact.
So I CELEBRATE the addition of a positive, intelligent female role model for the young women coming through. And at the same time I mourn the loss of probably the only high profile example of the same for young men on TV at the moment.
Why does progressive change need to be a zero sum game?
Me, well, I’ll tune in; or download, like everyone else. But the idea of Chibnall does nothing for me. I was not a fan of Broadchurch, which I thought slow and greatly overrated, and his Torchwood and Doctor Who output mostly leaves me cold. Jodi is a fine actress, but as yet I don’t see the Doctor; maybe I will, maybe I won’t. I have to admit to never seeing Missy as the Master. She was always ‘Missy’, a new character, great, bonkers and terrific fun, but never the Master.
I am as ‘meh’ about series eleven as I was about series ten. It will take something spectacular to change that. And I don’t see it in the ingredients currently in place.
December 31, 2017 @ 7:43 am
Thanks for your support, and glad you liked the review.
Without wanting to suggest that one is not entitled to like or dislike any era of Doctor Who one pleases…
1) What agenda and message, exactly? I’ll give you Oxygen when it comes to “creeping socialism,” but where else exactly? What do you view the overly explicit politics of the Capaldi era as being? And do you really view them as more explicit than the Dicks-rewritten Peladon stories, The Green Death, Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Colony in Space, The Silurians, The Sea Devils, The War Games, or Inferno?
2) I do not know that one needs to delve excessively deep for explanations as to why someone who does not like Peter Capaldi in general does not enjoy his tenure on Doctor Who, nor that this event tells us very much that is not essentially tautological.
3) I similarly don’t think “why does this eight-year-old boy like Marvel movies so much” is really a head-scratcher. Children move on in their tastes, and muscle-bound millionaires punching each other are good at drawing their attention.
(I have rather an extensive collection of thoughts on the matter of boys, girls, and taste, but I suspect conversation around them would not be particularly fruitful. So I’ll leave it with the relatively banal observation that plenty of eight-year-old girls like the Marvel movies too, just as they like Doctor Who, and that the differences that do exist in their taste are most parsimoniously explained by the fact that popular culture actively divides them into separate demographics; “self-fulfilling prophecy” is literally the definition of marketing, after all.)
December 31, 2017 @ 7:23 am
Phil’s comments on ‘loose threads from the Moffat era’ and the discussion of the Doctor’s moral development over the Moffat era led me to consider the actual meaning of this episode.
Consider the battlefield encounter and moral dilemma at the start of Capaldi’s second season (a version of a classic time travel trope explicitly raised but quickly sidelined by Moffat at the mid-point of the Smith run); the narrative logic of this episode (why was this foxhole of particular interest to future historians?); and Moffat’s fondness for a late twist and liberal approach to strict historical accuracy.
There’s only one conclusion to be made – that German soldier saved by the Doctor’s intervention is Hitler.
December 31, 2017 @ 10:04 am
That would mesh in a very interesting way with the “insincere and cycnical Twice Upon a Time take” that Phil posted on Twitter.
December 31, 2017 @ 11:11 am
He doesn’t seem the right age but headcanon accepted anyway.
Rule #1938 of time travel: if you keep travelling in time, the amount of times you inadvertently save Hitler approaches infinity.
January 13, 2018 @ 6:12 pm
“For Chibnall not to bring her back would be like failing to bring back any of Harness, Mathieson, or Dollard.”
Indeed! Chibnall not retaining any one of those (well Harness is not quite as essential) would be worthy of a full blown fandom revolt.
January 23, 2018 @ 6:05 am
And unfortunately, there is apparently confirmation that NONE of these ppl will be returning under Chibnall, though in the case of the writers that seems to be due the adoption of a collaborative “writers room” approach rather than commissioning scripts to individuals.