Author Topic: Twice Upon A Time Review (SPOILERS)  (Read 1402 times)


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Twice Upon A Time Review (SPOILERS)
« on: December 27, 2017, 03:33:53 PM »
I think this is the first time I've reviewed a DW episode, so if you've decided to sit through my thoughts on this regardless, then good on you.

Twice Upon A Time is an episode of farewells - to Peter Capaldi's 12th Doctor, and to Steven Moffat, the showrunner for the last two Doctors. It succeeds, I think, at the latter more than the former: the double-liminality of being between showrunners and Doctors, and the whole episode taking place within the 12th Doctor's "state of grace", might have given it a certain uncertainty, along with the plot core of the first and twelfth doctors discussing and wondering about regeneration. Rather than encapsulating this into one last stand, or resolving the issues of life and death that it raises, Moffat doubles down on this liminal aspect of the plot, pitching us from change to confusion to something approaching delirium. The characters, which make the story almost oddly comforting with their familiar faces, rehearse sets of well-worn arguments and lines about who the Doctor is and what he must or should become, but out of order and without resolution. They represent, perhaps, Moffat's final debate with himself. The 12th Doctor takes part in the debate but - like the showrunner - he is condemned to neither win, lose, or complete the argument. At last, the two of them become one at the moment of regeneration: "I let you go" is a line better attributed to Moffat than the Doctor.

Testimony, the Doctor's multi-faceted, multi-person interlocutor through much of the episode, raises a vast host of moral and practical questions. Testimony, despite being apparently human made, has access to technology that can override that of a TARDIS and a near-infinite databank. Its stated mission is to pull the dead back and hear their testimony - so who initially requested Bill, and Clara, and Nardole be brought into the dataset? At what point does Bill appreciate her own status within this - if she ever does - and to what extent are these memories "really" the people they belonged to? More importantly than all of that, is it right that the dead should be returned to give their memories? Can the person on the point of death refuse Testimony access?

Ultimately, these questions, and many others about Testimony's nature and the serious ethical problems it raises, are secondary for the episode's writer: Testimony is given its near-godlike powers and given an essentially benevolent role because it helps create the individual, personal, character interactions that the show's watchers might want to see. It is a way of contorting the reality of the Doctor's universe around the conversations in the Doctor's mind - though that mind feels somehow weaker than we are used to precisely because the Doctor cannot see the contrivance with clarity. The Twelfth Doctor seems strangely disappointed that "it's not an evil plan" - and asks no further questions. The human desperation for the preservation and continuation of life was literally engulfing him in flames just a little while earlier, but here it is let slide. The Doctor, not for the last time in the episode, is trapped in a very personal confrontation with his own mortality, and cannot escape it even enough to connect that debate to the world in front of him.

We also get a return to Rusty the "Good Dalek", which further underscores the strangeness of the whole thing. The Doctor seeks to use him to access the "Dalek Hive Mind" - confusing in itself as Daleks have literally never had a hive mind (try running the Cult of Skaro in a system with hive memory). He is if anything reverted to type, shouting that the Doctor is a Good Dalek (with less clarity of what this means than the last time we heard him say the line), and sitting immobile, killing his own kind for all eternity. Moffat's "Good Dalek" is reduced back to a "Dalek-hating Dalek", which in the form of the Imperial/Renegade split of the Seventh Doctor's era we've pretty much seen before. Once his purpose is fulfilled, time is stopped again and Rusty is left - apparently defenceless and at the mercy of his mutant kindred - without a thought. One of the Doctor's most hopeful acts and complex interplays, one about overcoming one's own nature, is left behind. Moffat cannot escape the fact that, to him, a Dalek is a Dalek - but neither Doctor is permitted to react to this silent admission of defeat.

We return to the First World War, and the Doctor saves the army captain - as we knew he might, deep down. This appears not to affect Testimony; their requirement to fix the time frame is discarded, because it is no longer needed: the Doctors have been delivered to the Christmas Truce of 1914. Moffat's style is to paint pictures with emotion, not so much in the manner of a storyteller as that of an artist, and the Christmas Truce brings him to his element. Its point in the narrative is once again obscured, passed by, however. The First Doctor is shown the Doctor's kindness and thus helped with his decision, but the decision to save a simple soldier is suddenly hazed when, with an air of inevitability, the name "Lethbridge-Stewart" is introduced. The Doctor's insistence that nobody is unimportant is being shouted down by the narrative inevitability of the world he lives in, where Moffat cannot help but ensure that every character is from the tight, "important" narrative family. Like with Rusty, the inherent nature of the world reasserts itself despite the Doctor's beliefs; the moment dilutes, rather than clarifies, its moral point.

The debates that thread throughout the episode are many and intertwined. The First Doctor's is simple, perhaps too simple - he must simply face his fear of being someone else and learn that what he will become is worthwhile. The 1960s-era chauvinism fits the character badly in continuity terms; this is after all an alien, and still a much more alien one, who was brought up on thoroughly gender-fluid Gallifrey. Meanwhile he is curiously under-reactive to being shown the war-time horrors of his own future. His pontifications - his desiring to discover, and the path from that to being compelled to act - are some of the best moments of the episode. They are snatches, however, occasional notes which never form chords. He does not confront his future self about the deaths caused by the Doctor, and his future self is in turn not forced into that confrontation. It is required in the end that the First Doctor, like us, has his heart melted by that fabled day in the trenches. As is inevitable in Moffat's grand farewell, it is emotion, rather than understanding or action, that prevails.

The Twelfth Doctor's question is the one that Moffat has been trying to grab at for season upon season: "Who?". Is the Doctor, as Testimony-Bill posits, really there to fix everything? To what extent is there an underlying, human need for the Doctor to rest? Who is important in this universe, and why? And how do change, memory, and death intertwine in the Doctor's life? The Twelfth Doctor's companions return in memory form, but the revelation of Clara's return is passed swiftly by, its implications for the debate passed over. The Doctor, with a last grasp at acuity, surveys his own mental battlefield, but seems to lack the mental clarity to appreciate much of what is on it. Statements about letting go, remembering, being and not-being pass by in his conversation with his companions.

By the time the Doctor gets into the TARDIS for the final time, we want - for his sake - some kind of final clarity, if not by argument then by action. He keeps talking to the TARDIS, hammering out the arguments - will they "screw it up without him"? Who is they anyway? There is no final call to action (oh, for the friendly blare of a distress call to shatter the miasma), and no certainty of purpose. The clarity of the eleventh Doctor's ending speech is thrown down, the discussion not ended: the Doctor accepts change with a shrug rather than an epiphany. Perhaps in truth the Twelfth Doctor left at the end of The Doctor Falls: this episode saw his transient remaining world thinned, debated, stretched and skewed, until at last, problem insoluble, it dissolves and is let go. Capaldi delivers the old lines, eyes blazing, but it is no longer clear at what. He stood, and he fell where he stood, and this episode provides a space somewhere after that, a gap of uncertainty. Above all else it is Moffat's last episode, the triumph of the emotional landscape and the fandom, which here at the end engulf even their own central character.

Then, at last, the ending - it too a pageant of familiarity, with the burning columns of flame (a softer regeneration effect might have made sense given the Doctor's weariness) reaching across the TARDIS. Familiar, too, is the natural realisation that the TARDIS is shortly going to crash, in this case sans pilot. But two bright eyes opening on the Doctor's world for the first time are, for the first time, a breach in the cloud. Oh, brilliant - there at last a note of excitement, as the Thirteenth Doctor falls away to pastures new. It is a welcome greeting from a new face to a new world that promises new adventure - the time for farewells, at last, is over.
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Re: Twice Upon A Time Review (SPOILERS)
« Reply #1 on: December 28, 2017, 01:36:43 AM »
Given that I was hosting, I dipped into bits and pieces (despite it being the one thing I actually wanted to watch over xmas :P)

I like your breakdown of it. Literally the first thing I said was 'I hope he makes all kinds of 50s totally inappropriate remarks' wholly joking and not expecting him to. He then did and made the room feel a little uncomfortable. Testimony was a classic Moffat 'I'm going to make a bold statement with the naming of this thing' and then not delivering at all, although to be perfectly honest I get the sense that he's as bored with writing as I am of listening to it and welcome a new showrunner and (I believe, writing team).

I am hopeful for the future and would love if they challenge gender issues and such interspersed through the next season while encapsulating the best of Dr Who; making decent, campy sci-fi.
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Re: Twice Upon A Time Review (SPOILERS)
« Reply #2 on: December 28, 2017, 10:05:29 AM »
As far as I'm concerned the plot seems to be all around the place most of the time (but let's be honest, that's a frequent problem in Dr. Who) and the whole episode seems like a sum of some of the most important questions left unanswered during the course of the last season. For example, are our memories alone enough to define us, especially if you remember the line from Extremis: "You don't have to be real to be the Doctor. As long as you never give up.". However, the final conversation between the Doctor and his Testimony companions feels a bit rushed to me, and still doesn't really give a valid answer to the starting question.

The one thing which I really like about this episode is that Twelfth's final speech mirrors his goodbye speech to Clara, even though the Doctor forgot all about it.
"Less of a young professional - more of an ancient amateur. But frankly, I'm an absolute dream."