DVD Review – Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time

The 2017 Doctor Who Christmas Special, “Twice Upon a Time”, in which Capaldi hands on the baton to Jodie Whitaker, can be summed up with the thirteenth Doctor’s first words – “Aw, brilliant!”

Following on directly from the Series 10 finale, Capaldi’s twelfth Doctor is refusing to regenerate. Arriving at the South Pole, he bumps in to his first incarnation, who is also refusing to regenerate. A WW1 Captain then stumbles into the situation and the three of them head off on an adventure involving memories, frozen time and mysterious glass creatures.

Everything about this Christmas episode is damn near perfect, right from the first frame, a black screen with the words…

709 Episodes ago.

These titles lead into scenes recapping the events of the first Doctor’s final story, “The Tenth Planet”. The scenes are in black and white and in their original aspect ratio. Then they seamlessly melt into re-enactments with a new cast, in widescreen and colour. This transition is absolute MAGIC! And it tells the audience that this episode is not trying to perfectly duplicate the past, rather that it is aiming to recreate the feel and capture the essence of this bygone era.

Rachel Talalay, responsible for some of the most visually striking episodes of the revived series, directs with flare and style; while Steven Moffat, outgoing showrunner, gives us one of his best scripts. The lack of an actual villain is refreshing, the melding of past and present is thematically spot-on and the focus on memories, very appropriate for the twelfth Doctor’s farewell. And the use of an actual wartime Christmas occurrence as part of the story is powerful and emotional.

The main focus of the story is, of course, the meeting of the two Doctors. Obviously, William Hartnell, who played the first Doctor back in the 1960s, is no longer around; so he has been replaced with David Bradley, who played Hartnell in the Fiftieth Anniversary docu-drama, An Adventure in Time and Space. His performance is pitch-perfect, capturing the heart and soul of Hartnell’s performance without ever becoming an impersonation.

There seems to have been some division amongst fans (wow… there’s a surprise) as to the portrayal of the first Doctor as being somewhat sexist and old-fashioned in his attitudes. Some people have taken this to be a slight against Hartnell and his performance. But, as that slide from classic footage to new at the start implied, it’s not meant to be taken literally. Rather, it is a comment on that era of television, and on the way attitudes have changed over time. And it’s a perfect comment to be making on the eve of a new era for the program.

Pearl Mackie is back as Bill Potts, my favourite companion since Donna Noble, with a featured role in the story. Also returning for cameos are Matt Lucas as Nardole and Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald, giving the Capaldi era a wonderful closure.

The cast also includes Mark Gatiss as the Captain. Without giving things away, who the Captain is and the way he is used, ties in rather nicely with Who history, again, making a lovely connection between past and present. Actually, there are many lovely, subtle connections between past and present, my favourite being the dropping of the Doctor’s ring (echoing the Hartnell/Troughton transition).

Capaldi, of course, SHINES! Every word, every gesture, speaks volumes. He really is one of the finest actors to have played the role. And he gets one heck of departing speech.

We only get a brief glimpse of Whitaker in the role, but it is breathtaking. Her arrival brings with it exciting possibilities for the future of the series, as well as another damn fine actor taking on the role.

From the story, to the performances, to the direction, right through to the regeneration and the new Doctor’s first moments… “Twice Upon A Time” is utterly delightful.

The release is a one-disc affair with a few extras – a behind-the-scenes bit, a Capaldi/Moffat retrospective and the Doctor Who panel from San Diego Comic-Con 2017. They’re all worthwhile but unexceptional. Frankly, I think the decision to release this ep on its own, is a little odd. It would have been better placed as part of the Series 10 box set. Nevertheless, you should all buy it. It’s such a great ep.

Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time is released in Australia on DVD and Blu-ray by Roadshow.

Catch ya later,  George

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