First of all, can I just say that Twice Upon a Time is one of the most erroneous titles for a Doctor Who story since Madam Vastra Meets Thelma and Louise.
This story should be called Thrice Upon a Time surely? After all, we do get to see Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor.
The story starts off at the South Pole which you might think makes this episode very Christmassy but no. Wrong pole, folks. But you can’t have everything, can you? So no cameos for Santa, Ian or Wolf. Humbug!
South Pole, the Doctor, and the First Doctor, yes.
We get to see William Hartnell, the guv’nor, morph into David Bradley who shall be referred to as the ersatz guv’nor. Or maybe not. Scratch that, rewind it, lets us just call him the First Doctor. Much simpler plus most people don’t speak German. Except for the Germans.
Anyway, the Twelfth Doctor, yes, has survived his little encounter with the Cybermen but is about to go into regeneration mode which isn’t what he wants. He refuses to regenerate. He even punches the snowy ground in case it disagrees with him.
The First Doctor is in a similar boat. Survived the Cybermen, yup. About to regenerate, yup. Refusal to regenerate, yup. Punching the ground, nope, he is too much of a gent to punch blameless snow.
They come across each other…
“I am the Doctor, ye wee sassenach. Nae bother me!”
“Hmmm, you may be a doctor but I am the Doctor.”
If this wasn’t timey-wimey enough, a First World War Army Captain approached them fresh from the muddy hellhole that is Ypres, December, 1914. The FWWAC had been in a crater with a German soldier, who presumably could use the word ‘ersatz’, when time froze. He, the British captain, was taken away to some kind of gothic church where a piece of metal is waved in front of him before being placed at the South Pole in the mid-1980s.
A feminine glass figure turns up, freezes time at the South Pole and is a party pooper.
Confession part one: I thought that this glass figure was a Watcher as last seen in the story Logopolis. Female Doctor equals female Watcher, yes? Spoilers: no.
Confession part two: I also thought this was an obscure reference to Paul Magrs who featured glass people in some of his Doctor Who novels. Again, no.
This glass woman parks her sparkplug spaceship over the TARDIS. Our heroes rush into the TARDIS. The glass woman uses a grabby claw to pick up the TARDIS. She misses a few times, drops the TARDIS when she does get it, accidentally picks up a clawful of snow, and then the TARDIS again.
Inside the spaceship (and yeah that reference is for the Greybeard Whovians, hello!) is the gothic interior that we saw only minutes before.
The glass woman appears and offers Bill Potts in exchange for the FWWAC who she’d accidentally misplaced by seven decades and thousands of miles. A deal which the FWWAC is prepared to take. Not so the Doctor or the Doctor or Bill.
I liked the way the First Doctor noticed that the face of the glass woman was asymmetrical, proving that her appearance is based upon a real person and not created by a computer. Of course this assumes that computers never have an off-day when rendering glass avatars.
The glass lass shocks and horrifies the First Doctor by revealing his future and some of the things that he’ll be called such as the Shadow of the Valeyard, the Oncoming Storm, the Imp of the Pandorica, Oi You Get Off My Planet, Fred, the Beast of Trenzalore, the Spook of Bottle Bay, and the Doctor of War.
“What is war good for?”
“Absolutely nothing, aye? Now we had better escape. Crivens!”
The troika escape with Bill even though the Twelfth Doctor doesn’t think that Bill is real or human or even a lesbian.
The glass woman, resteals the TARDIS and flies away.
But all is not lost. There is another TARDIS parked nearby. The First Doctor’s TARDIS. That ol’ skinny blue box. They escape and head for Villengard which is at the centre of the universe.
Villengard was the planet that the Ninth Doctor replaced the weapons factories with banana trees. This is presumably after Twice Upon a Time because you’d be hard-pressed to find a single banana on this godforsaken planet.
It is at this point where I was planning on making a few stupid jokes and references to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Sha Ka Ree and aliens pretending to be God but I suddenly realised that the movie takes place at the centre of the galaxy and not the centre of the universe so my loss is your gain.
The Twelfth Doctor tells Bill, the First Doctor and the FWWAC not to leave the TARDIS. Need I ask you to guess if they stay put?
Villengard is not a planet where you’d choose to be. It is full of naked Daleks jellying about and attacking anyone stupid enough to visit, something which the Villengard Tourist Board don’t mention in their brochures.
The Doctor is here to consult the greatest computer. After pooh-poohing Google, the Matrix, and Deep Thought, he settled on Villengard where a friend of his has access to the Dalek Hivemind.
Confession part three: was I the only one to think that this ‘friend’ was Davros?
Confession part four: I also thought it might be Abslom Daak which isn’t an out-there guess since he has appeared in Time Heist.
It isn’t Daak or Davros. It is Rusty the Dalek with a heart from Into the Dalek! To be fair, Rusty is as likely as Daak. Daak would have been more fun though…
Rusty, after popping his cork AKA his gun, allows the Doctor access to the Hivemind where he discovers on Facebook that the face of the glass woman belongs to a woman called Helen Clay, the founder and part-time chef for the Testimony.
The Testimony is a time travelling group who kidnaps people before they die and then brings them back to their original point in time and space. They are completely different from the Teselecta (from Let’s Kill Hitler) in that they don’t only kidnap bad people to torture the hell out of them. The Testimony download memories from the dying so that they can live again as glass avatars. If nothing else, imagine the embarrassment when the Testimony and the Teselecta bump into each other…
“Do you mind waiting while we kidnap this person? We wish to hurt him a lot before returning him.”
“Well, alright. Lucky we packed cucumber sandwiches, eh?”
Giving Rusty a Christmas present (a new eye stalk), the Doctor scoots back to the TARDIS along with Bill and the First Doctor (you guessed right, guys).
Bill confirms what the Hivemind revealed plus that she herself is an avatar half-inched from the timelines and shoved into a glass body.
Presumably Bill’s memories were taken at the point of her first death before Heather returned her back to life. Therefore we now have two Bill Potts. Huzzah!
The Doctors realise that there is no Big Bad to fight here and no reason as to why the FWWAC shouldn’t be returned back to his time. Other than not wanting a good man to die.
Helen Clay waits for them at Ypres as the twin TARDISes, the same TARDIS twice, materialize.
The FWWAC reveals that he is called Archibald Hamish Lethbridge-Stewart. The grandfather of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (not his father since that’d make the Brig too old).
Confession part five: I totally guessed this. Although it wasn’t hard. I knew that the FWWAC would be a Lethbridge-Stewart, I also knew that he would be the Brigadier’s grandfather. When a character is only refered to by a description, you just know that this character would be something pretty damn special.
Archie asks the Doctors to look after his ancestors. Something the Twelfth Doctor knows he will do. Alistair, Kate and Kadiatu are in good hands.
Time starts up again with the help of Helen Clay and her temporal crank. Archie and the German in the crater, each about to shoot each other when out of the blue comes singing.
The British soldiers sing Silent Night. The German soldiers sing Stille Nacht. And the Twelfth Doctor whips out his guitar and sings/plays Dave Brubeck’s Unsquare Dance with the First Doctor on piano and Bill on kazoo.
“Och, aye, did I nae mention that I shifted the Captain’s timeline tae the start o’ the Christmas Truce? Ain’t I a wee stinker?”
Archie’s life is saved. Which isn’t a surprise. I mean, would the Moff really have the man die on a Christmas Day episode of Doctor Who?
The First Doctor admits that he now is ready to regenerate but is puzzled by his future self’s response; “Say hello tae the wee cosmic trump, aye?” The original cranky old Doctor leaves but quite frankly the way he pilots the Ship, he probably took a few years to find his way back to the South Pole.
The Doctor is left on the fields of Ypres with Bill Potts. He doesn’t believe that she is really Bill.
“I am so Bill, Doctor. Memories are what we are, innit.”
“Nae, nae, ye are jus’ a glass lass wit’ Bill’s brainthings lumped intae ye see-through noggin.”
“Blimey, a person’s memories is what defines them.”
How easily the Doctor forgets. “A man is the sum of his memories. A Time Lord even more so” as the Fifth Doctor once said but then again this was a man who wore a vegetable.
The Testimony via Bill and her superglass powers, give the Doctor back his memories of Clara. And Clara returns, as a glass avatar, and Nardole too! Somewhere at the back of the queue is a glass Adric asking whether he was right or not.
The Doctor refuses to allow the Testimony the testimony of his life and after a big hug, he leaves. He will regenerate but not before he eats up some of the episode’s running time with a longish speech and advice for number Thirteen…
“…one more lifetime won’t kill naeone. Well, except me.
Ye wait a wee moment, Doctor. Let’s get it richt. I’ve got a few things tae say tae ye. Basic stuff first.
Never be cruel, never be cowardly, never pay ye bar tab. And never ever eat deep-fried Mars bars! Remember – hate is always foolish…an’ love, is always wise unless ye are answering a lonely hearts ad.
Always try, tae be nice an’ never fail tae be kind. Oh, an’….an’ ye mustn’t tell naeone ye name. Naeone would understand it anyway. Except….
Except….bairns. Bairns can hear it. Sometimes – if their hearts are in the richt place, an’ the stars are too. Children can hear ye name.
But naebody else. Naebody else. Ever. Not even that wee sassenach doon the papershop.
Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.
Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse. Jus’ kidding!
Doctor – I let ye go.
And yes, he is paraphrasing Bertrand Russell when he advises his future self that “hate is always foolish…an’ love, is always wise”. Ten points to anyone who spotted that.
Number Twelfth, your time is up! The Doctor regenerates and as the norm nowadays blows up the TARDIS as he turns into the Thirteenth Doctor.
A woman! He is a she! And, and, and it doesn’t really matter. The Doctor lives, that is what matters.
The new Doctor takes a look at her appearance and utters the immortal words, “Chuffin’ ‘eck! There is trouble down t’TARDIS!”
The TARDIS, utterly knackered by all this gender-bending regeneration stuff, decides to throw the Doctor out of the TARDIS.
Some people made snide comments about women drivers when the Thirteenth Doctor fell out of the TARDIS. To which I would remind them about the Tenth Doctor crashing into a building after her regenerated. Also remember a certain Eleventh Doctor likewise falling out of his TARDIS post-regeneration? Yeah. Pish-posh, chauvinists!
Our last image is of the now female Doctor falling into the title sequence of Eastenders.
Phew! All done. So what did I think of the episode?
Peter Capaldi gives a final performance (for the time being) as the Doctor. I have to say that I loved every moment he spent on the screen. If this is to be his last time, I am glad that this story was a fitting end to his Doctor. I did think his speech at the end was a little long-winded but I also loved it as well. I will miss the attack eyebrows.
David Bradley is an excellent First Doctor although I found his more sexist moments to be… Not off but they did throw me out of the story a little. I could happily watch a series with him as the Doctor, so that is a good thing. His performance wasn’t Hartnellish but it had odd flavours of him which I appreciated a lot.
Bill Potts returns. A version of her returns. Played by Pearl Mackie, she is still everything that I loved about her character. Even when we see parts of her turn to glass, she isn’t sinister whatsoever.
Mark Gatiss as Archie Lethbridge-Stewart. I think I can say, hand on hearts, that this is the most humane role that he has had on the show or on any other show that he has been in. I really got a sense of who this man was, what made him tick. I can only hope that Archie returns.
Helen Clay. Her name suggests moulding people out of clay. An apt name given that she is making glass avatars? Possibly. Played by Nikki Amuka-Bird, she never really gets beyond being cryptic and mysterious and made out of glass. But with an epsiode that has to deal with a regeneration, I guess some things fall to the sides.
Jenna Coleman was alright too. Just a cameo and she performs it well. Nothing more to be said.
Lastly Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor. We only get to see her briefly but I was really excited by her appearance. That moment when Twelve’s ring falls off her finger was brilliant and a nod to the ring scene in Power of the Daleks. Too little to really comment on her but I can say this: I think she may be exceedingly good in the part.
I enjoyed how Moffat gets away with Bradley’s appearance. Apparently if aTime Lord tries to hold off their regeneration their features get a little muddled. Although this didn’t happen to the Tenth Doctor or the Twelfth Doctor. Oh well…
I could say so much more about this episode but really all I have to say is this: watch it for yourself. It was a great story even if it lacked a major alien threat.
I cannot wait to see more of the Thirteenthy Doctor.