Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Doctor Who Series 10 First Impressions: 2017 Christmas Special (Twice Upon A Time)

I'm seein' double! FOUR Doctors!
Oh fuck. Here we are, at long last. For months I've pondered what I would write here. Now we're here... and where do I even begin? It's not just the end of Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who, but the end of Steven Moffat's seven-year tenure as the head of it all. It's a particularly bittersweet finale for me personally. I did some review podcasts with my pal Rainiac in the Matt Smith years, but it was the Peter Capaldi era where I became a regular guest, just to his immediate virtual left. Not only that, but 2014 and the start of the Peter Capaldi era is where I made a request on a whim. I pitched the idea of doing Doctor Who First Impressions to the webmistress of a site called Boss Dungeon, Andrea Ritsu. She said yes, and I got through the first series on there. Boss Dungeon's gone now, and those writeups are still here on the blog... but the point is, a girl giving me a chance to write about something I loved started all of this. I can't thank Andrea enough. Point is, the Peter Capaldi era is when I started looking at this show I love dearly with a more critical analysis mindset. It has enriched my enjoyment of the thing, in letting me analyse running themes and motifs in greater detail. Would I have adored Clara Oswald as much if I hadn't picked up on those teacher/mirror of the Doctor details? Maybe not. Writing about this era of the show made me love it more, and now that era has waltzed off into the sunset. Let's give Capaldi, and Moffat, one last critical analysis. Let's talk, you and I, about Twice Upon A Time.

709 episodes ago, some bullshit was happening in Antarctica. I do love that, even though we've set the episode right before the end of The Tenth Planet Episode 4, there's little to no mention of it from the First Doctor. All his talk later is about people being in "the wrong time zone". Sure, the Mondasian Cybermen came back six months ago, but even there I don't recall any mention of Mondas literally being backwards Earth or the invasion being in the FAR-OFF FUTURE OF 1986. Then again, we don't need to go all Attack Of The Cybermen on Christmas Day, now do we? This is a bit of a ramble because it's a true First Impression, but we can roll with it. So, let's begin with 12 and 1 together. They do generally have a good rapport, and Capaldi and Bradley play off each other well. It has to be said, though: making 1 a bit more... traditional in his values is a little off to me. I admit that the Hartnell years are not my favorite and that, as such, I have seen comparatively little of them. Even so, he wasn't really like that and it feels like it's attaching the problematic issue of the era the show itself was made in rather than the problematic issues of the show itself. I know that David Bradley is basically playing a reconstruction of the First Doctor (a grand tradition that goes back to 1983 at least), but that's a flaw in the reconstruction. I can see how Moffat wants to play it as, with Capaldi being mortified at what his punky older self is saying and awkwardly trying to shush him. It's a play at comedy, but it only partly works. Still, I guess it's Christmas so he has to hang out with an old man he only sees once every few centuries who sometimes says some real regressive shit. This is just the Time Lord version of awkward political talk at Christmas dinner.

That's my only real gripe with the story itself, so let's move on to what it's actually about. Clever me, with my basic critical analysis. This is a story about memory, and it's interesting that Moffat chose to go with that for his swan song. We'll shotgun real quick though the rest of the players in this tale, and how they deal with memory. Mark Gatiss's army captain from WWI doesn't seem to have much to do with it at first, but he faces being saved from death with an interesting melancholy: he was ready and prepared to die, but now he's been saved and the thought of going back scares him a bit. He knows and hopes that his wife and children will remember him well, though, and that they'll be strong. Traditional 100 year-old British values, I guess. The reveal of his name, and the whole ending with the Christmas truce is really quite sweet. He works well as a supporting character. I'm not sure if this is Gatiss's Doctor Who swansong, but if it is? He wrote well and played this character well. In a similar vein, before we get to the really meaty bits... it's Rusty the Dalek, from Into The Dalek! Moffat fooled me well, as I kept wondering what could be up in that tower. At first I thought it was some sort of Dalek, but then 12 climbs a flight of stairs. Beautiful misdirect. It was lovely to have a callback to Into The Dalek, as for me personally that's when I feel I really got my groove with pointing out thematic stuff like Clara as a teacher to the Doctor in Series 8, teaching him to care and give a shit. Keeping in time with the memory theme, do recall that it was Capaldi's memories which made Rusty into a Good Dalek.

So it is, then, that we lead into the biggest part of the memory theme; the Testimony. What a neat concept; it almost echoes Missy's little scheme from Dark Water/Death In Heaven, but done beneficially. An entire race of glass people who upload the memories of people just before they die, so their memory never fades from the universe. What a lovely idea. People will complain about such a heady thing (probably) never getting a revisit, but I'm fine with it. It's great that they're not even doing anything shady; time honestly just got fucked up due to someone making a mistake, and they're trying to set it right. It also leads to the return of Bill. Not a Testimony glass robot with Bill's memories, but Bill. As she so properly states, it's her. All of her memories are right there. It all ties in to Capaldi's refusal to regenerate; he doesn't want to become a distant memory, like his other selves. Like the young old man he just met again for the first time in centuries. So, Bill shows him that memory doesn't have to be a bad thing... and with a peck on the cheek and a warm Murray Gold refrain, Clara Oswald returns to our screens and to the Doctor's mind. God damn it, I knew I was going to cry at some point writing this. It's a beautiful combination of punching the air in delight and sobbing my eyes out. Clara Oswald, the Impossible Girl who mirrored the Doctor and enriched not only his life, but my own, back again to see the old man out. If you've read these regularly, you know how much Clara meant to me. I feel safe in saying that she was my absolute favorite Doctor Who companion, and she got the ending she deserved. In her 30-second cameo, she mirrors her travelling space wizard once again; she is a Doctor. Her face and memory, restored in the Doctor's mind, helps to heal him and get him prepared to regenerate once more. Oh, Clara. Our Clara. Nardole shows up as a memory as well, hugging it out with the Doctor... and then, it's time.

The finale of the Capaldi years and the Moffat era is a thing of beauty. Capaldi's speech is not brief, but it's no David Tennant final reward either. Some restraint is shown, but I do love the idea of holding off the renegeration long enough to give his future fresh face helpful advice. Here's a man who learned to be kind, who learned that it wasn't about being a good man but being a helpful idiot. He'd mouth off and seem uncaring, but at the end of the day he did care. He made his missteps, but he had some glorious victories and enriched the lives of many across the universe. Peter Capaldi may not be my favorite Doctor, but he's definitely in the top three now. Bold words, considering how let down I was by Deep Breath... but he won me over in the end. The abrasive ass from Deep Breath has grown over the past three years, and now here he is. Telling his future self to run fast and be kind. I will miss him terribly, but I will always remember when the Doctor was him. That's the true power of memory, and I have the added power of having written it all down. We'll never forget those happy days when we fought off Robin Hood with a spoon, or when the moon was an egg. We'll always have the Orient Express and Mars and saving the day from space capitalism. We'll always have Clara Oswald, Bill Potts, and Nardole. We will always have Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who, and I will always have the positivity this show has given me. I will carry it with me, like a comforting memory. So, too, will we always have Steven Moffat. He had his missteps with running the show. Terrible episodes. Split seasons and a year without a show. That unfortunate tendency to put his foot in his mouth one too many times and alienate many. In the end, though... he hit more than he missed, for me. His era was one of wonder and whimsy and space fairy tales. I will always keep the memory of when Doctor Who was Steven Moffat's pet project, and carry those good experiences with me. I got to write about 39 wonderful episodes of this show, and I can't thank everyone involved enough. Not just the people who made the show, but all of you who read these. Andrea Ritsu, who gave me a chance and started this whole thing for me. My podcast co-hosts, Rainiac, Kat, and Kuchiri. To all of you I say thank you, but to the two main men who are leaving, I say...

So long, Peter Capaldi. So long, Steven Moffat. I'll never forget you.

And then, a miracle. Jodie Whittaker is Doctor Who. With one button, the Moffat era explodes around her, just as the Russell T. Davies era exploded around poor Matt Smith. Everything is out of control and the TARDIS is exploding... and our new Doctor Who, Number 13, is plummetting down towards a brightly-lit planet below. No TARDIS. Fresh face. What happens next is up to Chris Chibnall, and I feel that I'll be right here, making new memories with him and Whittaker. Doctor Who is falling out of the world again, and whatever she does next I await with anticipation. Or, to put it another way?


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