Twice Upon a Time.



"Oh brilliant!"

TV Hey Jodie. There was a brief discussion between our brethren and sistren in our online parish the other day about the point at which a Doctor becomes the "current" incarnation.  Is it when they've begun their first full season or as soon as they step out of the wavy, ship destroying fires?  For me, it's as soon as they open their new eyes and run their tongue across their new teeth searching for cavities and any spin-off adventures which turn up between that moment and when the new version of the character is established should be considered as happening chronologically in the past, essentially missing adventures.  Capaldi will still be the face of the DWM comic until September but the current incarnation, the 13th (fifteenth) is Jodie Whittaker (even if when you ask Amazon's Alexa for an identification she's tell you everyone from Tim Roth to Joseph Gordon Levitt).

If any post regenerative moments exemplify this it's in this when Peter's tall, wirely frame is replaced by Jodie's shorter silhouette, emphasised by the fact that she's wearing a specially created version of the former incarnations "costume" rather than being stuffed into his old clothes (the ordering of which was one of the tip-offs that Capaldi was being replaced by somebody female).  But her attitude is immediately brighter, less weary, gleeful.  That expression, so excited, with its Tomalike boggly eyes and toothy grin as she cottons on to her reflection and change of gender is magic (assuming she's not just pleased that she's young again) and quite rightly become a viral .gif that'll soon replace the Capaldi dance from Flatline as the go-to expression of anticipation and glee.  She's my Doctor already in a way that Capaldi has never quite been - so much so I already have her poster on the wall above my desk.  Hey Jodie.  Wave.

Happy Christmas!  Sorry that this has taken a few days; my original plan was to postpone these opinions until the new year, but unlike last Christmas when I spent the entire week in bed and didn't end up writing about whatever was going on in The Return of Doctor Mysterio until the 7th January, a couple of people have given me a nudge and damn it I've kept thinking about the helpfully acronymed TUAT and decided that the last thing I wanted was to be spending New Year's Eve trying to reconcile my opinion of Moffat's treatment of the First Doctor and so just had to get this out of my system.  Not that I'll otherwise be doing something that exciting anyway.  It'll be the usual mix of a film and coverage of Hogmanay on BBC Alba,into midnight with some slowly sozzling villagers somewhere in the highlands.

Your opinion of Capaldi's closing installment will probably depend how you've felt about his entire era, if you've enjoyed every minute of it or like me felt it to be a wasted opportunity.  Numerous creative decisions have kept me at paws length so now it comes time for the twelfth Doctor to go its with the regret that we got to see so little of him in his purest form, without the agendas and bolted on mysteries of recent years.  Kevin Kline has talked about experiencing the irony of Hamlet's death when he played it because it's only in his dying moments that he realises that he would actually be a good king.  In TUAT, Capaldi's Doctor finally coalesces into the man who usually emerges from the post regenerative stupor at the start of the adventures and he's already in the process of deciding if he wants to regenerate again anyway.

Like much of his era, as a piece of television, not mention Doctor Who, it's just plain weird.  Moffat, having decided that one of the problems with the Doctor's regeneration episodes is that we know how it ends, decides to make the whole episode about that in a way which hasn't really been the case since the Watcher stalked the TARDIS crew in Logopolis.  Will he, won't he choose death?  We know he won't so in effect it becomes a narratively weaponised iteration of Tennant's farewell tour at the end of The End of Time with the slight modification that whereas that sullen unit didn't want to go, Capaldi's Doctor doesn't want to go on.  Like Tenth, he's able to visit a few old friends, salve his emotional conscience but all without actually having to fight a proper antagonist, gifted instead with a thematic device.

What is Moffat's obsession with the afterlife and the ability to make the population of the universe exist beyond?  In TUAT we're offered the benevolent antonym to Nethersphere in which the memories of the dead are stored elsewhere for the benefit of an alien race of the future which resemble the future evolutions of humanity which appear in AI and Interstellar.  When the Doctor discovers that there's nothing especially wrong in what they're doing, that they're effectively saving humanity albeit in the form of ghosts and memories he says he doesn't know what to do about that.  He's so used to being threatened by the aliens that he assumes, as do we thanks to the sinister what the glass Bill is shot, that they must be doing that too even though at no point do they exhibit that behavior.

Which is fine.  Moffat understands that Doctor Who is about doing something different with the format and formats within formats, and that having had three regenerations amid giant planetary battles designed to finish up long running story arcs, that having the character wander across a few sets chatting about the nature of being before deciding to proceed with the inevitable is a change of place and quiet fitting for an incarnation who's tended to rely on speechifying over action anyway.  It's just impossible not to see it for the production aberration it is, when a television network requires a Christmas episode but the actual story of the programme doesn't.  Jodie should naturally have emerged at the close of business on The Doctor Falls but Chibbers wasn't going to begin his tenure with a seasonal installment so here's Moffat marking time.

Perhaps it's fortunate the Capaldi was available to film this, otherwise we could have had the fiery headed version which almost appeared in the DWM comic strip.  In the run up to revival in 2005, Russell T Davies suggested the Eighth Doctor's regeneration into Ninth could appear in their pages.  The problem was due to publication issues it would have meant Ninth would have to have appeared in print before television, which wouldn't do, and also Destrii and various other story baggage would have to be resolved at a time when the magazine should quite rightly be in reboot mode and looking to the future.  Briefly the plan was to have a regenerative incarnation running around for a few issues, dropping of the companion and clearing the decks ready for Eccleston to emerge.  Fortunately cooler heads prevailed on and off the page.

You could argue that TUAT is  providing a bookend to the malevolent nutter who originally emerged in Deep Breath, suggesting that what we've been watching is the story of the Doctor entity relearning what it is to be have that title after being gifted a new regenerative cycle, his final, Bertrand Russell inspired speech, a feedback report on what he's learned.  Except it's never quite felt like that.  In this podcast interview with Toby Hadoke, Moffat admits that after the eighth year, Capaldi asked that he be allowed to play the Doctor rather than the Twelfth Doctor, the implication being that the variance from Matt Smith's interpretation had been too extreme, which accounts for why his performance and the writing in Last Christmas is much lighter on the needless sarcasm and heavier on the defence of humanity, and the Tennant-lite mode of more recent years.

Roping the First Doctor into all of this is, again weird.  For the first time in the show's history, the current incarnation of the Doctor has to share his regeneration with an earlier version.  The writer's motivation must be to show how far the Doctor's developed and especially this version.  Pretty much everything he criticises this interpretation of First for could be leveled at his season Eight self as though he's not only looking into his own deep past but also the relatively recent (depending on how many extra years you agree he's lived between The Caretaker and this episode whose acronym could accurately describe his behavior back then.  The Twelfth Doctor is finally a social justice warrior!   Well good, but he's been SJW for decades.  SJW is at the core of his being.  Thank goodness he's finally remembered that!

Except in order to create that contrast, Moffat seems to have decided that the First Doctor isn't an SJW at all, despite already being a somewhat ancient, time travelling magician in a box.  On the one hand, it's a similar approach Terry took in The Five Doctors, painting the earlier incarnations in broader strokes, emphasising their core attributes and letting the performance fill in the blanks.  Except that was before earlier episodes where readily available so when Hurndall rocked up suggesting Tegan make the tea, everyone was perfectly happy with it even though it also began with a clip of Hartnell.  Now we're in an age when entirely accurate new recreations are appearing across media consumed by all ages it's a shame to have this version which so right in some ways and wrong in others.

On first viewing, this First Doctor made me feel like a woke millennial watching a Carry On film.  Did he really just say that?  Hartnell's version would never say that.  On returning to it, those moments still feel bolted on amid sections which get the character quite correct, mainly due to David Bradley's well observed performance.  To an extent the variance is because the writer is forcing the character to have the kinds of self-reflexive conversations he simply didn't have in his own era, at least with someone else.  Sometimes he'd let the mask slip when he was alone in the TARDIS, notably at the end of The Massacre, but we certainly wouldn't have seen the existential chatter he has with glass Bill when he discovers the truth or with Twelfth in No Man's Land at the close of the episode.

But the chortling along with the Brigadier's ancestor and moaning about the cleanliness of the TARDIS is just wrong, I'm sorry, and does a disservice to the memory of the First Doctor, Hartnell and doesn't fit at all with who the man was in the final moments of The Tenth Planet.  What's the point in brilliantly dragging in clips and remounting lost scenes from the story not to mention recreating shots which now only exist in amateur telecine recorded by fans from the screen during broadcast if you're then going to bring in all of that petty business about the alcohol?  Admittedly, a potential justification is introduced in relation to him being in the process of regenerating which also explains the unusual shape of his face but yes, not pleased.

If all of these random comments suggest I'm pretty agnostic about the episode, you'd be right.  Like most of Moffat's festive specials since A Christmas Carol, it's fine and for the most part more enjoyable when watched after the day they're supposed to be designed for.  As ever he's more interested in exemplifying the melancholy aspect of the season, introducing the Christmas element here through the armistice and Mark Gattis's World War One Captain who partially exists to give the actor and writer a reason to participate in this final hoorah for the era and given his contribution to the franchise across the years from the early spin-off videos onward well earned.  You could probably swap him and the war out for another character without changing the story much, but we're also heading into the year of the hundredth centenary of the end of that war, so its probably as good a time as any to remind everyone of just how horrific it was.  Mark's performance is superb incidentally, one of his best ever.

Perhaps bringing back the one Good Dalek (apart from the good Daleks in the Justin Richards graphic novel and the first Eighth Doctor Time War boxed set) was about giving Nicholas Briggs a callback too (except it's unlikely that Chibbers won't be employing him in the future).  It is another look how far we've come moment but not an especially resonant one perhaps because Into The Dalek was the beginning of the rot in that season.  That the godawful line, "She's my carer - she cares so I don't have to ..." actually came from the Doctor's mouth and made it into a trailer was appalling so a reminder of that nonsense isn't especially welcome here.  Perhaps Me would have been a more logical return but Maisie Williams is probably off murdering Lannisters in Dubrovnik so unavailable for this.

Bill's back too, albeit as a sentient glass storage unit.  Perhaps her appearance is most troubling of all.  Is Bill is definitely dead now?  If she remembers being saved by Heather but nothing afterwards doesn't that mean that, since the memories are duplicated when people die, her resurrection ended prematurely pretty soon after the scene in The Doctor Falls?  Plus if she's died twice are there now two versions of her running around in the Testamony or was the later memory engram copied over the earlier one so Bill, if she's still Bill even if its just the memories of her, has effectively died three times now.  Plus like River Song, the essence of Bill Potts now exists in a massive database somewhere.  As I suggested earlier, what is it with Moffat (a) killing his companions but then (b) having them continue living anyway in some kind of altered state?

What about Clara?  Her appearance suggests she was plucked from the time stream at the moment of her death first by the Testamony then the Doctor and then the Testamony again presumably when it came time for her traveling with Me to end.  Of all the moments in the episode which nearly had me in tears it was the sound of Clara's theme and the Doctor's reaction to being given his memories of her back.  I liked Clara both as a concept and a character.  She was the one bearable element of year 8 and part of me wishes she'd stuck around until now.  I really do have to get around to watching Victoria even if to fantasize that we're watching the person who'll grow up to found the Torchwood Institute.

But the stand out elements of the episode is Murray Gold's final score in which he lets rip with a greatest hits compilation of re-interpretations of his music from across the entire past twelve years including all of the Doctor's themes with "Doomsday" making an appearance during the muti-Time Lord sit down on Villinguard (Moffat calling back to his first story writing for the series) and Flavia's chorus underscoring Jodie's first few moments taking us a deep dive right back into the RTD era.  Gold's creative contribution to the series has been incalculable and it just shows his ability that he's able to fuse his melodic legacy with the more percussive material of the late era to create something which commemorates and looks forward.  He'll be missed.

As will Moffat.  It seems important at the close of his era to indicate that for all the kinds of disputes only a fan could have with the franchise he's supposed to love, when Moffat hasn't become bogged down with the grind of putting out thirteen weeks of television a year, he's been one of the greatest Doctor Who writers of all time.  All of his contributions to the RTD era were classics.  Some of the material while he's been show runner has been more variable (as he's admitted himself), but the Matt Smith era broke internationally in a way the show hadn't before and it's to his credit that's continued through the Twelfth Doctor era and affirmed the future of the show in a way which we have to be grateful for.  Happy New Year!

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