From the moment “Twice Upon A Time” opened with the original recording of “The Tenth Planet”, I knew Whovians were in for a treat. But whereas sometimes Moffat has promised much and not quite delivered, here he gives in spades.
The classic recording morphs to David Bradley as the Doctor, Jared Garfield as Ben and Lily Travers as Polly, with the production staff finding a ton of original props to turn that Classic Who feel up to eleven. That the end of the episode switches back is a lovely touch.
In fact, “Twice Upon A Time” is dripping in Who lore both old and new
- there are strong parallels to “The Time of the Doctor”, with the Doctor resigned to (and even eager for) his death. And as Eleven sees a memory of Amy at the end, Twelve sees Clara.
- the Doctor seeks knowledge from Rusty, who last appeared in “Into The Dalek” and now lives on Villengard, mentioned in “The Doctor Dances” as the weapon factories where Captain Jack got his gun, before they were destroyed by the Doctor to be replaced by banana groves.
- the mysterious force of Testimony was born on New New Earth and is basically a massive data bank of memories extracted at the end of a person’s life. It’s like Missy’s Heaven, only far more benign.
- a “clipshow” provided by Testimony features bubbles of footage. It’s all comes a bit fast, but classic Doctors Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee, and Paul McGann are seen, alongside Matt Smith, David Tennant, Capaldi and, in touching tribute, John Hurt.
- Eleven’s “We’re all stories in the end” is revisited by Bill Potts’ welcome return. Now part of Testimony, she exists in the form of her memories given an avatar, though the Doctor refuses to accept this version of her. But what are we, if not a collection of memories and experiences?
Memory and recollection then are the driving forces behind Twice Upon A Time, which is perfect given the story of the Doctor under Moffat. The episode is both a celebration and a definite closing chapter. Particularly poignant is how Bill proves to the Doctor that memories matter. Her kiss restores his memories of Clara, and the glass avatars then bring both her and Nardole back to say goodbye.
Also saying farewell, abet in a subtle way, is Murray Gold. The composer has provided the soundtrack to every episode from Rose onward; 12 years of on-the-button tracks such as the wonderful The Majestic Tale [Of A Madman In a Box] and the iconic Doomsday. Of all those leaving Who with the close of this season, Gold’s departure hits me the hardest.
Going back to memories, “Twice Upon A Time” touches on one of the Doctor’s greatest friendships. Rumour had it that Gatiss was playing Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, but when the first trailer mentioned World War I, that was clearly impossible, much to the relief of many Whovians, including myself.
Yet rumour wasn’t completely wrong. I twigged just after the First Doctor realised Bill was part of Testimony, so when he gave his full name as Archibald Hamish Lethbridge-Stewart – the Brigadier’s grandfather – I was unsurprised and immensely satisfied. Having the Captain involved in the Christmas Truce of 1914 was a fantastic touch that was both uplifting and moving.
And that sums up “Twice Upon A Time”. Beautifully filmed, abounding in references both visual and audible, it is, in my opinion, the best Doctor Who special to date. And that’s before the epic regeneration and Thirteen’s arrival!
It’s going to be a long wait until autumn.