When my second son was born, I went on a Doctor Who binge. Might as well watch something when you’re up for an hour or more a couple of times a night, right? Over the past couple of years, however, I found myself loving the show less and less.
This lack of fondness coincided with Stephen Moffat taking over the reigns of the show from Russell T. Davies. Which was a shame. Moffat had previously written some of which remain my favorite-ever episodes (The Girl In The Fireplace and Blink), but he never seemed to hit the same peaks once he took over as showrunner. It didn’t help that his first Doctor, Matt Smith, sucked. Peter Capaldi was much better, though, fortunately. It should also be noted that over the past few years I became acquainted with the show’s “fandom” – something guaranteed to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of it.
But I keep watching, though I don’t feel the love for the show like I did during the Davies year.
And now it’s Christmas, and of course that means a new Doctor Who Christmas special, and one of special significance as it’s also the final episode for both Moffat’s incarnation of the show and Capaldi’s incarnation of the doctor. After this, the torch will be passed to Chris Chibnall, formerly of Broadchurch. (For the record, I did not enjoy Broadchurch, so have little anticipation for what comes next, despite the promise of the first female Doctor in Jodie Whittaker.)
I’m happy to say that I think Moffat went out on a high, and maybe delivered even the best episode since he become the show’s head writer. But let’s not dwell on what might have been and instead celebrate the achievement of this touching, bittersweet episode.
It was a far-cry from the Doctor Who Christmas specials of yore (The Runaway Bride, The Snowmen, The Voyage of the Damned) but it was also, blessedly, a far-cry from some of Moffat’s more grandiose mythology-focused episodes.
Long story short, Twice Upon A Time is Moffat unashamedly bidding farewell to his time at Doctor Who and Capaldi’s turn as the Twelfth Doctor. It begins with a mysterious encounter with a WWI solider in Antarctica who has been misplaced there by some strange (probably alien) entity. Of course, The Doctor rescues him and promises his mysterious captors that he’ll proceed to find out what they’re up to and, if he doesn’t like it, he’ll be back to destroy them. As it turns out, their intentions are fairly harmless. They’re humans from the future, who travel through time snatching people in the moment immediately prior to their death to collect and catalog their memories to that they may live on forever. The Doctor is, understandably, not quite sure what to do with this revelation. “I don’t really know what to do when it isn’t an evil plan,” he says.
And so the plot curbs somewhat right there. This is probably not the adventure that everyone (characters and audience included) expected. Instead, we get Capaldi’s doctor chatting with his original incarnation (David Bradley doing William Hartnell’s First Doctor) which results in the wonderful observation that – and I’m paraphrasing here – being evil is so much easier than being good. Being evil means purely worrying about self-preservation. Being good is far more complicated as it depends on such sticky things as trust, loyalty, and other people wanting to be good too.
Oh, and there’s a Dalek in there too because, this being a Moffat Special Episode, of course there is.
Skipping ahead, the story wraps up with the Doctors returning the WWI soldier to the moment of his death, except not quite. The Doctor cheated a bit and dropped him back into No Man’s Land at the only moment when he could ever possibly survive – when British and German soldiers temporarily halted their war in favor of a Christmas truce. They trusted each other for a while, before the evil of war had to resume. “It’s the only time a battle has been halted,” says the Doctor. “Never before, never since.” (Again, paraphrasing.)
All this to say, it’s a very effective episode to wrap up this chapter of the show, and especially poignant that it aired at Christmas – the very time where we want to be reminded that though it is much more difficult to be good than it is evil, we should all strive to be good. Especially in this fucked up world we’re all currently living in. That is what Doctor Who is all about. That is what Christmas is all about. That is what life is all about. And to crystalize that idea by referencing the historically real moment of the Christmas Truce during WWI is an excellent trick.
To me, Twice Upon A Time was a fantastic episode. Moffat and Capaldi knocked it out of the park and went out on an absolute high.