An episode thick with goodbyes and a singular hello “Twice Upon a Time” was thrilling from the start. We opened with a “Previously On” that had me laughing, as it was a flashback to the very first Doctor Who episode – 709 episodes ago.
We see Capaldi as we left him in episode 12 all those months ago, determined not to regenerate again, tired of dying and becoming someone he can’t control. We’re also introduced to the First Doctor, in the same situation – 2 men striving to stay alive, stay the same. I loved 1’s opener, “You may be A Doctor, but I am THE Doctor.” What a shock it would have been to meet yourself 13 regenerations on when you’re only at the beginning. 12 and 1 had fantastic dialogue throughout the episode, Doctor Who always delivers on Doctor-Doctor interactions. It always feels so accurate, I think sometimes the people we dislike the much are the ones most like us. And in this case, often the ones who’ve changed in exactly the ways you wish they hadn’t.
Mart Gatiss appears on the scene when he’s whisked away from a pivotal point (his certain death) in WWI to appear next to the Doctors. When he heard reference to WWI and responded with utter devastation, “What do you mean ONE?” it nearly broke my heart. “War is hell” is a constant theme throughout Doctor Who, and one that feels especially important in this episode.
When the 3 men are whisked into The Chamber of the Dead we meet the The Testimony, a collection of memories of everyone who’s ever died. 1 is consistently baffled by 12 (as is 12 by 1’s incessantly sexist remarks) but we see this especially when The Testimony refer to The War Doctor. “Never.” 1 emphatically states, he’s unable to imagine a future in which he might be referred to as such. Of course, we all know that that “never” becomes “no more” but that revelation is shocking and painful to watch. When The Testimony run through a visual history of The Doctor it felt like a gut punch. I cried for what felt like the first farewell of this episode, a farewell to some innocent belief the Doctor held as to his own true nature.
We are fortunate to get to spend some time with Bill (or at least her memories – which she claims is the same thing, a statement that feels both true and false somehow) and even get to see Nardole one last time before we say goodbye to both. My favorite though was the brief vision we see of Clara bidding farewell to 12, she has felt like one of the most misused companions – second only to Martha who felt very much like an afterthought following Rose. I wish we’d seen Clara better written, but she sacrificed so much for The Doctor, it felt good to see a proper farewell.
Through the episode both Doctors learn that you must say goodbye to others and to yourself. They have to take the Captain back to his impending doom, you can’t cheat death after all. Of course, you know with The Doctor there is always a twist. When they return Mark Gatiss to WWI we discover that 12 has tweaked the time line just enough to save his life. The revelation that Mark Gatiss was Captain Lethbridge-Stewart absolutely shook me, talk about planting a legacy!
We bid farewell to 1, and 12 begins his own goodbye. He gives a moving soliloquy, sending forward advice to his future self. My two favorite lines and ones I wish everyone would live by: “Hate is always foolish” and “Never fail to be kind” both hold true, even for the War Doctor. Peter Capaldi gives us a beautifully moving performance, and then it’s farewell. Jodie Whittaker’s face appears, and upon seeing herself she utters, “oh brilliant!” I totally agree, I can’t wait to see her next season. The TARDIS doesn’t seem to feel the same, she begins shaking and even cracking in places, spinning 13 out into the night.
And that’s it, a single episode to tide us over as we wait for season 11. See you next time around Whovians!