Doctor Who: Twice Upon A Time spoiler-free review

Here's our spoiler-free look at the Doctor Who Christmas special, Twice Upon A Time...

This review is spoiler-free. It talks about, at most, stuff that’s been revealed in promo photos, but not more than that.

Twice Upon A Time

Really rather special, this one. Appreciating that pretty much everyone knows where Steven Moffat’s final Doctor Who story – Twice Upon A Time – has to ultimately end (an ending that was sliced off the press preview), the journey the story takes is really quite something.

It kicks off, of all things, with the kind of recap that only Doctor Who could get away with, before resuming where things were left at the end The Doctor Falls. Two Doctors – David Bradley as the first Doctor, Peter Capaldi as the incumbent – holding off their own regeneration. Neither willing to succumb to the change and uncertainty that lies ahead.

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In the midst of this is a 1914 World War I battlefield, where Mark Gatiss’ British soldier (and Gatiss is brilliant) is pointing a gun at Toby Whithouse’s wounded German troop. A stand-off, and not a happy one. That much has been revealed in photos from the episode. Everything else story-wise, I’m steering clear of for this spoiler-free preview. Anybody who even thinks of spoiling an episode like this deserves a very, very hard stare.

Instead, let me report that so, so much of Twice Upon A Time works. I found it a wonderful wallop of an episode, with strong emotional moments, an ensemble of characters where I cared and was engaged with every one. And, at the heart of it, the bickering between two Doctors, both in different ways exasperated with each other. David Bradley is clearly having an absolutely ball recreating William Hartnell’s first Doctor, a man confused with the state of what’s going on around him, and not afraid to voice it. Capaldi’s Doctor, meanwhile, is hardly in the best of shape, correcting his earlier self but also having his fair share of fun. There’s a lot of laughs between the two of them, in the midst of an episode with an otherwise slightly more sombre feel.

Capaldi’s performance? Well, what do you think. From the moment he stepped into the world of Doctor Who, it felt like he owned the role. For his finale, his work is sublime. Generous, haunting, funny and utterly moving, his farewell is brilliant. Again, I’ll leave the detail there for now. We’re sure going to miss him, though.

It’s premium Steven Moffat writing we get here, too, and finds him ending on a very high point as well. Moffat’s script gives him slightly fewer balls to juggle than he occasionally has tasked himself with, and it really pays dividends. The pacing of Twice Upon A Time is terrific. There’s no rush to suddenly wrap things up, there’s no skimping over the Doctor Who story at the heart of the episode (and there very much is one), and there’s time built in for some often really quite profound conversations. There are surprising moments that hit really hard, because they’ve been given the space to.

A word, too, for the sheer look of Twice Upon A Time. The preview we saw was projected onto an IMAX screen, and it looked at home there too. The lighting work isn’t often singled out in Doctor Who write-ups, but it really should be here. There’s a flavour of one or two classic movies, and a real sense of scale to some of the bigger moments. One of Moffat’s finest decisions on Doctor Who has been to get director Rachel Talalay involved, and her direction is really something. Here’s hoping Chris Chibnall hires her back.

Reports suggest that Murray Gold’s time on the show is at a close too, incidentally. His score is worth pre-ordering. I can comfortably say that.

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But then the whole episode is. It really hit me hard, this one. There are themes at the heart of it that go beyond the inevitable emotion of everyone’s goodbyes, and I found myself utterly gripped by it. It’s not even that it doesn’t put a foot wrong, because there are little quibbles. It’s more that I was so swept up in it that I barely noticed.

My advice? Go into the episode cold, sit back, and let it take you in. Twice Upon A Time is excellent. A fitting finale, in lots of different ways. Loved it.