Laugh Hard… Run Fast… Be Kind… (Twice Upon a Time)

Christmas 2017 marked the end of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who, the 12th generation of the iconic Time Lord, in the special “Twice Upon a Time.”

From the left: my niece, my hubby, me (with my Scarf of Awesomeness), Mags, Michael; Photo courtesy of Mags Jewel

I watched “Twice Upon a Time” on Christmas (because I just couldn’t wait!), even though I had tickets to watch it in the theater during the limited showings nationwide on December 27. So I got to see it more than once!

Let me say, watching the Doctor on the big screen was pretty cool. They also aired a behind-the-scenes special, which gave a lot of insight into the filming and production of this episode. If you have a chance to watch it somewhere, definitely take the time. It’s worth it. (You can see some cool behind-the-scenes shots here).

This post will contain spoilers. While I’m not going to rehash the plot, I am writing with the assumption that the reader has seen the episode. If you haven’t watched yet and you don’t want any details, stop reading now. I’m not even going to try to limit the spoilers. You’ve been warned! 🙂

The episode opens with the black and white film from the first Doctor’s final battle, with the newly introduced Cybermen. This is the original footage of William Harnell’s time as the Doctor. During a short monologue, the Doctor’s face becomes colorized and morphs into David Bradley, who plays the first Doctor in “Twice Upon a Time.”

I was really impressed not so much by the technology but by the conceptualization of this scene: how they decided to bring the first Doctor into the current Doctor’s present. I think it was done extremely well. And David Bradley’s costuming was fantastic. He looked so much like William Hartnell. (Of course, he’d had practice, playing the first Doctor in “The Doctor Falls” earlier in the year.)

As a writer, character arcs are something I pay attention to, and it was fascinating to see the originating character side by side with the current variation of the character of Doctor Who. Now, granted, the first Doctor’s personality is an interpretation by Stephen Moffat, of course, but in large part felt realistic.

Being able to see both, the viewer can see ways in which the Doctor has changed and grown. There are things that have remained the same, such as the Doctor’s overall goodness and charity toward other races and people, particularly humans. But there are other things which have changed drastically.

The first Doctor is shocked that the current Doctor has put Earth under his protection. While they don’t have a conversation about it, you can see within the interaction that the first Doctor is appalled at the idea, and Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is trying to downplay it.

This also brings to the fore how judgmental the first Doctor is. The current Doctor rushes to hide his electric guitar, or at least deflect attention from it. It reminded me a bit of a teenager whose parents just invaded his bedroom. Even though Capaldi’s Doctor doesn’t remember this interaction in his own memories, he knows his past self well enough to know exactly what he would think of this electric guitar. It also makes me wonder why Capaldi’s Doctor is striving to impress his past self.


I found the episode a bit heavy-handed on the “old white man” thinking in regards to the place of women, but it did lend itself to some pretty funny bits.

I am a staunch feminist, but I also recognize that different time periods embraced different ideas. When my husband asked me to read Stranger in a Strange Land, by his favorite author ever, Robert Heinlein, I told him I enjoyed the book, but that there was a misogynistic flavor to it. I understood why, considering Heinlein came up in the ’40s and ’50s. It didn’t detract from the message of the book for me; it was just an observation. Hubby was less than pleased and argued pretty strongly that it wasn’t misogynistic at all. (Spoiler: it totally is.)

I mention this, because as I watched the early Doctor Who episodes a few years ago, I recognized the misogynist view of women but wasn’t offended by it. It was simply how it was at the time, and there’s no changing the past. It’s better to know it than ignore it.

So when the first Doctor introduces Capaldi’s Doctor as his nurse, explaining how “older gentlemen, like women, can be put to use” (never mind that the first Doctor’s physical age is obviously greater than Capaldi’s), Capaldi’s Doctor’s reaction is both good and a bit annoying.

Twelfth Doctor: You… You can’t say things like that.

First Doctor: Can’t I? Says who?

Twelfth Doctor: Just about everyone you’re going to meet for the rest of your life.

While I like that Capaldi’s Doctor is a bit more of a feminist, his reason for feminism, by this exchange, isn’t because he believes women are equal, but because everyone else shames him into acting the part of a feminist.

Now, anyone who watches Doctor Who regularly knows that the Doctor actually is a feminist in modern incarnations. And I think that’s why this line rubs me the wrong way. It could have been done so differently, so much better, and still gotten a laugh. It felt like the writers went for the easy way.

Bill Potts

Although a later scene with the current Doctor’s companion, Bill, definitely got that yardage back. In the first Doctor’s TARDIS, he makes another misogynistic remark. The group is looking at the glass figure of the Testimony leader.

The Captain: Quite beautiful, really, isn’t she?

Bill: Yeah, if you like ladies made of glass.

First Doctor: Well, aren’t all ladies made of glass, in a way? (laughs)

The Captain (also laughing): Very good, sir, very good.

Bill (hand on hip): Are we now?

First Doctor: Oh, my dear, I hope it doesn’t offend you to know that I have had some experience of the… uhh… fairer sex.

Bill: Me too.

(a moment goes by as realization strikes both the Captain and the first Doctor)

The Captain: Good lord.

I will say that I got some pretty deep gratification out of this exchange, particularly as all the while the current Doctor is leaning over the TARDIS controls with a look of “Please let the ground swallow me up right now” on his face.

But the multiple recurrences of the current Doctor reprimanding the first Doctor made it feel forced in some places. And knowing that the new (13th) Doctor is to be a woman makes it feel even more false in those forced places. It’s almost as if Moffat is apologizing over and over again for refusing to cast a woman as the Doctor and is trying to save face now that it’s finally happening, as if he hadn’t been the biggest obstacle in the first place.

Save the Doctor, not the world

One of my favorite aspects of this episode is that it wasn’t about some alien race invading the Earth or a psychotic mastermind trying to destroy the universe. There was no evil menace. And this, not surprisingly, throws the current Doctor completely off.

Oh. It’s not an evil plan. Well, I don’t really know what to do when it isn’t an evil plan.

The group the Doctor(s) had set out to stop turns out to be something that doesn’t need to be (indeed, maybe shouldn’t be) stopped at all. As Testimony Bill says, “Not everything’s evil. Doctor. You’re not the only kind one in the universe.”

So then this episode becomes about saving the Captain, but more so, about saving the Doctor himself. The story in “Twice Upon a Time” is truly about saving the Doctor from himself, from the weariness of a long life, from time itself, really.

While, in truth, since Jodie Whittaker was announced as the 13th Doctor earlier in 2017, we all knew he (she) would go on. But that was okay. As it always is with the Doctor, it’s as much about the journey as the outcome.

And when the first Doctor asks, before leaving to complete his regeneration, if the current Doctor has decided whether he is ready, Capaldi gives a cryptic but appropriate response.

You’ll find out. The long way round.

He says this, I believe, because at this point, he hasn’t yet decided whether he’s ready. He takes quite a bit of time in that battlefield before going back to the TARDIS and then a bit of time in the ship itself before actually deciding to go on, reciting a long monologue of advice to the new doctor (and the viewer).

Harkening to the past

There were a lot of nods in “Twice Upon a Time” to past characters and scenes, some obvious and some much more subtle.

Certainly, we got a few more moments with Bill (who I miss already), Nardole, and Clara, which was nice, particularly as the Doctor’s memories of Clara are reinstated (although how Testimony does this is a pretty decent-sized plot hole; wouldn’t the Doctor have issue with them going into his mind to give those memories back to him without his consent or even knowing they’re in there?).

One of the biggest, though, is the reveal of the Captain’s identity as Archibald Hamish Lethbridge-Stewart. For those who watched the series in the ’70s and ’80s, this name is familiar as a relation (grandfather) of Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, also known as the Brigadier, the Doctor’s very close friend throughout those years. Modern audiences will recognize the family line in Kate Stewart, Chief Scientific Officer of UNIT, who would be the Captain’s great-granddaughter.

We get a guest appearance by Rusty, the Dalek that the current Doctor “ruined” in his second episode. It took me a moment to remember who he was when the Doctor finally ascended the tower at the end of the universe. I’d completely forgotten about Rusty!

Jodie Whittaker: The 13th Doctor. YAY!!!

And one of the most subtle references: After the regeneration, before we actually see the new Doctor, a ring falls from her finger. If you’ve watched early episodes (what can be watched of them, anyway), you might remember this. When the first Doctor regenerated, the same thing happened: a ring fell from his finger to the floor of the TARDIS (Season 4, episode 9, the first of the “Power of the Daleks” episodes). This felt like a metaphorical circle between the first Doctor and the 13th. A closure, almost.

As if they’d indeed come the long way round.

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are courtesy of IMDB.


  • David January 11, 2018 at 11:47 am

    Jodie Whittaker will be the 15th Doctor and the 14th actor to play the Doctor. John Hurt played the ninth as revealed in The Day of the Doctor. This makes Eccleston the tenth Doctor, Tennant the eleventh and twelfth as he regenerated back into himself, and Smith into the thirteenth incarnation. Capaldi was the 14th incarnation but the 13th actor to appear in the role. A rather pedantic point, I admit. This was a good breakdown, and I wonder, did you take any issue with the Jodie incarnation pressing one button to cause the post regeneration Tardis issue? It struck me a poor “Woman Driver” joke which fell flat after all the forced feminism in the episode, which came out as more rote than reasoned, especially when there were better feminist arguments to be made which you yourself noted.

    • Venessa Giunta January 11, 2018 at 1:26 pm

      Hey David! 🙂

      Yes, of course you’re right about the actual number of Doctors. Sadly, John Hurt isn’t counted in the naming of the Doctors’ numbers, so I go with the convention, rather than with the reality, to avoid confusion.

      Re: “woman driver” — Yes! That was very annoying. I’m reserving my judgment about what actually happened until we see the first new episode though. Perhaps there’s a reason *one button* made the TARDIS go crazy. It also makes me think that it might have been a parting swat by Moffat to say, “See, this is all going to end badly because she’s a woman!” though that could be erroneous. I don’t know how much input Chris Chinball had in that final scene. I know it wasn’t filmed at the same time the Capaldi-half of the regeneration happened.

      So again, holding off judgment.

      Thanks so much for commenting! 🙂


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