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Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Time to Live, a Time to Die... a Time to Regenerate

Man, I was *not* looking forward to this.. 

Has it really been six months? Spoilers...

So begins the final reprieve of Peter Capaldi, he who is too pure for this world, good enough to transcend any writing problems and turn any bad episode watchable, any decent episode memorable, and any great episode an absolute masterpiece. Sylvester McCoy may always remain my Doctor, but Capaldi is unequivocally the best Doctor. Which is why, even after two excellent seasons, two fun Christmas specials, and one hit or miss season, I wasn't at all looking forward to this episode. To paraphrase the Tenth Doctor, I didn't want him to go. To paraphrase the Twelfth Doctor, I did not want him to change.

But as he's taught me over many years, all things do change. We have to let go of things, let go of people. They won't always be around but we can always remember them. So how will we remember him, based on his farewell?

In a word: Gorgeous.

I am such a nerd. 
This may well be Moffat's best episode since taking over the show (let's face it, nothing's going to beat The Girl In The Fireplace), and definitely in the top 3 for director Rachel Talala who, for the record, is no slouch herself, having not only directed rather good episodes of Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supernatural, Haven, and Continuum (all... or most, at least, excellent sci-fi shows) but also Tank Girl and one of the better Nightmare On Elm Streets. Talalay seems to be Moffat's directorial big gun, as he's put her in charge of all of Capaldi's finale episodes, most notably the masterpiece that is Heaven Sent. She's got a real gift for Capaldi's style.

Let's get one thing out of the way first, as it's the only real complaint that I have about this episode and I need to be very clear about why I have a problem with it: the First Doctor was not a raging sexist, and the lines about Polly or Bill cleaning the TARDIS or a man being a nurse are horribly out of place. One was not discriminatory in being a grumpy old asshole. Unless your name was Susan, you were fair game. Just ask Ian Chesterton. I'm trying to pretend that most of those comments were for the Captain's behalf.

OK, you get a pass for one of the most beautiful moments in human history.
Getting that out of the way, though, David Bradley's performance as the First Doctor is absolutely spot-on. While his face my be different, his performance is eerily reminiscent of William Hartnell's original portrayal. He hit all of his marks perfectly, catching the nuances of being a man both younger and older than Capaldi's Twelve, and the chemistry between himself and Capaldi's Doctor's is brilliant. Possibly the best I've seen, even better than Smith and Tennant's interactions. The disapproving looks Bradley shoots Capaldi, and the uncomfortable embarrassment of twelve extremely long lives between them on Capaldi's behalf speak volumes more than could be expected.

One thing I thought I'd have a problem with, but didn't, was Bill Potts. I'm on record as saying that Bill turned out much better than I'd hoped and expected, and her ending was just that: an ending. A clean break, with a satisfying end that had been telegraphed properly and tied up all the loose ends. So when I heard she was coming back, it felt wrong, but tying it into the main story gave us an opportunity not to continue her story, but to give a proper coda, an epilogue. "The post-script of Bill Potts", so to speak, and it was handled unexpectedly well. What was really unexpected, and handled even better, was the gift given to Twelve: his memory of Clara. By this point in the episode I was already tearing up (especially after the Captain identified himself), and when she appeared to him by way of the glass constructs, I audibly sobbed.

The most important takeaway, though, is that this episode was small and quiet. Very little actually happened, the vast majority of the episode being character-based moments: a final bit of growth for some, and a proper farewell for others. And I bring this up because it's what Christmas specials mostly aren't. From The Christmas Invasion all the way through The Return of Doctor Mysterio, Christmas specials have been all about giant spectacle and high-level emotional moments, with a healthy side dish of absolute silliness. Twice Upon A Time bucks that trend, and for its own benefit, as the big action-packed scene lasts maybe 30 seconds and is over halfway through the episode, leaving us time to become involved with the characters and invested in them.

Have you ever had to say goodbye to yourself?
Which brings us to the regeneration. What are we able to glean from that short moment?

  • There's the obvious: Jodie Whittaker is the Thirteenth Doctor now. 
  • She's kept her accent, from what I can tell from the one phrase we've gotten: "Aww, brilliant!" 
  • She can pull some great facial expressions so far. 
  • Most importantly, they let her crash the TARDIS. This genuinely had me worried, as every modern Doctor so far has done so in their regenerations, save maybe War-to-Nine, and Thirteen has managed to crash the TARDIS in spectacular fashion, perhaps only second to Eight-to-War (which I'm barely counting, considering that he only parked inside a crashing ship). 

This was very important to me, considering the highly-charged gender politics of the Current Year™, as I was afraid that Thirteen would be treated with inappropriate kid gloves and land the TARDIS safely or leave it parked during her regeneration. Turns out they went balls out (no pun intended) and not only did she blow out the console with her regeneration, but she managed to detonate the central column and get unceremoniously ejected out the front doors mid-flight to fall to her apparent death. Good show, Thirteen. I can't wait to see what happens next.

I'll have you know I made it through this entire review
without a single woman driver joke.
This is absolutely a cannot-miss of an episode. It's emotional, quiet, intense, and touching. The only negative points are the blatant and out-of-character sexism of the First Doctor, and so many things that simply shouldn't work actually end up working really well.

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