Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Doctor Who, Season 11, Episode 0: Twice Upon a Time

Time for the iconic Doctor Who Christmas episode. An episode that not only brings us a new regeneration but also has the first Doctor and the 12th Doctor together for most of the episode

And I liked a lot of these dynamics - I love how Doctor #1 is clearly not as reliant on the tech and toys that Doctor #12 is (yet is still effective despite that) and how much the Doctor has grown and changed to become the creature he has

I am more leery with Doctor #1 being not just a crotchety old man but talking down to Doctor #12 because of it. I mean, Time Lords must be used to people being so many centuries older than them while looking younger. I even imagine meeting a future/past incarnation of yourself may be not entirely out of the realm of possibility (how many times have the Doctor done it after all?).

Doctor #1’s sexism - yes it was played for heavy humour, yes it was a nod to the fact the first season of old Who was waaaay back in 1963 and like any show that old there are Problems. And Doctor #12’s utter cringing embarrassment in the face of it was kind of amusing: but we’re still seeing a species of aliens that has somehow adopted human sexism despite a) being ancient enough and wise enough to know better and b) coming from a species to whole, if gender as a concept is even relevant, will be waaay different from what we can conceive of)

We start going back 709 episodes ago (and am I the only one geekily thrilled by that number? And am I further the only one living in horror of the fact I haven’t watched half of these and now I need to watch them all! MUST WATCH THEM ALL) with a really really good mash up of original footage and modern actors playing the role of Doctor #1 and Polly and Ben.

Way back then, Doctor #1 is also resisting the urge to regenerate, same as Doctor #12 - and both of them end up together in Antarctica.

Doctor #12 recognises his old sense and the whole regeneration denial thing but is then completely lost in the joyous nostalgia of his younger self still calling a Tardis a “ship” (and not recognising sonic technology). In a moment of slight hypocrisy, Doctor #12 is horrified that doctor #1 may die and change history so 11 incarnations of the Doctor didn’t exist

This is another major theme of this episode wove subtly through it: The Doctor matters. He is important.

But before they can get into this they’re joined by a British soldier from World War 1. Through Time Shenanigans he has been transported from his deadly yet moving stand off in a crater facing off against a German soldier, neither wanting to fight, neither wanting to communicate - he has now been dumped in the middle of a multi-doctor argument and invited onto the Tardis: Doctor #12’s Tardis (as he says: Always remember where you parked! And oh how the Doctor needed to learn that lesson!)

Doctor #1 is not amused by how the Tardis has been redecorated. Nor about regenerating without a little more youth.

The Captain is also quite upset by Doctor #12 referring to World War “One”. oops, spoilers.

Doctor #1 is also not entirely on board with how Doctor #12 refers to the Earth: It Is Protected (Doctor #1: It is? By who?!)

They are captured by the alien species behind the time shenanigans and pulled on board their ship - The Chamber of the Dead which has advanced time travel technology and people made of glass (again interesting look at how the Doctors operate: Doctor #12 waving around his Sonic Screwdriver while Doctor #1 examines the glass being closely and sees it’s asymmetrical: a computer generated construct would not be). Doctor #1 is also very very disturbed to hear that he’s referred to as “The Doctor of War”.

The people of the Chamber of the Dead want him them to hand over the Captain in the ship and in exchange they will let him speak to “her”

“Her” would be Bill - and damn I hoped. Yes I hoped. I really hoped that some wand had been waved and she was back with us. Yes I wanted this - and so did Doctor 12 who ran down to embrace her. Before facing reality: Bill became a Cyberman. She sacrificed herself to save people she barely knew. This isn’t Bill - and the Doctor considers any imitation of Bill in all her awesomeness to be an insult, a mockery and intolerable.

I kind of agree with him a lot. But also want Bill. So much want Bill. But he exposes this by pointing out the huge holes in her memories. He walks from her, demanding to know who is stealing the faces of the dead.

The aliens call themselves Testimony. They take what they need from people near death using their Time Travel tech then return them to the point of where they died. They were ready to return the Captain but there was a Time Travel schnaffu (That would be the Doctors. Yes, a race with advanced time travel tech is completely derailed by one Time Lord’s personal drama)

The Captain, nobly, realises on some level that Testimony is asking for his life and sort of offering to spare Bill’s in exchange, wishes to say he’s ok with this. Because he is IMPOSSIBLY noble and good. But Bill, being both impossibly noble and unbelievably awesome is not having that at all

And Doctor #12 is certainly not having that either. In fact he announces to the Testimony that they’re definitely going to escape and then he’s going to find out what they’re doing and if he doesn’t agree with it he will STOP THEM!

Doctor #1 is horrified by all of this: he asks who he he thinks he is, why he’s boasting and why he has to announce his plans to everyone?!

And lo we have one of the awesome differences between Doctor #1 and what happened over the next 15 centuries leading to Doctor #12. Doctor #1 fled from Gallifrey on a stolen Tardis for shenanigans; Doctor #12 has saved the world, the galaxy, the universe and space time itself on a near weekly basis, thousands of times; often with nothing more than a screwdriver and his own sheer awesomeness. And yes he is the Doctor who can walk unarmed into a war zone and bring the war to an end

Basically, Doctor #1 is nervous and risk averse. Doctor #12 is arrogantly confident of his own ability to make entire species back down in the face of his own Awesomeness. And he’s not entirely wrong. And I just love to see this character growth so clearly written large.

Testimony responds with memories and images from all of the Doctor’s 12 incarnations much to the growing horror of Doctor #1 as he hears the many terrible titles the Doctor has earned and truly what the “War Doctor” means.

They do escape, because Doctor, and head to Doctor #1’s Tardis (and hats off to Doctor#12’s “over to you Mary Berry”. All Hail Mary Berry).

Oh Bill also escaped with them and is happy to poke the antiquated opinions of the Captain and Doctor #1 with her Black lesbian-ness

The plan now is to track down whose face the glass-woman Testimony is wearing and to do that they need access to a huge database of people’s faces. Time to travel (and yes, Doctor #12 can fly the Tardis better). They land in a horrible dystopian world full of face huggers where access to this database is - owned by someone who hates the Doctor. Doctor #12 leaves Bill and the Captain behind after a heartbreaking moment with Bill clearly wanting to believe she’s real but knowing she isn’t - and it seems sadly he’s right as when he’s not watching her she has a glass-body.

Them left behind also gives the Captain chance to be more impossibly noble and understanding and powerful while talking about his own inevitable death

The Doctor #12 does use his dying body as a way to get to see the boss since they’ll want to see him die in person; leaving Doctor #1 behind so the database can’t kill two of them and cause a very very very messy paradox.

The Database is a Dalek - because all Dalek’s are connected to the Dalek hive mind which is huge beyond huge. He is the Only Good Dalek - (he objects to this: he declared the Doctor is a good Dalek since he’s good at the whole genocide thing). This is a Dalek that the Doctor and Clara had all kinds of shenanigans with in the past. He’s willing to talk to the Doctor (and even ripped off his gun to talk to him) and give him access to the database since it will hurt the Daleks which he’s definitely here for.

While he gets that answer; Doctor #1 talks with fake Bill about why he left Gallifrey: he says he was looking for an answer about good and evil. Because evil should always win: good is not practical so how does it prevail?

Bill answers this by postulating that there’s “some bloke” wandering around space and time putting things right when they go wrong holding everything together.

Doctor #1 finds this dubious and asks if any of his future incarnations has learned that lesson - and Bill thinks no. That Doctor #12 and all the Doctors before haven’t truly grasped the effect and power he has on the universe. Though everyone who has ever met him knows.

Which is when Doctor #12 gets his answer from the database about the Testimony: they use time travel to harvest memories - copy the memories of people who nearly died so they can be remembered forever and even uploaded into glass bodies so people can interact with their dead loved ones and ancestors.

Which is… awesome. And… good?

That kind of derails Doctor #12’s righteous indignation because the Testimony is… not evil. And he doesn’t really know what to do about non-evil plans

Also it’s an organisation called “Testimony” which takes people just before they die, “harvests” what they need before returning the people harmlessly is… kind of obvious? Right? Ok “harvest” was an unfortunate choice of words and the whole kidnapping was super dubious - but they’re even called “Testimony”. This does not take the combined intelligence of two Timelords to figure out

Which is when Doctor #12 confronts Bill to learn, YES she is Bill Pots, no she isn’t a spy and yes she is Testimony. Since she is made up of all of the memories of Bill then she is Bill - what else is a person but the sum total of their experiences and memories. Also she reminds him not everything is evil - he isn’t the only kind one left in the universe.

They agree to return the Captain, even though Doctor #12 is torn over losing someone else, on top of his endless sea of loss. But because he’s the Doctor and knows his dates, the Captain isn’t returned to his death - but the beginning of the Christmas Truce, therefore saved.

That captain is also a Lethbridge-Stewart. That would make him part of the Brigadeer’s family (I’m not going to say who the Brigadeer is; because you know).

That leaves Doctor #1 and Doctor #12 time to talk - with Doctor #1 moving on from his fear of regenerating since he can see what one day he will become and he likes that. He also learned what “War Doctor” means: a doctor who will enter a war zone and save lives.

Which is nice and noble, but the Doctor also earned that title by literally wiping out entire armadas.

Bill and Nardol, another glass memory thing arrive to hug the Doctor - who refuses to accept that memories alone make a person - though they also give the Doctor back all his memories of Clara which had been erased from his mind. Which was nice to have him remember that but I kind of expected more of a reaction? I mean Clara has been the longest running companion hasn’t she? Didn’t she deserve more than a “oh yeah. Clara, I remember that.”

But Doctor #12 isn’t refusing to regenerate because of fear like Doctor #1. He is tired. If the Testimony took HIS memories they would explode because his memories are now so huge and overwhelming. Everyone else moves on - weighing him down with loss - but when does he get to rest

I also wonder at this point - given his time shenanigans and extra regenerations- what is the usual lifespan of a Time Lord? Does the whole species commonly live for 2,000+ years?

I think we have themes established for the next season: The Doctor is a force for awesome good in the universe. But he’s also Tired. Very very very tired: tired of loss, memory and still going. Tired of being the answer to that question: “how does good prevail”? To the point of Bill having to remind him that there are other kind things in the universe; which is a lesson only someone really really jaded needs to learn. Or someone watching the news in 2017.

He doesn’t know if he can go on… but one more lifetime can’t hurt. Yes, regeneration time. Complete with an awesome message for the next Doctor:

Never be cruel, never be cowardly. Hate is always foolish. Love is always wise. Be nice, be kind and don’t tell anyone your name (except for some weird rambling about children). I can‘t help but think this is Moffat yelling at the next show runner “don’t do it! Don’t you do it!”

And then Doctor #13 arrives and she pushes a button and the Tardis all goes wrong over London.

The very first neckbeard who spouts a joke about female drivers will be castrated with rusty garden shears.

I do quite like the theme because it promises a more positive Doctor Who season mixed with both the pathos which often comes with the Doctor, perhaps with her finding her joy again (and I’d like some joy back - Who is awesome with joy) mixed in with a strong acknowledgement that the Doctor is a force for good whatever missteps the Doctor has taken