I saw the episode nearly two weeks before it aired on Christmas Day, it killed me holding onto the details unable to talk to anyone about it, but I managed, mostly though, I just wanted to see it again, for one, because the last 30 seconds were cut off the version I saw first and secondly, it’s Doctor Who, I watch every episode at least twice.
Still, I looked forward to seeing it again because of how much I enjoyed it first time round, it felt like a love letter to the show from not only departing showrunner Steven Moffat, but also from Peter Capaldi.
The Doctor is dying and refuses to regenerate. Twice. While refusing his regeneration The Doctor encounters his very first incarnation doing the very same thing, they soon find themselves in the company of a World War One captain who’s in the wrong time, pursued by people made of glass.
The opening moments of this episode alone made my jaw drop. Even though I’d seen said footage in the first trailer, seeing William Hartnell in black-and-white merge so effortlessly into David Bradley is an astounding feat of editing and effects. To that point, David Bradley is incredibly good at stepping into the shoes of William Hartnell, to the point where it doesn’t feel like a tribute act and more of a reinvention.
However, with the good must come the bad. You may have read a few complaints to the end of the First Doctor’s somewhat tasteless remarks that could be deemed ‘of the time’ from when the character was first established. While some of this is true to the First Doctor’s more grumpy side, it does seem somewhat ham-handed at the same time, Moffat is often stated to be lacking subtlety, which is certainly true here, it could have been handled better I feel. Still, it adds to the narrative of this story focusing on The Doctor’s long life journey.
Aside from the occasionally hiccup with the First Doctor, Moffat delivers a great script, taking us on a tour-de-force that seems tailor made for Peter Capaldi, past characters are revisited, and it’s all wrapped up by a fantastic third act twist that gives the story real emotional kick.
Rachel Talalay may just be my favourite Doctor Who director, she makes every episode she’s involved in feel epic, and this is no different, her choice of shot and angle are impeccable, specifically in the battlefield scenes, and her direction of characters must be second-to-none as every performance is tinged equally with joy and with sorrow, each character seems to have a definitive beginning and end in this story that is guided magnificently.
Finally, last and but by no means least, Peter Capaldi. When he first got the part, I thought he was a great choice, he leaves behind him a legacy of sometimes questionable episodes, but no-one in any doubt of his ability to be The Doctor, if there is such a thing as an ‘A-game’ he brings even more in this episode. Looking during his final scenes that he may burst into tears at a moments notice, he delivers one of Doctor Who’s finest speeches, his run has been peppered with monologues, some average, some great and this one, which somehow conveys not only the emotion of the character, but of the actor, he’s given his all and he’s ready to move on. For that we thank him.
The Thirteenth Doctor’s first scene was also incredibly promising, while being brief. It now leaves us with a possible 10-month wait to see her full-length debut.