World premieres don’t often happen in my hometown, and yet tonight, the BBC showed the Doctor Who Christmas special Twice Upon a Time at Hartlepool Town Hall Theatre.
Wait, did I just call it a premiere? I did that on Twitter earlier and a Who fan objected, pointing out that it was “a public screening with key scenes and the regeneration cut. The world premiere is on Christmas Day.”
Well, he’s right about the regeneration, certainly. The screening ended with the first glimpse of Jodie Whittaker’s eyes and a caption urging us to watch the show on BBC One.
But key scenes missing? Here’s what I remember. When we entered the theatre, BBC staff conducted airport-style searches and confiscated our phones. Just before the screening started, a guy took to the stage and pointed to his bouncer-like colleague, who’d be watching us with night-vision goggles throughout.
Tacitly, we gave our word of honour that we wouldn’t spoil certain parts. The Doctor Who team had been reluctant to let a copy of the story out of their sight, and – I hope I understood this correctly – the spoilery scenes I’ve alluded to were going to be cut from the version shown to the press.
So, what can I say? First of all, that I was engrossed. This is funny, thrilling, heartwarming, nostalgic and yet forward-looking Doctor Who: a fitting end to Peter Capaldi’s era, in fact.
Now, at the end of The Doctor Falls, of course, a mortally wounded 12th Doctor landed at the South Pole, vowing that he wouldn’t regenerate again. Out of the blizzard wanders his first persona, originally played by William Hartnell but here portrayed by David Bradley, a convincing Hartnell in the 2013 docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time.
Like The Five Doctors in 1983, Twice Upon A Time doesn’t shunt Hartnell off to the side, as you might expect it to. It shows black-and-white clips of him in his final serial, The Tenth Planet, with an arch caption I’ll let you enjoy for yourself.
There’s a lot of fun to be had at the expense of the first Doctor, who’s frequently depicted here as an old-fuddy-duddy. One moment in particular, involving companion Bill Potts and some ripe language straight out of 2017, brought the house down. Still, this Doctor gives as good as he gets, bringing Twelve down to size with his withering putdowns, and Bradley is terrific in the role.
Speaking of Miss Potts, it’s great to see Pearl Mackie again. The Doctor, however, is suspicious. Is it Bill, or some fiendish imposter? Moffat, to his credit, keeps you guessing.
Everyone here is at the top of their game, including Mark Gatiss as the stoic and very decent First World War captain caught up in timey-wimeyness. Gatiss has played three roles in Doctor Who, and played them well, but on this occasion he really distinguishes himself.
I have a couple of gripes, but they’re fairly minor. One plot point harks back to an earlier Capaldi story and had me scratching my head slightly, as I hadn’t watched that episode in quite a while. Heaven knows what casual viewers will make of it.
I wasn’t mad about Capaldi’s last speech either, though I’m confident others will love it. I’d say more, if it didn’t feel like I was ruining a sacred moment. Maybe I was spoiled by Matt Smith’s “We all change” monologue.
Look, I don’t want to take the gloss off such an important episode. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. On the whole, I adored it.
You want a rating? 10/10