Friday, December 27, 2013

The Time of the Doctor - Doctor Who Christmas Special 2013 Review

Okay, let’s start with disclaimer one: Steven Moffat is not a very strong show-runner for Doctor Who. Many people have had trouble with his over complicated plots that don’t really pay off, his relegation of companions to damsels in distress and his frankly messy characterisation. Disclaimer number two then, is the fact that none of the Doctor Who Christmas Specials have really been any good. There have been a couple that have been pretty good but overall, the Christmas Special is usually a bit of a let down. Disclaimer three is that this is a regeneration episode and those can be a little hit and miss. I personally loved Christopher Eccleston’s episode but was completely underwhelmed by David Tennant’s. Matt Smith’s could have gone either way.

With all that in mind, the short version of this review is that The Time of the Doctor was a big mess of long drawn out plots that needed wrapping up, sometimes rather precariously. It included, some might say as an afterthought, the regeneration of the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith. His performance, as has been the case throughout his tenure, was fantastic despite the messy plot and the questionable character moments. He saw his Doctor out with class and with what felt a little like a big warm hug.

Follow me for a little more about The Time of the Doctor under the cut.

We close out 2013 with the regeneration episode for the Eleventh Doctor, set during Clara’s family Christmas dinner. The general premise is that the Doctor has found himself at the source of a broadcast that no one can decipher. There are ships of every race massing at this point, preparing for the unknown and curious about the message being sent. The Doctor and Clara discover that it is being sent by the Time Lords, saved in a pocket universe by the Doctor and two previous versions of himself in the 50th Anniversary episode. Unfortunately, the rest of the races gathered at the planet also hear what the Doctor has discovered and vow to mount a war against the Time Lords if they return.

Hence, we embark on a messy stand off spanning centuries.

There isn’t a lot that is coherent from this point on. Steven Moffat basically does exactly what Russell T Davis was accused of doing, but with less fan-service and more Moffat-service. There is no reason why the Weeping Angels and The Silence are creeping around at the beginning, no real explanation other than a cheap one liner to give Moffat an excuse to include his creations and pay them homage. How the Doctor didn’t work out it was Trenzalore from the beginning is well and truly beyond me. The Papal Mainframe/Church of the Silence thing was strange and a let down. It was doubly a shame because Orla Brady was actually very good in her role as Tasha Lem, but her character still followed Moffat’s predictable ‘women who are affected by the Doctor in childhood’ pattern. 

The episode was packed with back referencing from the crack in the wall and the Dalek puppets to references to the Five Doctor’s Classic Who special. It was difficult to see why the Doctor stayed and fought for so long at Christmas (the town) or why he ended up banding together with The Silence to defeat the Daleks (for the two seconds that part was shown). Basically, the battle being undertaken at Tenzalore made little to no sense at all.

So with that out of the way, and in the knowledge that the episode was basically rubbish, let’s talk about those tiny gems that made watching it unfold worth it.

There were some great comedy moments like the bald Doctor (Matt Smith shaved his head for a movie he was filming at the time and that fact was worked into the plot) and Clara trying to organise Christmas dinner. All of the nightmares of Christmas functions, family who are not quite functional, needing a significant other to convince them you are okay was great.

Clara herself has really begun to hit her stride and she was confident, compassionate and wonderful when she was allowed to be in the episode. It’s a real shame that the episode continually pushed her out, giving more room to a pointless war story that wasn’t really going anywhere. Her tearful scene with her grandmother was the first really emotionally heart rending moment of the episode. More Clara’s grandma please!

The Doctor aging in this episode was probably the plot point that everything else was written around. If a stronger plot had been written then this could have been truly wonderful. Matt Smith’s performance as the Doctor as he aged and became infirm was touching and brilliant. His relationship with the cyberman helmet – affectionately called Handles – was a testimony to Matt Smith’s ability to make anything and everything a friend of the Doctor’s and valuable. His moments with Clara were telling of the fact that the Doctor is not as infallible as a lot of fans like to believe. He does terrible things sometimes, and he can still be wonderful. He needs good people around him to call him out on his bad behaviour and save him sometimes. We need more of that in Moffat’s run. Clara tried and tried to help her friend, to save him, and eventually, it was her that convinced the Time Lords to send him another regeneration and spare him.

On that front, let’s talk about this regeneration stuff and how self centred Moffat’s notion is that he can simply burn through regenerations to tell the story he wants to tell, even though he doesn’t seem capable of doing that well.

Helpfully, the Doctor explains to Clara that the reason he is getting old is that he is out of regenerations. When she says that he still has a couple to go, he tells her that John Hurt’s War Doctor counts, hence making clear in canon that he was still a regeneration even though induced by the Sisterhood of Karn after complete death. Therefore, this wasn’t an additional regeneration (as one could be forgiven for assuming) but simply a triggering of one of his remaining regenerations. When she adds that even with John Hurt counted, he would still have one left, the Doctor mentions wasting one on vanity – this either could be a reference to the older Tom Baker incarnation that the Doctor met at the very end of the 50th Anniversary episode (although this could be in the future) or the aborted regeneration of the Tenth Doctor in Journey’s End. Either way, for one episode, Moffat burned 2 regenerations needlessly. We don’t get to see the War Doctor’s adventures! It seems even more wasteful in light of the ill-used 8th Doctor who was only around for a film and went on to become popular in audio books. His appearance in the pre-50th Anniversary Special Night of the Doctor was fantastic but we won’t get him at length either (unless the rumours of a sister show are true). Needless to say, it’s a little rich for a poor story to burn through a couple of regenerations just for us to see the Doctor get old on Trenzalore for no good reason and certainly not for any good character development etc.

To clarify then, it seems that the Time Lords sent through the crack one regeneration (although many people have interpreted that this is another full set of regenerations) and then Eleven seemed to clarify that Capaldi was going to be called number 13. This means that potentially next seasons ‘find the Time Lords’ is still on, if he was not granted a full new set of regenerations. It seems most people are currently unsure whether he had one granted to him or a whole set, and whether he said that Capaldi was number 13 or that this was his 13th regeneration. It was a messy episode. 

The final scene between Clara and the Doctor in the TARDIS however, almost made up for all the ass-hattery in the episode. We see Smith enter in his Trademark boots, explaining that the regeneration is nearly complete; he has been reset to factory mode and any time now he will change completely. It was a relief because I was really worried that the regeneration had taken place off screen and I wasn’t going to get a proper goodbye scene between the Doctor and Clara (they seemed to say goodbye too many times in the episode). It was wonderful that we had a companion with the Doctor during his change, like Rose was with Eccleston when he regenerated. This time, Clara knows something about regeneration, she reflects what the audience knows too and she reassures him that it will be okay as a close friend would. Wonderfully, just before he changes, she reaches out and says she doesn’t really want him to change. That was magic. Because no matter how many times you see the Doctor change, you don’t really want it to happen.

Eleven’s final speech was perfect and will go down as one of my all-time favourites. When Clara tells him “you are the Doctor” he responds

“Yep. And I always will be. But times change and so must I… we all change when you think about it, we’re all different people, all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day, I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”


Unlike a lot of people, I actually liked that the Doctor hallucinated Amy Pond at the end. I know it was self-indulgent, but Tennant’s Doctor made the rounds at length to his previous companions and then died alone. Amy, despite how she ended up being characterised, was Eleven’s companion for most of his life. He used her as the hologram in his TARDIS to give him hope in the way that Ten gravitated towards Rose. Seeing her run around the TARDIS and seeing her walk down the stairs was really moving. Yes, it did mean that Clara was left in the shadows once again, and that is irritating, but I also love the way that Clara has developed her relationship with the Doctor, it’s not the same as Amy’s and it’s not about childish awe and trust, it’s an understanding and a deep care. I don’t think Amy’s appearance took anything away from the fact that Clara has managed to understand the Doctor better than anyone else but never really got to bond with her Doctor (or any of them) as much as she might have liked. I hope this changes with Capaldi’s Doctor.

So we say goodbye to Matt Smith’s charming and childlike wise man of a Doctor and hello to Peter Capaldi’s crazy-eyed mad-man. That’s pretty exciting even if it’s a little sad.

Raggedy Man, Goodnight.

1 comment:

  1. The show is now too big for any show runner to create universal praise.