Get your handkerchiefs out to wipe those tears, dearies! As befits the Christmas Special, we’re “halfway out of the dark” once more; it’s time to say goodbye to one of the most beloved Doctors (my favourite so far), and say hello to the new. So here are my thoughts on The Time of the Doctor.
Clara calls the Doctor to save her from Christmas with her family, while he investigates a planet which emits a universe- and time-wide signal attracting many of his enemies. A detached Cyberman-head sidekick, ‘Handles’, identifies the planet as Gallifrey, prompting the Doctor and Clara to investigate further. They board the Papal Mainframe and meet with Tasha Lem, Mother Superious of the Church, who reveals their shields have spared the planet from the wrath of the surrounding spaceships. She sends them down to investigate and report within the hour. On the planet, they trace the signal to a town called ‘Christmas’ and find its source: a residual scar in the form of a crack in time, through which the Time Lords are asking the First Question, “Doctor who?”. The Doctor tricks Clara and sends her away in the TARDIS and learns from Lem that the planet is Trenzalore and that speaking his name will mean the Time Lords’ return; they would be met with hostility, renewing the Time War. The Doctor stays to protect the town from his and the Time Lords’ foes, while Lem dedicates the Church to the Doctor’s silence. In subsequent years, the Church maintained the stalemate/truce between the Doctor and his enemies while he protected Christmas and the Time Lords. Clara eventually returns, and the Doctor admits to her that he is in his last incarnation before being summoned by Lem. The Church is revealed to have been infiltrated by the Daleks and either slaughtered or converted into Dalek puppets. After escaping their trap with the help of a converted but resistant Lem, it becomes clear that without the Church’s shields, Trenzalore is now under threat. The Doctor tricks Clara into going home again, and holds off his enemies with the help of the Church. Lem brings Clara back using the Doctor’s TARDIS, and appeals to the Time Lords through the crack while the Doctor goes to face his death. The Time Lords send enough regeneration energy to the Doctor through the crack to grant him a new set of regenerations. With so much energy at his disposal, the Doctor blasts the Daleks out of the sky and vanishes. Clara finds him in his TARDIS, ready to regenerate at any moment. After his last speech and a fond farewell from the first face his face saw, the Eleventh Doctor regenerates. A bewildered Clara is asked by the new Doctor is she knows how to fly the crashing TARDIS.
The episode has received some backlash on social media, mainly as being a rather poor follow-up to the brilliant Day of the Doctor and the complicated twists combined with a fast pace making the episode easier prey to plot-holes. Others complained about the Christmas element, the plot points resolved too easily or unsatisfactorily, and/or the regeneration. [And I do believe I’ve actually seen comments on Doctor Who fan sites still asking whose voice pronounced “Silence will fall” when the TARDIS exploded. It’s just a random member of the Silence, no further clarification required, for goodness’s sake!]
As far as Christmas specials go, I understand how this could be a disappointment. The Christmas element did rather feel tacked-on. The Oswald dinner was fairly decent, with a great opportunity to get a few laughs and a brilliant and emotional parallel to the Doctor-Clara situation through Clara’s gran. The inclusion of a town called ‘Christmas’, on the other hand, did get a slight moan and an inner cringe from me. Ironically enough, The Day of the Doctor was closer to a Christmas special, with the Doctor being his own Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. While no A Christmas Carol (both the original story and the episode), I nonetheless enjoyed this episode for what it was, and I did so immensely.
The Time of the Doctor was, more than anything else, a love letter to the Matt Smith-Moffat era, with its the essence condensed into one outing. The episode itself is a great mixture of emotion, action, drama and comedy, as has become expected. More importantly, most of the more prominent themes and motifs of Smith’s era are on show here. During his stay in ‘Christmas’, the Doctor becomes a fairytale figure, repairing toys. In one intentional parallel to Amelia Pond, Barnable asks his hero if he’ll be leaving them; the Doctor, having already done so the first time, now decides to stay. He also finally admits that his behaviour and clothing aren’t ‘cool’, but that makes it cool. “Don’t be cool guys. Cool is not cool.” And the Drunk Giraffe makes its long-awaited return!
There is also a plethora of returning enemies, including the newest version of the Cybermen (including a wooden variety), Sontarans, the Weeping Angels and, of course, the Daleks. While the Daleks, as can be expected, eventually take centre stage, the rest get their chance to shine and proving that less is indeed more in some cases. The Angels in particular get a new twist in that they can apparently wait beneath snow for unsuspecting prey.
Of course, it wouldn’t be proper Doctor Who without some timey-wimey stuff. While not at the centre of the episode as in other finales like The Big Bang, we do get the point that “You can’ change history if you’re a part of it”. The Silence went back in time to prevent the Doctor reaching Trenzalore and answering the First Question. Their second attempt gave the Doctor River Song, who the Doctor admits he could not have arrived to this point without. Moreover, their first attempt also led to the residual scars from the cracks allowing the Time Lords to contact our universe and ask the Question in the first place. The Doctor calls it “the destiny trap”.
Matt Smith’s Doctor is as brilliant as he ever was, still managing to balance the comic with the serious to brilliant effect. He also manages to pull off old age pretty well as well, managing to give another proper speech to the Daleks while still acting the character’s age. Matt’s final scenes are finely acted, with the sadness and hope that can be expected from the Doctor (more on that below). The chemistry between him and Jenna’s Clara is also fine-tuned by this point, and it’s a damn shame we won’t be seeing these two together any time soon. The episode is a great sample of the Eleventh Doctor at his finest and a good reminder why we should miss him. [I also have to congratulate Moffat for incorporating Matt’s lack of hair into the script. We also finally got a canon eyebrow joke out of the deal too.]
What to say about Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald? She has split herself into a million pieces to save every incarnation of the Doctor in Name of the Doctor; she has reminded the Doctor of the promise behind his name and convinced him to save his planet in Day of the Doctor; and here she convinced the Time Lords to give him a new lease on life. While at one point she does admit she fancies the Doctor (that truth field is fun), she’s shown to be genuinely caring for the Doctor in a way that is beyond simple attraction. It’s quite difficult not to empathise with her when she tells the Doctor “and tell me you will never send me away ever again.” I’m hardly sure how she can be any more of a companion at this point. The TARDIS also seems to have taken a liking to her and helps her survive a ride on its outside, even if it did slow it down. [Does this mean we won’t have more Clara-TARDIS bickering? I’ll definitely miss it.] Coleman’s performance as Clara deals with the situation at hand remains top-notch and emotional in the right places.
The new major characters introduced – ‘Handles’ and Tasha Lem in particular – are also handled well. While ‘Handles’ (voiced by Kayvan Novak) has as much of a personality a Cyberman head can have to begin with, I did come to have quite a bit of love for him by the time he had to exit. The Doctor’s initial banter with him over his purely logical request for a set time for a reminder is at first adorable, and then quite emotional once it becomes the last thing ‘Handles’ tells the Doctor. Not to mention the fact that his “Affirmative” – modelled, no doubt, to echo K-9’s signature phrase – after begrudgingly reminding the Doctor that comfort is of no concern to him, says a lot about the ages-old relationship between the two.
Orla Brady’s portrayal of Tasha Lem likewise says a lot about her relationship with the Doctor, as she flirts with him on numerous occasions. The brilliance of the performance is the balance struck between such tenderness and the ever-present aura of proper authority and strength. While obviously infatuated with the Doctor, Lem remains dedicated to her cause for peace and strong enough (and downright badass) to successfully resist Dalek programming and actually use her Dalek puppet weapons against her former masters. She subsequently still has the heart to take Clara to the Doctor so that he doesn’t die alone. “That is a woman!” indeed.
Tying Up Loose Ends
The Time of the Doctor very much serves as the third in a trilogy after The Name of the Doctor and The Day of the Doctor. Name led directly to Day, while Time picked up threads and elements from both previous episodes and, together, they pave the way for the future of the series.
The siege of Tranzalore first mentioned in Name of the Doctor is explored in more detail throughout the episode. The prophecy relating to the Doctor’s name and the fall of the Eleventh is revealed to have remained unfulfilled, despite the fact that so many similarities were present with the events of Name. Interestingly enough, the events of Time of the Doctor could render the events of Name part of an alternate timeline, despite the fact that they lead into the events of this episode (and the Doctor meeting Clara in the first place), unless the Doctor will die on Trenzalore nonetheless or the place Name takes place in has changed.
Picking up directly where The Day of the Doctor left off, the Doctor begins to discover evidence that his plan worked and that Gallifrey was saved. The Time Lords are confirmed to be alive in another universe and trying return soon afterwards. Firstly, the events depicted here should put everyone’s minds at rest that the effects of the Time War and The End of Time were not nullified by Day of the Doctor. The universe still remembers the horrors of the Time War and will not necessarily welcome the powerful Time Lords back with open arms. Secondly, Gallifrey’s situation proves to be decisive in allowing the character of the Doctor to move beyond the thirteen-incarnation limit which had been set in canon in the episode. Interestingly, Clara’s understanding of the name of the Doctor proves to be crucial in both Day and Time. Moreover, the Eleventh Doctor acknowledges ‘Captain Grumpy’ – the War Doctor – as an incarnation when explaining why he is bound to die.
The Doctor himself also demonstrates the growth that Day of the Doctor has instigated in this episode. His farewell speech (covered in more detail below) shows how the Eleventh Doctor has moved away from being the person the Moment interface described as “the man who forgets”. Having previously accepted the War Doctor as a true Doctor, he comes to appreciate every experience and how it has led him to where and who he is now.
Time of the Doctor is also notable for trying up loose ends from the rest of the Matt Smith-Moffat run, right down to the beginning of Series 5. The cracks are brought back to a degree. The Doctor reveals that the while he did close the cracks, scar tissue from these initial cracks is still on the ‘skin’ of the universe. These have thus turned into portals to forces and/or places outside our universe rather than to the exploding TARDIS.
The cracks are also revealed to be the Doctor’s greatest fear, which he saw in Room 11 in The God Complex. While I was somewhat sceptical at first – it was a mystery which didn’t need to be solved, and I half-expected the War Doctor to be in that room – this does make sense. It isn’t the cracks themselves that the Doctor fears, but rather what they represent: him being responsible for the end of the universe. For a man who took on the name of ‘The Doctor’ there can hardly be a greater nightmare.
We also get confirmation on what caused the source of the cracks in the first place, the explosion of the TARDIS in Series 5: the Silence. While it was rather easy to connect the dots beforehand, the episode does confirm that it was the Kovarian chapter featured in Series 6 in their first attempt to kill the Doctor and prevent his arrival on Trenzalore. The events of The Name of the Doctor made me think that the Silence tried to kill the Doctor to, quite ironically, prevent someone like the Great Intelligence undoing his good work. The methods of the Silence were thus extreme, but nonetheless well-intentioned. With the reality presented here, the good intentions of the Church of Silence are confirmed further, as they try to prevent the Doctor bringing back Gallifrey at a point where it would surely be plunged back into war and unleash the horrors of a new Time War once more. The fact that the Church’s conflict with the Doctor over Trenzalore lasts hundreds of years also explains how a radical sect like Kovarian’s could form in the first place, and how different they seemed from other Clerics in The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone.
The Silents are also revealed to be genetically-engineered confessional priests for the Church. While I admit that it does remove a bit of their mystery and menace, I like it. In a Church which has blurred the lines between its role in Heaven and Earth, it’s a great twist to have your confessor absolve you of your guilt quite literally by removing it from your memory. Let’s also be even more honest, seeing the Silents walking behind the Doctor and attacking the Daleks was brilliant!
While not appearing in person, River Song also gets an honourable mention. While Name of the Doctor seemed to give her a definitive ending, she remains an important person in the Doctor’s recent past and throughout the Eleventh Doctor’s life. While addressing the issue of the Kovarian’s time travel, the Doctor also gives testament to the fact that he wouldn’t have made it this far without her.
Oh, and well done for a reference to the twentieth anniversary special, The Five Doctors, by having the Doctor producing the Seal of the High Council of Gallifrey, nicked from the Master in the Death Zone, for ‘Handles’ to translate the Time Lords’ message. It’s great to see the references to the rich history of the series continue in the last episode to be shown during the 50th Anniversary.
Eleven’s Hour is Over Now, The Clock Strikes Twelve’s
First things first: I’ve got to admit that the regeneration itself, at least in terms of changing into another incarnation, is quite abrupt.
It does distract to the emotional send-off that had just been building up, but I’ll accept it considering that the Doctor starts regenerating as soon as he received the necessary energy from Gallifrey a couple of scenes before. He even gets to have one last bowl of fish fingers and custard before he goes. What more could you want?
We all change. When you think about it, we are all different people, all through our lives. And that’s ok, that’s good, you’ve got to 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.
The Eleventh Doctor has shown an affinity for speeches, and this is another gem, especially in context. The use of in The Long Song and A Sad Man in a Box in the background was perfect. The inclusion of Amy Pond for a final farewell (with both Matt Smith and Karen Gillan in wigs, no less!) – as the Doctor reliving memory rather than an actual visit – was a brilliant touch. I have to admit, though, the point a tear was brought to my eye was when the Doctor takes off his iconic bowtie and let it fall to the ground.
Personally, I have to say it’s better than the regeneration in The End of Time. While given a playful nod and wink here, it’s true that the last time showed that the Doctor “had vanity issues at the time.” Matt Smith’s performance is very true to a Doctor who has accepted his end, as he should by now. (More on the issue here.) It definitely helps that Matt addresses the audience as himself his as well, giving his heartfelt assurances that he will never forget playing the Doctor.
As far as Christmas specials go, A Christmas Carol remains my personal favourite for its accessibility and proper link to Christmas. So where does that leave The Time of the Doctor? Well, this special remains a great episode per se and a great regeneration episode. Rather than a normal episode in and of itself, Time of the Doctor serves as a showcase of and tribute to the themes and motifs of the Eleventh Doctor’s whole era. It is fantastic, bold, whimsical, comic, sad and bombastic in equal measure, and definitely a fitting send-off for Matt Smith’s Doctor.
Thanks a lot Matt for giving us such a wonderful rendition of the Doctor. While I was a keen follower of Doctor Who before, it was your performance that made me love it. No matter how much things change in future I will always remember when the Doctor was you.
If watching the episode didn’t tug at your heartstrings enough, here’s a look at how everyone behind the lens felt:
I’m sure we’ll all be feeling the same way about Peter Capaldi within a few years, so save some handkerchiefs for then!
- Doctor Who: The Time Of The Doctor Review (denofgeek.com)
- Doctor Who: “The Time of the Doctor” Review - IGN (ign.com)
- Raggedy Man, Goodnight. Doctor Who‘s “The Time of the Doctor” (tor.com)
- O Doctor! My Doctor! The Time Is Up, Matt Smith Is Gone And Doctor Who Won’t Be The Same Again (bleedingcool.com)
- Doctor Who: The Man Who Regrets and the Man Who Forgets (psychologytoday.com)
- Breath On a Mirror: “The Time of the Doctor Review” (ravingsanity)
- Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor (Review) (them0vieblog.com)
- Top 11 Regeneration Stories (doctorwhotv.co.uk)
- “The Doctor” Trilogy: Breaking the Rules (doctorwhotv.co.uk)
- Why “Time” was the Perfect Summary of Matt Smith’s Era (doctorwhotv.co.uk)