Thursday, 26 December 2013

Reviews in Time & Space: The Time of the Doctor

The Time of the Doctor poster

After a bombshell of a season finale and a triumphant 50th anniversary special, it's finally time to say goodbye to the Eleventh Doctor. Matt Smith has led the show since 2010 and seen it through seasons that have been met to varied reception, but his eccentric and childlike incarnation has certainly been a popular one. But the special thing about The Time of the Doctor is that not only that it covers Smith's regeneration into number 12 Peter Capaldi, but it also addresses something fans have wondered about since it was first mentioned back in the days of the classic series...what will happen when the Doctor reaches the end of his natural life with no regenerations left?

When a mysterious but untranslatable signal leads thousands of alien races to an unknown planet, the Doctor is first in line to take a look at what mystery it holds. Passing through the forcefield set up by the Church of the Papal Mainframe to keep all of the Doctor's enemies out, he finds one final crack and a message from his lost home of Galifrey - the oldest question, "Doctor who?" With the Church refusing to let Galifrey out for fear of starting another Time War and the Doctor refusing to lose his home again, so begins a stalemate that lasts centuries. As races fall and only the Doctor's deadliest enemy is left, time is counting down for the Time Lord's eleventh incarnation.

The planet is Trenzalore, and the clock is striking twelve.

The cracks of season 5 return
Thought you'd seen the last of me? Muahaha

In some ways The Time of the Doctor is less a new episode and more a culmination of all the hanging plot threads that have been gathered since Matt Smith first stepped into the TARDIS four years ago. Massive questions such as what caused the TARDIS to explode back in season 5, what "silence will fall" means and just what are the Silents are finally answered - and to be perfectly honest more often that not these answers feel incredibly underwhelming. The Church of the Papal Mainframe or, as they later become, the Church of the Silence are the string that tie all these things together - headed by the enigmatic Tasha Lem whose unexplained history with the Doctor makes her come across as a poor River Song clone. And speaking as someone who greatly dislikes River Song, this is a fairly impressive achievement.

The Cybermen's unconventional new upgrade
Meet your new eco-friendly Cybermen

As a Christmas special the Christmas theme has to be tied in there somewhere, and while the episode arguably does it in a wholly unnecessary fashion that doesn't mean it's not something that's done badly. Clara's rather awkward family Christmas dinner aside, the Doctor stays to defend Trenzalore he spends hundreds of years as sheriff of the snow covered town of Christmas, fixing toys and putting on Punch and Judy shows when he isn't battling Sontarans, Weeping Angels and even wooden Cybermen. Moffat's Comic Relief special The Curse of Fatal Death once referred to the Doctor as like Father Christmas and here it couldn't be any more apparent. Even with some dodgy old man make up (which gets progressively better the Doctor ages even further), the Eleventh Doctor shines throughout his swan song through a performance that very much feels like something only he could pull off.

Matt Smith dons some old man makeup
So when will old man 11 team up with old man 10?

Since Matt Smith is officially number 11, that begs the question of how the character has suddenly used up 13 lives. Eager to please all parties the episode neatly explains this - we already heard about the War Doctor in The Day of the Doctor, and then its finally confirmed that David Tennant's clone Doctor from the season 4 finale makes 13. Sure it might be rushing things along a bit hastily, but the BBC probably don't want the thought looming over their head for another how many years and neither do the fans so it may as well be covered now. This was both casual and hardcore fans can get behind the premise of the Doctor meeting his final days, a premise that might actually have some gravity behind it everyone under the sun didn't already know Peter Capaldi was taking over. It's one thing to have it announced by the media, but the guy has already cameoed in the show for god's sake. It was always obvious that the Doctor wasn't going to die to the audience, so the important parts were how the character would react to it (one can only assume Doctors 1-11 + War weren't aware Capaldi's evil eyebrows were present at the saving of Galifrey) and just how the Doctor's new lease of life would be handled.

And the way it's handled was perhaps the most logical choice of all, a brand new regeneration cycle granted to him by the Time Lords. Predictable as it may be, it works because it means the show can continue on without breaking any of its already established rules. That being said, Galifrey's "return" was one of the more poorly handled aspects of the episode. Having them appear behind the crack ties things back to how the 11's tenure began, but to have them not physically appear and then swan off again without any real thought behind it (especially after so much of a fuss was made about it in the story) worries me that the Time Lords coming and going will become a recurring thing for the show from now on. Either bring them back or don't, another "last Dalek" scenario is not what the show needs. The regeneration process (or in this case, the de-aging process) is also something that needs to be toned down because things are getting a little ridiculous. Having 10's destroy the TARDIS interior was one thing, but 11's has the power to take down an entire Dalek invasion force.

The Daleks are back
One day, one day we might be a threat again!

Speaking of the Daleks, their inevitable crushing defeat aside the monsters are beginning to claw back a little of their former glory after the train wreck that was Asylum of the Daleks. In a swift move that episode's ridiculous ending was seemingly retconned, and the hateful pepper pots were back to screaming the Doctor's name and knowing all about his incoming demise. While the episode features some great moments from all the aliens appearing (although Sontarans being played for laughs is getting a bit too much now), the Daleks stand victorious amongst them are stand firm as the universe's biggest threat.

The 12th Doctor makes his debut!
Dem eyebrows.

All that's really left to talk about is the exit itself, which can be best summed up in one word - dignified. Matt Smith's departure is in a similar vein to David Tennant's in The End of Time, but the over-sentimentality is thankfully toned down and we get a Doctor that is accepting of his fate rather than going out like a blubbering idiot. That's not to say the sequence doesn't try its damned hardest to pull at the heartstrings (the surprise vision of Amy springs to mind), but at least here everything feels right rather than unnecessarily forced. Matt Smith has always excelled at delivering epic speeches, and his final words about treasuring every moment he's spent in this body will certainly go down as one of his best. Then in a flash of light we have Peter Capaldi, ready to take the reins as a much older Doctor. First impressions? Well, 20 seconds isn't a whole lot to go on but anticipation is certainly running high...

All in all The Time of the Doctor isn't a perfect episode by any means but it is both a fitting and moving end for the Eleventh Doctor. His run may not have been the best, but the impression he's left on the show is one that will be fondly remembered by many for years to come. "Raggedy man, goodnight" indeed.


liminalD said...

Great review :)

I agree with a lot of what you've said here - the episode did feel a little inconsistent and a bit like ticking all the boxes to me, to tidy everything up. I quite liked the idea of the Papal Mainframe (a church that you confide all your secrets to under coercion and then don't remember having done so - that's creepy). I quite like the idea of the Silents as priests, but I didn't like that Kovarian and co were presented as a splinter group, I'd have liked them to have been an evolution of the main church as that's the way the church went anyway.

The Daleks did do a little better out of this one, the booming voice from the saucer at the end was great (incidentally, that opening scene with all the ships in orbit was pretty epic too). And while some people online are quite upset about weaponised regeneration, I like the concept - I just thought it was kind of poorly executed. But yeah, the Sontarans have just become a joke, I'd love to see a story where they're a credible threat again. Still, nice to see two identical Sontarans interacting for once (I just really wish they'd ditch the blue uniforms and go back to their old-school black scheme). and the Cybermen... sigh. What the hell ws the point of the wooden Cyberman anyway? They're becoming more and more like robots... they need MORE icky body horror, not less. Oh well. I have nothing much to say about the Angels because they lost their appeal back in series 5.

Jenna Coleman as Clara was great - she's actually become a character and not just a plot device, as of Day of the Doctor, and the show's better for it. I'm liking her more and more. And Matt Smith was phenomenal, as always, you're right about his final scenes there - great stuff. The surprise cameo was kinda beautiful, and the actual regeneration, when it finally happened, was superb. I found the music made Capaldi's first words a bit hard to hear, I'm choosing to believe they were a string of f bombs.

And lastly, Tasha Lem - there's a lot of speculation online at the moment that she IS some future version River Song, possibly downloaded from the Library, with those references to her inner psychopath, the fact that the Doctor kisses her and she wants everyone naked and 'Lem' is 'Mel' spelled backwards and so on. That would make for one weird time loop.

Speaking of time loops, I'm still not entirely sure any of this actually makes sense. But then, that's quite in keeping with the rest of the Moffat era so far ;)

Alex said...

Totally agree on the Cyberman front. I thought the wooden Cyberman was a fun novelty for humour's sake (made me think of Futurama as well) but unless someone can reignite what made them so scary in the first place I think they need retiring. With The Tenth Planet now out on DVD and The Moonbase following (SO hyped about that), I think I'll be better off just sticking with the classics. And while I love Strax, I'm dubious whether the Sontarans will recover any time soon :(

I had to cut my thoughts on Clara out of this review because I was beginning to waffle, but she was great in this too and I agree she's really hitting her stride now. As for Capaldi's first words, I was trying to work out whether he was talking in his full-blown Scottish accent. He was certainly breaking into it now and again.

I've not read anything myself yet but those theories about Tasha Lem sound interesting, and certainly plausible! Who knows if we'll ever get answers though, this very much felt like a "wiping the slate clean" episode and I'm doubtful we'll see her again...or at least not for a few years!

Newt said...

I'm glad to be done with Matt Smith (He was okay himself, but I despise so much of his era, River, Amy, all of that nonsense) that it's good to turn the page as it were.

Unfortunately, I thought this was probably my least favorite episode ever in Doctor Who. Which is a shame as it firmly cements the 11th as my least favorite Doctor of all time. A tough title to claim, but as he edged away from it in the 5th special, he went right back in this.

There wasn't a bit of a coherent plot here. Why did the Doctor have to save the town? Why did he care? Why now of all times, did he decide to just randomly grow old on this planet? It just reeked of trying to do something epic, without any real justification for doing so.

The Time Lord crack on the wall bit was annoying, as was the cop out ending. I was fine with the Time Lords giving him more lives, as mundane as that is, but doing so in such a hamfisted way just was terrible. Of course, a much better story would have been dealing with the 12th knowing it's his last regeneration.

I'm so over Moffat. His run at the helm has just been horrible, IMO. It makes me wonder if RTD didn't oversee a million bad scripts from him and only used the good ones. And now Moffat's stuff is all terrible with the occasional decent story.

But I digress.

Nothing like a story where the Doctor can defeat thousands of his enemies with nothing more than some trees and dirt and the occasional sonic screwdriver to really decrease the value of every enemy.

Forget the Daleks, he buried EVERY villain. Even those annoying Weeping Angels.