‘The Time Of The Doctor’, by Steven Moffat, is the final adventure for the 11th Doctor and resolves many dangling plot threads from across his entire run. It is an adventure that spans a lifetime, exploring what happens when the Doctor finally stops running.
With an emphasis on emotion rather than action, despite the presence of major villains, this is a sad farewell but also a welcome gift.
Spoilers From Here On In!
The pairing of the Christmas special and a regeneration is a mixed blessing. It certainly makes this ‘event’ television but there is the sadness in knowing that not only does the 11th Doctor die but that Matt Smith would be leaving.
Whenever a Doctor leaves it is the end of an era. All those potential adventures they could have had extinguished. Certainly there will be another Doctor to take their place but it won’t be the same. Not better or worse, just different.
Cleverly the 11th Doctor has been given a very long life, beyond what we’ve seen on the screen. His delay between ‘The God Complex’ and ‘Closing Time’ spans hundred of years and his arrangement of picking Clara up means there are plenty of adventures without her, in which time he picks up a Cyberman head as a companion called Handles.
As the episode begins the Doctor is investigating a mysterious signal that has brought aliens races both old and new, to a small, unremarkable planet. His attempts to investigate are interrupted by a summons by Clara, who wants him to pretend to be her boyfriend.
This illustrates their very different relationship. The Doctor offers his companions a glimpse of the extraordinary where as Clara drags him into domestic drama. It shows the change that has occurred in the Doctor that he relishes the opportunity to met her family and play his role as her suitor.
Further more Clara has taken to using the TARDIS for such mundane tasks as making sure she doesn’t miss birthdays, restaurant bookings and television programs. Clara doesn’t want to escape her life, balancing it and her relationship with the Doctor much better than the Ponds managed to.
These jovial scenes, with Clara’s family and the Doctor wearing holographic clothes to cover his nudity, lull the viewer into a false sense of security. Clara too thinks this is all a romp, her trip in the TARDIS just a distraction while they wait for her turkey to cook.
The introduction of Tasha Lem, head of the Papal Mainframe, is not unlike that of River Song. Both hint at a long, flirtatious relationship with the Doctor. Indeed their relationship is so intimate the Doctor doesn’t want Clara to be privy to their conversation.
The presence of the Silence on the Church ship, in a wonderfully creepy scene with Clara, and the terrifying Weeping Angel attack during a snowstorm on the planet remind us of the ever present danger.
Finding a town called Christmas (whose history is never fully developed) the Doctor and Clara discover another crack in time, long thought closed since ‘The Big Bang’. Gallifrey is on the other side and they await the Doctor to answer the oldest question ‘Doctor Who?’.
The reintroduction of these elements, that we had thought previously resolved, makes this feel like something special. That this would be a true conclusion to the 11 Doctor’s story and neatly continuing the new status quo established in ‘The Day Of The Doctor’.
This establishes the crux of the story, creating a stand off. The Doctor can’t bring the Time Lords through without reigniting the Time War, his enemies can’t kill him for fear he’ll let them through with his dying breath and he can’t simply leave because the innocent people of Christmas would be wiped out.
In a scene not unlike ‘The Parting Of The Ways’ the Doctor tricks Clara, sending her home in the TARDIS. He is willing to make hard decisions and go alone when he has to. This is also a neat way to jump the plot forward several hundred years as the Doctor dedicates himself to protecting the town.
‘Amy’s Choice’ and ‘The Power of Three’ showed that the 11th Doctor wasn’t suited to staying in one place. Unless something his happening the boredom drives him mad. He can’t stay with his companions, they have to run to him.
It was fitting then, at the end of his final regeneration, that he finally grew up and learnt the joy of staying in one place. Calling one small town your home and treasuring your relationship with the people around you.
Here the Doctor has everything he needs. Now his enemies come to him, rather than the Doctor needing to chase them around the universe, providing him with something to do and the town provide people to protect and act as companions. It just so happens that Christmas is situated on Trenzalore, the planet where he will die.
Matt Smith has always played his Doctor as an old man trapped in a young man’s body. The extraordinary make-up successfully transforms his exterior to match his interior. He is still convincing as the same man, even with age taking its toll on his body.
The brief scenes of the Doctor defeating Sontarans, Weeping Angels (using a mirror) and a wooden Cyberman all add to his legend. The glimpses we see of the Doctor’s life, such as teaching the children his drunken giraffe dance, sum up his infectious joy for living and are possibly the most Christmassy moment of the story.
When Clara returns and meets the aged Doctor it is revealed that this is his last regeneration (the War Doctor counting as one and the 10th Doctor cheating death in ‘Journey’s End’ using another).
From ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ he had to deal with his approaching death and in ‘The Name of The Doctor’ he knew where his final resting place would be. The last year of the 10th Doctor dwelled heavily on this and his final story ‘The End of Time’ was particularly downbeat because of it. Moffat takes a different tact, better suited to the persona of the 11th Doctor.
Here, up on the bell tower, the Doctor is almost at peace with the idea that this is where his story ends. As the brief dawn ends and Handles, the faithful Cyberman head, dies the Doctor ascends to the church, entering a trap set by the Daleks.
The converted reanimated dead agents of the Daleks, first introduced in ‘Asylum of The Daleks’, return showing just why they are such a great addition to the oldest enemy of the Doctor’s arsenal. Not only are all of the soldiers onboard now working for the Daleks, so is Tasha Lem.
Before this is revealed another plot thread is tied up, revealing that a rogue chapter of the Church attempted to change the Doctor’s past by blowing up the TARDIS and training River Song to assassinate him, only to find that they’ve created the very situation they were hoping to avoid.
With the trap sprung open conflict begins on Trenzalore and Clara is again bundled home, only to return when the Doctor is an old, old man. She is just in time for the Doctor to face his final curtain as the Daleks demand an audience.
At the end the Doctor has come first circle, his relationship with Clara very much that of a grandfather, desiring only to protect others. That if he can save others with his death that will be one last victory for him.
Out of time, out of options the Doctor is defiant to the end. He has no plan to save himself but we’ve seen, in the darkest hours, it his companions that save him. Just as Amy Pond wished him back into existence or River Song rewrote time to prevent his death it is Clara who begs the trapped Time Lords to help change the Doctor’s future.
Since ‘The Five Doctors’, neatly referenced earlier in this very episode, first introduced the idea of a whole new cycle of regenerations many fans had speculated this would be how the Doctor got around the limit placed upon him.
With his body wearing a little thin the Doctor dies of old age, denying his enemies again and using his transformation to destroy their ships, his swagger at over whelming odds recalling the stonehenge scene in ‘The Pandorica Opens’. This turns the departure of the 11th Doctor into something triumphant. Even at the end of his life this candle burns brighter than ever.
In the TARDIS we are allowed one last scene with the 11th Doctor, as we see him as we remember him, young and vibrant. This is a fantastic scene with Matt Smith at his best with a farewell speech that I’m sure will be quoted for quite sometime in the future. He isn’t fighting the end, he is thankful for everything that he has been given and swearing to remember it all.
The hallucination of the Amelia and Amy (a wonderful surprise appearance by Karen Gillan) tugs at the heart strings. The sheer emotional weight of their relationship perhaps showcases something that is missing from his relationship with Clara. That as much as she is his Impossible Girl in his final moments it was Amy he (and maybe the audience as well) wanted to see.
The 12th Doctor’s appearance is brief but is already promising. Peter Capaldi full of menace but also humour as he complains about the colour of his kidneys. It also leaves the series on a brilliant cliffhanger, with the Doctor apparently not remembering how to fly the TARDIS. Could we be returning to an era of random trips and trying to get the companion home?
Overall I greatly enjoyed this episode and it felt like it had the weight that the final 11th Doctor story deserved. Matt Smith has been brilliant in the role and I will miss him. His enthusiasm for the character has come through in everything he has been in, including the brief segments in the ‘Doctor Who: The Ultimate Guide’.
I felt that the humour at the beginning of the episode wasn’t working for me initially but in retrospect I feel that this cushioned the darkness later on. It was a chance for a few laughs before we accepted the reality of the situation.
Many have complained about the grand plot arc that Moffat put in motion and doubted that he would be able to explain everything. I feel that this episode was satisfying resolution while still leaving the recovery of the Gallifrey for the future.
It will be a long wait for the 12th Doctor’s reign but things look bright for Doctor Who and we now have a whole new set of regenerations of the Doctor to look forward to. Let the speculation begin.