Doctor Who Christmas Special “The Time of the Doctor” – Review

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Doctor who

The time has come: the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) is leaving. And what a time to go!

Any Doctor Who story is usually divisive in reception: it is loved or loathed, and even more expectations are piled upon a story in which the Doctor changes his face. These stories, ‘regeneration stories’, have to be a celebration of everything the era has been, and a brand new story too. It has to do the outgoing Doctor justice, and introduce the new Doctor properly. Showrunner Steven Moffat is in both an impossible position.

Mostly, he delivers a very special Christmas special. Though there are some big problems here, but there is also so much to adore. For starters, Moffat has revealed himself as quite the talented little poet, and the lines he dreamt up for this occasion, plucked by Clara in a cracker, are beautiful:

“And now it’s time for one last bow, like all your other selves.

Eleven’s hour is over now, the clock is striking Twelve’s.”

What is even better is the Doctor undercutting it: “I don’t get it”! That’s exactly the sort of moment that so suits the Eleventh Doctor.

The masterstroke in this episode is jumping between the mad sci-fi romp with a modern family Christmas – and one of its biggest flaws is not fulfilling the promise to flit between them properly. The scenes involving Clara’s Christmas just get lost amidst everything else and are hard to fully appreciate when no work has been done to establish her family’s characters. We get flashes of this – Clara’s grandmother’s monologue is lovely – but not enough.

I didn’t have as much of a problem with Clara as everyone else did, but I agree that her character development was sacrificed in favour of her story arc. Nevertheless, Jenna Coleman is one of my favourite companion actors of all time; she’s so cute and sharp and bright. The rapport she shares with Matt Smith is wonderful and will be missed.

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For the most part, this is a strong adventure visually too, thanks in part to director Jamie Payne. That’s quite an achievement given it has to follow the 50th anniversary bonanza, but admittedly there are some questionable computer graphics around the town of Christmas. There are some genius touches too though. The Dalek ship looks massive when the set was probably no bigger than a cupboard; it’s all achieved through little blue lights, the eyestalks, popping up in the black. Those big Trenzalore battles look suitably epic.

There were many enjoyable sequences in this special episode: much of this special was like Christmas morning, opening present after present! The sequence involving the Weeping Angels in the snow was brilliant and sure to go down in Doctor Who lore. The Doctor’s joy at seeing Clara again after hundreds of years was moving, the scene in which the few moments of light graced the town of Christmas was another. One of the stand-out sequences was the montage in which the monsters get clever about entering Christmas, leading to the Cybermen converting themselves from steel to wood! Thrilling.

“Everything ends… except you.”

The big problem is one that has existed throughout all the Eleventh Doctor’s stories. There is just too much stuff happening. In some ways, that is a good thing, as a lot of stuff and a fast pace is precisely what the programme needs. But not when that means cutting corners! Why set up these big moments, challenges, tussles, emotions, and then not follow through?

There are so many examples of this in The Time of the Doctor, and it does spoil it slightly. Crucially, at what point does the Doctor clearly ponder his actual, final death? The Doctor is a character that can change his body and survive most things… but apparently he can only do this thirteen times. He’s used up his thirteen regenerations and now he might actually die, after 50 years of TV time travel. That’s a big deal!

But it’s not made much of a big deal. Outside of the fiction of the show, we knew he would survive because Peter Capaldi has been cast for the new season in 2014, but the Doctor doesn’t know that! When it was handled, it was handled well – it was not completely ignored. But it was brushed aside too quickly given how huge it is.

The reveal that it is Gallifrey, the Doctor’s home planet, trying to break through into this universe is fun, but it’s too much on top of everything else. When the Doctor says, “Nah. This planet is protected”, the line is completely thrown away! He’s dashing off-set so we can smash-cut to the next complicated scene. Meanwhile, the town of Christmas is a bit faceless: four speaking parts and no personalities. There isn’t the space to develop characters with everything else. Orla Brady is basically the only guest performer this week. She’s fabulous and her sultry voice is perfect. Her character Tasha Lem is a well-sketched alpha female, but she’s not enough. That’s a real problem, especially on Christmas Day. With everything else that’s happening, our focus as viewers slackens a little on Christmas Day.

But what an ending! All the commentary around Smith has focused on how he’s so young, and how he’s so good at being old for someone so young. Thus this story rightly brought to the fore that Clara sees the Doctor as she never has before: old. It worked especially well because the oldest Doctor actor ever is about to take over. Smith has always played ‘old’ well, but he plays genuinely ancient here fantastically. Clara having to help him pull the cracker is easily the most heart-breaking moment of the episode.

The big climax is marvellous, but the quieter epilogue in his spaceship, the TARDIS, was much needed. Smith gets a good last speech, if a little cluttered with clichés, and the line “I will always remember when the Doctor was me” brings floods of tears, thanks to Murray Gold’s superior musical score. The sneeze-like regeneration has been criticised for being too abrupt, but I thought it worked well given how much build up there had already been. And then we’re flung into an exciting future – with those piercing eyes staring back at us.

How right that Matt Smith’s final story depicted him surrounded by a town full of children who simply adored him. He is the Doctor – a very British Doctor it must be said – that got America to adore Doctor Who.

Adored on both sides of the Atlantic; that is a globally adored Doctor!

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