Well, this is it, my final Doctor Who blog for a while. After a Christmas filled with family and power outages (lousy winter weather), I finally got to sit down and watch the departure of the 11th Doctor. What did I think? Well, as stated above, this review will be filled with spoilers. I feel it’s necessary to really get my thoughts out on this one.
First, the plot, which includes narration by Mother Superior Tasha Lem (more on her later). A strange message is calling out to the universe from a small planet. The Doctor and Clara, after attempting Christmas dinner with her family, meet up with Tasha and discover the planet is none other than Trenzalore. The message is from Gallifrey via one of the time cracks seen in Series 5, leftover after the Doctor closed the majority of them. They are calling out with a question: “Doctor Who?”, meaning if the Doctor speaks his name, they will be reassured the universe is safe to come back to. However, he can’t allow Gallifrey through anytime soon, because many of his enemies have also heard the message and are bent on destroying the planet. Will the Doctor be able to prevent another war from occurring, and what will happen to him and Clara in the process?
This episode was a mixed bag for me. For starters, it didn’t feel like a Christmas special aside from the town being called Christmas, Clara’s brief family dinner and, of course, snow. To be fair, though, Matt Smith did get two specials that felt more Christmas-y then this and “The Snowmen,” so that’s a minor complaint. As a Doctor Who episode and especially a finale, it was decent. It had some really good moments and some that felt underutilized. I’ll get to his regeneration, which made up the last 15 or so minutes, a little later.
First off, let’s talk about a few things I liked. The acting was superb all around. Matt Smith of course had a lot riding on this one, and his performance hit it out of the park. I felt a connection with Clara more than ever as we got to see her interact with family and experience one last adventure with her Doctor. Speaking of, her family didn’t leave much of an impact…except her grandmother. I wish we’d spent a little more time with her, because she just seemed so sweet and kind. Tasha was also well-acted as the universe’s Mother Superior, and it was great seeing her act on having past history with the Doctor. However, she was my main problem as far as characters go, because she seems to have a deep history with him that we’ve never seen before or during this episode. As such, I didn’t feel I could connect with her, even when she is ultimately semi-turned into a Dalek. Maybe it would be different if she becomes a reoccurring character like Vastra and her gang, but it’s hard to say at this point.
Something this episode does right is tie up the questions and loose ends left from the previous series, such as how the Tardis blew up in “The Pandorica” (Kovarian and her sect ultimately did it) and why there’s a crack in time still in the universe. The plot also involves the Doctor tricking Clara (twice!) into going back to her own time while he remains in Christmas to devote his time to protecting it from his enemies. He’s forced to settle down in a sense because running would mean the planet being destroyed. Because of this, we see the 11th Doctor really age for the first time. He meets up with Clara 300 years later, looking older and needing a cane to walk. And the second time before his death he’s very much a frail, old man, looking almost as Hartnell did all those years ago. It took me by surprise that they went this route, but I really enjoyed it. I won’t lie, though, it saddened me to see this man I grew to love growing old in front of my eyes. I suppose that was the point, as this was supposed to be his final body.
The humor was placed well throughout the episode, but kept just to the right balance to go with the drama. I liked the silliness of the Doctor attending Christmas dinner (though it’s short-lived) and that they had an excuse for his nakedness seen in one of the trailers. Through the first half of the special, he carries around a decapitated (non-human) Cyberman head that quickly becomes almost like Wilson from “Cast Away” to him. This is mostly apparent when Clara sees him on Trenzalore the first time, though it quickly turns into a sad, almost sentimental moment. There are also plenty of epic moments in this, such as Clara hitching a ride with the Tardis back to Trenzalore, the Doctor ending up in the ships of his enemies at the start of the episode, and him teaming up with the Silence to battle the Weeping Angels, Daleks and Cybermen forces.
Now, unfortunately, for all the greatness this episode offered, it has a few flaws. I mentioned my issue with Tasha earlier, and I feel the story bits dealing with her could have been a little stronger. Another thing I took issue with was that the episode doesn’t really offer up a lot of epic finale moments leading to the regeneration. While we do see snippets of the Doctor battling on Trenzalore, they’re told via narration and cut together like a montage. It would have been nice to focus on a battle and see the Doctor taking part. He has a great scene involving a wooden (yes, wooden) Cyberman, and I wish we could’ve seen more moments like that. Ultimately, with all the hype about the Doctor battling on Trenzalore, it felt like a few scenes here could’ve been expanded on to really showcase it. Also, for all the connecting I did with Clara, she didn’t get much of a presence until she appears (both times) on Trenzalore. I guess you could say this is supposed to be the Doctor’s story and moment, but it felt weird at times not to have her around.
But while the episode had its ups and downs throughout, the regeneration was the part I was most looking forward to and, for me, it did not disappoint. Big time spoilers for this: The Doctor, now a very old man, is forced to face the Daleks once again as they threaten to destroy him. Clara pleads through the crack for the Time Lords to send help, to realize that the Doctor is who he is and that’s all they need. Ships are released through a bigger crack to take down the Dalek fleet, and along with them is a fleeting bit of regenerative energy. It’s just what the Doctor needs to push past his so-called final form and regenerate once again. It’s so explosive that he destroys the rest of the ships and those from Gallifrey return to the crack. Clara ends up going back to the Tardis to find…a young 11th Doctor. But, unfortunately, it’s only a temporary state as he starts turning into his next self. He parts with a…hallucination/memory of Amy Pond and a great speech about accepting change before turning into his 12th self. Now Capaldi, he seems to already be suffering from post-regeneration trauma as he asks Clara how to fly the Tardis.
This entire thing, from start to finish, made the episode for me. It elevated what came before it and didn’t suffer from the flimsier moments. From the Doctor’s explosive initial regenerative energy to the quiet, serene acceptance speech just felt like the perfect ending for 11. It has the “going out with a bang” bit that I wanted, but it also eased any doubt or fear that the Doctor will still be the Doctor, regardless of the face. It felt, to me, like a HUGE leap forward from 10’s regeneration and the Doctor never seemed wiser. And one little moment, just before he quickly becomes Capaldi, where he undoes and drops his bow tie just kept my tears flowing. It was like watching the end of an era and just felt beautifully done.
Overall, “The Time of the Doctor” seems like an episode that’ll split some fans. While it had a ton of great moments, a lot of plot elements didn’t feel like they got used to their full potential. As a Christmas special and Doctor Who finale, it’s pretty good if not decent. But for me, the regeneration is what seals the deal. As I said in my last blog, I’ll always miss Matt Smith, but I now very excitedly look forward to Capaldi and Series 8.
I give “The Time of the Doctor” a solid 7/10. Come for the fun, stay for the regeneration.