"We all change, when you think about it. We're all different people all through our lives. And that's okay, 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."
IN THIS ONE... It's the Eleventh Doctor's last story, and it occurs in a town called Christmas.
REVIEW: While there are a great many things I like about Matt Smith's final episode, there are a great many things I actively dislike as well, beginning with the title. It's generic, it's one too many variations on "___ of the Doctor", it's not very Christmasy. I think it was Madeley on Twitter who suggested "Silent Night". That would have been a great title, this isn't. And though we're about to see the siege of Trenzalore, the early Christmas shenanigans make RTD's robot Santas look sensible. Clara using the Doctor as a fake boyfriend to pacify her family is strictly sitcom material, but when he shows up stark naked, well, it's just STUPID. Why do we need our heroes to be naked, but holographically cloaked except for some stupid sex jokes? Especially considering the Papal Mainframe is filled with clothed people. I wish I could care about Clara's family, but since we've only ever seen the dad (in flashbacks), we have no stake in the stepmother's judgmental attitude or granny's melancholy story. Why should we care? Did they ever get their TARDIS-cooked turkey? The only good thing to come out of the sequence is the perfect poem to pay tribute to Eleven from one of the stepmom's party favors.
I'm not a fan of the Papal Mainframe stuff either. We meet Mother Superious, Tasha Lem, and she's a sexy nun the 10th Doctor apparently made bedroom eyes at. The Doctor as space lothario has run its course, and the flirting here is just dull. Worse, she's later compromised and bam, she becomes a Dalek zombie. I hated the idea in Asylum of the Daleks, I hate it here. The Mainframe is also where Moffat unloads all the answers to his long-standing mysteries. Kovarian split off from the Church of the Silence and tried to prevent the Doctor from releasing the Time Lords by first blowing up the TARDIS (we'll likely never be told how one does that) causing the cracks and possibility of Gallifrey's return in the first place, and then creating an assassin that would become one of the Doctor's most important allies. These are potentially great revelations, timey-wimey and everything, but they go by so fast, if you don't miss them, you at least miss their import. While I'm all for giving Capaldi a clean slate, arc-wise, it's still a waste. Speaking of waste, the Daleks forgot everything they knew about the Doctor in Asylum, only to have it all restored here by dowloading the Mainframe, so... what was the point? Again, to find the silver lining, I'll applaud just how "silence falls". The prophecy is coming true, but not in the way we thought it would, and that's satisfying at least.
So then we're down on Trenzalore, and there's just this single town called Christmas built around crack in spacetime. The truth field seems silly, but it's later revealed to be a Time Lord thing (uhm, okay) and it certainly fits the fairy tale nature of this era of Doctor Who. Eleven's story began as a fairy tale - a little girl's imaginary friend come to life - and should end the same way, as an immortal toymaker in a town where you can't tell lie, defending it from monsters, including a wooden Cyberman and the ultimate fairy tale villains, the Weeping Angels (thankfully not overused). With Clara gone (or only present intermittently), the Doctor's only companion is Handles, a Cyberman head acting as a sort of sassy computer, à la K9, though owing as much to characters like Skeets in Booster Gold comics or Jarvis in the Iron Man movies. Or, I suppose, Wilson in Castaway. He's a neat little character, and yeah, it's sad when he finally gives out, but like Clara's family, we don't have any skin in the game. He appears out of nowhere, part of some untold adventure, and we're supposed to care about him. The Anniversary year has had a lot of that, from how Clara was pulled out of the Doctor's time stream on, we're missing episodes. The gaps pile up and they're not interesting anymore, they're frustrating. I do like the idea of the Doctor growing old over the course of the episode. Moffat gives his Doctor as proper send-off by making him the longest-staying Doctor (from the in-universe POV), beating even Hartnell's measly 450 years, and it's nice to see him create a protectorate other than Earth. Though once the siege explodes into war, why not evacuate the town's citizens?
Anyway, the closer we get to the ending though, the better things get. Clara once again has a hand in saving the Doctor, and it's her plea to the Time Lords that gets him another set of regenerations. He can't speak his name because it's not safe for Gallifrey to come out yet, but she can tell them what his name ought to be and why they should intervene. (Presumably, had the Doctor died, they would eventually have come out, safe or not, I dunno.) I know many fans hate the idea that Eleven's regeneration is used as a weapon, from seeds planted by RTD in The End of Time, but I've no real problem with it because the Time Lords have a hand in it. They're giving him enough power to do this. And isn't it possible regeneration in the new series is so explosive because the ability was redesigned during the Time War so "killed" Time Lords could take Daleks with them, and still walk away? I'm less a fan of the "reset" that makes Matt Smith look young again for his farewell scenes, especially since Moffat introduced an ingestible hologram projector at the top of the story. Couldn't that have been used to make Clara see the Doctor as she remembered him, at "his best"? But having gotten past that, those last few minutes are pretty wonderful. Before he goes, he has visions of Amelia and Amy, which pulls at one's heart strings something fierce, and he gets that speech... That SPEECH! Wrapping a metaphor for regeneration around the almost meta-textual acceptance of his place in a legacy, while also paraphrasing the first Doctor's "not one line"and, oh my heart, removing the bowtie before he changes. And to music based on The Long Song from The Rings of Akhaten, no less. Has there been such a well done pre-regen scene in the canon? There are some great ones - 3rd, 4th, 5th and the new guys come to mind - but none as rich or textured. And then, SNAP, he's Peter Capaldi and he can't fly the TARDIS. Eleven began with a crash, and out he goes the same way. August can't come quickly enough. Put me in, coach.
THEORIES: So if the Doctor doesn't actually die at Trenzalore, how can the events of The Name of the Doctor happen? They can't. Or really, they happened to the time travelers present, but now those events never happened from an outsider's view. The Doctor beats the paradox with the Time Lords' help. But if you're not satisfied, there's another answer. Remember, we don't see a body in The Name of the Doctor; we see a gaping wound in spacetime which the Doctor refers to as his time stream. We've seen Time Lords die before, and they've left bodies. We've never seen them decay and turn into time streams. So could the Doctor leave with his new regenerations and leave behind something on Trenzalore? The time stream comprising his 13 first lives, perhaps? Entombed in a temporal echo of the TARDIS? Maybe that's why the Capaldi Doctor can't remember anything upon regeneration, at least not until the TARDIS reestablishes telepathic communication with his brain and uploads the back-up. (Think of various regenerations gone wrong and the mental problems associated with them, how the Doctor seems to cycle through past selves while in the TARDIS, and the need for the TARDIS to be part of the equation, and that back-up analogy takes full form.) Or it's possible that to avoid a paradox, the Doctor will arrange for his remains and those of his TARDIS to be brought to Trenzalore at the appropriate time. He doesn't have to die there to be buried there. And perhaps each set of regenerations has its own time stream. Clara merely jumped into the first one; the second was down in some other chamber. It's time travel - I'm sure I can have my cake and eat it too.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium (last 4 minutes, High) - A lot of missteps, which is a real shame, but you don't want to miss the 11th Doctor's actual farewell. It's among the best.
What happens now? Be part of the discussion!