Doctor Who #921: The Time of the Doctor

"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."
TECHNICAL SPECS: The story is available on DVD. First aired Dec.25 2013.

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!


Toby'c said...

As I did on The Eleventh Hour review, my scores for every exit story:
The Tenth Planet: 8.25/10 (10/10 to Part 4)
The War Games: 8.9/10 (10 to part 10)
Planet of the Spiders: 7.5/10 (10 to Part 6)
Logopolis: 8.25/10 (10 to Part 4)
The Caves of Androzani: 9.5/10 (10 to Part 3 and 4)
The Ultimate Foe: 7.5/10 (7.57/10 overall for Trial of a Timelord. I really need to get ahold of Spiral Scratch)
The Movie: 8/10
The Night of the Doctor: 10/10
The Day of the Doctor: 9.66/10
Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways: 9/10
The End of Time: 9/10
The Time of the Doctor: 9.66/10

snell said...

Alternately on theories, there's no paradox. After all, the terms of the prophecy were fulfilled: The Eleventh fell at Trenzalore, and the question was asked. Technically, no one said he was going to actually die a final death at that point.

Perhaps the tomb, and the time
stream, is from a later incarnation, when a future Doctor came back to Trenzalore. Why didn't Clara interact with these later incarnations? She did, we just didn't see them (we'll get new insert shots for future releases of Special Edition DVDs). And of course the Doctor knew better than to head upstream while he was in there...

Siskoid said...

Toby: I guess you liked the whole of Time of the Doctor a lot better than me! But the farewell itself was certainly topnotch.

Snell: If it happened, she doesn't remember either, or else she might have disagreed with the Doctor's assessment that this was his last incarnation. But she didn't remember the War Doctor either, so it's entirely possible certain Doctors weren't accessible to the Great Intelligence (the time lock, the paradoxical future), so she didn't need to follow it there and never saw those Doctors.

Anonymous said...

This is an episode best enjoyed by not asking too many questions, and taking it for what it is: a fairy tale that tries to wrap up Matt Smith's era, and also have some fun with the fact that he's bald. I'm happy to see the Doctor have the kind of life he never thought he could have; it's enough for me.

People make a lot out of the fact that Peter Capaldi doesn't know how to fly the TARDIS, but it troubles me not in the slightest: the Doctor has a habit of not being himself immediately post-Regeneration, see the regenerations into Pertwee, Baker, Davison, other Baker, McCoy, McGann, and Tennant. Memory, personality, and skills are all a little shaky until the Doctor can find his bearings again.

The one sour note in this episode, for me, is when Clara pleads with the Time Lords and says "if you love him". There's no reason to expect them to love the Doctor; she might, but that's entirely interpersonal. I prefer to interpret that as the TARDIS language translator being a little off (like during the first Tennant episode), and what she really said was, "if you understand all the good he does". Then my world makes sense again. It also has the added benefit of extracting a tacit admission from the Time Lords that yes, this renegade pain-in-the-backside Doctor is right to not abide by their rules because it makes the universe a better place.

Siskoid said...

Good points Anon. Not knowing how to fly the TARDIS is no stranger than, say, thinking you're a girl for a second there, or obsessing on your missing shoes.

As for your sour note, yes, it's an odd choice of words, tapping a little too much in the "cult of the Doctor" as per, for example, The Wedding of River Song or indeed, the whole of the Tennant era. However, it's Clara saying this. She doesn't know what the Time Lords really think of him. I don't think it's the line that changed their minds, but rather her intent, as you say.

Freddy said...

I made a comment about River Songs "Spoilers" comment at the tail end of Name of the Doctor.
Well, when watching this episode, when Clara was begging the Time Lords to help out, it suddenly occurred to me that there was no way the Time Lords would help without her saying his name. Then it occurred to me, that the link between Clara and River was still open, and that River would appear to Clara, tell her his name, Clara would whisper it to the Time Lords, and therefore River and Clara would save the Doctors life once again.
It was clear as day to me that this was what was planned all along, a beautiful moment of genius. . .
Then Clara begged the Time Lords, they felt a bit emotional and sorry, and saved the Doctors life anyway.
I was mildly disappointed because I'd been so sure I'd worked out what was going to happen . . . oh well.

While a decent Christmas episode, I thought this was a bit of a let down ending for the Eleventh Doctor (although not for Matt Smith, who got to act his socks off showing the old man he's always been).
There was a bit too much of tell not show. We were told about all the species coming to Trenzalore, we were told about many of them falling in battle, everything just went by a little fast, it just seemed that the ideas outstretched the available time and budget.

Again though, a decent Christmas episode, just not the ending for the Eleventh Doctor I'd hoped for.

Siskoid said...

It could have been planned that way at some point, I suppose, but the dialog in this episode is coherent with the dialog in this episode. It's explicitly said the Doctor saying his name would tell Gallifrey it was safe to come out, not anything about helping him, or else he could have made use of their powers long before without the Time War reigniting.

LiamKav said...

Any thoughts on the theory that Tasha Lem = River Song? The flirting, the Lem backwards being Mel, the fact that the Doctor refers to river as a psychopath early on and then desribes Tasha Lem the exact same way a bit later? I couldn't tell if it was deliberate, a rewrite perhaps forced by Alex Kingston being unavailable, or just teasing the fans.

I'm... not a fan of the regeneration. I can see the problem... Eccleston's was explosive, Tennant's was really explosive, you can't keep escalating them. And it catches out the audience (who by now are completely familiar and even comfortable with the idea of renegeration... we've had two in the past year alone). We're left going "what, huh" just like Clara is.

On the other hand, it makes thing seem a bit underwhelming. The Doctor gets to use regeneration energy as a big Kamehameha/Hadoken, and then he does a regeneration half an hour later after he's had time to get changed? I understand why you don't want him to regenerate while aged (it would ruin future regeneration compliations, if nothing else), but the hologram generator would have made much more sense.

The post regeneration wackiness also left me a bit cold. Ten mumbling "new teeth" as an interested aside was cute, Eleven's body part count with "I'm a girl!" and "chin...blimey!" was funny. But "New kidneys... I don't like the colour" just seemed to be trying too hard.

I've read another theory to explain the regeneration effect over the new and old show... perhaps each regeneration gets more and more explosive. Obviously the different SFX stlye of the old show made them seem mlder, but even McGann to Hurt and Hurt to Eccleston didn't seem as big as Eccleston to Tennant's. The big SFX show at the end was essentially the last regeneration of his first 13 lives, whereas the actual Smith to Capaldi is the first of the new set, which is why it was so quick.

LiamKav said...

And one other thing... (sorry, I have opinions on this episode)

While his final speech is sweet and lovely and continues the new series tradition of the final lines being half the character and half the actor, I was sat there thinking "you're lying! You won't remember every day of this! You have a terrible memory! You frequently forget people, places, past lives, marriages, birthdays! You were literally called 'The Man who Forgets' in the prior episode! Stop telling porkies!"

Jeff R. said...

I'm with Liam; clearly we're meant to at least suspect that Lem is a (probably post-Library) version of River. The conspicuous two uses of "psychopath" can only mean two things: this, or that eleven has a type (and, really, no, it's not that one.)

Siskoid said...

I don't buy it, because Tasha's comment about his having changed his face wouldn't make any sense.

Jeff R. said...

Why not? Encountering the Doctor out of order isn't exactly unfamiliar ground, here. Probably means that the Doctor didn't figure out who she was until sometime in the late-11 era.

(Another question about the two finales: why didn't 14-25 [at least] show up at the end of Day if 13 did?)

jdh417 said...

Ignoring the questionable logistics of a small agrarian society existing on a planet in perpetual winter, I really liked this episode.

Call me a sentimental softie. I’m not a fan of drawn-out goodbye speeches, but Matt really sold his in such a beautiful way here. My heart-strings were tugged by Karen’s guest shot.

But, I really have to hand it to Jenna. Right before the change, she hands out one of the most heart-felt moments of the series. I think she re-captured the emotion from her character’s first appearance and finally got me to like her again.

Anonymous said...

"Another question about the two finales: why didn't 14-25 [at least] show up at the end of Day if 13 did?"

Possible answer: because that's as far forward as 11 could go (i.e., one Doctor into the future).

Another possible answer: because of some temporal issue regarding Gallifrey post-Capaldi.

The answer I recommend: it's just how things had to be, accept it.

Madeley said...

Can't remember whether or not I stole the idea from someone else, but regardless, it definitely should have been called "Silent Night".

Pretty much agree with the review, here. Matt Smith is wonderful throughout, plot is a bit wonky, and suffers from having to tidy up all the bits the Moff feels like tidying up from the 11th era. Which, to be honest, I'm glad with. I'd rather a clean sweep and a new start for Capaldi than to have to muck around with the less compelling holdover strands of the previous era.

My view of the explosive regeneration is that the energy it takes to reset a full new regeneration cycle is at least 12 times more than to reset a signal life within the cycle itself.

The last few minutes are flawless, just absolutely superb, the modern show at its very best, and for all my criticisms of the era I love 11 dearly.

Onwards, though! Hoping 12's first episode will be as good as 11's, and have high hopes as if there's one thing New Who has over Old Who, it's better post-regeneration stories.

Madeley said...

Oh, and why didn't Doctors 13+ show up in Day of the Doctor?

My guess is that it isn't the War Doctor who started the calculation- it was the 1st. 11 goes back, has 1 start the calculation, which is so complex it isn't complete by 11. Maybe 11 thinks they have enough data to at least try and complete the shift with 11 Doctors, not realising that he gets a new regeneration cycle.

Meanwhile, the calculation is completed in the 12th Doctor era, so he goes back to provide the completed solution and knowing that only 12 Doctors are needed to succeed.

Siskoid said...

Fell deep into some you-tube (the bowels of the Internet) and watched a number of live reactions to the regeneration scene, and it's actually lovely how they typify the Doctor Who experience: Intense grief followed by amused delight a second later. That quick regeneration scarcely leaves time for viewers to dry their tears and brace themselves, so we catch them between those two emotions, pleading with the tv set not to let Matt go while almost simultaneously accepting Capaldi wholeheartedly. There's a kind of magic in that.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

You do a great job as always in analyzing the flaws of the story, all of which I'd agree with. I'd add to it a rushed, breakneck pace that precludes emotional attachment necessary to make the story work, and a fairly weak (to me) Capaldi intro that just didn't do enough to introduce him.
Plus, as I've ranted on many a page, wasted potential that goes even beyond the throwaway-infodump you already reference.

However, as you say, "as an immortal toymaker in a town where you can't tell lie, defending it from monsters" is a great ending. I think it kinda fails due to the rushed nature of the story (for me, at least, by the time we got there, the episode had already alienated me and I couldn't properly invest), so I think the execution suffers (if they'd only cut the stupid opening gags with Clara's fmaily and River So- sorry, 'Tasha Lem' (I don't think she's the same person, she's just written the same)- to give the Trenzalore plot some room to breath, this could've been a lot better)- but the *idea* behind it is pitch-perfect, and one I have great affection for.

"Anyway, the closer we get to the ending though, the better things get."
Very true.

Also didn't mind the regen/destruction; I liked it. But then, I never bought into the revisionist 'Doctor is a strict pacifist that never kills' malarkey pedaled by the New Series; fans that did probably have a greater beef.

I was definitely less a fan of the pre-Regen; I preffered 4's and 9's, personally. But I did like the optimism inherent in it, rather than 10's nihlistic 'the end of me is the end of everything' attitude.

That said... the idea of the Doctor's tomb in Name of the Doctor was cool; losing it extremely stupid. To me, like the Valeyard, it is an established and undeniable FACT of his future which cannot be retconned or removed; because they've already seen that it definitely happens in the future.

[Long discussion of Trenzalore deleted because Snell and your reply to him literally covered it al]

"There's no reason to expect them to love the Doctor" (Anonymous)
Except for the half-dozen times he's saved their very existence- but then, they tried to murder Davison to solve a problem after he'd already saved the planet as Baker, so... Time Lords aren't huge on gratitude. (To my mind, they, not the Daleks, are the Doctor's most evil foes).

"The post regeneration wackiness also left me a bit cold. Ten mumbling "new teeth" as an interested aside was cute, Eleven's body part count with "I'm a girl!" and "chin...blimey!" was funny. But "New kidneys... I don't like the colour" just seemed to be trying too hard." (LiamKav)
Seconded. Exactly.


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