Doctor Who “The Time of the Doctor”
Oh, dear Steven Moffat. Moffat, Moffat, Moffat. How do you do it? How do you manage to split the fanbase just so… and then put me in this awkward position?
People have been asking for my opinion of “The Time of the Doctor”, the last episode of Matt Smith’s run as the Doctor. Except, they don’t seem to want my honest opinion; they just want me to tell them how much I dislike the episode, and exactly what’s wrong with it.
Except… I don’t dislike the episode! In fact, I quite like it.
I’m a big fan of Moffat’s work, and prefer Matt Smith’s run over David Tennant’s; which means that, not only do a lot of people disagree with me, they also want me to change my mind and apologize. Sorry, guys, I have a strict policy of honesty in all of my reviews. I only say what I genuinely feel at the moment in time I’m writing (or filming) them.
Is Moffat’s run the picture of perfection? No, of course not. It’s flawed in many ways, some I’ve even pointed out before. And Russell T. Davies’ run wasn’t perfect either, but both knew the core approach to make Doctor Who work: they had fun!
Doctor Who has always been fun to watch from when it came back in 2005, all the way up until now. Yes, there have been bumps in the road, but it’s been a wild road trip going to all kinds of unimaginable places, just like the Doctor himself, and it’s been exciting the whole time. With this show, you never know what you’re going to get.
“The Time of the Doctor” was to be a milestone episode, following on the heels of another milestone episode, “The Day of the Doctor”, the 50th anniversary special that brought back David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor to play against Matt Smith.
But “Day of the Doctor” managed to be a milestone in yet another way, as it firmly ended an era of the show which had been running for eight years, which was all about the Doctor’s guilt about what he did, and his sorrow about being the last Time Lord. Also, in doing so, it brought the show into an era of hope, where a huge burden was finally lifted from the Doctor’s shoulders, and he earned just some of the forgiveness he had craved for so long.
Some people hate this new direction, but I don’t. Doctor Who is a show that’s constantly changed over the years. It’s a show that can adapt to the current times, and keep itself fresh and new, and frankly, it was running rather thin lately. It’s been about this “lone survivor” thing for eight years now! That’s the better part of a decade, and as the Doctor so firmly states in this very episode, “Everything must change, and I have to change with it.”
So let’s take a look at “The Time of the Doctor”.
You can tell right away that it’s a Moffat episode, as Moffat likes to start off his stories with some kind of a surprise, to both hook you in and pull the carpet out from under you. Here, the Doctor steps onto a ship with a broken Dalek thing in his hand, asking what kind of ship he’s on… only to find out he’s on a Dalek ship, surrounded by Daleks. Whoops!
Luckily, the Doctor now has a teleportation device in his TARDIS, and all he has to do is ask Scotty to beam him up. Okay, it’s not Scotty, but actually the head of a Cyberman that he now has connected to the TARDIS.
So, why did the Doctor find it necessary to beam onto a Dalek ship in the first place? Well, the planet Trenzalore has been brought up previously in Doctor Who, and it’s been teased that it’s the place where he’s both going to die and be buried, and unfortunately for the Doctor, he just can’t get away from this damn planet, and he keeps going back to it.
This time around, it’s because a strange message is being constantly transmitted from the planet. The message is so powerful that it has an effect on everyone who hears it, despite the fact that no one understands it. All the aliens with space travel that we know of—Cybermen, Daleks, Sontarans, the entire lot—have all come to try and understand this one message.
But oh well, no time for that. Clara is having Christmas dinner with her family, and asks the Doctor to be her pretend boyfriend. And well, since this is the last episode for a while where we’re going to have a young actor playing the Doctor (the next one will be over fifty), we might as well get some gratuitous nudity while we still can! Whoo-hoo!
It turns out he’s nude because he’s going to church. Not a human church, of course, but an alien church that apparently requires nudity. I’ve got to say, I love the Doctor’s complete obliviousness towards how other people may feel about his nudity. It’s something I really adore about Matt Smith’s performance as the Doctor in general. He may be the youngest actor to ever portray the character, but he’s also the one who comes across the most like a strange alien. He can act discreet sometimes, and completely oblivious other times, and then you remember: Oh yeah, he’s not human!
The Doctor and Clara then go to this nude church, but totally cheat, as they’re wearing holographic clothes that we the viewers can see. Damn cheap bastards. This episode needs more nudity!!
The church is stationed right above Trenzalore, and is supposedly here to protect the planet and keep out unwanted guests. It’s not doing a very good job though, as Weeping Angels and the like keep sneaking in.
The Doctor talks to the high priestess, asking to be allowed to go down to the planet. This would be the high priestess that some people like to call “River Song 2.0”. Not me, though. I’m just calling her “typical Moffat woman”. She’s the same as all the other female characters, which is a huge flaw in Moffat’s writing, but not something I feel like getting into now. That one needs its own video or article. But for this episode, she’s barely here. She fulfils her plot function, I don’t care, moving on.
The important thing is that Clara and the Doctor are allowed onto the planet and discover everything is centered around just one small town called Christmas. Pretty convenient naming there. I guess they had to shoehorn a Christmas element in here somehow.
The first thing they see is those damn Weeping Angels digging around town. Not too surprising, really. The entire planet is overrun by alien ships.
The second thing they find out is that a truth filter has been laid over the town, so that no one is able to tell a lie. And the message that no one understands is coming from this very town, through one of those cracks in time and space first seen all the way back in season five.
The Doctor, using his Cyberman head, manages to translate the message, and it turns out to be a question. It’s a question that’s been built up ever since the ending of season six, and it is: “Doctor who?”
This is a question which must not be answered, or the world will come to an end. Why? It’s actually pretty neatly explained. In the previous episode “The Day of the Doctor”, the Doctor managed to save Gallifrey, but only by storing it in another dimension, so to speak. Gallifrey is now trying to emerge through these cracks in time and space. They’re awaiting a signal to know if it’s safe to come through, and the signal is the Doctor telling them his name.
Trouble is, the Doctor’s plan in “Day of the Doctor” didn’t entirely succeed. The Daleks were supposed to wipe themselves out, but that didn’t happen. It seems they’re out there in full force, able to reproduce just fine. The Doctor was prepared to blow up all of Gallifrey as a last resort, because if he didn’t, the entire universe would pay. That’s because the universe itself is in the crossfire of the Time War between the Time Lords and Daleks.
But time hasn’t moved for Gallifrey, and the Daleks aren’t about to retreat or let go. If the Doctor gives the word and Gallifrey comes back, the Time War will simply start where it left off, as if no time had passed at all, and the universe would burn anyway. So the Doctor can’t speak his name, because then he would be responsible for the Time War starting again. But neither can he just close the crack, because then he would be dooming his entire people… again!
The Doctor is in a complete no-win scenario, and this is the very situation that the priest council has been trying to avoid the entire time, by blowing up his TARDIS and creating an assassin to kill him. They tried everything to avoid the Time War starting again and potentially destroying the universe, but nothing worked.
And now the Doctor is here, and so are the Time Lords, waiting on the other side of the crack. They’re all locked in a place where the Doctor can’t go back or forward. He’s just… stuck.
The Doctor knows he could be stuck here for a very long time, in this deadly combat. And thus, he tricks Clara, sending her home, fully intending to stay on the planet until he eventually dies.
However, Clara kind of follows in Rose’s footsteps, and wont let go so easily, and sticks with the TARDIS. Though, due to the fact that she’s outside of the TARDIS while it travels, and because of timey-wimey stuff, the TARDIS arrives on Trenzalore three hundred years after the Doctor first arrived, and he’s now elderly.
For three hundred years, the Doctor has been fighting this lonely fight. Not to gain anything, not for his own personal pride, but because it’s the only thing he can do. He has the TARDIS back now, so he could potentially just leave, but he doesn’t because it’s not the right thing to do. So the Doctor stays to fight another day.
And well, if something doesn’t work once, try it again! He tricks Clara once again, and this time the TARDIS vanishes without her, leaving Clara with a cooked turkey, home in time for Christmas dinner with the family.
Back on Trenzalore, decades go by, and the Doctor continues to stay. Until finally, after a few more centuries, the Doctor’s time has simply run out. He’s now old, worn out, and dying.
The entire situation that the Doctor singlehandedly has kept in check for all of these centuries is about to blow up, and there’s nothing he can do about it. He can’t stop his own death from happening.
But the high priestess wont stand for this, and calls upon Clara, so Clara may speak to the Doctor and find a way to stop this. The Doctor calmly explains to Clara that this is really it. This is actually his thirteenth regeneration, and thus the last one he’s allowed to have. Perhaps that’s why he’s been so careful with this body. David Tennant’s body only lasted for four years, apparently, and that’s kind of wasteful. Just because you can regenerate on a whim, it doesn’t mean that you should, does it?
But the point is, this is it for the Doctor and he knew it all along. From the day he first stepped on Trenzalore, he knew that he might never leave the planet again. The Doctor now intends to go out with his head held high, and also with a bang. So he walks out to meet his own death, towards all the enemy aliens, taking one last glorious stand.
But Clara goes to the crack that leads to the Time Lords and begs for the Doctor’s life. She’s only able to speak the truth due to the truth filter, and tells them, “His name is the Doctor. All the name he needs. Everything you need to know about him. And if you love him, and you should… help him.”
The Time Lords hear her and they understand the situation, so finally they take action and close the crack in time by themselves. The Doctor has been fighting for this crack, this little glimmer of hope for the Time Lords for centuries. And now, he’s being allowed his reward: a new chance! A new life, and freedom away from Trenzalore, as the Time Lords close the crack themselves and try to find another way back.
The Doctor is granted a new set of regenerations, and uses his regenerative power to wipe out the enemy aliens threatening the town of Christmas. Now that’s going out with a blast!
And it’s all over. With the Doctor technically dying and now regenerating, we get one last glimpse of Matt Smith as he makes his goodbye speech, which is about how the world changes and how we must change. With a heavy hand, he takes off the bowtie he made famous, and drops it on the floor.
And with a whoosh, Peter Capaldi is there, ready to haunt my nightmares with those psycho eyes as the Twelfth Doctor.
Sheesh! Now that’s a madman with a box, but not in the good way. Damn.
Once again, I must say I really liked this episode. I think it tied everything together pretty well, and gave Matt Smith a satisfying, emotional goodbye, which did cause me to shed a tear once or twice.
I know people won’t like me for saying this, but I prefer this over “The End of Time”, by a lot. What I mainly prefer here is that while the Tenth Doctor seemed to fear his own death and tried to avoid it at all costs (in spite of knowing he was just going to regenerate), he clung to life to the very last second, where he stated, “I don’t want to go.” Just desperately clinging on, like a puppy to your leg that just won’t fucking let go!
Matt Smith’s goodbye is about the Doctor facing his own doom and destiny with a raised head. He’s not happy about it, but he understands it and faces his destiny with dignity. He seems to consider running away at one point, but never attempts to do it.
The entire episode has a sad somber feeling, which can be quite heavy at times, but it’s fitting to the theme of the episode. It’s about the Doctor being stuck in this eternal dilemma, and if he hadn’t died at that point, he would have just continued in this situation forever and ever.
Matt Smith’s run has been filled with ups and downs, but quite frankly, so were David Tennant’s, and also Christopher Eccleston’s. Doctor Who is just that kind of show.
I’m going to miss Matt Smith dearly. I first got into Doctor Who rather late, in the break year where David Tennant had a few specials spread across the year. So Matt Smith was the first Doctor I got to follow weekly, and well, that basically makes him my Doctor. I’m far more emotionally attached to him than Tennant, and I wish he would have stayed on for another few years at least.
But I’m also looking forward to the future with excitement. With this episode, Steven Moffat finishes off his previous chapters, and the show is free to start with a completely blank page. This would actually be a great time for Moffat to leave the show, and let fresh blood take over, but I guess that’s not going to happen. We shall see how it goes.
I’m hopeful and looking forward to what it’ll be like with an older Doctor in the driver’s seat. That hasn’t happened since the old show, before the original cancellation. Christ, the last gray-haired doctor was the third one, Jon Pertwee, back in the ‘70s! So this ought to be very interesting, indeed.
[—Major editing/cleanup/revisions to this article provided by Dr. Winston O’Boogie. Also, special thanks goes out to Elliot Hodgett for pre-editing this article!]