Review: “The Time of the Doctor”

It all just disappears. Everything you are, gone in a moment, like breath on a mirror.

Contains spoilers.

Well, it finally happened: Whovians everywhere said goodbye to Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, as part of the 2013 “Doctor Who” annual Christmas special episode. Smith has played the role of the Doctor since 2009.

“The Time of the Doctor” begins with the Doctor trying to discover why so many various species of militant aliens (read: Cybermen and Daleks) would be centering around one particular planet without knowing why they were doing it. Meanwhile, Clara needs the Doctor to come to Christmas dinner and be her fake boyfriend. Enter some tiresome Eleven/Clara banter.

Somehow they end up back in the TARDIS to cook the turkey and decide to pop off to what Eleven keeps calling “church,” a.k.a., The Church of the Papal Mainframe, manned by the same camouflage-wearing soldiers we met in “When a Good Man Goes to War.” Enter some Silence (which really just made me miss Amy—let’s be real) and a creepy-looking Mother Superius, who is in charge of the Church and awkwardly flirts with the Doctor.

There’s a signal coming from a settlement on the planet the Church is orbiting, so Eleven and Clara take a trip down to check it out. Cue up some pretty tense Weeping Angel action (they were hiding under the snow) before coming up on an adorable little town called Christmas.

[Editor’s note: At this point, I’m a half-hour into the episode and am pretty mightily bored.]

Clara and Eleven discover the Crack in the Wall, which I think most “Who” watchers probably thought was a thing of the past. Turns out the Crack is what the Doctor saw in his room in “The God Complex,” and it’s actually the Time Lords from Gallifrey—which, in the 50th anniversary special, got thrown into an alternate universe by the 13 Doctors in order to be saved—pushing through from the other side, wanting to get in to the Doctor’s universe. To know the universe is safe, they are asking the Doctor repeatedly to say his name, to prove it’s OK to push through. (This is one of the more clever moments: The Crack keeps saying “Doctor Who? Doctor Who?” Props to whoever put that in there.)

So the Doctor is faced with a choice: Let the Time Lords in and begin a new Time War between the Time Lords and the numerous races of aliens lurking around the planet, or keep the Time Lords out and continue being the last of his kind in that universe?

Turns out the planet Eleven and Clara are on is called Trenzalore, which we know from the Series 7 finale “The Name of the Doctor” is where the Doctor dies. The Doctor tricks Clara into going home in the TARDIS (meaning he no longer has access to it) and stays on the planet for hundreds of years fighting off the alien species that surround the planet.

And here’s where it gets disjointed: There are random wooden Cybermen who burn everything. The Doctor has aged radically and walks around using a cane. It’s all just very bizarre.

Clara returns, clinging to the outside of the TARDIS, just in time for the Cyberman head that the Doctor’s been carrying around for decades and decades decides to die (which, I think, was a perfect representation of the feelings of the entire “Who” fandom).

Then, in perhaps the most important part of the episode, Eleven addresses his regenerations and how he expects this next death to be his last, because Ten’s second regeneration and the War Doctor’s regeneration would put him at 13 regens, which is all he is allowed as a Time Lord. It was important to cover this because people have been asking this question for a while, especially after the 50th anniversary special confirmed the War Doctor would be acknowledged as another regen.

Turns out the Silence are priests for the Church of the Papal Mainframe and are genetically engineered so that you forget everything you tell them Perfect for confessional. That’s brilliant. Additionally, we learn that it was a rogue chapter of the Church that blew up the TARDIS originally and created the crack in the universe, as well as created River Song to kill the Doctor. (This would explain why they had the Silence at their service.)

The Doctor promises Clara he won’t send her back again and then does almost immediately (rule No. 1: The Doctor lies), and then spends a good chunk of time fighting off various and sundry alien races from Trenzalore and the town of Christmas.

When Mother Superius finally brings Clara back, she finds the Doctor to have aged significantly and has becoming ready to give up his life to the Daleks, who have encircled the town. Through the Crack, Clara begs the Time Lords to help the Doctor get another chance at life, and the next thing you know, Gallifreyan ships are flying around everywhere through a giant Crack in the sky and zapping the Doctor with regeneration energy. Because they do this, the Doctor can have another (or an unlimited number of—not clarified yet) regenerations—thus eliminating the problem with only allowing 13 regenerations.

Then we’re back on the TARDIS as a revitalized, more youthful Eleven waits to regenerate. This is the most heart-wrenching part of the special, to be sure. He’s waiting to get his new face—he’s younger because the regen energy just “resets him”—and he monologues for a bit, and eats from a bowl of fish fingers and custard.

Enter Amelia/Amy Pond, perhaps the most sob-inducing thing Moffat (*shakes fist*) could have done: “Raggedy Man, goodnight.” He takes off his bowtie. And in a quick burst of regeneration energy, Eleven turns into Twelve, and Peter Capaldi is staggering around the console, wondering how to fly the TARDIS.

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I think “The Time of the Doctor” was overall, well, largely underwhelming. The trailers set it up to be a sort of epic tale, full of the Silence and Daleks (and a few Cybermen thrown in for good measure)—and while those aliens were certainly part of the story, there didn’t seem to be any cohesiveness to the ideas. Trenzalore was not nearly as exciting, creepy or thrilling as it was set up to be, which was a big let-down. Eleven’s two goodbyes to Clara (once before he went up on the balcony to approach the Daleks and the second before he regenerated inside the TARDIS) seemed almost forced and held no emotion, at least for me, because I feel like we barely know her at all. I’m glad they clarified some questions about the Silence and their purpose, and had a few good tie-backs to “When a Good Man Goes to War,” which is one of the best episodes with Matt Smith. Also, props to them for bringing back Karen Gillan as Amy Pond to thrown in that “Raggedy Man, goodnight,” there at the end. Though I would have liked to see Rory and River, too, I did cry at that part.

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