CLARA: You, you are the Doctor.
ELEVEN: Yep. And I always will be. But times change and so must I. 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 gotta 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.
I could just stop with that quote. I think it encapsulates most of what I took away from the special. But, no… I shall go on!
It took me a while to sort my feelings out about “The Time of the Doctor.” I mean, apart from the 50th Anniversary Special, “The Day of the Doctor,” it had more widespread Doctor Who-niverse ramifications to deal with than any episode this season. This was the Doctor’s first regeneration since Steven Moffat took over as showrunner. For many of the new Whovianship, this would be the first regeneration they would ever experience without any foreknowledge of the next Doctor. Yes, the new guy will always be different. That’s the point! It always works out in the end, right? Speaking of different, this marks yet another shift since the 2005 reboot. Peter Capaldi is the oldest actor since 2005 to take over the TARDIS. I know a few fans have been concerned about this, and I hope the Christmas special saw their fears allayed. Finally, this was to be our (hopefully) epic goodbye to Matt Smith, the man who was the first Doctor to so many out there.
What I’m trying to say is that the Christmas special had a lot resting on its shoulders.
Did it succeed? Somewhat… in some areas better than others.
“The Time of the Doctor” is filled with the timey-wimey pseudo-sciencey mind-bendy stuff, which is Steven Moffat’s wheelhouse. Many out there love a good chunk of the Moffat-penned episodes, myself included. This one, however, quite work for me. Moments felt too disjointed, as if one didn’t necessarily feed into the next. This could be traced back to that fact that the special had all those aforementioned responsibilities on its shoulders. There was just too much that it needed to take care of. It’s not an impossible task, but it is one with precarious balance. That being said, the first half of the episode felt awfully exposition-heavy. New characters in Tasha Lem and Clare’s family (what? I’m still scratching my head a bit with this one) felt like wasted screentime, when I felt we should be spending more time with the Doctor and Clara. The introduction of Tasha Lem as Mother Superious of the Papal Mainframe just led to more questions that needed more time to be answered. That’s fine. But, can we move this part along a bit? Because so much of the episode was devoted to this, a lot more of the story had to be told through voiceover and montage, which usually isn’t the greatest idea. It’s the ultimate manifestation of telling instead of showing. There was a lot going on. I felt tinges of the overstuffed, tragically unfocused “End of Time” two parter at the end of Series 4. It didn’t quite reach the epic amounts of fluff, but put “The Time of the Doctor” on a slippery slope, and it would have been there in no time.
Do I have fixes for all this? No, of course not. I’m not here to fix what already has happened, just to share my reactions to it. Thankfully, all my gripes are story gripes.
What did work for me was the character stuff. We got to see a little more of the Doctor and Clara interacting without the “Impossible Girl” mystery looming over our heads, which I’ve finally realized was part of why Series 7 felt lacking in the 2nd half. I have to feel bad for Clara, too. She obviously fancies the Doctor… well, who doesn’t, I suppose. But she gets left, twice. At least she doesn’t have to stew in it for two long before the TARDIS rematerializes in front of her apartment building. We get to watch the Doctor grow old, tired, and defeated in his self-appointed guardianship/prison cell, and Matt Smith does a great job with all of this. When we finally do have to say goodbye to Eleven, er, Twelve? Thirteen? (10 regenerated once because he didn’t like his face?) Whatever. When we finally have to say goodbye to Matt-Doctor, we get a nice, poignant farewell monologue that rides the line between Matt and Eleven speaking, and doesn’t create animosity toward the next actor to take up the Sonic Screwdriver.
Then of course, “Raggedy man. Good night.” Why, oh why do you insist on making me feel things!
This was this point that I came to my biggest realization about “The Time of the Doctor. These regeneration episodes, they’re now almost more for the actor than for the character or the narrative. They’re an all-encompassing salute to the adventures of that particular Doctor. They’re like wedding slideshows, calling attention to every milestone, every moment, every roadblock, every success that got this person to the moment in question. That’s fine. That’s great. After all, being the Doctor is a life changing thing, it seems the only worthy celebration. The plot, it’s almost secondary. (LOST, anyone? J/k…) What matters is that we say goodbye well. I think we did.
I’ve never understood why fans say things like, “I hate this Doctor,” or “This Doctor sucks.” Is that just because his personality doesn’t fit into the very narrow mold of what you think the Doctor should be? You’re Who-ing wrong. Because, if we believe the canon to be true, he’s the same person. He’s the same millennium-old, double-hearted alien that is out there busting his ass to save the universe. The Doctor is the manifestation of an ideal. An ideal that holds intellect and romance above brute force and cynicism. No matter the current Doctor’s personality, this remains at the character’s core, throughout every regeneration.
Thanks, Matt Smith, for the amazing ride these past 3 series. It’s been magnificent. I am forever changed.
Also, that Peter Capaldi, huh? What an intro. I rather love how quick the regeneration happened. It’s as if the creators were telling us, “We gave you ample time to cry over Matt. Time to look to the future!” Me = excited. Plus, I’m already loving the new 12 theme.