TV Review: Doctor Who – The Time of the Doctor (UK, 2013 Christmas Special)

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If you’re a Doctor Who fan, “The Time of the Doctor” was more than just your usual Christmas Special. It means the end of the Matt Smith era and the beginning of our time with Peter Capaldi. Before we get to those eyes who appeared quickly in “The Day of the Doctor” (the 50th Anniversary Special), we first needed to see Doctor number 11 through his final battle at the much discussed planet of Trenzalore, where we see a Time Lord at the end of his life… seemingly.

The departure of a show’s lead actor is always going to bring with it a level of emotional weight, though it always varies in the case of this show. Smith got a fitting send off in terms of story arc, but his acting brought it over the line and truly made the story a memorable one.

I’ll start by saying “The Time of the Doctor” wasn’t the best episode of the Steven Moffatt era. As a story, the narrative wasn’t as well established as we’ve seen in the past, especially in terms of Christmas specials, and although it tied up a lot of loose ends it didn’t leave time for other plot points to develop.

In trying to wrap up Smith’s time in the role as tightly as possible, the pacing was the ultimate downfall of this story. We had a smorgasbord of The Doctor’s enemies back and for a while there, using the Daleks as the main antagonists again felt way overused as a plot point. In this case though, the concept of the returning Time Lords and Gallifrey as a whole (planted in the previous story), was strong enough to override my exasperation. It was all about revisiting the Big Bads of the Doctor’s era, with the crack in the wall, The Silence, the Weeping Angels and more returning for 11th one last go at him on Trenzalore/Christmas.

What should have been some poignant moments between the Doctor and Clara (Jenna Coleman) were cheapened by the rush to get back to the action and it relegated the side-story of Clara’s family Christmas pointless. The balance was out for about half an hour and if you’re used to these episodes, especially Moffat’s episodes, it was all the more noticeable.

There were plenty of good elements to the episode though and let’s be honest, we were all watching for the highly-anticipated regeneration and how it would be handled. Orla Brady, who played Tasha Lem was brilliant in her guest appearance; foxy and strong-willed, her moments with The Doctor in the Papal Mainframe were some of my favourite scenes. Thankful I was, that the whole Doctor numbering issue was cleared up. The confirmation that Matt Smith’s Doctor was at the end of his regeneration cycle made his final outing all the more important, even though the Time Lord’s granting him a new set of lives felt a bit quick.

The aged Doctor, who stayed on Trenzalore for over 300 years to protect the town from bad forces was great – this is a man who always has the option of flying away and putting himself first. Regardless of whether he has a TARDIS or not, he chose to stay and that is something to note about 11. He’d accepted his fate and seemed to finally be comfortable with it. This is Doctor Who though and there is always a last minute rescue – the clock tower striking 12 as the regeneration started was brilliant and even though the actual change over from Smith to Peter Capaldi was swift, it was in Smith’s final lines that truly made the episode a fitting send off.

Karen Gillan’s return to say a final goodbye to her ‘Raggedy Man’ was touching and not as surprising as I’m sure it was intended. As much as I’ve grown to enjoy Clara Oswald, the dynamic between Smith and Gillan was one of the best we’ve seen, so it made sense to have them reunited at the end. 11’s speech about the inevitability of change displayed shades of boldness and vulnerability and with Smith breaking the fourth wall in delivering the ‘I will never forget when the Doctor was me’ line, his tenure came to an end triumphantly. Much like Tennant’s final ‘I don’t wanna go’, Smith brought the tears but in a different way – we can be sad he’s gone, but excited about what’s to come and with Capaldi’s minute or so onscreen, not knowing how to pilot a crashing TARDIS, you know it’s going to be a rollercoaster ride.

“The Time of the Doctor” was brilliant in the most important place – saying goodbye. Smith took on the iconic role faced with a huge amount of doubt, though in his three years, he’s managed to prove himself as a more than worthy addition to the Who legacy and has broadened the show’s international appeal by leagues. The Smith-Capaldi changeover may have been too fast for some fans, though I thought it was necessary to drive home the point that we’re entering a whole new phase of the show.

We’ve got a Doctor with, potentially, a whole new set of regenerations, a home plant itching to return to the universe and of course, eyes now look to Clara as much as anyone else, to ease the new guy in. Much in the same way Billie Piper was with Tennant, the companion is now the way the new Doctor will work his way into the hearts of many. Capaldi was an inspired piece of casting, but for those kids who regard Smith as their Doctor, the dynamic between him and Coleman is going to be very interesting.

A massive Tennant-era fan, I watched the episode teary eyed at the end – Vale Matt Smith, one of the best actors we’ve seen in the role, perhaps we’ll see him you for the 100th anniversary special?

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Doctor Who screens in Australia on ABC1. The episode is currently available to watch on ABC’s iView. Stay tuned to The Iris for our wrap up of the Matt Smith series in our final “The Doctor Is In” podcast for the year.