The Eleventh Doctor’s time ends as it began, at Christmas (well, sort of), just like his predecessor (ditto). More accurately, it begins and ends in winter, and there is a bookending feel to this, or a life cycle through the year. This is especially important as, for the first time since the First Doctor (and that is in some doubt) we see a Doctor basically die of old age. This plays into the different ways in which the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors accept their fate. Ten struggles with it and doesn’t “want to go”, but if he is telling the truth about his age, or at least telling the truth only comparatively within the context of his own life, then his incarnation is only five years old when he dies, and is the second of two very short-lived Doctors. Ironically, the most recent one who got to live a long time was the one who fought in the Time War. By the end of this story, Eleven has lived well over a thousand years, presumably the longest a single incarnation has lived unless he has been majorly lying, and he is ready to accept the inevitable.
There is a lovely cyclical nature to it all, not just in the incidental Christmas connection, which only happens because of the nature of Doctor Who’s transmission schedule. Just as he started with The Eleventh Hour, his life ends with a clock striking Twelve, and his last meal is the same as his first: fish fingers and custard of course! Also, the short section post-regeneration is interesting in light of the fact that the Doctor has been given a fresh start, and begins again with a new life cycle of regenerations, because it echoes where the First Doctor began, heading off into space with a teacher from Coal Hill School, unable to fly the TARDIS properly. Of course, this First Doctor parallel will continue right to the end of the Twelfth Doctor’s life, but we will get to that very soon!
We have already had a glimpse of the Twelfth Doctor and, let’s face it, even if we hadn’t we knew Doctor Who wasn’t going to end here, so the potential final death of the Doctor was always going to be false drama. The interesting bit is trying to figure out how he is going to cheat the regeneration limit, but with the Time Lords lurking around in the background of the story it’s not too difficult to work out. The whole regeneration limit thing calls back to the Tenth Doctor’s quasi-regeneration, which gets explained as a real one:
Number Ten once regenerated and kept the same face — I had vanity issues at the time.
There is a satisfying tying up of loose ends here, with the crack, etc, but there is also a sense of the story reaching back into the longer history of Doctor Who, setting what is about to happen in the context of the wider story. We even get the Seal of the High Council which the Doctor confiscated from the Master in The Five Doctors ret-conned into a Chekhov’s Gun, over an amusingly remarkable period of time. But there is a very strong theme of waiting a long time for things, and not just in the Doctor’s long life. For example, Handles (a fabulous nod to Wilson in Castaway) takes 300 year to give the Doctor his reminder. Then we have Clara, who finally confesses to being attracted to the Doctor, and according to Jenna Coleman this episode was supposed to go further than that and represent Clara realising at last that she is in love with the Doctor. If you read that subtext into it then the whole thing becomes ironic because this is the moment she loses her Doctor and he regenerates into an older, grumpier man, so in some ways she has the opposite curve to follow to Rose.
There should also have been some kind of examination of the relationship between the Doctor and River Song at this point, but Alex Kingston was unavailable when this was filmed, even for a cameo. This is where the character of Tasha Lem really doesn’t work. I don’t think she was ever mentioned as being a direct rewrite (or merely renaming) of River in interviews, at least none that I have read, but it’s pretty obvious what is going on here. Either way it’s bad business, because changing a name and doing the same doesn’t make for a very compelling or realistic characterisation. It would have been better to write her out altogether. There is a sense that Moffat was perhaps dissatisfied with the character as well, because she is unceremoniously dumped from the narrative when her usefulness is at an end. Similarly shoehorned in is the theme of Christmas, with the naming of the town the ultimate example of this, but then we are used to Christmas not exactly being intrinsic to the Christmas specials, with a couple of notable exceptions.
So how about the regeneration itself? An interesting development is the Doctor’s body returning to its original form before dying, something that is biologically pointless when you think about it but opens up an interesting possibility. We could actually now have a new television series, or internet series perhaps, with Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, have his Doctor killed at the end and then return to his younger appearance for his regeneration at the start of Time and the Rani, and that fits perfectly now within the established rules of Doctor Who. Any takers?
The Doctor makes a promise before he dies, or does he?
I will not forget one line of this. Not one day, I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.
This is delivered to the camera and almost feels like the actor speaking to the viewers rather than the character, in a similar way to that line in Time Crash about Five being “my Doctor” for Ten, which makes no sense unless it is David Tennant talking at that point rather than the Doctor. Either way, it is a strong sentiment and one that reflects exactly what we are feeling at that moment. Because we will never forget when the Doctor was Matt Smith either. RP
The view from across the pond:
At the end of series 8, the Doctor tells Clara they are going to Hell. What they failed to recognize was that they went there already with the pathetically unfortunate episode The Time of the Doctor. Smith’s final episode, following the magnificent Day of the Doctor, should have been the pinnacle of his time as the Doctor. Alas, Stephen Moffat wrote one of the worst Christmas specials to date.
Now I wasn’t fond of The Snowmen for reasons I explained already, but this may have trumped it for garbage. The only reason I debate that is the last 10 minutes which make the previous 50 watchable. In fact, I’d go so far as to say, those 10 minutes might have made the episode great. So with that in mind…
The first 50-ish minutes:
Moffat has a lot to tie up but doesn’t know how to do it so he throws spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. (If this isn’t a phrase over in the UK, the idea is, throw out everything you’ve got and hope something catches on!)
- Moffat insists on a cameo from everyone, so the Doctor starts by visiting a Dalek ship, then a Cyberman ship neither of which add anything to the story. There’s Weeping Angels lying under the snow. Silence in the Church. Wooden Cybermen because why not? Would that make sense? NOT AT ALL.
- Handles, a potentially fun companion, is just there, without any explanation after The Day of the Doctor. No explanation, just he’s there and that’s it…
- Clara asks the Doctor to pretend to be her boyfriend to come for Christmas (the weak first link to the holiday). But the Doctor shows up naked. Which leads to some absolutely idiotic comedy that does nothing for the story at all. I think it’s there to allow Clara to be grabbed by a Weeping Angel and the Doctor to remind her she’s naked, but it doesn’t work! (And again, Moffat is living out boyhood fantasies.) Not to mention, does no one in Clara’s family notice she’s left the apartment? Does Moffat think when people are not “in sight” they just sit still?? She takes the turkey out of the house – no one notices??
- A pill can give Clara holographic clothes so she can enter into the Papal Mainframe naked. But she wasn’t naked to begin with. (I’m probably annoyed at this for the wrong reasons!)
- We also have to have some inane reference to the Doctor having “invented a boyfriend” once. Again, adds nothing.
- The Doctor surprises us by removing his wig, which he supposedly did on a whim. It’s all for shock value and adds nothing at all.
- Then there’s Christmas Town. No, not the one run by Jack Skellington, though that would have been nice, but a town full of Christmas decorations and a truth field that means no one can lie. (Well this had to be because of the prophesy… shame it was the best Moffat could do!)
- And the Crack in Time is back, for another round of Track the Crack. Now remember, this thing has worked as a prison for Prisoner Zero, a trash can for Weeping Angels, and a repository for small pieces of exploded TARDIS… but now we are expected to accept that all this time it lead to Gallifrey?
- Moffat has to give us one more gratuitous use of “Doctor Who” in the dialog. It seems Dorium knew exactly what the question was so why all the mystery now?
- The Time Lords need to know they are in the right place, so if the question is answered, they will appear and restart the Time War. Yet, even though the question is not answered directly, Clara clearly gets them to believe The Doctor is there and they give him a new regeneration cycle, but fail to come back. Let’s clarify: confirm the Doctor is there and they’ll restart a war. Hint that he’s here and they give him a whole new regeneration cycle and then promptly vanish???
- The Silence is revealed to be priests, which in fairness is a pretty cool idea, though explains nothing about why they were guiding Earth for centuries…
- We also have to have a callback to the first episode of season 7 where the Daleks can manifest eyestalks from the heads of organic life. Another senseless addition to Dalek lore.
- And a quick retcon edit of the Daleks forgetting all mention of the Doctor at the beginning of season 7 is thrown away by a line about Tasha Lem’s memory being harvested. So we dump the good ideas and keep the bad…
- Speaking of the Daleks, why can’t they hit the broadside of a church tower? The greatest threat to all the universe and the can’t hit a building to kill one old man?
- Why would the Doctor “reset” after aging some 900 years, to the start of his youthful regeneration? It’s like Moffat wanted to show the Doctor getting old, but didn’t want him to go out covered in prosthetics, so had to devise some lame scheme to make him young again, so therefore he was resetting before regenerating.
This episode was senseless. It was written by a guy who hoped he could close up all the loose ends and no one would notice because we typically live in an era of people who like spoon-fed drivel. And we never find out if Clara’s family is still sitting in that room waiting for Christmas Dinner… because you know, that’s what people do when they are not onscreen!
The last 10-ish minutes:
- Starting with a triumphant regeneration that take the Daleks out of the sky, then the return to the TARDIS to see Smith back in all his glory (even if the reason made no sense), it’s a visual treat. Then Smith delivers the best paragraph of the series:
“We all change, when you think about it, we are all different people, all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good! You’ve gotta keep moving, as 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.” – The Doctor
- Amy’s cameo to say goodbye is also heartbreaking and beautiful and kudos to Karen for being a part of it.
- Capaldi makes one heck of an opening. And it’s going to be a wild ride.
This ending made up for all the drivel that went before. But it’s a hard hour to watch. I’d recommend fast forwarding to the end to see what really makes Doctor Who special. Smith was a great Doctor, plagued by weaker scripts than his predecessors. But in his final moments, he turned a child’s scrawl into a near masterpiece. And he deserves every bit of credit we can throw at him for that. It was no small feat! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Deep Breath