Christmas has come around and closed the door on another era of Doctor Who. It’s the end of Matt Smith’s phenomenal run as the Doctor, as he bows out in spectacular style to make way for Peter Capaldi and the new era that follows.
WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS.
It has only been 2 days since the 800th episode of Doctor Who aired and I have no shame in admitting that I’ve watched it about 5 times through already… Some of the episode’s reception has been mixed, but the more I watch it the more I end up loving it. It’s the perfect send-off for Matt’s Doctor – a story which closed the story arcs of the last 3 years by addressing the lingering questions of Series 5 and 6, and wiping the slate clean for the next era of the show.
The story begins with a beautiful opening shot of the planet Trenzalore, a simple human farming colony which The Name of the Doctor established to be the place of the Doctor’s death, and Tasha Lem (the Mother Superious of the Papal Mainframe, referenced previously in A Good Man Goes to War in Series 6) provides a voice-over which describes a mysterious signal being broadcast by the planet across all of time a space. Nobody can translate the signal or determine its origin, but it becomes something of an intergalactic tourist attraction for the Doctor’s enemies as it instils a sense of pure, unadulterated fear. The Doctor is also investigating the signal with his new friend, a severed Cyberman head called Handles (genius!), who teleports the Doctor aboard a random ship to find out why half the universe is sitting over the planet. It just so happens that it’s a Dalek ship the Doctor is on and he’s holding a disembodied Dalek eyestalk as proof of his courage and power which seems like a good way to make a first impression until he’s met with cries of “EXTERMINATE”.There’s a good amount of humour in the episode running alongside the build-up to the inevitable tragedy of the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration. What I really have to make note of however is just how different this subject was treated compared to The End of Time, four years ago. There’s none of the out of character melodrama that plagued Tennant’s send-off, none of the overblown, overplayed whining about regeneration being death. The Time of the Doctor offers a quieter, more subtle regeneration story which feels odd to say because the pace of the first 45 minutes of this episode is relentlessly fast. That’s really my only big complaint about the episode, I’m glad that it was an hour long (which should be the standard of every episode, BBC!) but there was so much that had to go into it, I couldn’t help but feel that some parts were a bit rushed. As amusing as I found the whole nudity thing, I’d have cut that out entirely to make way for a bit more development elsewhere in the episode.
The cinematography, as ever, is amazing. Towards the end of the episode where we see the battle of Trenzalore, there are some absolutely stunning, visually pleasing spectacles. Armies of Cybermen teleporting into the town, Daleks either slowly gliding across the screen or bombarding the area from above, and (my favourite bit) the silhouetted figures of the Doctor and three Silents marching across the fields of Trenzalore while he swings his walking stick around as an explosion goes off behind him – felt very much like what the Seventh Doctor used to do whenever he walked away from an impending explosion. The battle scenes were really well done, it’s a shame that we didn’t really get to see more of it because there really hasn’t been anything quite like a Dalek vs Cyberman vs Weeping Angel vs Silence battle before in the show (indeed, the Daleks and Cybermen only ever appeared on-screen together in Doomsday back in 2006).
On the subject of the Weeping Angels, it was nice to see them back but they didn’t really serve much of a purpose in the story. People are starting to call them “overused”, to which I say you can bugger off if you think this because they’ve had a grand total of three stories (4 episodes) in the space of almost 7 years now. That’s not overused. The Daleks appearing in every series from 2005-2008 as the primary villains is how you overuse a monster, the Weeping Angels may have been relatively pointlessly featured in The Time of the DOctor, but they are not overused.
“In time, when all other races had retreated or burned, only the Church of the Mainframe remained in the path of the Daleks. And so those ancient enemies, the Doctor and the Silence, stood back-to-back on the fields of Trenzalore.”
On the subject of Tasha Lem, I really liked her character. Orla Brady did a fantastic job of portraying a character who was funny, commanding and strong, but also caring. She actually flies the TARDIS to get Clara just so the Doctor won’t be alone as he faces his death, not only that but she actually manages to fight the Dalek nanobots inside her. We’ve seen how these work, in order to transform a person into a Dalek puppet they “subtract love, add anger” (as Oswin told us in Asylum of the Daleks), yet Tasha manages to hold on for hundreds of years. This got me quite interested in her history with the Doctor, I really hope she comes back at some point because her character has a lot of potential.A quick little side-note on the fact that I really can’t be doing with people accusing Moffat of being incapable of writing female characters who don’t make sexual advances on the Doctor. Er… Nancy, Sally Sparrow, Madge Arwell, Madame Kovarian, Vastra, Jenny, Lorna, Kate Stewart, Miss Evangelista, Mrs Angelo, Abigail Pettigrew, Miss Kizlet, Kathy Nightingale, Liz 10, Angie Maitland… ringing any bells here? Not to mention the fact that Amy got over the Doctor romantically quite quickly, and Clara never lets her fancying of the Doctor dictate her relationship with him – from the beginning, she travelled with the Doctor on her terms and continues to do so. Of Moffat’s women, the only ones who have made sexual advances on the Doctor are Amy, River and Tasha. Amy’s was brought about by her childhood trauma and the heat of the moment following her survival in the face of certain death, River is the Doctor’s wife, and Tasha clearly has a history with the Doctor across a number of his regenerations that is open to expansion. We’re not counting Queen Elizabeth because it was Russel T. Davies who established the fact that the Doctor soiled her status as the ‘Virgin Queen’. Really, I hate to throw the haters a bone here by openly addressing their complaints but it just gets to the point of utter ridiculousness sometimes because of just how wrong they are.Back to the review. The concept of the Silents being used for confession was another genius twist on their role in the Whoniverse. You spill your guts out to them and then forget ever saying anything as soon as you look away. They look as terrifying as ever, but it was interesting to see them on the Doctor’s side as he worked with the Mainframe to protect Trenzalore because they had a common goal and are not inherently evil – those from the Kovarian Chapter are the bad ones and it doesn’t seem fair to judge all of the Silents based solely on a rogue faction.
Through the Church of the Mainframe’s involvement, we saw some closure to some of Series 5 and 6’s lingering questions – who blew up the TARDIS? What is this “endless, bitter war”? Turns out that the Kovarian Chapter, led by Madame Kovarian, broke away from the Mainframe to find ways to prevent the Doctor ever going to Trenzalore. By killing the Doctor beforehand, blowing up the TARDIS and engineering River Song being just two of their methods, the battle of Trenzalore would never occur and centuries of war would be averted along with the risk of the Doctor bringing back the Time Lords to kickstart the next Great Time War. Silence would fall, the Question would never be answered. It fits together beautifully with what Dorium (who got a reference from the Doctor – “the Maldovaar Market”) said at the very end of The Wedding of River Song.
“On the fields of Trenzalore, at the Fall of the Eleventh, where no living creature could speak falsely or fail to answer, a Question will be asked. A Question which must never, ever be answered.”
We’ve had this whole story dangling over our heads for two years now!I also loved how there was a bit of a vibe from the episode from Series 7A, A Town Called Mercy, as the Doctor assumes the role of sheriff of the town of Christmas and protects it for hundreds of years, becoming a local legend – much like the Gunslinger does after the Doctor persuades him that he can have a new purpose in life. Again, this is something I’d have liked to have seen a bit more of – though, it was nice to see the drunk giraffe (oh my god, that’s even the canon name for it!) have one last hurrah. The effect that the Doctor has on the townspeople is clear enough, as the basement of the Doctor’s tower is filled with drawings of his exploits which he appears to have turned into tales for the children, and there are huge celebrations with every victory the Doctor brings – one of which being against a wooden Cyberman (hey, how about that – Handles and Woody, eh?).
Now then, let’s talk about Clara and her role in the episode. I’ve seen people complain about her character having no journey or arc over the last year which has really left me feeling quite ambivalent towards a part of the fanbase – are they simply not paying attention, or are they genuinely a bit thick? If you can’t see how Clara has developed from the terrified woman in a Russian submarine to somebody who flatly demanded the Time Lords do something, anything, to help the man who gave them a sliver of hope to survive the Time War, then maybe (just maybe) the problem isn’t in the writing…Other people seem to think that Clara is “too perfect”. The Mary Sue accusation is one that often strikes me as a bit odd because it’s almost exclusively an excuse to hate a female character when there’s no other reason to hate her – i.e. when she’s done everything right. If a female character has not hurt the feelings of some beloved male character or slept with the wrong guy or whathaveyou, then shouting “MARY SUE” is the way for them to pretend they’re not a raving misogynist, because that is the moment they have truly failed.
Clara is clever, brave, intuitive, sensitive, beautiful, and just generally a good human being – but she’s had moments where it’s all been too much for her. When the darkness of life with the Doctor becomes more than just an idea, but the form of a mangled corpse torn apart in front of her by an Ice Warrior. And then there’s Hide and Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS where she needs time to get over the trauma of realising that what seems like a perfect little fantasy world with the Doctor is exposed as one of death and darkness. Then we have The Name of the Doctor, the first act of this trilogy of episodes, where she gets to see the Doctor – all of him. She gets to see him from his very first trip in the TARDIS all the way through to the moment it seems like he has died and all is lost. She sees his love of adventure and his hope that he can make people better, his kindness. But she also gets to see the darkness and grief that haunts him.
She gets to see what 1200 years of living and loving and losing turns someone into, and that transforms her relationship with the Doctor completely. Look at how they see each other with uncertainty and even a bit of fear in the early episodes of Series 7B, Clara is warned that “there’s a sliver of ice in his heart”, but this arc is all about how two people come to understand one another so completely and are able to use that connection between them to draw strength and fight against whatever comes to break them apart. This is about taking a leap of faith and placing your trust in somebody you care about, and symbiotically working together so both of them emerge as better people.
Clara’s flaws – like some real, genuine people – are more subtle than simply being labelled with “THIS IS A NEGATIVE PERSONALITY TRAIT”, and are caused by her being too much of a good thing. Each of her positive attributes have a negative dimension to them as well. She’s too trusting, which makes her appear naive. She’s intelligent and confident (even the War Doctor said “you’re very sure of yourself, aren’t you?”) which makes her look bossy and a bit of a control freak (which Clara even acknowledges in the episode due to the effects of the Truth Field). She’s also a bit of a dreamer and looks at everything with unwavering optimism and rose-tinted glasses, the illusions conjured by this way of looking at things is often shattered in a numbeer of Series 7B’s episodes. Flaws don’t necessarily have to be obviously negative. Not all people are like that.
Whole volumes could be written about just how much development Clara has actually had in the last year, the problem (as ever) with people is that they just can’t look beneath the surface.Clara is the woman who saves the Doctor once more, not through self-sacrifice but through her intimate understanding of the man himself and her compassion. She is the one who makes the Doctor realise that he can save Gallifrey, just as she is the one who makes the Time Lords save the Doctor. It was a beautiful moment of triumph for the Doctor, Clara and the Time Lords – I really do hope that this bodes well for the latter, as it’s very likely that the High Council was killed by the Master to make way for more humble leadership. I hope that when the Time Lords inevitably do return, they have evolved slightly from the disinterested gods the were in the classic series. After the Time War and the devastation it caused them, after so much loss they must have realised that things need to change. The Doctor says that the Time Lords will come in peace if he lets them through the Time Crack, which is a good sign…
Oh yeah, the Time Crack – it’s back! The Kovarian Chapter blew up the TARDIS in Series 5 which destroyed the universe and caused the cracks to appear across all of time and space in the first place. Through this structural weakness, the Time Lords have been asking the Question (“Doctor who?”) and if the Doctor answers it (his name being the answer) then they’ll know it’s safe to come through. It’s really quite sad that the Doctor finally knows that Gallifrey was saved, but can’t bring them back because all of his enemies have their fingers collectively on the trigger that will cause another war.I won’t even deny that the last 15 minutes had me bawling like a child. There are plenty of genuinely touching moments throughout, such as Handles passing away and the Doctor and Clara watching Trenzalore’s sunrise, but when they pull a Christmas cracker together and the Doctor (having aged hundreds of years) doesn’t quite have the strength to pull it and Clara puts her hand on his… I just lost it. It certainly didn’t help me that Murray Gold was on top form with the music as well, using some of his best tracks from the last 4 years to illustrate the sombre, melancholy beauty of the moments between the Doctor and Clara. The final standoff with the Daleks where the Doctor just sits there, accepting that it’s time because he’s seen the future and the graves that litter Trenzalore, was equally tragic. This is the hero who never gives up, now at the end of his last life with nothing left until the Time Lords say “well, we do kind of owe him one…”But when Amy appeared? I might well have drowned in a sea of my own tears because that was exactly how I pictured the regeneration scene in my head prior to the episode – with young Amelia running around the TARDIS, followed by Amy bidding him the farewell they never had. After all, a good deal of Eleven’s story was as much Amy’s story and it was only fitting that he thinks of her in his final moments. Those last 15 minutes were everything I wanted out of Matt’s departure. Amy Pond has always been special to the Doctor, she’s been seared onto his hearts and she’s there for him in his final moment, to help him change, without tears, but with a smile on his face.
He’s finally able to let go of it all – to get rid of the bow tie and stop being the raggedy man. The final scene carries so much in the way of thematic resonance with the last 3 years, as running and going ‘home’ have both been a pretty big themes over the last few years. Amy was the girl who ran away, she wanted to run away from home as much as the Doctor did, and her journey closes with her embracing adulthood and her married life with Rory. Clara goes with the Doctor for trips around the universe, but she always knows she’s going back home because those are the terms she set out to the Doctor from the beginning – this, I think, is what the segments with Clara’s family in the episode were meant to illustrate.By saying his final goodbye to Amy, he is symbolically moving on from the running. By removing the bow tie, he has said goodbye to his overt childishness and is ready to ‘grow up’, like the War Doctor said in the previous episode. His final act was to reach out for Clara’s hand, for the future – for the girl who goes home. For the last few years, Gallifrey has been reaching out to the Doctor, it has been doing this without us or the Doctor even knowing until now, as he continued to run. Now it’s time for the Doctor to stop and reach back for his home, just like he said at the end of The Day of the Doctor in reference to his “new destination”, and I’m terribly excited about the whole thing!
“Times change, and so must I…”
The Doctor’s final words had a very Blade Runner feel to them, much like Roy Batty’s “tears in rain” speech to Deckard before he dies – if you’ve not seen Blade Runner, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life, but you need to watch it. It was very much in-keeping with that profoundly poetic nuance we’ve seen from Matt’s speeches, just like in The Rings of Akhaten – speaking of which, it was beautiful to hear the instrumental version of the Long Song (Infinite Potential, as the track is officially called) playing before Matt’s regeneration. Ever since that episode, I’ve wanted that to be the song for Eleven because the lyrics fit so perfectly with his character.Were there aspects of the episode that could have been improved upon? Certainly. Do I think that these had a significant impact on not just my enjoyment of the episode, but its overall quality? No. Overall, this was the climax that we’ve been building towards for years and I loved every minute of it. Matt Smith has been such an inspiration, not just to me but to millions and millions of people across the world – that’s not even an exaggeration. I wish him all the best for the bright acting career he’s got ahead of him, he’s already done a musical adaptation of American Psycho in London which garnered very positive reviews, and is set to appear in a Hollywood film with Ryan Gosling, so there’s not even the faintest chance of him being typecast because those are such different roles from the Doctor.
It’s sad to see him go, but it’s time to move on – as we Whovians are well accustomed. Capaldi has entered the TARDIS and Gallifrey is calling, I can’t wait to see what new direction the show takes when it comes back in 2014. Exactly what Steven Moffat has in store for us, we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I’ll probably be lamenting Matt’s departure for a good long while – his tawdry quirks, his childlike fascination with bow ties/fezzes/stetsons, and his amazing speeches. This was truly Matt’s finest performance.
All that’s really left to say right now is farewell and good night. I will not forget one line of this.