2nd Opinion: The Time of the Doctor
David Selby and John Hussey both give their own verdict on Smith’s finale.
“Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.” – Marcus Aurelius
In spite of being fifteen minutes longer than the standard slot, The Time of the Doctor was a hasty affair. Consequence was difficult to track; the viewer barely had time to digest the war by the time it had come to its dramatic conclusion. BBC’s Call the Midwife, which preceded the festive special, was seventy-five minutes long, and one began to wonder whether an extended slot would have perhaps suited the Doctor Who special, in order to give the viewer time to take in the events (as well as the happenings themselves being stretched out to show the expanses of time and the horrors of the war) and the story itself space to breathe. I’m brought back to the previous Doctor’s swansong; a timespan made for the episode – rather than the reverse. An extra fifteen minutes, for instance, could have accounted for the death of a villager – we saw people die in the battle yet their sacrifices appeared to lack value. It wouldn’t have made the story too morbid, but it would have brought in that beneficial level of pathos – because they’re not a robot or a Time Lord. People did die in the battle, and I daresay that should have been acknowledged.
As with Day, this has been a difficult review to write. I originally took the position of Second Opinion from Adam with the thought that my views would contrast John’s – John being a very assured, optimistic person with an unbroken enthusiasm for the show that’s rare these days – and me being a cynic with regards to the current era. The End of Time was my favourite episode of the show, and now it’s perhaps time to say it: I’ve struggled to engage with the show ever since Moffat came to the helm as show-runner. There have been episodes I’ve enjoyed and felt passionate about – The Beast Below, Vincent and the Doctor, A Christmas Carol and The Snowmen as random examples – but when looking at the series as a whole, I haven’t felt emotionally invested in the same way as I used to. I haven’t felt confident about the arcs and I haven’t felt satisfied with the resolutions.
The Time of the Doctor changed everything.
Despite the faults which I’ve tried to acknowledge in the review, it completely rekindled my love for the show as well as largely redeeming an era I felt detached from. In honesty, I’m not entirely sure why. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for my love of the episode; especially as, theoretically, it wasn’t going to be my cup of tea. Yet whenever I finish it, I’m left feeling positive, fulfilled and wanting to see it over again – a sentiment I haven’t experienced for a long, long time.
The Papal Mainframe was an ingenious idea and showcased Moffat’s brilliant imagination. However, the thing that astonished me most of all was Moffat’s organisation. I’d never foreseen that the whole reason for the falling of silence was due to a potential resurrection of the Time War – or that the Doctor and the Silence, hitherto mortal enemies, would stand side by side at battle. It was a spectacular revelation, and for the first time in Moffat’s era I hadn’t predicted the outcome of the arc or the individual twists throughout the episode. Certain moments, such as Handles identifying the planet as Gallifrey, or the crack appearing in the wall, left me with a childlike open-mouthed shock which I certainly hadn’t been expecting when the episode began.
The blend of emotions was flawless and ultimately what sold the episode to me as a viewer. At moments, it was hilarious – at others, as I stated above, shocking. Then out of the blue came a genuine poignancy. For once, the writer managed to invest me in the aspects of the story I was supposed to relate to, and a lot of this was down to the aforementioned: his astonishing awareness of structure. Take the cracker: a solitary object; not remotely sentimental. Yet when Clara enters the TARDIS and realises the Doctor isn’t there, or when she helps him in his frailty to pull it (the emotional tipping point of the episode), one begins to realise that some of the most insignificant objects can elicit some of the most powerful emotional responses. That’s another aspect of the narrative which is true to real life.
I could go on with my praise. Both the Doctor and Clara single-handedly elevated the episode beyond my expectations. It was undoubtedly Smith and Jenna’s best performance and assured me of both of their acting abilities. The characters – layered with relatable authenticity – were at their most likable. Their relationship was developed gradually and subtly. At present, I don’t want Jenna to leave. Her chemistry with Capaldi will be fascinating, and I’ve taken that from one short scene. Capaldi’s first moments were terrific – full of suspense and completely hilarious. He’s the kind of actor who leaves you wanting more. It’s promising from the new eponymous hero.
Gold’s music relied heavily on reuse, but as it was the actor’s final episode, it didn’t bother me hugely as it gave the impression of a musical ‘farewell tour’ – especially when realising that the new tracks are some of the best and most haunting we’ve ever been treated to. Hopefully, Capaldi’s era will head in the direction of those kinds of composition. The directing was – though I hadn’t expected anything else – excellent; I’m beginning to warm to the new TARDIS again.
I can’t deny that the regeneration was beautiful. Matt’s forte was how he so perfectly connected with the children in the episodes, bringing a childlike awe and admiration back to the viewer. After an episode which utilised his finest talents to their fullest, it was unusually sad to see him go. But he went in dignity, with the exquisite farewell I’d hoped for.
There’s a lot I could pick apart about the episode, but I don’t want to – and not just because it’s Christmas. I’ve never felt more startled by an episode I entered so pessimistically, and it’s taught me that a good writer can heighten the quality of a narrative that appears mediocre in synopsis. Although, I do think it’s appropriate to end the review with a thank you to the last incarnation of the Doctor; to the remarkably talented Matt Smith – and of course, a Happy New Year to all of you at home.
Matt Smith’s final hour has come and what a send off he received. Steven Moffat was certainly on the top of his game with this one and delivered a plotline that not only brought about the end to an era and a Doctor but also managed to form as a celebration of Smith’s era as well as bringing in the foundation for the next 50 years of the show. ‘The Time of the Doctor’ also cleverly answered many questions from Matt’s era that we all wanted to know.
The whole idea that the Silence tried desperately to kill the Doctor – through means of blowing up his TARDIS and kidnapping and training River Song into the perfect assassin – was revealed to be all because they wanted to prevent a bloodshed on Trenzalore due to the potential return of the Time Lords. The Time Cracks were in fact a means for the Time Lords to return after their survival with the Doctor changing the outcome of the Last Great Time War in ‘The Day of the Doctor’. It was a shocking and exciting turn of events. The oldest question hidden in plain sight now seems to make more sense. The function of it wasn’t for evil: it was to bring the Time Lords back once they were assured they had found their way home through the confirmation of the Doctor’s Gallifreyan name.
In many ways it now seems the Silence weren’t the villains after all. I never really saw them as such after their secrets were revealed in ‘The Wedding of River Song’. It became more apparent that they wished to stop the Doctor from reaching a terrible point in his life and within his final episode all has been revealed. It was nice to see the Silents return with their origins and meaning now put into light. We now know they are but humble priests working for the Papal Mainframe, better known as Tasha Lem. It was most fitting on the Fields of Trenzalore that the Silents join forces with the Doctor to prevent the bloodshed of the war.
Bringing all of the Doctor’s greatest enemies into play for Matt’s final story did seem a bit risky at first but it really did play out nicely with each individual monster getting a good amount of screen-time and material to play with. The only snag was the comedy appearance of the Sontarans. It can be said though that the Weeping Angels are still on fine form and caused another creepy scene, this time in the snow. Moffat never ceases to amaze with his simple but effective creation.
The Cybermen certainly got what they deserved after their poor excuse of a return in ‘Nightmare in Silver’. In this episode they had good dialogue (still not much of it but certainly more than what can be said in their last appearance) and felt threatening without the daft element and perpetual upgrading of all weaknesses. Obviously the Daleks took centre stage for good reasoning. They out of all the species that arrived at Trenzalore hate the Time Lords the most due to their bloody war in the Time War and wished to prevent their return at all costs. It was nice to see the return of the Dalek Puppets (first introduced by Moffat in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’) and were once again put to good use. This time the Nanogenes took control of the Silence and revisited the terrible scenario of their victims realising they had died and were now Dalek slaves. The one nit-pick I can see was the disappointing factor of their memory loss returning too earlier. There was so much potential for them forgetting the Doctor but I guess it can’t be helped and in the long run I don’t think it will make much of a difference. The Daleks are powerful again and that’s all that matters.
Clara certainly went on a dramatic journey and received many sad moments to face in the Eleventh Doctor’s final hour. It was traumatising to see her receive the Rose Tyler treatment of being sent back home not once but twice. Still, at least this time she was brought back by the Doctor for the farewell before his apparent inevitable fate of death. It was Clara who once again saved the day with her never-ending loyalty and friendship to the Time Lord as she pleaded with the Time Lords to save him from his fixed death on Trenzalore.
This result ended with the Doctor finally cheating his endgame. He at least gained a new set of regenerations after reaching the point of no return (this is due to the surprise revealing of the War Doctor and Ten’s half regeneration in ‘Journey’s End’). It was a very sad episode to watch and it almost destroyed me seeing Eleven being crippled by time and being reduced to an old man. Tears were shed at this point. He certainly received an explosive exit and one final speech of brilliance (like all of Matt’s speeches throughout his tenure) as the newly given regeneration energy by the Time Lords ripped apart the Daleks and ended the battle of Trenzalore.
The really sad part was seeing Matt return as his younger self. I thought I had accepted his fate but then he returned to remind me of how great he was and brought the sadness back all over again. The nicest part about his exit was he left with triumph on his face, looking back on his current life and swearing to remember each day of it with happiness. That made his goodbye all the more perfect. It was also nice to see Amy Pond return one last time to say farewell to her raggedy man.
Of course with a blink of an eye Peter Capaldi entered our screens and introduced himself as the Twelfth Doctor. His beginning may not have been as explosive as Matt’s but it certainly got the message across and showcased the show will go on and Clara may be in a spot of bother as the Doctor can’t seem to remember how to fly his TARDIS. Oh dear. I’m sure we shall enjoy seeing Capaldi progress as the Doctor in 2014 but for now let us give one final farewell to the one and only Matt Smith. Thank you for everything you have brought to us as the Eleventh Doctor.