The Time of the Doctor DVD Review
Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull gives his verdict on the recent DVD release of The Time of the Doctor.
Episodes on the DVD
A Christmas Carol (2010 Christmas special)
There are a small cluster of Doctor Who episodes that I hold so very dear to my heart – The Doctor’s Wife, School Reunion, The Lazarus Experiment and Amy’s Choice are just a few examples – and A Christmas Carol is up in the top three. Beautiful and heartbreaking all at once yet uplifting and quite magical, it is storytelling at its very best. Steven Moffat’s grade A script is supported by one of Matt Smith’s most genuine performances, Katherine Jenkins’ mellifluous voice and Michael Gambon’s consummate turn as Kazran Sardick, making A Christmas Carol not just one of the best Christmas specials but one of the best episodes ever.
The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (2011 Christmas special)
If I were asked to define the most underrated episode of Doctor Who it’d be neck-and-neck between Love & Monsters and The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. The former is a daring experiment, which showed the devastating impact the Doctor leaves in his wake (only let down by an abysmal villain), and the latter is a superlative Christmas tale about family values and the importance of having your friends with you in the festive period. Claire Skinner’s Madge was, as guest contributor Lee Garrett so eloquently put it, an unsung hero and possibly one of the most realistic portrayals of a mother I’ve ever seen – excluding the cringe-worthy “I’m looking for my children” scene. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe dared to be different; it was, like Love & Monsters, a test and a very successful one in my books. Bar the underemployed comedians roped in, I consider it very good indeed.
The Snowmen (2012 Christmas special)
I have no real bone to pick with The Snowmen. While I can pick out the flaws from any episode (even Capaldi’s opening episode – yes, I’m that good) I didn’t find all that much wrong with the 2012 Christmas special. It was a light introduction to Victorian Clara Oswald with a chilling villain in the form of the eponymous snow-creatures and a serviceable performance from Matt Smith. Richard E. Grant was also excellent if his talents (and smouldering looks) were under-utilized. Saul Metzstein’s direction was actually a strong highlight and the Paternoster Gang were amusing, nothing more. Overall, a likeable, balanced episode that would be rated higher if it weren’t for Grant and Ian McKellen (as the booming, maniacal Great Intelligence) being so underused.
The Time of the Doctor (2013 Christmas special)
Upon first viewing of The Time of the Doctor I found it to be one of Steven Moffat’s most inadequate and disheartening scripts in a long while. The script, to me, buckled under the tonnage of loose ends, character development, the depleted regeneration cycle problem and, of course, Matt Smith’s farewell. But after reviewing it again I discovered it was quite the opposite, packing one of Smith’s best ever turns, a giddy, concentrated (but flawed) script and, most interestingly, a firm progression of Clara Oswald’s story. It’s got about as many cons as it has pros so I’m completely split over this festive mélange.
The Time of the Doctor kicks off with a pre-title sequence that’s more style than substance but still manages to include some wonderful one-liners (“it’s a rollercoaster, this phone call”). The script is chock-full of contemporary Moffat tics (I’ve noticed he has a penchant for incorporating modern colloquialisms and locutions – here, we have “app it!” while The Day of the Doctor had “LOL”) and zany one-liners; the pre-title sequence is enough evidence. However there are snags in it and these are the explanations of the perdurable ‘Silence will fall’ arc but finally and thankfully it’s closed. Across the Internet there’s been outrage that Moffat chose to tie up the vast majority of this especially tricksy storyline in a few sentences. In certain cases, this is, in fact, true but rather than spell everything out to you Moffat allowed your imagination to fill in the gaps. I’ve noticed certain Doctor Who fans become almost spiteful in their criticisms and there was quite a backlash after the screenwriter’s recent comments regarding plot holes. His other marketable programme, Sherlock has also received much broadside for not explaining everything onscreen and I apply this to The Time of the Doctor when I say, not everything has to be elucidated onscreen. Moffat is a unique writer in that he treats his audience with respect, he likes leaving things open (just take a look at his – and Mark Gatiss’ – schismatic resolution to the supposed death of Sherlock Holmes) and believes that we at home are clever enough to work things out for ourselves.
Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman are at their top of their game here and, while I mean this in the best intentions, it’s frustrating and somewhat annoying. The last run of episodes, which debuted Coleman as modern-day Clara were shaky and the chemistry of both hadn’t quite solidified by The Name of the Doctor. The Day of the Doctor saw it truly blossom and The Time of the Doctor was just their best performances together, making Smith’s departure even more saddening. Smith injected his customary charm but most importantly pathos as the now departed Time Lord.
The plot, whilst being extremely knotty, makes more or less sense. The Doctor is plunged into an everlasting stalemate with some of his greatest adversaries and, in traditional Moffat style; he looks upon the impact of them and not them specifically (see the Zygons in The Day of the Doctor). The Daleks, the Cybermen, the Terileptils, the Slitheen, the Silurians and the Sontarans were pooled together and regarded as one malevolent force and not independent boo-hiss villains.
Sadly, there are problems. A lot of elements felt hard to swallow, such as the idea that the TARDIS key can allow the ship itself to break through the otherwise impregnable shield surrounding Trenzalore and the nudity. Whilst it was uproarious it felt more like material for the fangirls to salivate over and, in hindsight, wasn’t a key part of the plot. Call me pedantic but a lot of supposedly minor elements in Moffat’s scripts – especially with him clutching the reigns to the typically bamboozling Sherlock – all turn out to add up to the overall plot. The nakedness did not.
The Time of the Doctor also had a lot of pacing issues. Too much emphasis was put on Clara’s family get-together (while James Buller, Elizabeth “ATMOS” Rider and the lovely Sheila “Etta” Reid put in solid enough performances, they didn’t feel like a family at all. Of course, Linda was intentionally aggravating but Clara’s grandmother just didn’t seem like her grandmother at all. This brings us onto her admittedly touching trip down nostalgia lane but it felt like information we had to process and log to only be dragged up later to prove a point.)
I’ve seen Orla Brady’s Tasha Lem receive a fair amount of abuse for being, in essence, the many facets of River slapped into a new equally coquettish woman. While I completely agree with this I won’t say I didn’t like some of her lines (“nice though. Tight.”) – and Brady’s turn as the Mother Superious was excellent.
As you may have gathered, I regard The Time of the Doctor as a real mixed bag: an odd, slightly clunky episode peppered with moments of brilliance but topped off by a glorious regeneration sequence. Coleman and Smith in the latter’s final moments left not a dry eye in our living room (“Oh, that’s nice. Crying at Christmas.”) and the symbolism, if unsubtle, was well-rendered – take the calm removal of the Doctor’s trademark bowtie. The hallucination of Amy Pond wasn’t as indulgent as it could have been and I was thrilled Moffat left it as a simple, understated yet heartbreaking moment. It took nothing away from Amy’s tearful goodbye in The Angels Take Manhattan and didn’t detract from Smith’s farewell – so overall, the whole thing was brilliantly done (a lot of it helped by Jamie Payne’s stylised direction).
Then came Peter Capaldi in a fleeting glow of amber light with his shock of grey hair, his piercing blue eyes and his Scottish burr. I felt the sombre tone of Smith’s departure was dispensed with a bit too quickly and my initial reaction was against his first lines (“Kidneys! I’ve got new kidneys”) but in hindsight this was a salute to David Tennant’s “new teeth” and a continuation of a trend. As was Smith’s last speech; looking at Eccleston and Tennant’s last lines, they could all be accused of breaking the fourth wall. I thought “I will not forget one line of this” was a bit too knowing but Smith’s performance saved it. And even in my rewatch I was too busy to form an opinion; “I will always remember when the Doctor was me” broke me.
A strange, often confused bundle of marvellous ideas with a script brimming with charm and prospect that’s only hampered by an exposition-heavy script. However, Coleman and Smith’s performances were some of my acting highlights of last year and Capaldi’s debut was pregnant with potential.
Tales of the TARDIS
Tales of the TARDIS is very much a BBC America affair, filmed in the same manner as the recent, slightly irrelevant series The Doctors Revisited and including most of the same people. It documents the regeneration process and, rather than concentrate on the effect it has on the Doctor, it centralizes on how the actor takes it. David Tennant, Matt Smith and a few other classic Doctors are the only ones that get a look-in and what they have to say is actually rather new. With these featurettes you often get the stars retreading old ground but a lot of what people like Tom Baker says is candid and previously unknown.
A short, surprisingly fresh little feature about how regeneration affects the actors involved in it.
Behind the Lens
The Behind the Lens films have been sad reminders of what remarkable behind-the-scenes look we have left behind: Doctor Who Confidential. The Time of the Doctor edition of Behind the Lens isn’t as in-depth as the forty-five minutes (of greatness) we got in Doctor Who Confidential but it’s the best we’re going to get. The only detriment is the excruciating voiceover, which continues the trend of making jokes that are so bad they’re supposed to be good. Of course, they all fall flat on their face.
Behind the Lens is the closest thing fans are every going to receive in lieu of Doctor Who Confidential and it’s a shame. How I miss the days of Anthony Head giving us a running commentary of absolutely everything.
Farewell to Matt Smith
It was with a heavy heart that I clicked enter and watched Farewell to Matt Smith. What followed was half an hour of wistful interviews (Karen Gillan, Jenna Coleman, Caroline Skinner and Steven Moffat are amongst the line-up) and clips of some of Smith’s final minutes. It makes me wish he’d come back to Doctor Who and put some decent clothes on (I mean, those production photos of America Psycho: The Musical are rather suggestive).
Overall, a sad but joyous occasion (like the celebration of someone’s life – in this case, on a programme); oh, Matt Smith, how I miss you.