In Review: The Time of the Doctor
Last year we witnessed the fall of the Eleventh, the clock struck Twelve and Matt Smith sported more looks in one episode than ever before.
Simultaneously the least and most Christmassy of all the Doctor Who Christmas specials, ‘The Time of the Doctor’ is perhaps one of my all-time favourite ‘event’ episodes.
Yes, on Christmas Day 2013, Whovians watched with baited breath as the clock slowly counted down to Twelve – what we saw was, perhaps, one of the most moving regeneration episodes ever to be part of Doctor Who canon.
While the story initially takes a little time to get going, I believe this is deliberately paced to allow the audience an opportunity to drink in both Clara and the Doctor as they go about their lives independently. When the two meet again we have a lot of wonderful gags from Moffat centred around the Doctor’s nakedness – who can forget the moment the Doctor reveals to Clara that her family can’t see his clothes? Brilliant!
While the story ramps up shortly after this domestic interlude, we’re still given ample time to savour the story which is being laid out in front of us; indeed, Moffat and director Jamie Payne do a truly stellar job in adding variety of pacing to the episode, something episodes prior to this had struggled with, either going for glacial or warp-speed in terms of their storytelling speed.
With the introduction of Tasha Lem and the wonderfully bonkers Papal Mainframe we’re given some of the most inventive and original story telling in a very long time making ‘Time of the Doctor’ one of most dazzlingly enjoyable episodes of recent years. Tasha is an interesting, engaging and strong female character who gives as good as she gets – a truly wonderful addition to the roster of new Doctor Who characters.
One of the most impressive balances the episode manages to strike is between heart and humour. Some episodes are moving, some are funny; excellent episodes can do both without it being a distraction from the narrative – the sight gag of “the old key in the quiff routine” is utterly hilarious and the emotional roller coaster that is Handles’ saga are just two examples of how one episode can really keep an audience guessing while still managing to tell a rollicking good story.
When the Doctor lands on Trenzalore the audience know some serious business is about to go down; what many Whovians didn’t expect was a centuries long conflict which would test not only the Doctor, but the limits of modern day prosthetics. With the passing of time we get to see the Doctor in varying stages of old age. These work incredibly well and add to Matt Smith’s masterful performance without masking the actor behind a rubber mask – my one criticism with this is that the first iteration of the ‘aged’ Doctor looks a little false. That said it can’t be easy to age up an actor whose face is a cartoony contradiction of old and young.
Moffat again deploys his clever ‘timey wimey’ technique to show us Clara in the present day and the Doctor as he grows old protecting Christmas on Trenzalore – the fact that the Doctor tries to send Clara back home in a similar manner to how he tried to save Rose in ‘The Parting of the Ways’ was a nice moment of Nu-Who being self-referential which wasn’t so on the nose as other examples have been. The fact that these trips are almost instantaneous for Clara is perhaps one of the most poignant uses of time travel in the programme to date and allow the audience to see a nice reversal of the Doctor’s usual perspective – that of seeing his companions grow old – another example of how ‘The Time of the Doctor’ tugs at the heart strings in more ways than would be immediately obvious.
The montage of the Doctor protecting Christmas is incredibly well done and shows just how brilliantly Matt Smith works with younger actors – the town of Christmas truly comes to life and the original fairy tale tone of Smith’s first series makes a welcome return in his swan song. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was Moffat’s intention all along, given that he seems to be a fan of having arcs come full circle (eventually!).
Perhaps one of the most moving moments of the episode which had this writer sobbing into his cold turkey sandwich was the death of Handles. Any fan worth his salt will tell you that, while he was short lived on screen, he’s actually the oldest serving companion the Doctor ever had – making his heart-wrenching final moments all the more powerful. Who would have thought that the disembodied head of cyberman reminding the Doctor to patch the phone line back through the console would have thousands in tears?! Wonderful work from all involved, especially Kayvan Novak who voiced Handles with a gravitas otherwise unseen in the line of cyborg friends.
As if that weren’t bad enough, fans also had to say goodbye to the eleventh Doctor – a man many had fallen in loved in spite of their initial reservations. Smith had proved himself to be a truly remarkable Doctor, old and young, funny and sad, wise yet foolish – in short, he had played the Doctor in the most truly timeless way we’ve ever seen, harkening back to the golden years of Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker.
We all loved his daft face with his big chin and we all must have shed a tear when he gave his final speech – the speech that, while sentimental, wasn’t half so cloying or whiney as Tennant’s “I don’t want to go” moment.
In short, ‘The Time of the Doctor’ was an episode of the most brilliant contradictions – which, I suppose, is the most fitting swan song Smith could have hoped for.
Written by Christie Inman-Hall