Doctor Who Christmas Special: The Time of the Doctor Review

The Time of the Doctor Poster

Merry Christmas!

Have Matt Smith’s last episode of Doctor Who as he regenerates into Peter Capaldi!

Yes, it’s a sad day for Whovians enamoured with the childish but dangerous raggedy Eleventh Doctor, but it is the next step in the evolution Doctor Who has been undertaking in its 50th anniversary year.

The pieces have all been set for this Christmas Special, not just with how the 50th anniversary episode The Day of the Doctor panned out, but also with the entirety of Matt Smith’s run of the iconic adventurer through time and relative dimensions in space.

The Time of the Doctor is written by current showrunner Steven Moffat, and stars Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman in their last hurrah together on screen. The results are… mixed.

It’s a bit of a step back from the brilliant 50th anniversary special from last month.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a bad episode – there are several plot developments and reveals that just scream brilliance – but it’s also a rather pedestrian episode. Which is saying something for one touting Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, The Silence, and more.

Interrupting Clara’s (Coleman) holiday activities with the family, The Doctor manages to whisk her away once again in the TARDIS, but the destination for Matt Smith’s Doctor is all the more final. Trenzalore. The planet constantly prophesised to be the place where the Doctor would take his last bow.

The problem with The Time of the Doctor is that one really does feel how long the episode feels. Not in keeping with Smith’s usual pace (though potentially done exactly because of that), this episode chronicles a long and hard battle the Doctor fights as he defends a town called Christmas. The Doctor himself ages a heck of a lot in this episode to denote just how long he’s been holding out. There’s even glimmers of William Hartnell’s elderly Doctor as things enter the final act. 

Details like that are the small victories in this episode. It’s Steven Moffat writing a culmination of the trials and tribulations he’s helped bring to Matt Smith’s entire run as the Doctor. So many enemies and plot threads and series arcs and everything else are brought together as a celebration of Smith, much like the wider celebration of the entire show with the details in the 50th anniversary. And for the most part, it works. Sometimes to even a potential sucker punch of emotion while watching it.

Smith will never not shine as the Doctor. Whether he’s playing youthfully flirtatious or silly or Chaplin-esque or the only living Time Lord against his entire rogue’s gallery, Smith is tone perfect. The problem is mainly with the story unfolding around him. It’s not particularly exciting or free enough for him to stretch his lanky legs.

Though of course, this episode is not just about Smith’s Doctor, but the lead-in for Peter Capaldi’s regeneration into a new Doctor. Awkward exposition to clarify the situation of the Doctor’s regenerations aside, the final third of the episode certainly pays off the lengthy set up.

Even if parts of it seem a bit of a cop out.

All things considered, it evolves in a way that puts us in a great position for next series, but it’s just a bit of a disappointment that Matt Smith’s final time at the helm of the TARDIS wasn’t nearly as brilliant as the 50th. 

It was a pleasure watching you fly the TARDIS, Matt. Though as it is said in this farewell episode: “And now it’s time for one last bow / Like all your other selves / Eleven’s hour is over now / The clock is striking twelve’s.”

Welcome Peter. Time for you to take us anywhere we want any time we want on the one condition that it has to be amazing. And I’m sure it will be. 

The Time of the Doctor aired on BBC One on December 25th 2013 and can be found on BBC iPlayer. The episode stars Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman, Orla Brady, and Peter Capaldi; it was written by Steven Moffat; and it was directed by Jamie Payne.

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2 Comments

  1. DIane Angeles says:

    Watching this episode reminded me of the first time I saw the Colin Baker season and realized that the writers had truly jumped the shark and that the show was on its way out. I would be surprised (and quite disappointed really) if Mofat can carry the show for two more seasons before it goes once again into hiatus for another writer to take the helm.

    For everything there is a season and Mofat has created a brilliant mythos and many wonderful seasons of Doctor Who but he is a couple years (at least) past his prime with this show and I fear we will have to suffer a season or two of terrible episodes before Mofat is finally forced to give up the reins so that someone else down the road can eventually carry on. I can only imagine that BBC residuals aren’t as lucrative as one might think so it it is a shame that Mofat is going to wring every last cent that he can from this show causing his eventual legacy is going to be the man that destroyed Doctor Who rather than the one who so successfully resurrected the series.

  2. I have a friend who watched it for the first time yesterday because she’s a Capaldi fan. Can you imagine trying to make head or tail of that having never seen Doctor Who before? I wouldn’t be surprised if she never watches again. But I don’t think they’re interested in cultivating new audiences any more. The series is just collapsing in on itself and basicaly becoming its own fan fiction. I do hope Capaldi gives it a good kick up the backside but I’m holding out limited hope as long as the writers are the same.

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