Doctor Who episode 816: The Time of the Doctor (25/12/2013)

‘Change the future.’ A thousand years in the space of Christmas dinner. The eleventh Doctor arc turned out to be straightforward all along: the Time Lords never died, and Madame Kovarian, her followers and all the evils in the universe that gathered at the Siege of Trenzalore wanted to stop the Doctor from bringing them back to our universe. The script repeatedly tells us to forget history and change the future. Whatever caused the nightmare seen in The Name of the Doctor, Clara averts it with her plea to the Time Lords. The Doctor doesn’t die, and all is well.

It’s a fairy-tale ending for an era that’s valued them, where the Doctor’s old adversaries become children’s puppets or K9 style companions, and there’s an incredibly festive town called Christmas that looks like something out of a folk tale, with its own magical guardian. Enemies include a Yule log Cyberman, Weeping Angels emerging from the snow like zombies, and comedy Sontarans all easily dispatched by the Doctor. The stakes for the universe are huge, but the space battles are largely kept as noises off. Instead, there’s the saga of Clara’s disastrous Christmas lunch which brings an element of the RTD domestic into the cosmic drama (I remain convinced this is a different Clara splinter than the babysitter version – she even has a different father. Prove me wrong).

A bit odd that this sits side by side with the Doctor’s incredibly sexualised relationship with Tasha Lem (got to be a post-Library River what with the ‘psychopath inside you’ reference and the name check), as they flirt with each other playfully on the bed while he and Clara are in the nip. I could definitely have lived without the slight return of Series Seven’s 11th Doctor ick (all that nude hugging). But that goes by the wayside as the Doctor is aged up – first, into a not-entirely-convincing sixty-something and then into much better very old man makeup. Smith gives one of his best performances, convincingly painful as the elderly Doctor struggles to move around, does that old man thing with his mouth, and, devastatingly, needs help pulling a cracker.

On first watch, I was disappointed by this: I was expecting more focus on wrapping up the “arc” elements. I’ve enjoyed it more with every rewatch, and I tend to think Moffat made the right choice in trying to quickly tie up outstanding questions without getting mired in an impenetrable continuity fest for a post-prandial audience (and this, despite the reappearance of a Time Lord prop briefly glimpsed 30 years earlier). It probably does try to cram too much into one episode – Moffat could have got a whole series out of the “last Doctor” reveal – but I don’t think any of it is baffling in the way, say, The Wedding of River Song was.

I’d assumed The Day of the Doctor was about changing history, but here it’s confirmed the Doctor was never able to change his own past: ‘The destiny trap. You can’t change history if you’re part of it.’ Having watched the whole arc in relatively quick succession, and despite my many reservations about Series Six’s “Ha ha, that was just a lie” pay-off, I think it generally makes sense – although watched over four years it could really have done with some more obvious clarifications.

The regeneration itself has its cake and eats it with even more spectacular explosions than The End of Time on the clock tower, followed by a much more intimate scene as Clara and the Doctor say their goodbyes inside the TARDIS. I’m sad to see Smith go – although I enjoyed him best in the 2010 series, I enjoyed the awkward physicality of his performance. Interestingly, neither Moffat nor Capaldi does anything to make the twelfth Doctor in any way reassuring – no friendly smile or gleeful ‘Geronimo!’, just a glower at Clara as he crashes the Ship.

Next Time: Deep Breath



  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 815: The Day of the Doctor (23/11/2013) | Next Time...

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