Thursday, December 26, 2013
DAMN Good Television -- DOCTOR WHO: "The Time of the Doctor"
"It's the end...but the moment has been prepared for."
Those were the final words of the Fourth Doctor, played so memorably by Tom Baker, in the episode "Logopolis" before he regenerated into Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor. This was the first time I experienced the concept of regeneration, which allows Doctor Who to continue on and on with new actors portraying the exact same Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey.
And now, here we are the end of Matt Smith's era as the Eleventh Doctor, with Smith leaving in "The Time of the Doctor," another Christmas tale written by Steven Moffat. This is the last of Moffat's trilogy of Doctor-centric stories that began with the Series Seven finale "The Name of the Doctor" and continued with the fiftieth anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor."
After such an eventful fiftieth anniversary, expectations for the final Eleventh Doctor story were going to be high and it seems Moffat tried hard -- perhaps too hard -- to meet them. The Eleventh Doctor's swansong featured not only the return of the Daleks, but Cybermen, the Weeping Angels, a couple of Sontarans, and the Silence as well, all centered around a little town on an unknown planet called, of course, Christmas.
All things being Moffat, however, that's not enough for Eleven's finale. No, there's a modified Cyberman head the Doctor has named "Handles" (presumably because "Wilson" was already taken), another spacey-wacey religious order called The Church of the Papal Mainframe headed by the Mother Superious Tasha Lem, and the mysterious planet? It's not Earth, or even Ravalox, but Trenzalore -- the oogy-boogy planet where the Doctor supposedly dies at some point in his future and is buried.
Moffat does attempt to wrap up a few of the long-dangling plotlines introduced during the Eleventh Doctor era. It turns out those nasty Cracks in the Universe from Series Five are being used by the Time Lords in an attempt to break back into the universe since their rescue in "The Day of the Doctor." And that troubling TARDIS explosion in "The Pandorica Opens"? The Silence was behind it, apparently, although the rather ominous voice that uttered "Silence will fall" doesn't sound a thing like any of the Silence. Oh, and that whole business with Madame Kovarian in Series Six? That was just her convoluted attempt to change the Trenzalore stalemate by engineering a child -- Melody Pond, a.k.a. River Song -- to kill the Doctor in his past before the stalemate begins.
Even with all this stuff crammed into the finale, the only thing that truly matters is Matt Smith. The Doctor spends 300 years on Trenzalore, defending the town of Christmas from the alien races hovering above and preventing the Time War from restarting. And through it all, Smith is given just about everything to play one last time, from youthful exuberance, to anger, sadness, and ultimately, resignation to his fate. It's sad to see the Doctor as an old man of roughly 1,500 years, but the events of his thirteenth regeneration -- a new life cycle from the Time Lords -- allow us to see Eleven youthful once again for his final scene.
Oh, and what a final scene. All the cumbersome story elements and dangling plot threads fall by the wayside as Clara Oswald enters the TARDIS and finds some discarded clothes and a half-eaten bowl of fish fingers and custard. For a brief moment, we're reassured to see the Eleventh Doctor young and back in his stylish purple coat. But of course, all is not well, and the Doctor hallucinates a young Amelia Pond, "the first face this face saw" in "The Eleventh Hour," while telling Clara (and the fans) that "I will always remember...when the Doctor was me." And then comes The Cameo, a touching, tearful farewell that rips the hearts (both of them) out of every Whovian. Smith then gives the perfect final touch, slowly removing his Doctor's signature bow tie and allowing it to drop to the TARDIS console room floor.
Despite Clara's tearful "Please don't change," the Doctor finally regenerates, not in David Tennant's overly long, heavily symphonic mass of explosions, fire and chaos, but BAM! in an instant, we have ourselves the new Twelfth Doctor, now played by Peter Capaldi. Given less than a minute to introduce himself, the Twelfth Doctor is as bulgy-eyed as Tom Baker and immediately complains about the color of his kidneys. Once again, the TARDIS is left in chaos with a newly-regenerated Doctor, but it seems there's some post-regenerative amnesia at work as the new Doctor asks Clara, "Do you happen to know how to fly this thing?"
So farewell, Matt Smith and hello, Peter Capaldi. A new era of Doctor Who has begun, with some fans ready to see an older Doctor in the TARDIS again, and other bitter and resentful fans already deciding they absolutely hate the Twelfth Doctor...until years from now, when they beg over and over for him to stay and not be replaced by the Thirteenth Doctor.
To be continued next autumn...