Following the 50th Anniversary was never going to be an easy task, but The Time of the Doctor still manages to provide an action-packed ride, full of laughs and tears, that acts as a celebration to the wonderful Eleventh Doctor, who is hanging up his bow tie.
There’s an awful lot crammed into the finale. Throughout the course of the Moffat era, there have been a lot of storylines and even more plot threads that have been, up until this point, unresolved. It would probably take a few viewings to make complete sense of it, but The Time of the Doctor does wrap up many of the questions that people have been asking since The Eleventh Hour, two examples being “Who blew up the TARDIS?” and “Why Silence must fall.” Most of these are passive and easy to miss, but it is the latter that takes precedence, while also making nods right back to when Tennant regenerated into Smith. It’s effectively a celebration of the 11th Doctor and a farewell goodbye to Matt Smith.
The writing is by no means perfect. The dialogue and the general story could have been a bit tighter; the issue with the “Rule of Thirteen Regenerations” for example, feels a bit of a last minute solution and could have been played out in more dramatic fashion, but it’s in the smaller moments where there’s greatness which are scattered throughout the episode. There is the same blend of comedy and tragedy that Moffat typically entails in his episodes and the fact that everyone knows what’s coming makes these moments so much more powerful. As cliché as it may sound, with this being his departure, Smith gives possibly his best performance, despite the fact he does most of it in aging prosthetics and his final few minutes reduced many of our group to tears.
The enemies to grace the Doctor this time round, including the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Weeping Angels and the return of the Silence, all make their appearances, but are short-lived, popping up in the odd, short sequence before handing the baton onto the next foe, standing very much at the back of the stage. Some get the spotlight more than others (the Daleks for instance, who I thought possibly got a little too much attention) but that’s because this episode isn’t about them. It’s not about the monsters. Like the 50th Anniversary, this is an episode about the Doctor. The focus of the special is not on the monsters he faces, and there are a lot of them, but about the man himself, Matt Smith as the 11th (or 13th) Doctor, and it is on this level where the episode thrives.
In the same respect, Clara (Jenna Louise-Coleman) also takes a bit of a back seat, feeling more like a tag along with little bearing on the plot. Some will argue that she plays a significant role towards the end, but as I said before, it feels a bit of a brainless, last minute decision stuffed in. Despite her limited role, there are still some great scenes between her and Smith that show off their tight chemistry, bouncing off each other’s comic bravado. But of course, being his last bow, this is Smith’s moment to shine for the last time. Once again showing his incredible versatility as an actor, Smith begins at the bouncing, manic, mad professor-like Doctor we all love him for, but slowly develops into an old, wise man that offers a nice transition into the next era. He has his comic moments, his dark moments and another, magnificent speech to sign off with, leading up to the moment the episode has been running towards.
The regeneration itself, without revealing too much, was spectacularly done. Moffat does what he does best and plays with our expectations, keeping the build-up going as the clock ticks slowly towards twelve and when it comes, if you blink, you’re likely to miss it. The contrast with Tennant’s regeneration in The End of Time was the best possible move. Rather than fighting his fate and resenting it, Eleven accepts that “All things have to end”, giving a final farewell to his history, with a very special guest (which I personally thought was forgetting two other specific people) before giving into the change. There’s no “Geronimo”, no tears, there is just a bow tie being dropped onto the floor, which in a single image symbolises his end.
The Time of the Doctor remains a great episode and one of the best Christmas specials that have aired in recent years. It’s a fitting end to the Smith-era and clears up all the loose ends that came with him, paving the way for what appears to be a clean slate for the new Doctor. He is of course, as we all know, the second Scott to take the TARDIS, Peter Capaldi, who, in 45 seconds of screen time, already has me excited for what lies ahead.
It’s just a shame we have to wait till Autumn 2014 now.