The Time of the Doctor
Review by Paul Bowler
The 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who draws to a close as Matt Smith takes his final bow and hands over the key of the TARDIS to his successor, Peter Capaldi, in the 2013 Christmas special: The Time of the Doctor. The 2013 Christmas special, the ninth since the series returned in 2005 is also the programmes 200th episode, and it’s a seasonal spectacular packed with monsters and adventures where the Time Lord must face his darkest hour.
The fall of the eleventh is nigh and the clock is already ticking twelve’s as the Doctor (Matt Smith) arrives to whisk Clara (Jenna Coleman) away from her family Christmas diner for one last adventure, to answer the call to a distant backwater world, where the Doctor meets his old friend Tasha Lem (Orla Brady), and his deadliest enemies have also arrived having been drawn to this planet by a mysteriously indecipherable signal echoing through the depths of space.
The Doctor must discover what this signal heralds for his fate, and that of the universe itself, as their journey takes them to the planet below, Trenzalore, the place where it is foretold the First Question will be asked and the Doctor will ultimately fall. The snow covered streets will lead to the Doctor‘s final battleground. Soon the trap is sprung, as the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, and the Silence, begin to attack, the Time Lord stands defiant and becomes a hero to the people of this small town. The Siege of Trenzalore has begun and the Doctor; his many lives now all but spent, must make his final stand and confront the inevitability of his own mortality…
The Time of the Doctor is the third adventure in a broadly linked trilogy of stories, that began with The Name of the Doctor, and then continued spectacularly in the 50th Anniversary special The Day of the Doctor. The Time of the Doctor also marks a return to Trenzalore, the planet first mentioned in The Wedding of River Song (2011), which has since often been spoken of in hushed whispers and dark prophecies. We know Trenzalore is where the Doctor will die, his body is buried there, and in the Name of the Doctor he even saw his own tomb in the future. Dorium Maldovar told of the question that must never be answered, a religious order called the Silence are determined to ensure this never happens, and even the Great Intelligence knows the Doctor’s time was almost up.
Having linked a severed Cyberman head “Handles” to the TARDIS console to decipher the signal coming from the unknown planet, that has left half the universe in terror, the Doctor is first confronted by the Daleks before being attacked by Cybermen and escaping in the TARDIS as the Cybership attacks, when the he suddenly gets a call from Clara on Christmas Day. She needs help cooking the Christmas dinner for her family, so the Doctor makes a quick detour to lend a hand. After helping with lunch and meeting Clara’s family: Dad (James Buller), Linda (Elizabeth Rider), and gran (Sheila Reid), the Doctor offers Clara a respite from the festivities while the turkey cooks, and together they set off to investigate the signal coming from the planet where his enemies ships are gathering, which Handles bizarrely identifies as Gallifrey. The TARDIS is intercepted by a giant vessel of The Papal Mainframe, where they are taken aboard and greeted by the Doctor’s old friend, Tasha Lem, and her troops, Colonel Albero (Mark Brighton) and Colonel Meme (Sonita Henry). At the behest of Tasha Lem, the Doctor and Clara set out to explore a town called Christmas on the planet below, which is blanketed by a truth field, where they encounter Abramal (Rob Jarvis) and Marta (Tessa Peake Jones), and a young boy called Barnable (Rob Jarvis).
Some of the Doctor’s most feared enemies have also heeded the call to Trenzalore, gathering together on this remote world to oversee the demise of their greatest adversary. The Daleks are as formidable as ever, stalking the Doctor until the bitter end, while the Cybermen introduce a wooden upgrade to counteract the effects of the Time Lords defences. The Weeping Angels are more ruthless than ever, lurking in a snow storm, they will stop at nothing to prevent the Doctor’s escape, and we will finally lean why the Silence is so determined to ensure that the question they have protected so incessantly is never, ever answered.
The issue of the Doctor’s remaining regenerations is also tackled in The Time of the Doctor as he approaches the end of his natural lifespan. It is well known fact that Time Lords can only regenerate 12 times, a rule established by the 1976 story The Deadly Assassin, which over the course of a number of stories, has subsequently become so engrained in the mythology of the series that it is now the one, indefatigable rule that cannot be ignored. However, as well as the 10th Doctor’s somewhat truncated regeneration in Journey’s End (2008), since the events of The Day of the Doctor, it is the quandary posed by the introduction of the War Doctor (John Hurt), an incarnation that existed during the Time War between the Doctor’s 8th and 9th regenerations, that has now actually made Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor the Time Lords final incarnation.
The Doctor and Clara teleport to the planet, they arrive in a town called Christmas, where the Doctor discovers a crack in time, the same one that originally featured in Season Five, where the message is being transmitted from. The message is the same question repeated over and over: “Doctor Who?” It is the question that must never be answered, it is from the Time Lords of Gallifrey – who were transported into a pocket dimension in The Day of the Doctor – and if the Doctor speaks his name they will know this is the place where they can try and return. But if this should ever happen the alien forces circling the planet will burn this world, a world Tasha Lem informs him is Tranzalore, and that the Time War will start all over again. The Siege of Trenzalore will begin and untold chaos and destruction will be unleashed throughout the universe. The Doctor then tricks Clara and sends her back home in the TARDIS, while he remains to defend the town and enforce the stalemate.
The Time of the Doctor starts out as a fun Christmas adventure for the Doctor and Clara, before events quickly take a darker turn, when the Doctor explains to Clara that he has no more regenerations and his time is almost up. There are some fun moments to be had though, especially with the Doctor helping Clara to cook Christmas dinner, and meeting her family, but once the TARDIS arrives on Trenzalor a brooding air of menace begins to pervade this bizarre winter wonderland as the Doctor’s enemies prepare to strike. Tasha Lem is a very intriguing character, a being with an uncanny knowledge of the Doctor, played by Orla Brady who gives a great perforce as the strange alien. We discover that Tasha Lem is the supremely powerful Mother Superious of the Papal Mainframe, an old friend of the Doctor, she knows him very well and is extremely loyal to him.. However, her friendship with the Doctor later proves crucial, as her will alone is strong enough to resist Dalek conditioning, especially with a little help from the Doctor and Clara after the Dalek reinforcements have arrived.
Fortunately with Clara Oswald around, the past, present, and future never seems to be set in stone, as the Impossible Girl stubbornly refuses to be sent home, gripping the sides of the TARDIS, she forces the Time Machine to return her to the Doctor, now an old man, who has been defending Christmas and its population for over three hundred years. The Doctor explains to Clara that he has reached his final regeneration. They are transported back to the Papal Mainframe, where they learn the Silence are really genetically engineered priests, and that it was the Kovarian chapter who broke away from the Papal Mainframe to prevent the Doctor ever reaching Trenzalore by destroying his TARDIS (The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang) and engineering a child, who would grow up to be River Song (The Impossible Astronaut / The Day of the Moon / A Good Man Goes To War / Let‘s Kill Hitler / The Wedding of River Song), to assassinate him. It seem that the Daleks have returned, Tasha and her crew have been taken over and transformed by the Daleks, but she manages to resist and helps the Doctor and Clara escape, before Clara is tricked again by the Doctor into going home for a second time.
Back in her flat with her family after Christmas lunch, Clara hears the TARDIS return. She rushes out only to find that it was Tasha flying the TARDIS, she does not want the Doctor to die alone, and together they return to Trenzalore where Clara is reunited with the Doctor, now extremely old and facing the end of his life. He still refuses to release the Time Lords, only the Daleks now remain to oppose him, and the Doctor has been fighting them with the aid of the Silence. As the Doctor goes to the Clock Tower to face the Daleks attack, it is then that Clara desperately appeals to the Time Lords of Gallifrey through the crack in the wall, she begs them to reach out and help him as she speaks his name.
The crack in time vanished from the wall before suddenly reappearing in the sky above Trenzalore as The Time Lords bestow the Doctor with the energy of a new regenerative life cycle, which he then unleashes on his enemies to destroy them as his 13th regeneration begins. After the battle Clara goes back inside the TARDIS to find the Doctor is young again. He begins to see images of the young Amelia Pond as he waits for his regeneration and new life cycle to begin. The adult Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) appears to greet her raggedy man in his final moments. Clara watches in awe as the Time Lord rapidly regenerates into the new Doctor (Peter Capaldi), who quickly says “kidneys, I‘ve got new kidneys!” before turning to her as the Time Machine lurches in flight and asking her is she knows how to fly the TARDIS.
Matt Smith is superb as the Doctor in this story, looking positively Troughtonesque in a new variation of his costume, delivering a show stopping performance that is simply brilliant. You get a real sense of the Time Lords plight as he is faced with the certainty of his impending death as he begins to age over the course of the episode. This time there is no more running, and nowhere to hide. Ever since Matt Smith’s gangly tweed clad, fez loving, 11th Doctor burst onto our screens with a cry of “Geronimo” he has charmed us with his carefree spirit of adventure, bow ties, jammy dodgers, and fish fingers and custard. His adventures have been some of the most complex and timey wimey in the shows history. The companions were many, Amy and Rory, River, the Paternoster Row gang, and finally Clara, were all swept up in the Doctor’s adventures. Matt Smith also managed to convey the Doctor’s great age and more alien eccentricities, enthusiastic and almost frivolous one moment, his steely gaze held centuries of wisdom that belied his youthful appearance.
Jenna Coleman is also excellent as Clara Oswald, her journey as the Doctor’s companion has seen her life become entwined with the very fabric of the Doctor’s time line, she has meet all of the Doctor’s incarnations at one point or another, saved him on many occasions, and played a significant role in helping the Doctor remember the promise he made when he took his name so he could find another way to save Gallifrey during the Time War. I have really begun to warm to Clara as a character now, to begin with it sometimes felt like we were always meeting Clara for the first time, only to have her snatched away again before we could even get to know her. Fortunately when Clara became a full time companion in The Bells of St John (2013), we finally got to know the Impossible Girl a lot better. Jenna Coleman also had great chemistry with Matt Smith’s Doctor, her character still has plenty of potential, and it will be interesting to see how Clara adjusts to Peter Capaldi’s new Doctor.
Steven Moffat brings the 11th Doctor’s era to a rousing, if highly complex, close with The Time of the Doctor, bringing together various plot threads, some of which reach as far back as The Eleventh Hour (2010) itself, including revelations about the Silence, the Seal of the High Council which he took from the Master in the Five Doctors, as well as revealing what the Doctor saw in The God Complex (2011) when he looked into room 11, and even the question that must never be asked is finally revealed. Director Jamie Payne skilfully balances the darker elements of the story, interspacing them with a couple of very funny moments – when the Doctor and Clara have to cook the turkey and when she later finds him naked in the TARDIS – as well as some particularly emotional scenes for the Doctor and Clara, and the final showdown is explosive and shocking. I do feel that The Time of the Doctor is a tad overlong, the regular episode length would have probably been sufficient, and the story effectively reboots the series – paving the way for an entirely new era of the show to being. Peter Capaldi also makes a strong debut as the new Doctor, the rogues gallery of monsters bring added menace to this Christmas episode, and Matt Smith’s heartrending final moments as the Doctor will resonate long after the credits have rolled. The Time of the Doctor is a brilliant Christmas special, it rounds off the 50th Anniversary celebrations of Doctor Who in fine style, and provides a triumphant finale for this youngest ever incarnation of the Doctor.
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