This year’s Doctor Who Christmas special had a lot to live up to. It had to follow the 50th anniversary story, and provide Matt Smith with a great send-off. “Time of the Doctor” had an interesting story that not only had lots of callbacks, but took an interesting look at what the Doctor has become over the past 50 years.
It took one incarnation- the eleventh- started it young, then let it age over the years. It’s a nice metaphor for the show itself: getting old, but staying forever young.
The story centered on a planet that attracted a lot of species, including Daleks, Cybermen, and Sontarans. They were attracted by a signal they can’t decipher, but can’t land. The Doctor argues with a Cyberman head that’s later called Handles, when he gets a call from Clara, begging him to pose as her boyfriend for her family’s Christmas dinner. Too bad he’s being chased by Cybermen at the time.
When he does come, he’s nude! Why? To go to church, he says. He puts on holographic clothes, but they’re only visible to Clara, creating an awkward family moment. She joins the Doctor in the TARDIS, hoping to cook her turkey.
When they get back to the planet, Handles claims the planet is Gallifrey, but the Doctor disagrees. He decides to board the first ship that got there, the Church of the Papal Mainframe (CPM), ruled by Mother Superious Tasha Lem (Orla Brady). In order to enter, he and Clara must be nude (but we see them in holo-clothes).
The relationship between Tasha and the Doctor was weird, almost like his relationship with River Song. When they enter her chambers, he comments her altar looks like a bed. When they discuss the signal from the planet, she sounds a bit too seductive.
Tasha sends the Doctor and Clara down to the planet, but forbids any tech. They wind up being surrounded by Weeping Angels buried in the snow, but he recalls the TARDIS thanks to a key he hid in his—WIG? (Note: Smith did shave his head for a movie, so adding that was a great idea). They land at a town called Christmas that is caught in a truth field. That may sound familiar if you remember the end of “The Wedding of River Song,” and what the head of Dorium was describing.
They track the signal to a crack in the wall, the same crack we saw in “The Eleventh Hour.” He deduces that maybe the Time Lords are using that crack to get back to our reality. It’s also asking a question: “Doctor Who?”, the same unanswered question from “The Wedding of River Song.”
It’s a question Tasha doesn’t want answered. If the Time Lords come back, there will be war on the planet… whose name is Trenzalore. The Doctor tricks Clara into heading back to Earth, while he stays to protect the planet. Tasha declares that “silence will fall.” As long as the Doctor doesn’t say his name, there will be no war on Christmas.
In fact, he’s there for 300 years. He defeats a couple of Sontarans a bit too easily, but does a nice job dealing with a wooden Cyberman. He still has companions, Handles and a boy named Barnable. It shows that whether he’s exploring the universe, or protecting a town called Christmas, the Doctor is still someone who wants to protect people. He says each life saved is a victory. That’s our favorite Time Lord, and the show, in a nutshell.
There’s also a sad scene where Handles dies before dawn breaks on the planet. Seeing the Doctor’s face is heartbreaking. It’s a reminder that while he is the constant, the companions are not. He also tells Clara that he’s used up his 12 regenerations, including “Captain Grumpy” and an extra Tenth Doctor. “Everything ends, Clara,” he says, “and sooner than you think.”
He later meets with Tasha, who admits the “Kovarian chapter” tried to stop him from getting to Trenzalor. Their efforts caused the events of season six, including Amy getting kidnapped and giving birth to River Song, and the cracks in the universe. It’s a great way to tie up several loose ends.
She also says the Daleks attacked the CPM, and lets slip that she was killed. She turns Dalek the same way Oswin did in “Asylum of the Daleks,” but the Doctor berates Dalek-Tasha (“Never trust a nun to do a Doctor’s work”), and she overcomes her Dalek side for a while. The Doctor goes back to Christmas, while sending Clara and her fully-cooked turkey back to her Christmas… with her family.
She’s moping, until the TARDIS returns… thanks to Tasha. “Flying the TARDIS was always easy,’ she explains, “It was flying the Doctor I never quite mastered.” Either Tasha is another incarnation of River, or she’s related to her somehow. She sends Clara to the Doctor, who is now very old, awaiting the end. He almost looks like his original form and they share a Christmas cracker, which has a poem inside:
Now’s the time for one last bow
Like all your other selves
Eleven’s hour is over now
The clock is striking Twelves
Clara won’t give up. She begs the Time Lords at the other side of the crack to help him. As for their question, she answers it this way: “His name is the Doctor. All the name he needs, everything you need to know about him.” The crack then seals up… and appears in the sky. He gets additional power to regenerate, which freaks out the Daleks. He uses that energy to blow up the Dalek force. When he was interviewed by the BBC, Smith said “I think it’s good for the Doctor to go out with a bang, a crash and a wallop.” He sure does.
When Clara returns to the TARDIS, she sees the Doctor is young again… and about to regenerate. He’s still the Doctor, “but times change,” he says, “and so must I.” Before he does, he sees a vision of young Amelia, the first friend he made. His final words: “I will always remember when the Doctor was me.” That’s followed by Karen Gillan, with a wig, saying “Raggedy man, good night.” That was a nice touch, and reminiscent of the Doctor seeing the faces of his past companions before he regenerated twice in the 1980’s.
Now, a final look at Matt Smith:
And then #12, Peter Capaldi arrives. While it’s still available, here’s a link to the regeneration. He convulses, and says he has new kidneys but doesn’t like the color. He then says they’re about to crash, and asks Clara if she knows how to fly the TARDIS. Uh-oh.
While not quite as good as “Day of the Doctor,” “Time of the Doctor” was a really good story with sharp writing from Steven Moffat and great performances by Smith and Jenna Coleman. It was a nice wrap up to the Eleventh Doctor era, and starts anticipation of what’s to come when Capaldi officially takes control sometime next year.
Finally, here’s a featurette on the filming of “Time of the Doctor”: