Since the return of the “Doctor Who” television series in 2005, the annual Christmas evening specials have become a tradition, and most often, a major event in the continuity of the series. This Christmas is no different, even in an already exciting year for Who fans the world over. Tonight, Matt Smith regenerates into Peter Capaldi, and all of the loose ends surrounding the Eleventh Doctor and his demise come to fruition. Tonight, we have been promised, all will be revealed. Join me, after the jump for my thoughts on “The Time of The Doctor!”
First of all, to all who celebrate, Merry Christmas. As I mentioned, the annual “Doctor Who” Christmas special has become a tradition. The Bride and I, being a bi-religious couple (she’s Jewish, I’m Christian), celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. But in recent years, the tradition of Chinese food and a movie on Christmas night has turned into Chinese food and Doctor Who. It’s just how we roll, and we’re not alone.
And the popularity of Doctor Who is such now that folks who know you’re into it can now easily have access to the Who merchandise to give you as gifts. The Bride is wearing one of her Who shirts, cuddling under her Who blanket, and I’m writing notes for this review in my new Doctor Who 500 Year Diary that my big sister got me this Christmas morning. Here’s to tradition, Doctor Who, and Christmas.
To the Mopey Mabels
And now, a word about spoilers. I really think I almost preferred it the way the fiftieth anniversary special aired – live globally. Tonight’s episode was broadcast in the UK several hours before we saw it in the States. If you had the misfortune to be on Twitter or Facebook when it did, you may have been spoiled. I was. But I’m okay with that, next time, I’ll know better and stay away from social media until I’ve seen it.
There is another problem. In those early UK Tweets and FB posts, there were a lot of folks who weren’t happy with the Christmas special. Now it’s not the folks who just had a problem with tonight’s presentation, there are those Mopey Mabels who consistently whine about every episode. To them I say this: Don’t watch. Seriously, life is too short to watch a television show you obviously don’t like. You’re ruining it for the rest of us.
We have heard a lot about the planet Trenzalore during Matt Smith’s tenure as The Doctor. It’s the place where The Doctor will die, and we even saw it finally in our hero’s last encounter with the Great Intelligence. It is not a nice place. It’s a graveyard planet, dominated by the tomb of The Doctor, a giant TARDIS (actually the dying TARDIS itself in the future). Many of the phrases which have haunted Matt’s time in the role, things like “silence will fall,” and “fall of the eleventh” direct the viewer here.
Showrunner Steven Moffat has promised that this episode will have the answers, all the questions we have had about The Eleventh Doctor will be answered. Will we finally learn the secret hinted at for quite a while now? Here’s the full quote from black marketer Dorian Maldovar in the season six episode “A Good Man Goes to War”: “On the Fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked – a question that must never ever be answered: Doctor Who?”
The Baddie Roll Call
Just from the previews we have the Daleks, the Cybermen, The Silence, the Weeping Angels, and some woman who may or may not be The Rani – what more could we need? A plot, that’s what. A planet has appeared, emitting an indecipherable signal (sounding a bit like a Charlie Brown adult) and calling ships to it. Among them, a whole posse of various Who foes and monsters including those mentioned above, and the Sontarans, the Sloveen, the Racnoss, and presumably others.
The real baddie however (to me at least) appears to be Tasha Len, Mother Superius of a church called the Papal Membrane, an old friend of The Doctor. I know I have guessed this of others before… but I suspect The Rani. As The Bride says, “You always think it’s The Rani.” Either way, wouldn’t it be cool if it was her? She is an old friend, perhaps lover, of The Doctor’s. At the very least, they have history.
Then there’s The Silence, stalking the churchship hissing, “Confessss.” On the planet, which The Doctor’s new companion ‘Handles’ identifies as Gallifrey, is a little town called Christmas. Just to make things interesting, it has a truth field (in which you are compelled to tell the truth, overshare, or ‘confess’) and is surrounded by Weeping Angels. It would seem the Who monsters promoted in the previews are only here by happenstance, taking a backseat to the real villain… the planet itself… or is it?
While by the end of the episode, there are few dry eyes as Matt Smith departs, there is a lot of humor in this episode. There’s sitcommy goodness as Clara wants The Doctor to fill in as boyfriend at her family’s Christmas dinner, needing to use the TARDIS engines to cook the turkey, and of course there’s Handles.
I absolutely love the decapitated Cyberman head that has been programmed as a TARDIS artificial intelligence and/or temporary companion when Clara is busy. I love Handles. Like Strax and Madame Vastra, I want more. When he passes on late in the episode, I just went all Adric. Bring him back.
Now the old school fans who will grump at The naked and/or bald Doctor I am sure are the same ones who don’t remember the fun Douglas Adams years or Tom Baker dressed as a Viking. Lighten up. The series may be more serious in the twenty-first century, but in my opinion the best Who stories are the ones with a bit of humor in them.
In the little town of Christmas, The Doctor finds the crack. The Crack. It’s the crack in the universe that he first found when he met Amy Pond (whose Karen Gillan makes a cameo), a crack in the very fabric of time and space. We find out finally what it really is – it’s Gallifrey trying to get back into our universe, from where they were rescued to in “The Day of The Doctor.”
The planet they are on isn’t Gallifrey, it’s Trenzalore. And the signal is Gallifrey asking the question, “Doctor Who?” If he answers with his name in the influence of the truth field, Gallifrey knows they can come home – and the Time War starts anew. If he leaves, all of his enemies in orbit burn the planet. He won’t speak his name, so the church protecting the planet declares that ‘silence has fallen.’ It all comes together. Finally.
The Good Man
To save the town, the planet, the universe, The Doctor stays and becomes its guardian, its protector, defending its people from various incursions by his enemies hoping to get at the crack. Once he sends Clara back to her family Christmas dinner, he fights the good fight for over three hundred years.
Eventually Clara comes back, and the Daleks one by one drive off, defeat, or destroy all the others surrounding the planet, including the Church of The Silence. In a parlay with Dalek-controlled Tasha Len, all our questions are answered but the assault on Trenzalore begins anew. Old man Matt has to make his last stand. The answers are satisfying, but honestly, I think they come too easily.
This is of course a regeneration story, and we know from previous episodes that The Doctor dies on Trenzalore, we do already kinda know how this will all shake out. There are surprises however, and a few new nagging questions as well. It would be betraying my nerdy continuity-obsessed fanboy self to address such. They are minor. Suffice it to say, we now have our Thirteenth Doctor in Peter Capaldi.
How did I rate it? This was no anniversary special, and it was middling as far as epic Christmas episodes, but it was pretty good. Matt Smith got a grand final showing. I was entertained, loved seeing many loose ends tied up, and am looking forward to Capaldi’s Doctor. What did you all think?