I’m having quite a difficult time writing this review. I have a lot of opinions on it, I have a multitude of complaints and vitriol I would love to throw in showrunner Steven Moffat’s face, but beyond that I have my Doctor that said his farewell, took off his bow tie and said goodnight.
There’s a huge amount of sentimentality that seeps into my viewing of this show. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere and to anyone who’s endured listening to me, I didn’t start watching (like many U.S. viewers) until Matt Smith’s run as the Eleventh Doctor and this just so happened to correspond with me entering my first year of college. And now, just as his story ends, my senior year of college is coming to a close. Doctor Who in its purest sense is escapism: it’s an hour of television where viewers can simply suspend their disbelief, believe in what’s put before them and be swept away just as the companions are. It’s stress relief despite its countless pitfalls (in Moffat’s run mainly the sexism and convoluted ideas).
So despite how poorly done “The Time of The Doctor” was, despite my overwhelming disappointment at the disservice towards the wonderful Matt Smith, I can’t help but be emotional at this loss of a fictional character.
The plot was a mess from the very beginning. Clara needs the Doctor to pretend to be her boyfriend and he accidentally shows up naked, with his hallucinogenic clothing only working on Clara.
Clara’s character showed so much potential in her beginning episodes and all of that has been dwindled down to nothing but another companion having feelings for the Doctor. It’s sad because Jenna Louise-Coleman is very talented and charges in with quite a lot of spirit, but her character has never been given even the slight bit of nuance to flesh her out.
Quickly we’re thrust into the action of the episode where the two are forced onto a planet called Trenzalore, in a town called Christmas, and it’s here that the Doctor has decided to make his final stand—here it is that he will become a character from a storybook, where a narrator will speak overhead about the man who stayed for Christmas. It’s here that he’s found that old familiar crack in the wall and on the other side is the Time Lords, wanting freedom to pass through, but only if he gives his name. However, if he does it means war for the world. So instead he stays put to become the guardian of Christmas.
He tricks Clara into flying away from the town, back to earth, but just as the TARDIS is about to leave she leaps onto it and makes the trip back, through the time vortex, which as she realizes upon her arrival, has slowed down things on the other end, meaning that the Doctor had been stuck there for 300 years and the age is apparent on his face.
Old age makeup never truly works but Smith does well with adding afflictions to his mannerisms and movement to make it seem true. He even has a cane to brandish about now.
Clara tells the Doctor that 300 years of protection has granted him the right to be selfish, to fly away. He disagrees as they watch the minute long sunrise over the town. He tells Clara that he’s been wondering that as well for the last 300 years, what exactly has he earned, if anything at all. He’s fulfilling his title, he’s saving a town that needs it, and he’s standing by a town that never wishes for him to go away.
So he tricks Clara into leaving one more time. And this time he grows older, tired, he’s told Clara before that this is the last of him, the last of the Doctor, technically (through some re-writing on Moffat’s part) he can’t regenerate anymore.
So Clara is beckoned back because the Doctor shouldn’t die alone and she finds a weary old man who leans heavily on his walking stick and Smith again is wonderful in embodying this form, and Clara watches on as he struggles to his feet to try and fight the Daleks one last time.
As he goes, Clara speaks to the crack in the wall, she tells them if they love him, and they should, then they should give him one last chance.
And they do. They appear and grant him another full regeneration (how many we don’t know) and he grins with the knowledge because the Eleventh Doctor embraces what comes to him.
In his old age makeup the Doctor dances and taunts and air guitars his way out of danger with an unprecedented regeneration (the magic loophole where the timey wimey Time Lords magically gifted the Doctor with more life-magic should never be a cure-all) and it wipes out the danger throughout all of the town. Clara goes to see him in the TARDIS, without knowing what could possibly be waiting for her, and for a moment we believe that’s he’s already changed, that he has already left us.
This storyline—everything that had led up to these last ten minutes of absolute beauty for the character—were so lackluster it was nearly upsetting. How could the show have so much talent on it, so much potential, so many storylines and they use this one where sure, a lot of Eleven’s storylines are wrapped up but in such haphazard ways, it doesn’t really matter.
Nevertheless we have the following moments that nearly makes up for all of it.
In a chill-inducing moment we follow the steps that the Doctor has taken into the TARDIS, wondering who it is that we’re going to see.
Luckily for us we’re given one last, truly magical scene, with our Doctor.
He tells Clara that he’s about to change, about to regenerate. Clara wishes for him to stay but like he says, all things change, but they don’t need to be forgotten. He says:
“We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people you used to be. I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”
This is quintessential of the Eleventh Doctor. Unlike the end of Ten’s era where he let out a weepy “I don’t want to go”, nearly damning any Doctor that was to come after him, Eleven is waltzing into his end. He’s lived a long life, he’s seen marvelous and terrifying things, and he’s loved and lost and grown old. He’s ready to go, but he’s not ready to be forgotten, he wants to always remember the man he was, the man he’s been, the man who was curious, who was in love with fezes and bowties, who pondered and acted last, who went into dangerous situations unarmed but working up a plan: he wants to always have a memory of himself to return to.
Needless to say Smith is phenomenal in this moment. At this point he seems to know the character better than the writers and more than anything this is Smith’s episode. He embodies everything we love about the character, all of his mannerisms that are unique to him, his wistful sadness and his cheeky behavior. Smith has never been short of wonderful in the role, often with the writing being elevated by his performance.
The Raggedy Man was a fairytale creation: a man of an 8 year old’s mind who was there to sweep her away from an unhappy childhood. As Amelia Pond turned into Amy she still saw the Doctor, her Doctor, as the mysterious man in a blue box, the man who took her to mysterious places, who showed her universes she could never have dreamt about, who was always late but never forgetful and who showed her worlds upon worlds. In many ways we viewers were Amy as well: we watched in The Eleventh Hour as Smith’s Doctor crash landed in Amy’s life and took her by storm and were caught up in the mayhem and madness as well. We watched as his alien self was humanized, as his eccentricities were shown to be rooted in melancholy, how Amy’s hero worship was unprecedented and how he really was just a mad man in a box. We saw the Doctor first through a child’s eyes—fitting due to Eleven’s childlike wonder and mannerisms—and we then saw him through a woman on the verge of a scary life-changing moment and then through the eyes of a happily married woman, all grown, who sees him as a friend. She grew up, she got past the fairytale.
The Doctor never did, he saw Amy Pond, Amelia, as a fairytale which makes his last moments all the sweeter. He sees a shadow of young Amelia Pond running through his TARDIS, in her bright red boots, the décor covered in mountains of crayon-colored drawings, showing the memories he’s created, the imaginations he’s piqued. Hers was the first face his face saw and then, just as he’s about to turn, Amy Pond, the girl who waited, the girl who left, she returned in a fantasy to say goodbye, to say goodnight to her old Raggedy Man with his sad, old eyes and his totally cool uncool bowtie.
It’s a testament to Karen Gillan and Smith’s natural chemistry that that one moment, the singular moment where their hands touch each other’s faces, rings true in a way none of Clara and the Doctor moments have. It’s a test to see if they’re real, it’s a goodbye, it’s a hello, and it’s a farewell to the faces of which they held such fond memories. Amy and Eleven always had a Peter Pan and Wendy quality to their relationship and now Peter is being forced to grow after living up to the heroisms and selflessness that his Wendy had always believed was true in him.
Mere moments later, after she’s gone, after he’s taken off the bow tie that so defined his character, Clara reaches for him and he’s 12, Peter Capaldi’s face has replaced Smith’s and we’ve bid adieu to the space man we’ve come to adore.
He came in with a bang and left similarly: there was no beat, no pause, he smiled and he was gone in a flash, but the memories are lasting, just like all good fairytales.