The Time Of The Doctor is the Christmas special, the third part of a trilogy of “Of The Doctor” episodes, (the first two parts being the series 7 finale The Name Of The Doctor, and the 50th Anniversary special The Day Of The Doctor). It is also the final episode with Matt Smith as the official Doctor. Before the episode even begins it’s already many things at once, and it continues down that path from beginning to end.
A message is being broadcast across the universe from a planet, and the Doctor in his TARDIS and the spaceships of many of his enemies are orbiting it, along with a spaceship church called The Church of the Papal Mainframe. The head of this church is “Mother Superious” Tasha Lem, who is an ally of the Doctor.
Tasha is forbidding anyone to land on the planet, but allows the Doctor though. The message is coming from a church tower in a town called Christmas, and on closer inspection the Doctor realises it is coming from a crack in time, identical to the ones found throughout series 5. The message is also the question which has long been said to bring about the Doctor’s end. “Doctor who?”, and the source of it is the Timelords from Gallifrey, who are in a pocket universe the Doctors put them in during the events of The Day of The Doctor. When the Doctor answers the question, his real name, they will know that it is safe for them to come back through. However, the message has been broadcast across the whole universe, so everyone who is an enemy of the Timelords has come back too. If the Timelords come through, then basically the Time War will start all over again, and ally to the Doctor or not, Tasha isn’t prepared to let that happen. The Doctor learns that the planets name is Trenzalore, which he knows will be his final resting place, so resolves to stay and protect it from the invaders, which he does for 300 years. During this time, Tasha Lem renames the Church of the Papal Mainframe as The Order of the Silence, dedicating their cause to the Doctor not answering the question.
We get a lot of answers to mysteries from the past few series in this episode. We find out who is asking the question and the significance of the Silence as a religious order. Tasha reveals a chapter of the Order of the Silence led by a certain Madame Kovarian broke away from the main branch, and it is they who blew up the Doctor’s TARDIS causing the cracks in time (the arc of series 5) and engineered River Song to kill the Doctor (the arc of series 6) as a way of preventing the Doctor ever coming to Trenzalore. Furthermore, we find out that the creatures that we knew as the Silence are simply genetically engineered confessional priests. I wasn’t completely satisfied with this particular revelation to be honest, the Silence creatures always seemed a lot more sinister and had some dark hidden agenda up their sleeves.
Regardless, we finally see what Madame Kovarian meant when she said it was a way of ending centuries long war against the Doctor. It is fought for hundreds and hundreds of years, with seemingly no end, and the Doctor visibly ages while he is there. It gets to the point where he is to die of old age. He announces that he is the final incarnation and has no more regenerations left, so faces the Daleks (the only remaining enemy) knowing it will be the end. Clara, who from her point of view has been visiting this timeline here and there during one Christmas Day, tearfully asks to the Time Lords through the crack in the wall to do something to help the Doctor. The crack vanishes, and reappears in the sky, from which the Time Lords give the Doctor a brand new cycle of regenerations, allowing him to destroy the Daleks. His regeneration takes time, it reverts back to this incarnation’s original young form, but then suddenly becomes the first incarnation of this new cycle. Apparently he doesn’t know how to fly the TARDIS though!
This episode has a lot crammed into it. The idea seems to have been to tie up all the loose ends and long running story arcs from Matt Smith’s Doctor, and it does a fine job as far as that is concerned, but the structure of the episode makes it a bit hard to follow. Much as I like non-linear narratives, this episode was a bit shuffled randomly like a pack of cards, from one time to another, so it was hard to keep up. In between the main storyline we had Clara cooking Christmas dinner for her family, but these scenes didn’t add much other than keeping with the Christmas special theme (take out that and the town being named Christmas, and it does feel more like a series finale than a Christmas episode). I liked Clara’s grandmother though, so I hope we see her again.
There was a lot of good stuff sprinkled around the episode. We got to see snow-covered Weeping Angels, wooden Cybermen and Handles, a Cyberman helmet who had become an ally and sort of companion to the Doctor. It is becoming a trend to see members of enemy species of the Doctor become allies and even friends, like Handles and Genereal Strax and Madame Vastra in the Paternoster Gang. This episode goes even further, with all the Silence teaming up with the Doctor against the Daleks. Matt Smith’s aged Doctor looked a lot like William Hartnell, the very first Doctor, so as he was meant to be the last regeneration there was a feeling of going full circle.
Of the guest cast, Orla Brady was very good as Tasha Lem, giving the character a lot of authority and dignity. There is a fan theory that she is a later incarnation of River Song, which I doubt, but it’s interesting. Tasha appears to be superhuman though. She doesn’t age throughout the 300 years, claiming she “doesn’t believe in aging”. Well, she is a holy woman, so maybe she’s like Ned Flanders from The Simpsons, and her secret is “a daily dose of Vitamin Church”. Still, it goes further than that, when she is killed and taken over by a Dalek, she is later able to regain control of her body.
The most affecting aspect of the episode was the farewell to Matt Smith as the Doctor. He loses his iconic bow tie, and we see some fish fingers and custard. He then hallucinates, seeing visions of Amelia/Amy Pond, the first person this incarnation of the Doctor saw. For me the best part of the whole episode was the surprise cameo from Karen Gillan as Amy, where she says “Raggedy man, good night”. The Doctor gives a great speech as well; “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 we remember all the people we used to be. I will always remember when the Doctor was me”. I liked this regeneration exit scene a lot better than David Tennant’s one. OK, he was undeniably a popular Doctor, but even so, his regeneration exit was a little bit melodramatic and over-the-top for me.
Matt Smith is my favourite Doctor of NuWho to date, but things look good so far for Peter Capaldi. I thing going for an older Doctor is a step in the right direction, and I suppose the year of the show’s 50th Anniversary is a good time to start a new cycle of regenerations. This will be the first time a companion has stayed on with two different Doctors since Rose stayed from Christopher Ecclestone to David Tennant way back in series one, so I look forward to see how he and Clara work together.