The Time of the Doctor (belated review)

DrtWho_The_Time_of_the_Doctor_promoAn army of cold-blooded killer aliens who can’t manage to kill anyone meet a race of useless extras with the uncanny ability to survive hundreds of years of war while the Doctor cooks a turkey. 

–Spoilers and hand-wringing frustration to follow–

The Doctor Who holiday special has been a tradition since the program returned in 2005. Each year the Doctor engages in a whimsical adventure with some connection to Christmastime. This year’s special is the final installment of a three-part epic begun in The Name of the Doctor, a story in which the Doctor’s name was the key to opening his tomb on the planet Tranzelore, allowing the Great Intelligence access to the time line of the most important person who has ever lived, The Doctor. What followed was a montage of clips spanning the Doctor’s past. The Great Intelligence infiltrated the Doctor’s time line and killed him eleven times over. Clara Oswin, the ‘Impossible Girl,’ then launched herself into the selfsame tear in the time-space continuum left by the Doctor’s death and undid the deeds of the Great Intelligence, uncovering a previously hidden life that the Doctor had denied.

The second part explored this hidden ninth life and the Great Time War often noted throughout the 2005-2013 series. It broke one of the cardinal rules by which Time Lord civilization operated and the Doctor saved his home world of Gallifrey rather than watch it burn in a war against the Daleks. However, the Doctor still knew he must face his death on the fields of Tranzelore, despite his previous tenth incarnation flippantly declaring that he didn’t want to go there. The third and final part of this tour through plot holes and contrivances ends here on Christmas Day.

Steven Moffat is himself a fan who has steered the program through possibly its most popular era and for a new generation of followers. The writing has been so flimsy that it fails to stand up to even the most cursory of glances, to which the head writer has retaliated with phrases such as ‘the Doctor lies,’ or that it is not linear but instead ‘time wimey,’ illustrated in sequences when effects precede causes (most famously seen in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure many many years ago). He promised that this final adventure of the 11th Doctor would explain away all of the dangling plot threads such as the rip in time, the Silence, etc, and how the Doctor could survive past his allotted 13 lives.

The Time of the Doctor is a real puzzler in that it has some decent ideas such as the Doctor living hundreds of years defending a planet from his greatest enemies, but it makes no real sense and Moffat already used the exact same device when all of the Doctor’s foes hovered over the Earth but dared not strike in The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang. Additionally, the entire planet is represented by a small group of extras milling around (just as Gallifrey was seen in The Day of the Doctor). The Doctor, along with a host of other alien spaceships, hovers over an unknown world. He attempts to contact the other ships using the head of a Cyberman (from where, I have no idea) to guide him (it is also unclear how that works). But- OH NO!- he also has to help out Clara who is trying to cook Christmas dinner for her folks… and she told them the Doctor a boyfriend! OH NO!

There’s an absurd sit-com element to the new Doctor Who that stops it cold over and over. Sometimes it can incorporated into the story, but more often than not, it’s a detriment to the story, as seen here. Even the sequences involving hornier-than-thou Mother Superior and the ‘naked in church’ routines were unnecessary.

The real meat of the story comes almost halfway through and only ‘ties up’ loose continuities such as the crack in time and the Silence with the use of several plot contrivances. When the Doctor realizes that the rip in time is actually caused by the Time Lords hidden in another reality, he sends Clara away and stays behind to fend off the invading forces. He Doctor becomes a ‘Father Christmas’-type who occasionally saves the people (who look like they walked off the set of any off-off-Broadway musical) from goofy alien attacks. Clara spends hundreds of years clinging to the TARDIS in deep space while the Doctor gets old… then the two of them are reunited and she somehow pleads with the Time Lords to help the Doctor if they ‘love him’ as they must… so they send magic energy to the Doctor that he uses to destroy spaceships and regenerate.

Not only can Moffat not build up a credible threat in Doctor Who (an armada of every alien race ever in the series who can’t fire a single shot) but he also fails to resolve it (magic fire balls?). This kind of nonsense has been running through the new series for years, and I hardly expected Time of the Doctor to deliver the goods, but what worries me is that Moffat could think that he has accomplished anything other than pulling another long string of tricks out of his tired and limited top hat.

I will say that, once again, Matt Smith was excellent as the Doctor and delivered a magnificent exit speech. I understand that his contract was for another year and am curious why he cut it short, but his time as the Doctor will be fondly remembered, even by this crusty and grumpy reviewer.

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14 thoughts on “The Time of the Doctor (belated review)

  1. Excellent use of “Whimsical.” Whimsy is what has plagued the series since it’s 2005 re-boot. I’m sure that it’s inappropriate use in the series will continue.

  2. Matt Smith’s entire run on doctor who has been complete rubbish. I don’t see how anyone would like his doctor. For starters all he does is shout. When you have to shout it me means you don’t have control or you’ve lost it. His grand standing speech’s are included in this. The eleventh was irritating because he constantly laughed at his own jokes, talked about his stupid bow tie, an acted like a complete arse with his over the top childish raving. The eleventh was dominated by Ponds , River and now Clara. There are no memorable stories from his stint as the doctor. In fact his best stories (and the weren’t many) would not even make it in my top 50. I couldn’t wait for the Time of the doctor to end. Matt’s doctor was just a lesser version of the 10th doctor unfortunately with really bad stories. The 11th doctor’s best top stories were The Girl who waited and Amy’s Choice. His best meaningful moment was when he slammed the tardis door in Amy’s face in The girl who Waited. Love that moment because for once he wasn’t acting like an arse. Matt was inspired by the second doctor who used an untidy appearance and a dash of silliness and subtleness to fool his enemies. Matt acted like a two year old who shouted all the time because he didn’t know what else to do. I’m sure he could have been a good doctor but not under Moffat’s tenure.

  3. In regards to the bow tie. Can you imagine the fourth doctor constantly talking about his scarf, or the fifth talking about the vegetable on his blazer.
    Best to worst doctor’s in order:
    Baker, Tennant, McCoy, Troughton, McGann, Eccleston, Baker, Pertwee, Davison, Hartnell, Smith, Hurt.

  4. The thing I noticed was the use of the medallion given to the Master in “The Five Doctors” to substantiate his appearing to “help” the Doctors while in the Dead Zone. For this service the Ruling Council of Time Lords were going to give the Master a new full set of regenerations. I think using that medallion was a way to use old series continuity to inform the viewers that the Capaldi Doctor will be the start of a new set of 13 regenerations.
    I also thought that Clara had learned the Doctor’s name in that book and would whisper that into the crack, not some lame plea as she did.
    The Smith Doctor stories were like a stage magician’s act, misdirection using flashy special effects, explosions, shouting (as mentioned above) and comedy. Plus Matt Smith’s undeniable charismatic presence.
    Moffat wrote some of the best of the 10th stories but given total control he lost his way.

  5. Spot-on review, Jameson; “..cold-blooded killer aliens who can’t manage to kill anyone”, Bwahahaha! Exactly right, that concept could make for a hilarious Science Fiction Comedy but it seriously undercuts the believability here and I would guess that Moffat doesn’t want us to notice this, “do not look at the man behind the curtain”. One or two extras did buy it but there’s no real explanation as to how the Doctor protected them for years before the Silence (looking ridiculous as ever) joined him. Moffat’s writing as at its worse when he abandons logic, somehow the Doctor’s presence *alone* is supposed to be enough but that has never been the case, the Doctor *does things*, he is *active*, THAT’S why he wins but often at the cost of others’ lives; in the Moffat version the Doctor is too often fetishized beyond all sense, he’s a totem rather than the character and often he succeeds *just because*. Compare this to The Doctor Dances or Blink where there is some logic (even tho’ shaky in places) and the difference is plain. Moffat has, unfortunately, let arrogance override sense, he has become incredibly lazy. His fans fall back on the fairytale defence but fairytales do, in truth, have their own logic whereas Moffat employs “just because” non-explanations and non-resolutions that often hardly even bother to gesture toward sense.
    The decision to have a plotline run throughout the Eleventh (Thirteenth) Doctor’s incarnation seems misguided at best but much more so when the resolutions to most of the threads were – ahem – pissed away and didn’t match up to their beginnings. As I said, lazy and arrogant. Clever on the surface but flimsy and even stupid underneath.
    To be Continued…!

  6. The Time of the Doctor was marred by the sort of things that Moffat seems to believe are required in a Doctor Who Christmas Special in order to entertain the great unwashed, so the first quarter in particular was a colossal waste of time featuring the kind of “comedy” that would be embarrassing in a children’s tv show and which ate up time that could have been profitably spent *telling a story*. Matt Smith has grown on me but he has too often been called upon to act like a child as was the case here, meanwhile Jenna Coleman looks incredibly cute being perky and jiggling about but Moff Chops has neglected to give her character, Clara, a character, save for those moments where she like Rose and Donna before her acts as the Doctor’s conscience or saves him (often by “magic” more or less). Handles the Cyberhead appears from nowhere and is exceedingly silly but was actually a better-written companion which CAN’T be right! The never-before-mentioned Sex Nun flame of the Doctor’s was yet another of Moff’s tiresomely adolescent fancies and seemed to be there to take the place of River Song (a bonus was that she was quite sexy!), the relationship between her and the Doctor was embarrassingly unconvincing and was a further indication that SM may be a 15 year-old in a man’s body. With all this and the excruciatingly slackly written scenes with Clara’s family (oh look, the Doctor’s pretending to be Clara’s boyfriend and acting like he is an 8-year-old with ADD – ho-ho-ho-No!) it looked as if Time would be a total bust so it was a relief that when the plot kicked in there were some engaging sequences. Three major problems exist tho': I’ve mentioned the lazy writing but that is joined by the reliance on splashy scenes that serve no narrative purpose – great ideas simply thrown away, utterly undeveloped, there simply to be KOOL – and finally by a certain contempt for the audience at Christmas, the sense that he can’t spend too long without some grating silliness and that he can’t take it seriously for long because they Cont’d!

  7. …are too thick to accept that – an infuriating idea considering that there are BBC *sitcoms* that have managed to be deeply emotional at Christmas.
    The notion of the Doctor giving everything to protect one small town was brilliant but the execution was deeply flawed, as mentioned Moffat had wasted precious minutes with nonsense so Christmas and its inhabitants (were any of them non-white, I can’t recall?) was a cipher while the effect of centuries of siege and attack was not felt beyond Matt Smith’s performance, a few lines of dialogue, the Doctor’s old-age and virtually nothing else for most of the runtime. As with Closing Time the monsters aren’t really to be taken seriously, the only exception is when the Church has been slaughtered and replaced by the Daleks, tho’ even then a few words from the Doctor can overcome Dalekification. Effective serious moments are thrown away as if Moffat has no faith.
    Now, the Magical Deux Ex Gallifrey ending with the Doctor massacring Daleks as he expressly didn’t in Day of the Doctor was dubious but I found the scenes before and after that very effective with some nice quiet moments, good dialogue from Moffat and fine perfs from Smith and Coleman, it’s a shame that the resolutions were so pat and lazy as this could have been special. What WAS special was the regeneration, I got choked up by the appearance of Amy (is it me or has Karen G become sexier and more charismatic over time?!) while Smith’s last moments were lovely. And then… PETER CAPALDI! Oh, I hope Moffat pulls something great off and regenerates his writing but, um, it may be too much to ask. Time will tell, it always does… :-)

  8. What a surprise, that Amy show’s up to upstage a Clara time. I can’t say I was moved by Smith’s final words or his regeneration, mostly because Moffat’s stories were hollow, lifeless and filled with character’s who lacked substance (Madame Kovarian, Tasha Lem, River, Clara, clara’s parents etc.). Since Moffat didn’t give a hoot about his writing it made it extremely hard to invest with Smith’s shenanigans like his joke of a marriage/ relationship with River, his stalking of girls, etc…
    Regenerations I found to be the most moving were Pertwee’s, Davison, Eccleston and Tennant’s.

  9. Agreed over Davison’s but Tennant’s? Bwahahaha! “I don’t want to go!” Oh God, that was so laughably bad, even worse after something like an hour and fifty minutes of nonsense that made Time of the Doctor look good, plus a bit of boo hoo-faced stalking of former companions! :-)

    • Yeah, I agree that Tennant’s regeneration was dragged out unfortunately, but his regeneration minus the sentimental moping was still moving. Why? Like Pertwee’s regenration both doctor’s had come to realize their flaws. For Pertwee it was his thirst for knowledge and tennant it was his arrogance as time lord victorious. I don’t need to explain Davison’s, do I? Either way there was something that made their regenerations meaningful. In Moffat’s/Smith Era there are never any consequences for the main characters. For e.g. The death of the ponds didn’t matter because they got to live out their lives in NY. Clara dies but comes back next episode etc. Smith’s goodbye was the worst of modern who. Smith tried everything from shouty, to playful, nasty, brooding and giddy, but nothing was ever at stake. This all equalled to a “I don’t care what happens. Smith’s Doctor has no realization moment his journey you could say was not defining just tired and painful to watch.

  10. Annoying “solution” #1 : so it was the Kovarian order who blew up the TARDIS was it? Have I got that right? Who was the voice saying “Silence Will Fall” then? And the Silence were responsible for the cracks then which Gallifrey then used to ask the question but only in Time of the Doctor?! I have likely got that wrong but shouldn’t the second Big Bang have ensured that certain things didn’t happen because this is a different version of the universe? Or am I talking baloney? Ahahahaha!

  11. I have to say that while I’d certainly argue with the details – and thought the Smith Doctor definitely had his moments here – I can’t argue with the perception that nothing was at stake due to Moffat returning to the same Magical Hey Presto and With One Bound He Was Free well again and again and again, much like Davies’s revisitation of the deflating Deux Ex Machina solution ad infinitum ad nauseum! Moffat’s egotism, flimsy plotting, and illogical resolutions has damaged the show tho’ Davies was just as bad from the second series on. Still there have been entertaining elements in the Smith/Moffat era, it’s just that they’ve been crowded out by incredibly weak and irritating ones (tho’ again the Tennant/Davies was riddled with the same problems).

  12. You’ll have to bear in mind that much as may be playing devil’s advocate here I find even the better Matt Smith episodes flawed but I have time for Flesh and Stone, The God Complex, and The Day of the Doctor (I’m afraid so, despite its illogicality and flaws!) in particular, oh, and too my surprise I’ve warmed to The Lodger despite it being infuriating… Go figure!

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