–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 preciously 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 is 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 told them she had a boyfriend!
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 is 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.