Cast: Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman, Dan Starkey, NIcholas Briggs, Peter Capaldi
For Doctor Who fans, regeneration episodes are very special, especially memorable occasions. Everyone remembers their first Doctor, and everyone remembers saying goodbye to their Doctor to welcome in a new and exciting incarnation. In the 50 year history of the show, it has only happened a total of twelve times (but only if you’re being really technical about it…ahem, Moffat).
Time of the Doctor marks the thirteenth (and canon challenging) regeneration of the Doctor – from our beloved raggedy man Matt Smith to the very funny Peter Capaldi, who will no doubt make his own mark on new and old generations of Doctor Who fans in the years to come. Our farewell to Matt Smith is as whimsical as his tenure as The Doctor, full of magic and sentiment, but also full of danger and warfare. Like many of the Eleventh Doctor’s episodes, it plays like a fairytale. The Doctor really does become old man Christmas, spending the last centuries of his life fixing toys and protecting the children of a town by the same name – on the planet of Trenzalore.
A mysterious signal is being transmitted from a planet that turns out to be Trenzalore. The signal has reached out across the universe, calling in everyone from Daleks to Cyebermen, and especially the Doctor, instilling a feeling of dread in the listeners. As the Doctor investigates, he discovers that the signal is of Gallifreyan origin. The planet itself has been shielded by the Church of the Papal Mainframe, preventing anyone from approaching it. Luckily, the Doctor is old friends with the Mother Superious of the Church and wiles his way onto the planet, with Clara by his side.
They discover a town called Christmas, cloaked in something called a truth field that makes everyone tell the truth. This town also has something else the Doctor didn’t expect – the crack in the universe caused by the explosion of his TARDIS, the same crack from Amy Pond’s wall. The Timelords are transmitting the signal through this crack, asking the oldest question in the universe – Doctor Who?
The truth field is to make sure the Doctor isn’t lying, and if he says his real name, the Timelords know it’s safe to come through. The problem is, if the Timelords come through the crack into this universe, they will be faced with instant warfare – another never-ending time war that will plunge the quaint little village of Christmas into chaos. The Doctor decides to stay and protect Christmas from the creatures attempting to destroy it, while the Church of the Papal Mainframe becomes the Church of The Silence, dedicated to preventing the Doctor from answering the oldest question. Meanwhile, the Doctor tricks Clara into returning home while he spends the next 300 plus years protecting the town, becoming a beloved figure to the townspeople.
This regeneration episode is unique for a number of reasons, one being that we rarely get a chance to see the Doctor live out the length of an entire regeneration. The Doctor’s chosen line of work is inherently dangerous, and each regeneration is often cut sadly short. If we are to believe David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, his regeneration only lasted roughly five years (although what he was doing and how long he was doing it for while he was traveling alone is anyone’s guess).
It was rather special to see the Doctor settle down to a life with a people, to spend an entirety of a life protecting what became his home, and to outlive some of the people who were special to him. Another reason for this episode’s uniqueness, of course, is that writer/producer Steven Moffat decided that Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor was in reality the Thirteenth Doctor.
The Doctor Who mythos, of course, proclaims that a Timelord has a limit of twelve regenerations, or thirteen bodies. By creating the War Doctor for the 50th Anniversary special, that necessarily moved each regeneration ahead by one from Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor onward. Then Moffat decided that David Tennant’s sneaky non-regeneration regeneration from the season four finale Journey’s End counted as an actual regeneration, making Matt Smith the Thirteenth and final Doctor.
There has always been the question of how the regeneration rule might be gotten around when the time came, and while the time came much sooner than expected, we now know that there will always be a loophole readily at hand. The question is, of course, whether this particular solution is a one off, or whether the Doctor has been granted with a shiny new set of twelve whole regenerations. This might be a question that will not present an answer for a good while to come.
Overall, while the episode was enjoyable, it had that peculiar disjointed feeling that has defined the series since the departure of Amy and Rory in season seven. Not only is each episode disjointed in itself, but the overall season seems to be a series of unconnected one-off episodes – which to be fair, is more akin to the style of the original series, but seems strangely unsatisfying in a show that has created such convoluted overarching storylines. Moffat clearly made an attempt to tie up some loose ends, but it all seemed pretty arbitrary and rushed.
As a particular fan of David Tennant, I had a very difficult time accepting Matt Smith as the Doctor, especially after the agonizingly heart breaking regeneration. However, Smith proved himself a more than competent performer and quickly endeared himself to even this ardent Tenth Doctor fan. He leaves behind a legacy of beautiful moments, whimsical silliness, and a whole cache of fun catch-phrases. While the Eleventh Doctor will be greatly missed, it will be exciting to see what the new Doctor will bring to the series. My first impressions of Peter Capaldi are vague – and certainly not as violent as my first impression of the gleeful wildness of Matt Smith that seemed to mock my broken heart after the death of the Tenth Doctor – but I can say that a change will be refreshing and will more than likely bring new and unexpected adventures.