2013 was a bit of a roller coaster year as a Who fan. From the initial downs of feeling like production had slowed down in what should’ve been a massive year, and feeling a bit let down by several episodes of series 7b, things perked up massively (and rightly so) in November, with Night of the Doctor, Adventure in Space and Time and Day of the Doctor celebrating the anniversary in fine style.
But once the warm glow that was the Day of the Doctor faded, it was time to launch into Matt’s finale story. The Time of the Doctor. A story that promised to wrap up the loose ends from his era (of which there were many), as well as resolve the decades-long fan debate of the Doctor’s 13 lives.
For me, it mostly succeeded. It was probably unlikely that the episode would hit the highs of Day of the Doctor, and honestly it feels like it could’ve done with more build up, which was of course impossible with the 50th to celebrate. Personally, I loved various parts of the story. I loved the idea of the Doctor staying in this one town, for longer than he’s ever stayed anywhere, defending this simple place from all manner of cosmic nasties (with a bit of help from the Church and the Silents). It was Doctor Who meets fairy tale, a theme that served Matt and Moffat incredibly well in series 5. The scenes with the Doctor steadily growing older worked well, and you really felt for Clara when she arrived that last time, and found him an old man, at the end of his life. The bits showing him fixing kids toys and the like really added to the idea that he was a part of the community, although for me, it would’ve been nice for these aspects of the story to have had a bit more room to breathe, and see a bit more of the Doctor as part of the town, and its defence, rather than the reliance on narration.
Most of the loose ends from Matt’s run were well explained as well. The various attacks being the result of Kovarian splitting off from the church after the truth of Trenzalore is revealed. Terrified that the Doctor will bring back the Time Lords and reignite the Time War, they tried to stop him ever getting to Trenzalore. That really worked for me. Less successful was the handwaving explanation that they blew up the TARDIS in series 5. That was a major part of that series, and it seems to me that Moffat hadn’t really come up with an explanation at the time. To my mind, if you’re going to have long, series-arcing plots, they really need to be planned in detail otherwise it shows badly that you’re making it up as you go along. Of course fan-rationalisation has kicked in, with the convenient explanation that it was probably River, piloting the TARDIS at the time, who had some sort of sleeper program activate, and she unwittingly blew it up herself without realising it. That works for me, and is probably as good an explanation as we’ll get.
I *did* like the idea that Kovarian’s actions essentially became a self-fullfilling prophecy, causing many of the events she was trying to prevent. I’ve been a sucker for that kind of thing since watching Day of the Daleks when I was young.
The idea that at the route of everything was the threat of the Time War returning really worked for me, and the stalemate on Trenzalore made sense. What didn’t make sense though was the very end where the Doctor, at the end of his life, basically sits back and lets the Daleks start killing everyone. The whole stalemate had hinged on him being unable to call on the Time Lords, as that would cause the Daleks (and everyone else) to lay waste to the town. Since the Daleks were doing that anyway, why didn’t he just shout into the crack for help himself? Maybe I missed something.
There’s also a question about the mucking about with the Doctor’s lives. To be honest, now that the 13 regeneration limit is over and done with (or at least, we can start counting again with Peter Capaldi), I do feel it was a bit of a missed opportunity. I’ve talked on the Outpost Skaro podcast about how a Doctor being the final 13th life struck me as a good character arc. Instead that potential has been squandered for the sudden reveal that Matt was, in fact, the 13th incarnation, thanks to Hurt’s “War Doctor”. The line about him having “vanity issues” as the 10th Doctor was good though 🙂
Perhaps its me going a bit fanboy, but I’ll be interesting to see how the Doctors will be counted from here on. Presumably they’ll only stick to the “main” incarnations for most purposes, leaving Capaldi still as the Twelfth Doctor in the press. Although for me, this does ignore the Hurt incarnation, which was a brilliant performance, and fully embraced as “The Doctor” in the story. So I’d hope any future boxsets of action figures, or photo montages won’t forget that Capaldi is actually the 13th.
Matt’s actual exit scene has been the topic of much discussion as well. Personally, while it was jarring as heck, I personally like the way they took the opportunity to play with the well-established format of regeneration in the new series. I think its a good thing they set out to surprise us. I can’t have been alone in being surprised when Matt appeared in the TARDIS at the end, and then the “blink and you’ll miss it” switch over to Capaldi. I think it helped sell how unsettling regeneration should be. Suddenly Matt’s gone, and Capaldi’s there. Matt’s final speech about remembering when he was the Doctor was good, although personally I thought that between the speech and the hallucinations the sequence started to go on a bit long. Perhaps a bit more overlap was needed, and possibly cutting the appearance of young Amelia, since Karen Gillan was going to turn up anyway. The final shot of Matt dropping the bow tie before Capaldi took over was a really nice touch.
Capaldi’s introduction didn’t really give us much. Unlike Matt’s its a much more traditional short scene, which is a pity, as I quite liked the quick minute/minute and a half we got in End of Time. However like pretty much everyone else I’m massively excited to see what he brings to the show. A lot of what Steven Moffat is saying is ticking the right boxes for me, with Capaldi apparently bringing quite a different take to the Doctor than Tennant or Smith (and rightly so), and about how the show will need to reinvent itself, as they can’t let it get stale. The Capaldi era will hopefully stand out as different to Matt’s as Matt’s was from Tennant’s.