'Doctor Who' Christmas Special: Matt Smith Steps Down And The Twelfth Doctor Is Introduced
If Doctor Who's "The Time of the Doctor" had a subtitle, it would be “Eleven is leaving. Eleven is leaving. DID I MENTION YET THAT ELEVEN IS LEAVING?!?!” Show runner Steven Moffat’s display of nuance and delicate balance of nostalgia and ingenuity in The Day of the Doctor gave me hope for the rest of his work on the show and especially the exit of Matt Smith, the eleventh Doctor – hope that has since been destroyed like the self-esteem of an unloved Doctor Who companion.
The premise of the episode is as follows: Clara (Jenna Coleman) is failing miserably at making Christmas dinner. She calls the Doctor in a panic, asking him to come to dinner and pretend to be her boyfriend.
He shows up (naked) for about five minutes before darting off with Clara to answer the call of the Papal Mainframe regarding a transmission that is being broadcast across the entire universe. He is beamed down to a town called Christmas on planet Trenzalore, where it is discovered that the transmission is emitting from the same crack in the wall that was a critical (albeit unresolved) part of Amy Pond’s (Karen Gillan) story arc and is a question from the Time Lords, secured in a pocket universe on the other side of the wall: “Doctor who?” they ask, over and over. To speak his name would mean bringing the Time Lords back to their home universe and reigniting the ceaseless and brutal Time War; leaving Christmas would leave the planet open to siege by everyone who wants the Time Lords destroyed. Eleven is left in a stalemate that is repeatedly plagued with Cybermen and Daleks… as Clara looks sad, moping because she’s stuck on Earth and the Doctor is on Trenzalore. Yawn. It astonishes me that the episode resolves the “crack in the wall” arc and clarifies the prophecy of the villainous Silence (“Silence will fall when the question is asked”)- so even though it should have been a clean one-off episode functioning as a farewell, it instead became a chaotic and badly paced cobbling of reminiscence and baffling new paradoxes that aren’t quite mystifying as they are irritating.
What is abundantly clear is how much Moffat loves the Eleventh Doctor. In this 75-minute circus of plot holes, disrespectful dialogue, pointless flirtation, and unsatisfying storylines, the Eleventh Doctor is an amplified version of himself. All his best-loved personas are there: the whimsical warrior, fixing children’s toys while guarding the town from the constant onslaught of ever-present villains, Amy Pond’s silly Raggedy Man, the melancholy and weary time traveller. One problem: with a better plot, it wouldn’t be necessary to break out every single one.
Many things about this are dissatisfying, but the worst part of it is that his best quality- his desperate scramble to make everyone smile and feel a sense of innate joy- is not accounted for in this episode, which is a true shame. Some of my favorite moments with the Eleventh Doctor emanated from this aspect of him. For example, in one episode, the Doctor’s compassion for Vincent Van Gogh inspired him to bring the artist to the present day so he could see how loved and appreciated his artwork becomes. Bringing this very troubled and alienated man even fleeting happiness is a profound gesture born out of the Doctor’s understanding of the joyless and ostracized. Such simple acts are poignant displays of how far he’s come from his bitter, almost cruel days as the Ninth Doctor (played by Christopher Eccleston), and they are nowhere to be found in this critical episode. Was it unbelievably self-sacrificing to sit out a stalemate for 300 years in Trenzalore? Yes, of course it was. Was it heart-warming that he fixed the toys of the children of Christmas while engaging in said stalemate? Perhaps, but it’s hard to think that he had a whole lot else to do.
This episode acts as a recap of some of his very distinct traits, not part of any greater story or a contribution to the canon other than the introduction of a new Doctor. All of a sudden, after a maudlin build up, the Doctor becomes a Scottish man with intensely blue eyes and terrifying eyebrows as Peter Capaldi takes over the role of the Doctor.
The highlight of the episode is Matt Smith’s final minutes as the Doctor where he is young again, pacing the TARDIS and looking around as if seeing it for the first time. He hallucinates the presence of Amy Pond, who sends him off with a variation of her last words to him before she had been taken by a Weeping Angel, never to cross paths with him again: “Raggedy Man…good night.” In a well-constructed episode, that moment would have brought me to tears. Instead it slightly warmed an otherwise frigid heart. For shame, Moffat. The past two regenerations have practically broken my heart (especially Ten’s last words: “I don’t want to go!”) and in this one I just thought “well, at least I felt something for two minutes of this episode.” His closing dialogue, reflecting on his time in that regeneration, is delivered wonderfully but lacks creativity and, more importantly, totally disregards Clara’s presence in the show and in the very room. She hung on to the side of the TARDIS as it flew through the universe to be with him while he died (it’s probably worth noting that this is a manoeuvre that has killed Jack Harkness in the past). It was established that she had been protecting him from various nemeses throughout his entire life- yet he barely acknowledges her while she stands there, horrified, waiting for him to turn into someone else. It was a bit disconcerting and almost eclipsed the emotional impact of Eleven taking off his bowtie, his signature accessory, and throwing it to the floor. Almost.
"The Time of the Doctor" was a disappointing episode but a handy way to showcase the Eleventh Doctor’s many quirks and facets without going into too much detail. If you’re looking for what is basically a parade of Eleven’s quirky personality traits with a few dashes of totally out-of-character chauvinism, then "The Time of the Doctor" fits the bill. If you’re looking for an absolutely magnificent send-off of a Doctor, this is not it- I highly recommend Ten’s last episode. Bring a box of tissues.