It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for. Eleven’s hour is over now, the clock is striking twelve.
The swan song of our beloved Matt Smith, and the second consecutive milestone with the 800th episode in the 50-year saga, seemed to tie up every single loose end left since that fateful crash landing in Leadworth oh so long ago while delivering on arguably the most physically and emotionally powerful regeneration in the show’s 50-year history two-fold, but more on that later.
One of the more morbid aspects of the sci-fi phenomenon that is Doctor Who is that no matter how invested we become in a Time Lord’s face and personality, the concept of regeneration guarantees that the only way out for them is death. As I’ve written previously, the Matt Smith era ushered the transition of this former cult favorite into a global phenomenon, recently setting a Guinness world record for largest global simulcast for the smash hit “Day of the Doctor,” and like many American or simply non-British fans, Smith was my very first Doctor. To have this Doctor regenerate from old age seemed fitting to me personally, and to have him use his regenerative energy as a weapon of mass destruction to save the town of Christmas from the Daleks was likely fitting for all Whovians, although their existence in this special along with that of the Weeping Angels and the Cybermen was slightly head scratching.
The Eleventh Doctor’s bow out was set up with a strange signal calling the Doctor, Clara, a Wilson-esque Cyberman head called Handles for some reason, and all enemies he’s confronted in the past 1200 years to the dreaded planet Trenzalore where the last crack left in the universe is discovered to be the source of the signal, and what’s on the other side of the crack could lead to the resurgence of the Time War and the destruction of the universe. In the meantime, the Doctor, with the help of the Silence, must defend the small town of Christmas as its sheriff in a 900-year-long battle against his mortal enemies. Yes, the Silence were the good guys all along, and Madame Kovarian’s crew were just the black sheep of the family. That took a lot of getting used to.
The long standing regeneration conundrum was put to rest tonight, the one which states that Time Lords may only regenerate a total of twelve times. When we learned of the War Doctor’s existence this year, erm… sorry, I meant Captain Grumpy, David Tennant’s regeneration that never was, as seen in 2008’s “Journey’s End,” gained a great deal of more gravity. Grumpy’s existence on top of the Doctor Donna metacrisis would mean that if Time Lord biology is to be believed, Matt Smith would be the thirteenth and final incarnation of the Doctor.
Some argued that this was simply Time Lord law and not biological, some like myself argued that River Song’s regenerations were transferred to the Doctor by saving his life in “Let’s Kill Hitler” and others argued that since Tennant never changed face in “Journey’s End,” the metacrisis regeneration didn’t count. He did have vanity issues, after all. With the Time Lords extinct until very very recently, however, the route taken was once out of the question, the one attempted multiple times and once successfully by the Master. The Time Lords gave the Doctor, now a broken, battered and beaten old man, a new regenerative cycle.
Other mysteries from the Smith era resolved included the origins of the Silence as a religious order, and the true identity of the eponymous aliens as their high priests. Madame Kovarian was the leader of a small faction who broke away because they believed that the best way to keep the Doctor from reaching Trenzalore to answer the question was to kill him, and this faction was responsible for the TARDIS’s destruction in “Big Bang” and, of course, the genesis of River Song, the perfect psychopath whom the Doctor totally married. That was definitely one of my favorite lines in the whole episode; I mean, that was basically the Doctor’s equivalent of “yeah, I totally hit that.”
Most significant of all is the reappearance… and resolution… of the cracks in time seen since Smith’s opening moments, which ultimately led to the pocket universe housing the saved Gallifrey, and the answer to the first question (the Doctor’s name, which we would assume is in Gallifreyan) on the fields of Trenzalore would signal the Doctor’s location to the Time Lords. This is why the Silence are so intent on silencing the Doctor: so that the Time Lords will not return to our universe, whether peacefully or not, and the Daleks orbiting the planet won’t reignite the Time War by calling for reinforcements. A tiny footnote here: we also learn that it was the cracks in time that the Doctor saw behind door number 11 in “The God Complex.”
The episode also served as (technically) the first time in NuWho that the Doctor has regenerated outside the TARDIS, although the process was completed and Capaldi appeared in the control room much later. We’ve learned from Steven Moffat that Capaldi’s Doctor will be far more mature and with more of a snarl, but in his manic regenerative state, Capaldi is still very much like his two predecessors. “Kidneys!” is his first word, followed by “I don’t like their color!” and then a random crash sequence begins… again. I’ll admit, I was instantly brought back to the classic scene from “Airplane!” when Capaldi’s Doctor tells Clara in the final line of the special “Stay calm! Just one question: Do you happen to know how to fly this thing?”
The appearance of our beloved Amelia Pond, the first and last face this incarnation of the Doctor saw, provided some much welcome sentimentality to an otherwise somber occasion. The only thing sadder than her only line “Raggedy man… goodnight” was Karen Gillan’s extremely unconvincing wig that was clearly made by a makeup artist other than Smith’s, whose faux mop was impeccable.
While I truly believe that “A Christmas Carol” was without a doubt Smith’s finest festive outing, “Time of the Doctor” was definitely a formidable contender, consistently exciting with a lot of explosions and bravado with arguably the most powerful regeneration scene since the show’s reboot without the over-sentimentality we saw in the closing scenes of “The End of Time.” It was the perfect combination of victory, nostalgia, and sadness without a great deal of tears being shed. Capaldi’s debut as the Twelfth Doctor (or the Thirteenth… Fourteenth… First… whatever) was entertaining enough, but we will have to wait until August to see if the chemistry between our favorite spin doctor and Ms. Coleman will live up to the incredible chemistry we saw with Smith. I simply could’ve lived without the extraneous Weeping Angels (who literally did nothing in the entire episode except grab Clara’s foot) and the Cybermen, and believe me, that includes Handles. Also, if the Doctor is about 2100 years old at the end of this episode, why does he look so much like the little imp Doctor from “The Sound of Drums?” Wasn’t he only like 100 years older than the 900-year-old Tenth Doctor?
So farewell, Matt, and hello, Peter. We can’t wait to meet you in August.
This article was first posted on December 26, 2013