8:30pm Christmas Day. Matt Smith’s final episode of Doctor Who had been and gone. And I was feeling somewhat unhappy.
I thought at the time it was because the episode failed to live up to my expectations. A kitchen sink of ideas were thrown at it, and only some worked. There was a lot of hurried explanations and really boring standing around and not doing very much. After a year of wonderful Who moments, I felt it had all ended on a sour note.
But then, less than 30 minutes later, I watched it again. And I realised that wasn’t why I was unhappy at all.
Excuse me for getting briefly personal for a moment. 2013 has been a big year for me. My grandfather passed away in January, I have moved out of my family home and moved in with my girlfriend. I’ve taken an important new job. My younger brothers have also moved out, one has bought a house and the other has left to University.
Most of those developments are good. But change is also inherently sad. It represents growing up, leaving something behind. Getting older. And amongst the nonsense about Trenzalore, returning Time Lords, Wooden Cybermen and regeneration cycles, this is what Time of The Doctor was really about.
There were two moments in particular that affected me the most. And no, I don’t mean the moment Smith regenerated or the death of Handles – The Doctor’s answer to Wilson from Castaway.
No, the scenes I am referring to were the moment when Clara’s grandmother told the story of how she met her (clearly now departed) husband, and fiddled with her wedding ring, recalling the moment she wished time would stop.
And then, just a few moments later, when Clara visited the elderly Doctor, and had to help him muster the energy to pull a Christmas cracker.
These were not Doctor Who sci-fi, timey-wimey moments. But real ones, about getting old and times gone by. And it hurt.
“LET ME BE CLEAR. NO ONE OTHER THAN ME CAN SEE YOUR CLOTHES?”
Contrast those end scenes with how Time of the Doctor opened, and you’d be forgiven for thinking these were different episodes entirely.
It was by far one of the most amusing openers to a Doctor Who we’ve seen for a long while. Talking Cyberman heads, nudity at dinner (this had me particularly laughing), walking onto the wrong spaceships, pretending to be the boyfriend, the bald Doctor, cooking a turkey. The jokes came so fast it was hard to keep up and it was certainly entertaining, with writer Steven Moffat showing off his comedy credentials once again.
But the show’s problem came about when it started indulging in Who lore and exploring the entire tenure of Smith’s reign as the Doctor.
Christmas Specials of Doctor Who are, by nature of it being a special, the bigger episodes each year. They draw in audiences far larger than the normal series. So I have to wonder how many people were able to follow the story once the silliness had subsided, and we were presented with cracks on the wall (which we’ve not seen for 3 and a half years), flashbacks to The God Complex (which only the Whovians will remember) and a lot of quick-fire answers to questions that some of us have forgotten.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the fact we now know who Madame Kovarian was, who blew up the Tardis, what was in the Doctor’s hotel room in The God Complex and why The Silence have been engineered to make you forget about them once you look away. But this is a Christmas Special, and there are a good few million people watching that won’t have a clue what’s going on. And I imagine a number mainstream TV critics will be sharpening their knives over that.
There were also quite a number of moments in the show I found quite hard to believe. Moments that were rapidly explained and, unless you were paying very close attention, you may have missed. You barely had a moment to process the standoff situation between The Doctor and his enemies, before we were indulged with a comedy scene featuring two Sontarans and an invisibility cloak. Slow paced this was not.
And the ideas kept coming. Zombie Daleks reappeared, Weeping Angels climbing out of snow, Wooden Cybermen trying to kill The Doctor (although… seeing as they were scared he’d say his name before he died, I’m not sure why). And The Doctor ageing (which he didn’t do when he spent hundreds of years wandering around in the sixth series, but I guess we can let that slide. Right?).
Clara spent much of her time getting manipulated and sent back to her time. It feels as if Moffat isn’t too sure what to do with her. She now lives on a Council Estate (just like Rose Tyler) and has a rude mother (just like Donna’s). And would you look at that, she happens to have a crush on the Doctor. Maybe Capaldi won’t be her cup of tea.
Orla Brady’s psychotic and charming Tasha Lem was a far more entertaining character. Can she be the companion instead?
“DO YOU KNOW HOW TO FLY THIS THING?”
It may not have been the perfect send-off for Smith, but after two viewings I have to conclude this was a decent episode of Doctor Who. The moment when the elderly Doctor received extra regenerations, he casts down his cane and blasts The Daleks out of the sky – in what has to be one of the most dramatic regenerations ever – was a fist pumping moment. There were scenes of pure joy, laughter and deep sadness. It ticked all those boxes. It featured some wonderful performances. And it’s a brave man to create one of the geekiest episodes of Who, and broadcast it during BBC 1 primetime on Christmas Day.
But let’s address that final scene. Smith’s goodbye. The appearance of Capaldi and the cameo from Amelia Pond. It was a strange one that didn’t really work. Not quite the emotional goodbye of Tennant or the quick-fire regeneration of Eccleston. It came somewhere in between. A little rushed, even if the appearance of a noticeably different Karen Gillan was a nice touch.
And whoever is directing Doctor Who these days, can you please dial down Murray Gold’s score and the sci-fi beeping during these dramatic moments? I am still not entirely sure exactly what Capaldi was saying in his first moment of the Doctor, and when the elderley Doctor was yelling at the Daleks, I had to listen very carefully to make out what was being said.
Then again. Maybe I’m just getting old.