I highly recommend that you remember this moment , not just because it’s Christmas (for a few more hours, at any rate) and that’s always (hopefully) nice — oh, and Happy Holidays to you all, by the way ( just out of curiosity, does me saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” mean I’ve picked a side in the imaginary “War on Christmas” cooked up by Fox “news”?) — but because, for once, yours truly is genuinely at a loss for words.
I know, I know — me not having an opinion (or keeping it to myself if I do have one) is something a lot of people have been waiting a long time for. Consider it my Christmas gift to all of you, then. I just wish I knew why I didn’t have much to say. It’s not that the finale of the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who, the just-concluded (here in the US, at any rate) “The Time Of The Doctor” was so awesome that it left me speechless. Nor is it the case that it was so lousy that I have no idea where to begin cataloging its list of atrocities. It’s just — shit, I dunno. And like I said, that’s the problem.
Look, in the interest of full disclosure I should say that I was more than ready for the Eleventh (or should that be Twelfth? Or even Thirteenth?) Doctor to be done. I thought Smith and series head honcho Steven Moffat got off to an interesting, if wildly uneven, start back in 2009 with the fifth season of Who 2.0, but that the show itself, and Smith’s character, have been pretty stagnant and predictable ever since. Change, my dear, as the Sixth Doctor might say, is coming not a moment too soon — I just hope it’s not too late, ya know? Because I could seriously use something to shake me out of my full-time state of disinterested ambivalence in regards to my favorite show ever, and I’m sincerely hoping that Peter Capaldi is it. He makes a nice first (okay, second) appearance at the tail end here and my optimism got a shot in the arm just seeing the guy but, as with all things, time will tell.
Beyond that, though, well — I guess this episode was okay enough for what it was, but considering that three-plus years have been leading up to this one story, it all seemed a bit flat to me. And the pacing was a fucking mess. And the direction by Jamie Payne seemed listless and uninspired. And Moffat’s script was all over the map. And — well, let’s not kid ourselves, it may not have been an un-watchable disaster, but it wasn’t exactly good, either, was it?
I’m well aware that the very nature of these “big event” specials makes them something of a bitch to write, and that Moff’s bound to feel obligated to throw everything and the kitchen sink into the works here, so to that end we’ve got Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, the Silence (though, curiously, no River Song, guess once she and the Doctor got married Moffat had no further use for her) — even that crack in the wall comes back out of nowhere and hangs around for over 300 years in the town of Christmas, on planet Trenzalore.
Yup, after saying he was headed home at the end of The Day Of The Doctor, it ends up that the Doctor, Clara in tow, is headed for Trenzalore after all. Where he generally stands around doing nothing for centuries while the people in the village around him are blown to smithereens. They all, apparently, love him to pieces even though he’s responsible for bringing all this trouble down on their heads in the first place, but maybe they’re just all stupid or something. I’m not gonna hold that against them. After all, it’s Christmas.
Anyway, there’s a transmission from Gallifrey coming through the other side of the crack, apparently the Time Lords are itching to break back into our universe from whatever other one they’re in, and all they need is for the supposedly-age-old question of “Doctor — who?” to finally be answered, and they’re in. Don’t ask me how that works. Or why this is the place where it has to happen. Or why they’re not all trapped in a painting as appeared to be the case last time around. I. Just. Don’t. Know.
I do know that the Doctor’s best friend in his three-century exile on Trenzalore is a disembodied Cyber-head, and that there’s a wooden Cyberman he fights that looks pretty cool, and that Clara pops up a couple more times as the Doctor ages, and that very little of the Eleventh Doctor’s “life” has been seen on screen which means Big Finish and BBC Books and the like can have all kinds of fun filling in the gaps over the next x-number of years, and that the “big battle” that promised “silence will fall” ends up being a big stalemate and that this story doesn’t make much sense from word “go” to word “stop.”
But I don’t know that I disliked the proceedings here, either, and that’s because even though it was undoubtedly a mess, it’s at least a mess that’s trying to do something a little different, and “a little different” is something Doctor Who has been sorely lacking lately.
Think about it : the Eleventh Doctor dies not from radiation poisoning, or Spectrox Toxemia, or falling from a telescope, or mind-fighting a giant spider — he dies the way, hopefully, we all will : of old age. Whereupon the Time Lords, from the other side of the crack, promptly grant him a new regeneration cycle because, as it turns out, the Eleventh Doctor was the Thirteenth all along.
To their credit, Moffat and Smith don’t throw an extended pity party for “their” Doctor on the way out the door the way Russell T. Davies and David Tennant did, and Jenna Coleman, who’s fast become the best thing about the show, handles her “companion present for a regeneration” duties admirably, but things do go a bit barmy when said regeneration is so powerful that it kills off all the Daleks, Silence, etc. battling on Trenzalore in one go. Or actually, the pre-regeneration cosmic energy surge (or whatever) does that, the actual regeneration itself being a rather “bang! And it’s done!” sort of affair occurring within the confines for the TARDIS.
And ,just like that, it’s over. And I’m left with the feeling that we really didn’t see much of the Eleventh Doctor. Sure, we saw him age — not terribly convincingly — here, but we didn’t see much of his life in Trenzalore/Christmas at all. We didn’t see the century he spent wandering alone after the Ponds flew the coop. We didn’t see any of his married life with River Song, or even find out what the hell really happened to her. We didn’t see him scouring the universe for her as a child. We didn’t see many of the major events that we’re told played such an enormous part in making him who he was. It’s enough to make a person say “Sayonara, Eleven — we hardly knew ye!”
Sure, I guess that’s frustrating in a way — but it’s also kind of mildly intriguing, is it not? And it’s apparently got a lot of people howling, which is a good thing. The fans wanted drama, anguish, and pathos — a huge, epic send-off for Matt Smith’s iteration of the Doctor. Instead, they got 300 years in 30 minutes, a “New Time War” that never happens, and a Doctor who dies because he gets old. And besides, given how clumsy and formulaic Who has become in Steven Moffat’s hands, it’s probably doing the character a big favor to give him plenty of unseen “life” free from his show-runner’s heavy hand.
So maybe it’s the hand-wringing and controversy and downright caterwauling of so many on the internet that I’m enjoying more than The Time Of The Doctor itself. Maybe I appreciate the effect it’s having off-screen more than I did anything it presented on-screen. Maybe I like what it’s doing more than I like what it actually did.
Or maybe I’m just glad this era of the show is over and we can turn the page. I’ve long maintained that a “back to basics” approach free of excess baggage in terms of continuity, backstory, etc. is precisely what Doctor Who has needed for a long time. Give us a mysterious traveler in a rickety old police box that’s bigger on the inside and can go anywhere in time and space, and leave it at that. I don’t know if Moffat will be able to resist the temptation to layer the mythology on thick all over again when Capaldi takes the reigns, but given that three-plus seasons of his purportedly meticulous and careful and calculated planning led to a quick, go-nowhere, non-resolution haphazardly cap-stoned by one of the least dramatic regenerations the series has ever seen will finally be enough to convince him that writing himself into a corner with all that “timey-wimey” nonsense just doesn’t work.
When the Ponds left, it felt more like a relief than anything else, and the same applies here — doubly so, in fact. All that shit’s out the window now. The deck has been cleared off. Steven Moffat has never had a better chance to strip the show back down to its core elements and start afresh than he has right now.
And with that, I’m out. For a guy who promised at the outset that he didn’t have much to say, I’ve just spent over 1,500 words blathering on about an episode I still don’t quite now what to make of. So I guess I was wrong.
I’ve also been saying for some time that I don’t think Steven Moffat is the right guy to be running Doctor Who anymore. My sincere hope is that he uses this clean slate he’s given himself to prove me wrong again.