This is an interesting time of the year for Doctor Who fans. Not only did we get the jam-packed 50th anniversary special (starring three Doctors and a new take on the long-anticipated Time War), but now we’ve got the 2013 Christmas special, marking a grand finale for Matt Smith’s run as the Eleventh Doctor and the introduction of his successor Peter Capaldi.
So, how does one wrap up a long and convoluted saga like the tale of the Eleventh Doctor?
Our story is set during Christmas 2013, as Clara Oswald (Jenna Louise Coleman) tries to pass off the Doctor as her “boyfriend” to her suspicious relatives. But the Doctor himself is drawn toward the mystery of a transmission coming from Gallifrey (which he may have saved from destruction the last time we saw him). The transmission, however, is coming from Trenzalore and it’s the Question that he’s never supposed to answer. Once more, his enemies gather together to end the Doctor’s life before he can answer the Question: Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, and the Silence. What follows is a series of twists, surprises, and the Doctor’s endless fight to protect a small town known as Christmas.
Yes, you heard right. This episode has the Doctor literally saving Christmas.
From start to finish, Matt Smith gives one of the best performances ever. He never fails to effortlessly switch back and forth between playful energy and grim calculation, but this episode plays with that dynamic. His time spent in the townspeople of Christmas is the happiest the Doctor has ever been, becoming their reliable guardian and friendly toymaker. But the war takes its toll and we get to see just how old the Doctor is (with aging that, to me, feels like a nice homage to William Hartnell’s portrayal of the First Doctor). And when he shares his final moments with Clara, there’s so much weight and sincerity in every line he delivers. This isn’t the tearful reluctance we saw in David Tennant when the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration occurred. It’s a sad but powerful acceptance of his fate, and I think I prefer it to the heart-wrenching way Tennant left the show.
While there were a few elements that I never quite understood about this episode (like “Handles” the Cyberman Head or Clara’s relatives), I’m giving Steven Moffat a lot of credit for how he wrote this finale. He managed to find a way to bring together so many of the mysterious elements that have been popping up through the Eleventh Doctor’s saga: the Cracks in Time, the Silence, Trenzalore, and the oldest question in the universe (“Doctor who?”). All brought together under a single vision, leading up to one clever subversion (much like how The Day of the Doctor ended). Moffat proves excellent at conjuring up a lot of horror and suspense while still finding ways to wrangle up some joy and heroism at the last moment.
Other fans might cry “Deus ex machina!” about these developments, but I don’t mind. If anything, that’s the whole nature of the show. Deus ex machina means “God from out of the machine.” Or in this case, God from out of a big blue box.
Jenna Louise Coleman provides some nice pathos as Clara, showing she’s still capable of staring down old enemies just like the Doctor and not afraid to tell Fate to shove off. When she finally speaks to a Crack in Time, you know that who’s on the other side is listening because she’s the Impossible Girl. I liked how she handled herself in the quiet moments just before the regeneration scene and I can’t wait to see how she’ll do during Peter Capaldi’s run.
On the whole, I enjoyed this episode as a Christmas special, a finale for Matt Smith as the Doctor, and a wrap-up of so many mysteries from the last few seasons. It was touching and epic in suitable amounts and I look forward to the wondrous possibilities of the Twelfth Doctor.
The Time of the Doctor is available through BBC One and BBC America.
Bibliography: “The Time of the Doctor.” Doctor Who. Directed by Jamie Payne. Written by Steven Moffat. Produced by Marcus Wilson. Perf. Matt Smith, Jenna Louise Coleman, Orla Brady, Karen Gillian, Peter Capaldi. BBC TV. Original broadcast date: December 25, 2013.