Thursday, December 26, 2013

Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor

"Raggedy Man, good night."

The finale of the Matt Smith era of "Doctor Who" ended up a lot like his tenure as a whole: at times brilliant, funny and moving, and at other times a hot mess; mostly satisfying but could have been better, if only Steven Moffat hadn't tried to cram in everything plus the kitchen sink and a Cyberman head.

Actually, that's unfair. I loved the Cyberman head.

The Time of the Doctor tried to wrap up every loose thread from the Smith era, and as a result felt like Moffat had a list he was checking off as he went. What are the Silents? Check. Who blew up the TARDIS? Check. Appearances by Weeping Angels, Daleks and Cyberman? Check, check, check. There were references to River Song, the War Doctor and Ten's meta-crisis regeneration. Oh, and don't forget the crack in the universe.

And yet, and yet, I cried. Or very nearly. Because the last 10 minutes could not have been more perfect.

The plot is this: There's a mysterious signal broadcast across all of time and space. The Doctor and Clara go to investigate. They find that just about every alien race the universe is also parked around the planet where the signal is originating from. On the planet's surface, the Doctor finds that the signal is coming through a crack in the universe -- a remnant from the explosion of the TARDIS way back when -- and that it's the Time Lords asking the question hidden in plain sight: Doctor who? Which means this planet is the one the Doctor has tried to avoid at all costs: Trenzalore. If the Doctor answers, that gives the Time Lords confirmation that they've found their universe and they will come through, sparking a resurgence of the Time War. And yet, the Doctor cannot abandon this town and its people to all the bad guys floating around their planet. So he holds the line, for centuries, until he is about to die from old age, and with no more regenerations, that will be his end. But Clara persuades the Time Lords to shoot a new cycle of regenerations through the crack, the Doctor uses his regeneration energy as a weapon to blow the Daleks to kingdom come, then regenerates into Twelve (or Thirteen, depending on how you count it).

You'll notice I didn't mention Clara's family Christmas dinner because it had no effect on anything that mattered. The episode would have benefited from dropping the pretense of being a Christmas episode all together and used that extra time to tell the Doctor's story. Perhaps then the episode would have had some breathing room and not felt quite so crammed.

Despite the issues with the writing, Matt Smith brought his A-game. This is arguably the best performance of his tenure. He's at times funny and goofy, while at others gives the fantastic, sweeping speeches that his Doctor is known for. The death of Handles the Cyberman head shouldn't have been so moving, but Smith sells his quiet grief so well that my eyes watered a little.

But the waterworks didn't really threaten until that last scene in the TARDIS. The Doctor says he will never forget one minute of the time that he was Eleven. He takes off the bow tie and drops it to the floor. (No gesture could have carried more symbolic weight than that for the end of Eleven.) For one beautiful moment, he imagines Amy Pond coming down the stairs to the console: "Raggedy Man, good night."

If anything, Karen Gillan's cameo was a reminder of the electric chemistry she had with Matt Smith and what the show has been lacking since she and Arthur Darvill left. I hope that with a new Doctor, Jenna Louise Coleman's Clara will get a fresh start out from under the long shadow of Amy and Rory.

Speaking of the new Doctor, we finally got a good first look at Peter Capaldi in the role. It was a bit of a shock how fast the regeneration happened. No morphing of the faces. It was just a snap of the fingers, and there he was. In those few seconds, what did we learn? He gets to keep the Scottish accent. He looked rather crazed, but that might have been the regeneration aftereffect. And he doesn't know how to fly the TARDIS. What's that about? We'll find out in about nine months.

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