[Review] - Time Of The Doctor

Courtesy of the BBC
Time of the Doctor has a lot going on behind it. It is the 800th episode of the series produced since 1963. It is the final episode of the 50th anniversary year. It is the final part of a loose trilogy of episodes that included the Name of the Doctor and the Day of the Doctor. And, obviously, it is the final episode of Matt Smith's tenure as the man in question.

Time turned out to a microcosm of the Smith years, distilling down into 60 minutes all the best and worst qualities of the last three series of programming. What was good was very good, what was bad was very bad, but mostly it was needlessly complex to the point that the narrative was tripping over itself, it was so bloated with ideas. And considering that a back door purpose for this episode was to wrap up all those dangling plots that has been brushed aside over the last four years, as well as establish a new paradigm for the show to move into it's next presumed 50 years, there was a lot that was meant to b going on here. Sadly, it didn't all work out. On the whole, Time fit in perfectly with the rest of the disjointed series seven.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that don't like the colour either.

 This episode can be reviewed two different ways. One, as a story in and of itself, and one as a regeneration story. And I've recently had a bit of experience with both. But we'll start with the former.

Time is very much like many of the stories of late, in that it's a very simple idea that is blown out of proportion by the sheer volume of ideas that get squeezed into it. And, it's a rehash of an idea Steven Moffat has already used to greater effect, in this case The Pandorica Opens. A mysterious signal is broadcast from a backwater planet, and all the baddies in the universe start popping in to see what's what. Why they are popping in is ignored almost completely, since the contents of the message weren't known until the Doctor translated them. Moffat apparently works on the notion that the most genocidal races in the universe are also insatiably curious. But come they do, and with them comes the Doctor and his Cyber head, curious to see what all the fuss is over. And, because of reasons, Clara comes along too. Her role in this is essentially to cry a lot and step backwards while things occur to her. Despite a good turn in the 50th, Clara returns to form here, being next to pointless in the scheme. The Cyber head had more wit and character than Clara's be given, and it's send off was a damned sight more emotional than anything Clara's been able to muster.

We're also introduced to Tasha Lem, Mother Superius of the Papal Mainframe, because Moffat apparently never met a one-off joke that wasn't worth elaborating the humour out of it. Orla Brady puts in a fine performance, energetic and well matched with Smith's own level of comfort in the role. It speaks to her quality as an actor that her performance suggested shed been part of the show for years, instantly comfortable in the world. But, like many of the interesting characters Moffat has introduced us to over the years, she is woefully underdeveloped. The Doctor clearly has great affection towards her, though we're left to wonder why exactly. She can fly the TARDIS, and that goes unexplained, and she literally wanders off into the night without any attempt at resolving the character. She's just there to be flirty with Smith, provide yet another cumbersome narration, and give the Daleks a wham moment that completely lacks any wham whatsoever. There was more than a little air of River Song about her, which thank gods it wasn't River, because that character has all but worn out her welcome, but Tasha and the Doctor seems to be just River and the Doctor revisited (there were a couple shadowed references that might suggest that Tasha is somehow River, but that makes the least sense of all).

As for the big, unanswered questions, they are given answers that are briskly walked past so that in the moment you don't think about them too much. Unfortunately, this is the internet. All we do is think about things too much. The Silence, once a race, then a religious order, now turns out to be a radical sect within the Mainframe. The Silence themselves are genetically designed Confession Priests, which is actually a very clever idea, addressing a question that literally no one asked. The assumption that the Silence were just another crazy species in a universe that seems only to create crazy species was all the explanation that was needed in that regard. And, indeed, the prophecy that Silence would fall works a lot better as the promise of impending doom for an entire race, who are driven into extreme necessity to protect themselves than what Moffat finished with. It seems emblematic of his time behind the pen, that he comes up with big, great ideas, and utterly lacks the ability to follow through. Silence will fall was such a great line, full of so much promise, and of all the possible explanations Moffat could of settled on, he picked the one that doesn't make a bit of sense.

So too with the original question, how did the TARDIS explode? Moffat has been pretty content not to answer that over the years, despite having the time to really build it into something. Here, it is casually mentioned that the Silence did it. How, that's not important apparently, despite the fact that it again makes no sense. We're not meant to linger on these, is what Moffat is saying. Which would be fine, except when you say two and two equal five, it only takes a moment to realise that that doesn't add up. What we end up lingering on, and obsessing over, is trying to figure out how you got to five. Because two and two equals four, there's no way around that. So either, you're wrong and won't admit it, or there is a one you're not telling us about. And it's a shame, because by reintroducing the cracks, and bringing Gallifrey into the plot as well, you supplied yourself with a perfect explanation. The Time Lords would have had the technology capable of taking control of a TARDIS. If it was they who exploded it, in order to create the cracks that they needed to escape their ostracism, that would add up. And it would be in keeping with the way Time Lords operate - selfishly.

So, the premise hinges on that, a single crack left over from the Big Bang has provided access to the hidden Gallifrey, who apparently need confirmation on the Doctor's identity before they can reemerge in our universe (again, sense makes not this, but we're not expected to think too hard). Should they come back then and there, the Daleks would reignite the Time War. Without the Doctor's protection, the planet of Trenzalore would be wiped out to prevent the Time Lords return. So, the Doctor sits and waits it out, giving Smith the opportunity to play an old man (which he's been readily able to do since day one) who looks like an old man. And kudos to the makeup team, not only for the great work with old Doctor, but for keeping the basic design from David Tennant's own old Doctor moment. Looks like male pattern baldness is in his future no matter what. And again, Moffat seems to want terribly to play things out on a much longer and larger scale. Nearly another millenia passes for the Doctor as he sits and waits, and occasionally has a character building moment with someone young. It's in these moments that the episode shines, that we are reminded that Matt Smith was a worthy successor to the role, and that Moffat really can write very well, when he's not getting bogged down by his own trappings. Like, the Doctor's goodbye. The old series never focused much on the emotionality of the moment, but in the new series it's treated as an opportunity for the actor to speak their peace. Everyone gets a speech, and Smith's is one for the books.

So, the regeneration then. Moffat got to play at a little creative book keeping, doing his own version of math yet again, and coming up with Smith's Eleven being the last of the 13 regenerations, which had previously been implied wasn't a problem anymore. Acquiring an entirely new set of regenerations, enough to carry the Doctor through to the centennial, probably should have been the focus of an entire episode, or a series even, with his desperation building just as the Master's did so long ago. And, given the number of times the Doctor has waved his tongue in the face of the Web of Time, and Eleven's own constant surprise at the fact that time can be changed, it seems disingenuous that he would just sit down and take it, without trying to find another way out. It seems wildly out of character for him to plop down in a rocking chair and do nothing for a thousand year, and equally simple minded for Clara to convince the Time Lords in a matter of seconds to go all Divine Intervention after all that time. Yes, he stemmed the tied against the siege of Trenzalore. But that he just sat down and waited for his salvation to be handed to him rather than reach out and claim it himself sadly ranks this regeneration very far down the list.

So, what do I want from the next Doctor, who is all teeth and curls yet again? I want a smaller Doctor. And I don't just mean smaller from the way Smith's performances could occasionally fill an estuary. Capaldi might be well known for playing Malcolm Tucker, whose dial seemed to have been snapped off at eleven, but he's an actor with some depth and I hope will bring a sort of reserve to the character we haven't seen since... Pertwee, I guess. No, I mean I want a smaller scope for the Doctor. Moffat will remain with the show for a while yet, and who knows how long Capaldi will stick around. But, until they leave I hope they recognise that the show has gone off the rails the last little bit. And by reigning everything in, by dialling it back and sticking to the basics, the show can regroup and regenerate. Less of the thousand years in an hour sort of story telling, fewer space pumpkins eating memories and generally less timey-wimey. Bolt the show down, bring the volume down to four or five, and let it be what it's been for the past fifty years. You don't need to save the universe to be spectacular, you just need to be honest and clever and occasionally a bit mad. It's all we fans have ever asked for. It's all we want. Clock towers don't always need to explode.

Now, lets find out more about those kidneys...
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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