Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor

Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor December 25, 2013

SPOILER ALERT  The final episode with Matt Smith in the leading role, “The Time of the Doctor,” is the first time that the entire run of a particular actor as the Doctor has had such a unified arc, with elements that came into view in the first episode (“The Eleventh Hour”) being finally brought to conclusion, with details from “The God Complex” through “The Impossible Astronaut” and many other episodes being brought back for resolution as well. While there is something dissatisfying about the deus ex machina ending, such are par for the course with Doctor Who these days, for better or worse – something threatens the entire cosmos, and yet can be dealt with relatively quickly in the final moments of an episode. Nevertheless, also like so much recent Doctor Who, what the episode may lack in logical coherence it makes up for in emotional impact.

There were some elements that were quite bizarre, of course – the whole bit about holographic clothing and one not wearing clothing to church. Then again, the Church of the Papal Mainframe is supposed to evolve from the Church of England. There were quite a few interesting details related to religion – including the breakaway group that tried to prevent the Doctor from ever reaching Trenzalore and answering the question. In this episode, we found out why: The time lords were sending a message through the weakest point in the boundary between their bubble universe and our own, the infamous crack that was still around, and which turned out to be what the Doctor saw behind his own door in “The God Complex.” They were asking “Doctor Who?” because they knew that the Doctor alone would be able to answer that question, and that his doing so would mean that it was safe for them to come through. Which of course, it wasn’t – and that was why the church was concerned, since the return of Gallifrey would mean the time war beginning once again. The idea of the Silence as genetically-engineered religious functionaries whose purpose was to hear confessions, since you would immediately forget what you had confessed, deserves to get a lot of discussion.

The treatment of the limit of twelve regenerations was done well, and it was interesting to watch potentially the last Doctor grow old, over centuries, standing for what he always had: “Every life I save is a victory.” The Doctor’s approach to crises was spelled out even more explicitly than it had been in the past: “Talk very fast, hope something good happens, take the credit – that’s usually how it works.”

That the time lords would give the Doctor more regeneration energy – a whole new regeneration cycle – was appropriate. But the idea that all it took was that energy to blast away the Daleks made it seem inexplicable that the time war had waged so long and so seriously.

This relates to a topic that was brought up on IO9 recently, the tendency for every danger to be epic, threatening the fabric of the entire cosmos. There are dangerous implications when we treat opponents as threatening the fabric of reality, and as dealt with quickly in a short battle in which they are zapped into oblivion. Fortunately there were better treatments of good and evil – such as when the Doctor said that Tasha Lem had been fighting a psychopath in her head her whole life, and that this prepared her to defeat the Dalek programming that was now within her. Good people differ from psychopaths not in their nature, but in the war that another aspect of their nature wages against particular tendencies that are in all of us.

The Doctor’s regeneration was more reflective on the nature of change and continuity – perhaps because it was the end of a cycle and the start of another. The emphasis on the fact that everyone changes and that we all become different people over the course of our lives – humans and not just time lords – was profound.

I hope that Clara’s initial reaction to the Doctor’s sudden change of appearance may hint at the leaving behind of the “Doctor as boyfriend” element of the show. The question now is whether the Doctor will remember how to fly the TARDIS, and whether we will get to see what color his kidneys are.

What did you think of “The Time of the Doctor”? What do you envisage happening next?

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  • Just Sayin’

    I didn’t watch this episode but may start watching it again from here on (now that “timey-wimey” is gone). From what you’ve written it sounds like secular scriptwriters including a lot of Christian tropes without understanding much or anything about them. The instant forgetting after confession sounds like a load of old tripe (the sort of thing the Doctor used to say before they gave the role to teenagers). Take off your clothes to go to church? Sounds like more tripe.

    I agree with you about making everything a cosmic threat. The current writers need to learn that less is more. That’s another reason why I like the Eccleston Dalek episode so much: one decrepit old Dalek yet far more threat, danger and drama than most other reboot-era storylines I’ve seen.

    • Eshto

      I don’t think your point about religion is valid. The church in this episode is from a different time. Religious beliefs and practices evolve over time, they get shuffled and mixed when cultures collide, all sorts of things can happen.

      • Just Sayin’

        Well, as I say, I haven’t seen this episode but going to “church” seems to imply some kind of evolution of Christianity. Getting naked to go to church hasn’t happened in the last 2,000 years and I can’t imagine it happening in the next 2,000.

        Of course, maybe it’s a heretical sect, in which case anything is possible.

        They could have just chosen “temple” or shrine or some other word to avoid potential offence. Not a chance of secularists ever using the word “mosque” though!

    • WillBell

      In the future they have a drug for forget (on New x16 Earth), so why wouldn’t a changing church eventually decide it was worth it to do the same thing to make people feel more comfortable about confessing their sins? And certainly there can be other changes, being naked in church could become an option in a time when people are less concerned about nudity and may be seen as a sign of commitment that you are willing to bear all, it might show your devotion, or perhaps it might be meant as an equalizer, so you can’t tell a king from a peasant. Also I’m not sure where you’re getting the ‘secular writers toying with christian tropes’ thing.

  • Jeremy Mead

    Actually the taking off clothes to go to church is an idea originally explored in SF a good many years ago by Robert Heinlein, i think it was in The Number of the Beast

  • cameronhorsburgh

    I’m not too sure what to make of this one. Whilst it was good to tie up some loose ends (what the deal was with the Silence, what was behind door eleven and so on) I thought it was way too self aware. It seemed that every second line from the Doctor was a quote from an earlier episode. I was surprised there weren’t any fezzes flying through the air. This was definitely an episode for fans—non-Whovians must have had trouble figuring out what was going on.

    The emotional thing was overdone, in my opinion. The regeneration of a Doctor is always a sad thing, but there was too much here. The dropping of the bow tie was poignant. Amy Pond appearing—twice—was overkill.

    I also didn’t get how a blast of regeneration energy was able to destroy all those Daleks. How many Time Lords regenerated every day on Gallifrey during the Time War? Why couldn’t they have just pulled the same trick then?

    I was also a little disappointed with the universal scale of the Big Problem. Last time anything, like this happened the Doctor had to reboot the universe. That was when he decided to get out of the saving the universe business. The last few seasons have been much more satisfying in that regard.

    Last complaint—how on earth do you co-ordinate a battle with the Silence? The logistics must be horrendous. Unless the truth field interferes with their memory erasure power. Yes, that must be it.

    For all of that I did enjoy it. The self-referential lines appealed to my sense of geek trivia. I love those Dalek flying contraptions. And I have to say I enjoyed the jokes about nudity and going to church naked!

    Some newer questions were answered, and new ones raised. It seems that John Hurt never identified as the Doctor, so the traditional numbering system sticks. We also see that David Tennant’s mini-regeneration counted towards the total allowance. We don’t get a sense that Matt Smith knew that Gallifrey existed—it was apparently in another universe—even though he remembers the whole episode with John Hurt and David Tennant. I wonder how this affects the hunt for Gallifrey Matt Smith planned to embark on?

    Overall, this episode did the job it was supposed to, but not as well as, say, David Tennant’s final episode. I think this episode had far too much hype attached, and all of the best writing seems to have gone to the fiftieth anniversary show.

    In summary, I’m glad this episode aired at 7:30 PM on Boxing Day in my location. That makes it a fun watch with no effort on my part. If it were simulcast it would have involved getting up at something like 5:30 AM, and that would have been disappointing!

  • Jack Collins

    A lot of the frustrating and incoherent aspects of Smith’s entire run start to make sense if you assume that everything that was happening took place DURING the siege of Trenzalore. The Doctor was preemptively experiencing the consequences of his later actions (if Handles hadn’t translated the message for him, he wouldn’t have been targeted by the Silence, etc.) The problem this creates, from a serial-narrative perspective, is that you can’t appreciate what’s going on unless you watch all three seasons as a complete unit.

    Moffat’s tendency to use magic-reset-button endings (which he seems to have hung a lampshade on in “Day of the Doctor”) is problematic, especially since I think it cheapens the absolutely beautiful ending of “The Doctor Dances.” If “everybody lives” just that once, after all the death he’d seen, it’s meaningful. If everybody ALWAYS lives (even Gallifrey!), then you take one of the most touching moments in the show’s history and turned it into just another Saturday.

    As for why the regeneration energy was enough to blow up the Daleks, well, I have a theory that it wasn’t just ONE set of regeneration that the Timelords gave him. I think they gave up ALL of them.

    Also, am I the only one who figured out who Tasha Lem was?

    • Ti Strga

      Depends. Who do you think Tasha Lem is? 🙂 (Don’t be confused by the fact that she could enter the TARDIS; she kept the key from the first time they were on the Mainframe.) He talks to her like he talked to River Song, but there’s not actual evidence to support that.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    With Capaldi seemingly unsure of how to fly the TARDIS, I wonder if this brand new regeneration cycle represents a more significant alteration to the Doctor’s essence than the previous intra-cycle regenerations.

  • guest

    I think going to church naked would actually be a great idea. It’s hard to hide yourself when you’re naked, and the sense of vulnerability you’d get from it would be useful when humbling yourself before god. It would be a great leveller as well, if rich and poor people alike were naked. It would show that we’re basically all the same. You could link it in with the garden of Eden too, and being naked in a sinless state.
    Of course there’d be problems with perverts and sexual harassment. It also wouldn’t be very hygienic- you’d need wipe-clean seats.
    I don’t think the Church of England allows nude worship…but maybe I’ve been going to the wrong churches. I suppose in the future they might join forces with the British naturism society.
    It seems there’s already one church in California trying this naked thing:

    I like the idea of the Silence as confessors, but it would seem to defeat the point of confession, as I understand it, which is to repent and take action or pay some kind of penance for what you’ve done. If you can’t remember doing anything wrong, why would you try to fix it? It would be useful for people who tend to be overburdened with guilt after every minor transgression. It’d also be useful for blackmail purposes…

    I didn’t really enjoy this episode. I found it hopelessly muddled and boring in some parts. I think they threw in too many iconic enemies (the Angels, the Silence, the Daleks) and they were dispatched too easily, which reduced any tension I might have felt. The whole thing felt rushed, like they were cramming in as many plot details as possible and there were too many new unbelievable technologies for me to cope with (truth fields, shields around an entire plant, nakedness holograms). I know Dr. Who is soft sci-fi, but it ruined my suspension of disbelief to have so many weird new things in the story.

    The article about epics makes a good point. I think Dr. Who really suffers from this, and it’s a problem because we know the universe is never going to be destroyed and the Doctor will never die (the series would be over) so the only people in real danger are the side characters. Since Clara wasn’t there for most of the episode and none of the other side characters were developed, there was nothing at stake in the story for me.

    I’m kind of annoyed the other time lords didn’t come back. I feel like they were teasing us with that prospect.

    I don’t know why you think the ‘Doctor as boyfriend’ element is over. Personally I’d pick Peter Capaldi over Matt Smith any day!

    I hope now the big set-piece is over, we’ll have some little, tightly-plotted episodes to look forward to. Eventually Gallifrey will reappear. I think…

  • FactFinder300

    The Time Lord we all love and know has hit his 1500 birthday!