I loved it!! But first...
If if was nothing else, it had to be said: 2013 was the Year of the Doctor.
The anticipation for Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary ramped up fast after the year began. The coming of Jenna Coleman's Clara as a regular companion certainly started things off nice. Some of the ensuing half-season was a little touch and go, but otherwise it proceeded in fine style...
...and then came "The Name of the Doctor".
More than half a year later, in spite of everything that we've watched since, I'm still feeling numbstruck by the season finale (find my review here). Throughout the ensuing summer and fall I think a lot of us were tormented with the thought: had Steven Moffat finally lost it?! For the first time ever Doctor Who seemed poised to derail completely. The image of that unknown incarnation of the Doctor, "the one who broke the promise", turning to show us the grizzled visage of John Hurt and those big letters onscreen letting us know in no uncertain terms "this IS the Doctor!!" is one that will forever be burned into my pop cultural gray matter.
But "The Day of the Doctor" - the fiftieth anniversary special - restored all faith in Moffat as a showrunner. No, more than that: Moffat is arguably the finest custodian of Whovian mythology we have seen since... well, maybe since before John Nathan-Turner's era. "The Day of the Doctor" was everything an anniversary celebration should be: a "love letter" to the fans, a story that drastically expanded the Whoniverse and top it all off it was a story that totally changed the course of the series. For eight years we've seen the Doctor as a scarred and wounded veteran of the Time War: a man haunted by the choices he had to make in order to keep all hell from breaking loose across the width and breadth of creation.
The Doctor is a wounded man no more. Now he's a man with the greatest mission of his life: to find Gallifrey.
Well played, Moffat. Well played indeed! And that appearance by Tom Baker was the prettiest bow that a gift to the fans could possibly have had.
It was early summer that Matt Smith announced he would be retiring in this year's Christmas special, handing the role of the Doctor to a new actor. And then came August, and the massive hype about the reveal of the next Doctor: a part that we found would be filled by Peter Capaldi. So coming on the heels of the fiftieth anniversary special, this year's Christmas story had to be a fitting swan song for the Eleventh Doctor and for the actor who reigned during the most explosive popularity of the entire franchise... and ring in the new with the Twelfth Doctor. A lot to live up to, no doubt...
It was not perfect. But... yes, I loved every minute of it!
It's glaringly obvious that Moffat was trying to shoehorn in a lot of material that likely had been intended for another season with Matt Smith as the Doctor, in an attempt to tie up all the loose ends since the Doctor last regenerated. Even so, I think it was as good a job as could possibly have been done. Ironically this is also the Doctor Who story that covers a bigger span of chronological time than any other previous: more than 300 years, from the time the Doctor and Clara first arrive in the town of Christmas up to the final showdown with the Daleks attacking Trenzalore. Yes, it would have been fun to have seen all of this unfold over another season... but we still got a great tale and a fitting Christmas special at that.
Did anyone else think that the very-aged Doctor hearkened back to William Hartnell as the Doctor? Because I can't but think that maybe the First Doctor, in his younger days, was much like the Matt Smith we have witnessed during the past four years: Smith wanted his Doctor to be "an old man in a young man's body". Now we've seen him play the Doctor as a young man in an old man's body... and for some reason it makes Hartnell's First Doctor... well, more modern-ish Doctor, if that makes any sense. In any case it was a terrific and bold direction to take the Doctor in his final journey with the part.
One of the bigger mysteries of Doctor Who is one that was set up all the way back in "The Deadly Assassin" nearly forty years ago: how would the "twelve regenerations" limit be dealt with? This was one of my favorite things about "The Time of the Doctor": Moffat showing us that the twelve regenerations have already transpired, because they included the Tenth Doctor's little stunt in "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End". We don't have to wait until Capaldi decides to turn in the keys to the TARDIS: that little matter is now dealt with, presumably for the next fifty years or so. At the end of which the Time Lords will probably decide they need the Doctor to stick around forever and just max out his life limit.
And speaking of regenerations: Matt Smith's was the best ever. Yeah, I said it. I'll always love David Tennant's bow but in retrospect that seemed a bit too sentimental, perhaps owing to how Russel T. Davies had the Tenth Doctor revisiting all the major characters from the Davies era. There was no such gesture in "The Time of the Doctor", and yet Matt Smith's departure was far more poignant and heartbreaking. During his final speech to Clara it was as if Smith was breaking the fourth wall and talking to us in the audience, telling us how much he appreciated his time as the Doctor and how thankful he was for our embracing him in the role.
It was by far the greatest regeneration scene in the history of the series. It was the one by which all future regenerations will be measured, I think. And Matt Smith left in a bang: everything from Clara's finding the Doctor in his rocking chair on through the regeneration itself is pure storytelling gold. The scene of the Doctor atop the bell tower, raging defiantly against the Daleks ("We're breaking some serious science here, boys!" as he proclaims "Regeneration Number Thirteen... it's gonna be a whopper!" will go down as one of the most iconic Doctor Who moments ever).
The very last moments, when the Eleventh Doctor has that vision of Amy (a very touching cameo from Karen Gillan) and the Doctor letting his beloved bow tie fall to the floor of the TARDIS... that was the moment when the tears came, if they hadn't already. I don't think anything else could have been as perfect a final moment as that...
But as soon as the crying finally hit, we got hit with the shock of Peter Capaldi's uber-manic entrance as the Twelfth Doctor. It was the fastest regeneration ever and by far the most bewildering. I mean, when your new Doctor's first words are "KIDNEYS! I've got new kidneys!" you just know that there's some severe craziness incoming.
Matt Smith, thank you. Because of you Doctor Who is bigger than it has ever been before. And because of you, bow ties have never been cooler! I'm the owner of an official Doctor Who bow tie... and I will be wearing it with pride for many years to come.
Eleven's time has drawn to a close. Now bring on the Twelfth!
"The Time of the Doctor" gets 4 and 1/2 Sonic Screwdrivers out of 5 from this blogger. And it's going to be a long, long wait until next fall when Doctor Who returns. Maybe if we're good Moffat and his crew will give us another mini-episode like "The Night of the Doctor". Please Mister Moffat, please??
Oh yeah, one last thing: bring back Handles! Handles was one of the best companions ever!! If the Doctor can fix K-9 then surely he can fix Handles. Handles was awesome! :-)
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