(Written by Arianne Lapierre)
I have to say it; one of the things I hate the most about reviews is the need to rate and categorize a story as good or bad. Truth is, I firmly believe that stories which are inherently great or stupidly poor are rare pearls, and The Time of the Doctor is neither of those.
That said, in this Christmas Special, we find ourselves watching the Doctor and Clara on the Christmas day following The Day of the Doctor (the 50th anniversary special). The beginning adopts a light tone as Clara calls the Doctor in panic because the turkey she’s trying to prepare for her Christmas dinner is still uncooked. However, the atmosphere settles on a much, much darker note as the Doctor and his companion visit the church of the Silence to investigate a planet (Trenzalore) which causes trouble because of a strange message which attracts hordes of enemies. Upon discovering the source of the message (and what it says), the Doctor declares a siege to protect the planet and its people. After more than 300 years, this siege ends, as we were expecting, by the regeneration of the eleventh Doctor in his next body.
While trying not to spoil the story, there are, in this episode, a lot of narrative elements. Old and new subjects are addressed and interact together with no apparent links between them. The intention was clearly to integrate nearly all the elements from the adventures of the Eleventh, but the truth is that it makes the story unnecessarily heavy. The choice to include the religious order of the Silence, which the audience has only limited knowledge of, is what makes the narrative suffer the most. Its omission would have allowed the story to breathe and to spend more time with the Doctor and Clara, who is put in the background for most of the episode.
Despite everything, there are still elements which work well in this recapitulative episode. I would even push it and say those elements offer great closure and an appropriate farewell to the Eleventh. The siege of Trenzalore recalls beautifully what the Doctor is: the alien who is ready to give his life and adventures up to save those of strangers; the one who wants the forgiveness of his race; the one who’s seen so many deaths in his long life that he can’t bear to witness another (at the time of his regeneration, it is estimated the Doctor is now more than 1600 years old). Not only is it the Doctor, but also the Eleventh one. The big, excentric and a tiny bit arrogant baby, the child who ate too much chocolate. Its interpret, Matt Smith, is the youngest actor to ever play the role and is also the one who took up the challenge to replace David Tennant, one of the series’ favorites.
The regeneration scene is the strength of the episode and is a beautiful tribute to Matt Smith, who specializes in the interpretation of monologues. Althought emotional, the scene has a bittersweet atmosphere. The joviality of the Eleventh and his visible wonder of the universe has a very naive touch and is a beautiful thing to watch. So much that we could almost forgive the numerous plot problems. In the end, the story of the Eleventh is complete and forms one big narrative. The surprising arrival of Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor seems natural.
The Time of the Doctor is complex, but it’s also an episode that people will want to watch several times because each viewing brings something new. Even knowing that television is not a medium that is meant to be consumed several times over, I can say with confidence that if this Christmas Special is not a rare pearl, it’s still a good story. Goodnight, Doctor!