Time is up for the Eleventh (?) Doctor in this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special. So it’s farewell to Matt Smith, whose gleeful, mad professor take on the Time Lord will be greatly missed, and welcome to Peter Capaldi. Smith’s final hour may not be his finest, but it certainly doesn’t lack for eventfulness.
The Time of the Doctor is kind of mad – perhaps the maddest the show has been in a while.
It’s with a sense of dread that we return to the planet Trenzalore, where a mysterious message is emanating out across the universe, drawing all the Doctor’s enemies to it like moths to a flame, so it’s only logical that our favourite time-traveller should want to have a peek too. In other news, companion/guardian angel Clara Oswald is trying her damnedest to cook Christmas dinner. So the stage is set for the usual high-jinks, clever scripting, and a fair amount of looking at the screen in utter befuddlement.
Speaking of befuddlement, I should say that The Time of the Doctor is kind of mad – perhaps the maddest the show has been in a while, which is an achievement in a three-year span that has included dinosaurs on a spaceship, fish vampires in Venice and the Doctor marrying his companions’ daughter.
If you’re looking for excitement, this outing in the TARDIS definitely has it, juggling the prospect of intergalactic war, a big reintroduction and the small matter of the current Doctor’s demise. The downside is that if you’ve not been sticking with Who recently, you may have no clue what’s going on – but regular viewers will probably be no stranger to this either.
In fact, all of this craziness is perhaps what best characterises Mr. Smith’s time on the show, with story, character and wit held in not-always-perfect balance, and this is very much the case here. The introduction of a sassy new character, the resolution of numerous plot threads (albeit rather hastily) and the return of many old foes are balanced alongside running gags involving turkey and nudity, among other things.
But thankfully the emphasis is very much on farewell, and on what ol’ Big Ears has brought to the show. This episode sees Smith throwing us the kitchen sink, giving us little bits of everything that has made him so loveable over time – witty asides, zany alien awkwardness, emotional speeches and madcap energy. All that is present here – as well as a hint of ‘normal bloke’ where Smith appears to be slipping out of Doctor mode and simply playing himself.
Smith gives a heartfelt, strong performance here, as does Jenna Coleman, and the end of his story is appropriately touching.
But in amongst all the Daleks and Cybermen there is time for some quieter moments, helped no end by an affecting new bit of music. There’s some nice commentary on how the Doctor never stays in one place, and how we all must move on. So, as with the departure of Matty boy’s first companions, Amy and Rory, there’s poetry tucked away underneath the effects and confusing storylines.
Whilst The Time of the Doctor may be a little too mad for its own good, perhaps being slightly rushed in terms of tying up loose ends, it’s a good thing that the most important loose end, the end of Smith’s Doctor himself, is very well done, maybe even underplayed. Gone is the overly protracted nature of David Tennant’s departure, replaced by a reflective mood and some nice callbacks to Smith’s first series on the show (still by far his best).
Smith gives a heartfelt, strong performance here, as does Jenna Coleman, and the end of his story is appropriately touching. The way is now clear for Peter Capaldi, and it’ll be interesting to see how the Scots (spin) Doctor takes the show forward. His first lines are certainly promising.
Here’s to many more adventures with the mad man in a box – this Doc was one of the best.