I actually enjoyed this episode a lot, but while enjoying it I was aware of a number of significant flaws. The sort of thing that I knew (even before looking) would have certain vocal elements of fandom gnashing their teeth and demanding heads on platters.
I largely dismiss criticism of Steven Moffat for one simple reason, it appears to be 99% emotionally driven. It’s not that he’s beyond criticism, just that the people shouting the loudest seem to be doing so based on irrational attachment to certain things and dubious understanding of the actual process involved in making the show, not an actual assessment of what they just saw. So let’s try and look at this more logically.
Like the 50th anniversary special before it, Time of the Doctor had some goals it needed to accomplish beyond that of a regular episode (or even a Christmas special). I actually think it accomplished those goals quite well. But at the expense of some of the fundamentals.
One legitimate criticism of Moffat is his over-use of his story-tics. This is actually pretty common with writers, but most aren’t pumping out multiple stories per year for the same characters, writing solo. This makes the tics a lot more obvious.
And here we had a big one in play. His fondness for messing around with the time aspect of the Doctor showed up quite a bit throughout the episode. Now it did give us a different perspective than we’ve really ever seen previously. The Doctor never sticks around. But it did so at the expensive of our direct connection with the action. You can’t cover hundreds of years in a 1 hour show without resorting to narration and the narration creates distance. That was very noticeable in the scenes where the Doctor defends Christmas. A distinct change from the earlier comedic scenes.
Or even the scene with the Dalek trap, which I really liked. Another call-back to previous episodes but one that was extremely well executed and used nicely in the trailer to mislead me significantly on one character’s role in the story.
Another familiar Moffatism was that the story was just too big for the time and budget allotted. Time Lords, Cybermen, Daleks, Silence, Weeping Angels, Sontarans. They were all there. But because they were all there, none of them really had an opportunity to shine. Essentially they were all just cannon fodder in the fall of the Eleventh.
But it was by no means all bad. As a swansong for Matt Smith’s Doctor it did a great job of connecting and wrapping up many of the elements that have appeared over the three seasons. We got an explanation for the Silence, the crack in the universe and a number of other references snuck in. The Trenzalore prophecy is resolved effectively and along with the new set of lives we are given something of a clean slate to move forward on.
Speaking of the new set of lives. We get a pretty definitive statement of where we stand on regenerations and how to number things. Capaldi is the 12th Doctor and the first of a new set of regenerations. People can stop arguing about it now (they won’t).
And yes it’s absolutely a Deus Ex Machina, but it’s also one that makes perfect sense in the history of the show, both recently and from the beginning. I’m fine with it. I know others won’t be. But I will defend the writing. It’s part of what Moffat wants to do with the show. When he said he saw it like a fairytale, this is part of what he meant. You’re not going to get everything solved logically and wrapped up in a bow for you. Part of that style is about going for the image and the feel rather than getting trapped in the details. Some don’t like it and that’s fair enough, but it’s not lazy writing, it’s deliberate.
Clara’s role here is an interesting one. She keeps getting sent away and she keeps coming back. She is very much the audiences view-point on the Doctor. You can certainly argue that there’s nothing here that really defines her character and I think that’s true. On the other hand, this is not a story where it should be about the companion. Her function this episode and probably for the next couple is very much to ground the story and connect us. And in that role I found her very effective.
Smith plays the aged version of his Doctor very well. He’s fundamentally unchanged except physically. So he still acts like the gleeful child, even as his body starts to betray him. The Doctor is who he is. Until he isn’t.
And while I’ve seen criticism that his Doctor doesn’t do emotion the way Tennant did, I think that’s not entirely fair. It’s subtler certainly, but it’s there alright. Just watch the scene where Handles finally fades. If you want insight into the Doctor’s life and why he interacts with people the way he does… it’s all right there in that scene.
Which of course leads us on to the reset regeneration. Some people are complaining it was too quick. They clearly weren’t paying attention. The regeneration went on longer than any previous one. It started in the tower, it just paused in the middle.
For me Moffat pulled this off much better than Davies with Tennant. There the change was overwrought to the point it was almost self-indulgent. Here we still get the emotional beats, including a cool cameo from Amy Pond, but it isn’t allowed to drag on.
And of course I have to say something about Capaldi. I don’t judge the Doctor’s by their initial appearance. It’s never more than a tease and frequently doesn’t really tell you what they’re going to be like. But it was enough to confirm my expectation that he has a handle on the role and will do it just fine. And no he’s not going to be Malcolm Tucker. Get over it.
So, flawed? Yes definitely flawed. And yet honestly I don’t care. There was so much I enjoyed throughout the show that the weaknesses really didn’t impact me much at all. Those howling for Moffat’s head will continue to do so, but they would have done anyway.
Tags: #DoctorWho #TheTimeOfTheDoctor #Review #MattSmith
Awkward doesn't even begin to describe the situation.
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