Thursday, December 26, 2013

Doctor Who Is NEW: The Time of the Doctor


Dave-El here and welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You. Yesterday, I posted my thoughts on the impending departure of Matt Smith from Doctor Who.

Today, Matt Smith is gone and here's what I think about that.

When something has to end, you hope it ends well or as well as can be expected.

But no matter how good or even spectacular an ending may be, there is one inescapable fact:

It still ends.

Yesterday marked an ending for Doctor Who that sets the stage for a new beginning and an exciting new chapter in the life of the Doctor. But even as the future has been prepared for, we cannot escape the immutable fact that this is the end.

This is the end of the Matt Smith era.

This is....The Time of the Doctor.

And the Dave-El review comes up after the graphic.

One last note of caution: Unlike previous reviews where I have tried avoiding being too spoileriffic, there's so much going on in this episode that it's not easy going over this without covering some "first that happened, then this happened" ground so fair warning...
 Spoilers, Sweetie!
Before we get started, a shout out to the fine folks at Geeksboro Coffeehouse Cinema (you can find them here on Facebook) for hosting the showing of the Doctor Who Christmas special to a packed house. 
And yours truly won a Dalek! So cool! (A miniature Dalek, mind you so no worries on my attempting to conquer Earth with it.)

Yes, that is (sigh!) me (really) with my brand new Dalek
(Thanks, Geeksboro!) and my handy-dandy sonic screwdriver.

That was a great capper to a wonderful evening spent in the company of many fellow Whovians. And for a good cause too as proceeds from the event were donated to the Greensboro Urban Ministry which provides food and other assistance to our city's poor and homeless. The Doctor would be proud! 
OK, away we go!
Regeneration episodes of Doctor Who have a lot riding on them. There needs to be a significant threat to warrant the Doctor losing his life to solve it. The farewell as to be poignant. The first look at the new Doctor has to immediately engage the viewer still reeling from the loss of one Doctor to feel confident the future is in safe hands.
The Time of the Doctor has all this riding on it and more. Matt Smith is exceedingly well liked and presided over a major expansion of awareness of the show in the public consciousness. For many Doctor Who fans, Matt is their first Doctor. So the exit of Matt Smith from the role of the Doctor, at the height of the show's newfound popularity and the pinnacle of his skills as an actor, required a send off worthy of the occasion. 
For the 50th anniversary special, in the face of incredibly high expectations and overheated hype, Steven Moffat delivered a strong episode in The Day of the Doctor. Question: can he go for two in a row and knock the 11th Doctor's endgame out of the park?
There are things working against the episode. Besides the excess level of high expectations, the show had a surfeit of loose ends to tie up, some dating back to Matt's first episode, The Eleventh Hour. Too much to do in too little time. One might wonder if Steven Moffat could've used those two whole hours given over for David Tennant's finale as the Doctor. Matt has twice as much ground to cover in less than half the time. If the whole thing seems a bit rushed, there's a reason for that.
Still, unlike say The End of Time where I occasionally checked my watch to see when we could get this regeneration thing over with, The Time of the Doctor moves at a far more brisk pace. (Even with commercial interruptions. C'mon, BBC America, could you have at least did the first airing with limited commercials?)
We get a big epic opening as many different races are converging on one planet in answer to a summons that no one understands. Into this mix enters the Doctor with a new robotic pal in tow. The Doctor is using the head of a Cyberman as a personal assistant. He's nicknamed the head "Handles". You will come to care about Handles. Really.
While working to resolve the mysteries of why so many beings are interested in this particular planet, the Doctor receive an urgent call from a frantic Clara Oswald who desperately needs the Doctor's help.
Clara needs a boyfriend.
So the Doctor has an awkward encounter with the Oswalds. Why is it awkward? Because the Doctor's outfit is a holographic projection keyed to only to Clara's visual cortex.
In English, the Doctor is naked.
The reason for this bit of hi-jinx is that the Doctor has a meet-up scheduled where there is no dress code for the event if you know what I mean.  So whipping up a holographic outfit for Clara (Yes, boys, the clothes aren't really there and she's naked. Now settle down!), the Doctor and his companion go to church (so to speak) to find out more about what's going on with this suddenly and oddly interesting planet which Handles has identified as (wait for it!) Gallifrey.
Yep, THAT Gallifrey. Except the Doctor knows Gallifrey. He was born there, he zapped it into another universe. He knows Gallifrey when he sees it and that ain't it.
So the Doctor and Clara go down to the planet where they find a town called Christmas with a tower that projects a truth field. Yes, a field that makes sure what one says is the truth. You see, this planet is really Trenzalore. So why did Handles say it was Gallifrey? Because Gallifrey is bleeding out from it's pocket universe through (Wait for it!) a crack in a wall. Yes, one of THOSE cracks!
And that message no one understands? Handles translates it: "Doctor Who?"
So here's the deal: the Time Lords are asking for the Doctor to identify himself and if he answers correctly (and truthfully), the Time Lords know they have found the correct universe and can return. Except the planet is ringed by thousands of alien races (principally among them, the Daleks) who are ready to unleash a total holocaust on the planet below, killing the innocent inhabitants of Christmas, all to keep the Time Lords in check. So after tricking Clara into the TARDIS which takes her back home, the Doctor resolves to stand his ground and defend the people of Trenzalore.
Which he does.
For 300 years.
Clara somehow makes her way into the future and back to Trenzalore as she finds that the Doctor is starting to finally show his age, the centuries catching up to him. And the Doctor reveals he can't regenerate. He has a limit of 12 times he can do that. And yes, it appears that the regenerations involving the War Doctor AND the 10th Doctor's face saving regeneration trick in Journey's End DO count.
The story takes another big jump in time to find the Doctor even older and very close to death. And those centuries have taken their toll on Trenzalore's defenses. The siege has become a war and Trenzalore is doomed. And so is the Doctor. But Clara (after another TARDIS trip that brings her this fateful moment in time) makes an appeal at the crack in the wall to the Time Lords. An appeal, a wish, even a prayer if you will, for the Time Lords to intervene and save the Doctor.
And the Doctor, facing death from old age and confronting the Daleks with no hope, no plans, no weapons worth a damn, begins to regenerate and those energies blast the Daleks out of the sky.
But the Doctor isn't quite done yet. The regeneration process has restored the Doctor to the normal youthful features of Matt Smith. But the process once begun cannot be stopped. The Doctor says farewell to this life including a last tender goodbye to a surprise guest and in an unexpectedly fast transition starts his new life with a different face.
So how does this episode rate? Is it a worthy vehicle for Matt Smith's exit or is it a wibbly-wobbly mess? The answer to that is "yes". To both.
And when I say "mess", I mean there is a LOT of stuff going on with a story that factors in the Cracks in the Universe, the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Weeping Angels and the Silence in the service of wrapping up loose ends from over the last four years. Still, the story surprisingly does not get bogged down in the minutiae of this messy spectacle. And ultimately it is a spectacle on a grand scale.
And Matt Smith pulls out the stops in a bravura performance that calls up all the eccentric humor and the firm determination we have come to expect from Matt as he plays an impossibly old Doctor. The fascinating thing to me is as the old age make up piles up, Matt Smith still shines through.
And just when you've accepted that Matt's super old Doctor has regenerated, we get one last look at Matt in his classic youthful appearance. Matt delivers a poignant good-bye and then the Doctor looks like Peter Capaldi. And when I say "and then", let's just say expectations of how one Doctor transitions to another are seriously upended.
All in all, I would say that The Time of the Doctor was a uniquely inventive and ultimately entertaining send off for a particularly popular Doctor. Any flaws were insignificant and did not impede my enjoyment of the story. Kudos to Steven Moffat and the production team. Props to Orla Brady who is wickedly good as the smoldering sexy space nun (no, not making that up) and to Jenna Coleman who once again dazzles as Clara Oswald.
And kudos to Matt Smith who defied expectations from day one to the very end with a Doctor we always found surprising and engaging. Peter Capaldi has a really tough act to follow. Matt Smith, you will be missed. And we will always remember when you were the Doctor. 
Coming up on the blog:
  • A special edition of Broken News on Friday.
  • The last Doctor Who Saturday for 2013.
  •  And blog post # 300 is around the corner!
In the meantime, be good to one another.

"Raggedy Man, goodnight."


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