Since this ‘review’ is part of my Doctor Who Diaries, I confess that at times I will just want to vent (even though my venting probably won’t be particularly popular). This is one of those times as sadly I did not love this year’s Christmas special even after a second viewing. While I went into Matt Smith’s swan song with absolutely zero expectations (I thought that would help after my disappointment from the 50th after too high of expectations), unfortunately it didn’t because I was not extremely impressed by “The Time of the Doctor.” In fact, almost the entire episode was one long convoluted mess. I was…well, not amused! Repetitive, silly, drab, and head scratching choices by Steven Moffat left me at the end of the episode feeling surprisingly cold which is the opposite to how I should have felt at a Doctor’s end. My main emotional reaction at the end of the episode longed for the end of Moffat as showrunner instead of the disappointing goodbye of Matt Smith. Doctor Who is in desperate need of some fresh ideas from a new main writer but mainly I think the show needs a doctor, a script doctor that is…
But I won’t start this review by just ranting about what I didn’t like. Allow me to start with what I did like for there were some definite positives to be found and with a little more work, this ‘could’ have turned into quite a brilliant episode.
WHAT I LIKED
- Matt Smith’s acting: The way he pulled off the coldness (i.e. when he left Clara behind the second time), the aging, and his speeches were very heartrending. For example, when he discovers his regeneration energy after giving up, I could tell he was putting his all into the scene, despite the problems within the script.
- The idea of Christmas town: While I would have liked more time with the actual town (i.e. getting to know the people to make them feel real), I just loved that the town of Christmas was this adorable place that people had to tell the truth in. It also felt very fairy tale like with the voice overs adding a nice, story time essence to the episode. Structurally, it would have been interesting to start with this mysterious man protecting Christmas town (it almost went there) and then when we discover it is the Doctor, that’s when go back to the beginning of the story. Make it a fairy tale from beginning to the end like the brilliant structure of Edward Scissorhands but ground the fairy tale more in reality by giving characterization to those the Doctor was protecting (and no Handles does not count because his death cannot be comparable to Wilson as the Doctor had an entire town to interact with). It is also my belief this would have been done better and would have been more easily achieved if not as much time went by. Even “A Town Called Mercy” did this better.
- The return of Amy and Amelia Pond: While just a hallucination, it was a beautiful instance that went back to the 11th Doctor’s beginning that was truly poignant.
- Clara and the Doctor looking out at dawn: Again, more of these moments would have been preferred. I loved this quiet, introspective scene that also gave a little time to focus on the Doctor’s characterization and maybe even a little for the hollow Clara. It goes back to themes discussed in “School Reunion” and “Hide.” The Doctor always fears losing those he loves because everything ends eventually. I loved this back and forth because it not only had purpose in themes that are important to the Doctor’s character but it also reminded me of him losing Rose, the one who he said he would never leave behind. Even she got stuck somewhere eventually. Every companion does; Amy Pond being the most recent example. I appreciated the authenticity of this quiet moment. The dialogue was excellent here:
CLARA: Why did you send me away?
DOCTOR: Because if I hadn’t, I’d have buried you a long time ago.
CLARA: No you wouldn’t. I would never have let you get stuck here.
DOCTOR: Ha! Everyone gets stuck somewhere eventually, Clara. Everything ends.
CLARA: Except you.
- The 11th Doctor’s final minutes in the Tardis: His regeneration speech about how everyone changes over time was one of the best written scenes in the episode. The drop of the bow tie was particularly moving. I just loved this whole sequence.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
Instead of bullet points, I want to break things up into why I found this episode so problematic and weak. It truly made me long for the days of Russell T. Davies as head writer when the show was coherent and made sense, and especially when the female characters were as varied as they were well written and fully developed. Here’s what didn’t quite work:
CLARA…HOW CAN I COUNT THE WAYS?
No seriously. How can I count the ways that Clara rubbed me the wrong way? She is the least developed female character/companion…no wait, “associate,” in the entire New Who run. I mean, who is she? Who is her family? She is a character written on the page, nothing more because there is hardly anything real about her whatsoever. She, to me, is this irritating nonentity and it has nothing to do with the likeable actress Jenna Coleman. It has everything to do with how she is written.
First off, I want to discuss the scenes with her family over Christmas. Okay…consider this in comparison to Rose’s family at Christmas. By then we KNOW Jackie, how lonely she is without Rose. We also understand how hard she can be on Rose in the past (giving her layers as a realistic mother) but beneath this nagging mother is just a woman who wants to see her daughter on Christmas. By the end of the episode, Rose joins her mother and Mickey for dinner. It feels genuine, like a scene at a true Christmas dinner table. And when the Doctor arrives (something he would not have done in the past as the 9th Doctor), it is magical because we know who these characters are inside and out.
In comparison, Clara’s dinner was hollow, shallow in every possible way. I didn’t even KNOW who the people were at the dinner table. Why was Clara so desperate to have the Doctor pretend to be her boyfriend? They didn’t exactly come across as a judgmental tribe beating it into her head that she needs to get married or anything like some Bridget Jones or even Martha Jones who seemed to have never even dated when she met the Doctor…And why was she the one responsible for dinner anyway? Because she is the epitome of a perfect “impossible” girl that loves to bake, cook, and take care of children like some magical nanny? The family just sits there like caricatures of people. And her gran’s story of the pigeon wasn’t touching because I don’t know her nor do I care for that matter. There are no emotions involved, just contrived moments to show off Clara’s ‘feelings’ for the Doctor. Ugh.
So yes, let’s turn to Clara’s romantic feelings for the Doctor. At this point, must EVERYONE “fancy” the Doctor? It made sense for Rose, Martha, River Song, and even to an extent Amy but now it is getting old. Maybe this is the only choice Moffat can think of for a woman but the contrived romance in the episode between the Doctor and Clara was uncomfortable, unauthentic, and ridiculous. Why in the world would I root for one of the WORST examples of characterization I have seen on television in years to be with the Doctor? Well, I wouldn’t. The dinner table scene, the rubbing on Clara’s arms to keep her warm, the truth Clara blurts out loud all seemed false to me: unbelievable in every sense of the word. Putting two attractive people together does not equal a romance. It is a pity that Matt Smith had to work off such an empty character for his farewell.
The romance reached its WORST moment, however, with the echo back to Jane Eyre (my favorite novel of all time). It literally disgusted me because Clara is NO Jane. Is the Doctor a Rochester like character in need of redemption? Oh, yes. Both characters are also most certainly Byronic Heroes. And on the surface, Clara has played a bit of the governess role. But she is no Jane without love before Rochester. She does not have a soul connection with the Doctor either, linking them spiritually that would break both hearts with the snapping of an unnatural cord. So when she returns to Christmas town and enters his room, the Doctor having been alone for a long time and unaware of Clara’s return, I knew immediately the scene Moffat was referencing.
She was as Jane finding the man she loves blind and maimed by a fire, only the Doctor was aging and near death’s door.
Would this echo would have worked with an earned romance? Yes. But it wasn’t earned. Perhaps if it had been Rose who IS more comparable to Jane, being the one to ‘save’ the Doctor spiritually by teaching him to be better or even simply because of their intense emotional and soul connection (such as the calling across time as Rose like Jane hears his voice). But Clara isn’t even if he tried to repeat part of the Davies’ more brilliant version of this story in “The Parting of the Ways.”
Before I get to the repetitious aspects of the script (I will return to this later), I want to close my thoughts on Clara by asking everyone out there who Clara is…I mean, who is she really? We know she is the impossible girl, was a nanny and is now a teacher (I hope she received a degree which seems unclear in Moffat’s world where characters can simply just change professions like a pair of clothes), her mother died, and she’s sassy, bossy, etc. But these things are just a list, not anything concrete or deep. For instance, in the “Cold War” episode, one of the characters even asks Clara her likes but she doesn’t answer:
GRISENKO: Tell me about yourself. What do you like doing? Clara? Clara?
CLARA: Stuff. You know, stuff.
GRISENKO: Stuff. Very enlightening.
My sentiments exactly! How enlightening indeed. Instead of characterization, Clara is a plot device that gets moved around with the wind and the needs of the story. The story does not react to her as a character but rather she must move with the direction of each and every script, this one included. I don’t even know why she fancies the Doctor other than he is the Doctor, especially since he spent all of her beginning stories using and manipulating her.
The jokes in the first 30 minutes of the episode were appallingly bad and basically immature. The naked jests weren’t funny just eye rolling, making me long for cleverly written witticisms. Moffat’s comedic dialogue (which can be brilliant in Sherlock and even past Who episodes) has gone down the tubes (the ‘witty’ dialogue in “The Day of The Doctor” with Queen Elizabeth and the entire Zygons plot is almost comparable in badness). The sexual innuendos between the Mother Superior and the Doctor were also absurd and predictable and just plain tired at this point. The scene on the bed was just abysmal in EVERY way. Did there need to be such blatant flirting between these characters? Absolutely not and it wasn’t even comical or at least in a good way that is.
FILLING IN HOLES
While I appreciated Moffat’s attempt to fill in his own plot holes, they just felt more like an afterthought more than anything else, particularly with the explosion of the Tardis. I found the creation of The Silence worked the best (even if on closer inspection, I’m still not sure it works) but why answer things that DON’T need to be answered? It really irked me that we saw what was behind the door in “The God Complex.” Toby Whithouse (one of the best writers on the show) gave us something ‘complex’ and intriguing, particularly because we didn’t know what was behind the door. Sometimes what you don’t know and don’t see is more powerful than what you do. Hitchcock, for example, understood this extremely well. And the crack in the wall is the answer? Really? Such a lame revelation.
There was a lot of repetitious writing in the episode. Moffat’s stories have been repetitive for a good while now (even in the 50th with annoying lines like Clara recognizing the War Doctor as younger because of his eyes). All of the villains coming in at once have been done by Moffat again and again. Why can’t he just focus on one or two and give it development?
Then there was the rewriting of time. AGAIN…and it didn’t even make coherent sense. How could the silence have been created before time was rewritten in “The Day of the Doctor” and the return of the Time Lords? This should have only come after he rewrote time…But I suppose it works on a surface level if you don’t think about it too hard. Still, I’m getting SO sick of having to see this story used again and again and again with either time being rewritten or everything being in some kind of out of sequence time loop. MOVE ON!!!!!!!!!
THE PARTING OF THE WAYS
Then there is “The Parting of the Ways” and the reuse of a story that was done a million times better the first time around. I’d be surprised if more and more people don’t pick up on the similarities presented, “Time of the Doctor” left wanting in the comparison. Let me explain what I mean:
In “The Parting of the Ways,” the Doctor sends Rose home with The Tardis because he believes there is no hope and he wants her to be saved; to have a fantastic life and just live. But she doesn’t want to leave the Doctor, yelling “bring me back,” and “you can’t do this to me,” only she can’t go back. She doesn’t know how. But Rose is a doer. She acts and makes CHOICES rather than merely being acted upon. She gives a speech about how the Doctor taught her a better way to live her life and that was by not running from those in need but rather in helping them and this time the Doctor was the one who was in need. So what does she do? She looks into the heart of the Tardis (not knowing what would happen, revealing true strength of character) and becomes BAD WOLF, returning to save the Doctor from death. It was an act of love and bravery. But most importantly, it was an act.
In comparison, the Doctor sends Clara home twice, Clara similarly spouting off how he couldn’t do this to her. The first time, she holds on to the Tardis and travels around in space (though this resulted in killing Jack when he did it but I digress). There was no acting here other than not letting go. Then, the second time (in which he doesn’t even leave her the Tardis), she is brought back to the Doctor by someone else. There are no choices made; no, that is all done by everyone else. This does not reveal bravery or strength of character; instead, it just showcases a blank character who never acts, but hey, at least she is sassy and cute.
There is also another similarity I want to bring up, which again clarifies my distaste for Clara that grows episode by episode (though I’m relieved the scene reveals a sliver of her character). During the scene of the dawn during “The Time of the Doctor,” Clara showcases just how different she is from Rose (emphasizing why the romance made more sense the first time around). Consider the scene:
DOCTOR: 12 regenerations Clara. I can’t ever do it again. This is where I end up. This face, this version of me. We saw this planet in a future, remember? All those graves, one of them mine.
CLARA: Change the future.
DOCTOR: I can’t
CLARA: But you got your Tardis back.
DOCTOR: Ha. You think I’m just going to fly away and abandon everyone?
CLARA: Of course not! But you’ve been protecting this town for over 300 years? Do not you think it is somebody else’s go yet?
DOCTOR: There is no one else to protect it.
CLARA: There’s not going to be you forever. It’s going to end the same whatever you do.
DOCTOR: Every life I save is a victory. Every single one.
CLARA: What about your life? (Long pause) Just for once after all of this time, have you not earned the right to think about that?
The Doctor gives a sad smile and looks away.
She WANTS the Doctor to run away, to leave the people of Christmas behind because she thinks he has done enough and maybe he has. But to me, this scene (which I actually liked) emphasized why Rose was the one thing he believed in. She is not a victim; she is always there just like the Doctor doing her all to save the day (and everyone) and to save the Doctor just as much as he would do to save her in return. They never give up on one another or the people they are fighting for and that makes for a beautiful love story. The 9th Doctor even points out her courage in “The Parting of the Ways” right before he decides to save her by sending her back home:
DOCTOR: There’s another thing the Tardis could do. It could take us away. We could leave. Let history take its course. We go to Marbella in 1989.
ROSE: Yeah, but you’d never do that.
DOCTOR: No, but you could ask. Never even occurred to you, did it?
And it didn’t occur to Rose but it DOES occur to Clara and that is also why I find that the supposed love story between these two fails. On the other hand, in “The Parting of the Ways,” which really set in stone their love for one another, Rose doesn’t take no for an answer and she doesn’t run away. She will do anything to save the Doctor including risking her life by looking into the heart of the Tardis and becoming Bad Wolf.
It is an epic story for sure even if one chooses not to like it. In contrast, Clara does do some saving by story’s end but it is uninteresting and anticlimactic in comparison (one I wouldn’t have to make if Moffat hadn’t purposely made the scenes a call back to “The Parting of the Ways”).
What does Clara actually ‘do’ in the episode besides be a prop? Well, she does tell the Time Lords in the crack in the wall that they should save the Doctor. Okay that was something I suppose. I still thought it was an underwhelming scene to be honest, leading to the regeneration energy they send through the sky in one of the silliest sequences I have ever seen on Doctor Who. Clara’s ‘speech’ was like Moffat telling us just how awesome his impossible girl is because she is saving the Doctor yet again (though I never did buy Clara jumping into the time stream as epic because I felt no connection between the two prior to this event that she had to do anyway because she knew she already did it) and she really didn’t even have to really do anything here.
How disappointing was it? So he regenerates from old age which at least makes sense considering Moffat’s obsession with aging (of course Eleven had to age hundreds of years once more). But did he have to become Capaldi’s Doctor in such an underwhelming fashion or basically in the blink of an eye? I suppose Moffat wanted to surprise everyone but sometimes surprises just aren’t all that welcome and this really is my own personal annoyance.
Now, don’t get me wrong! I LOVE Peter Capaldi, am very open to him being the Doctor because I am impressed with his past work, particularly in one of my favorite shows The Hour. However, the dialogue chosen for this new Doctor was just odd. New kidneys? Really? Who cares? I know I don’t. And then the whole not knowing how to fly the Tardis was obnoxious in my book. It definitely does not hook or entice me for series 8.
A weak goodbye for Matt Smith but it did have some nice moments for him to shine and I must emphasize that I am being particularly hard on Doctor Who just because I think it to be one of the best series on television and perhaps in a few weeks, I will come to look at this episode more fondly. And while I am particularly hesitant about Clara, I still have hope that before series 8 begins, Moffat has time to come up with something original once more since he has been brilliant many times before. But until then, we always have repeats of the 11th Doctor’s greater episodes written during his tenure. I know mine include “Vincent and the Doctor,” “The Doctor’s Wife,” “Hide,” and “The God Complex.” What are everyone else’s favorites?
“We’ll always have Paris.”
“Let other pens dwell on
guilt and misery. I quit such
odious subjects as soon as I can.”
What did you think of “The Time of the Doctor?” Were you as disappointed as me? Sound off below…
Read our Review on The Day of the Doctor and my theory: Was the Moment in Day of the Doctor Actually Bad Wolf?
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