Countdown To Eleven – The Time of the Doctor part One

So, we come to it at last.  The dust has barely settled on the 50th Anniversary Special and all the hype that came with it.  And yet barely a month later we find ourselves saying goodbye to Matt Smith and the Eleventh (12th, 13th?) Doctor.  We were all aware it was coming, but in the same way you deal with any “death,” we were never really ready.  The Time of the Doctor is upon us, which means that it’s time to bid farewell to Matt Smith and say hello to incoming Doctor Peter Capaldi.

In that past I’ve steered clear of doing anything that could be considered a straight review, trying instead to address questions non-fans may have and offer clarification where it may be needed.  However, in this case I find that it’s not possible to not comment on The Time of the Doctor, both in terms of its significance and also it’s quality.  That being said, I’m going to briefly give my personal thoughts on feelings on the episode as a whole before addressing certain aspects in detail using my normal method.

I should say right from the start that I enjoyed the episode, overall.  It was an enjoyable adventure with the right amount of emotion involved and a lot of things you’d expect from Matt Smith‘s swansong.  The emotional impact of the episode tends to help gloss over some of the flaws.  Leaving sentiment aside, if we judge it as just a standard episode, The Time of the Doctor is kind of all over the place.  The biggest problem I feel it has going for it is trying to accomplish so much with only an hour to do so.  This seems to throw the pacing of the episode off quite a bit, with some of the transitions feeling a bit abrupt or oddly timed.

Most who would agree with me would probably place the blame of this on the shoulders of writer/show runner Steven Moffat.  While I’m sure Moffat does share some of the blame, I’m going to go on record and say that I feel a lot of the flaws in the episode can be attributed to Matt Smith.  Don’t get me wrong (and please stop yelling), I’m not criticizing Smith’s performance.  In fact, I would say this is one of the best of his portrayals of the Doctor since he took over the role.  My issue with Smith is not with his performance, but rather the timing of his departure.

It’s never been made completely clear when Smith initially made his intentions of leaving the show known and how long Steven Moffat was aware of it before the official announcement.  Having now viewed the episode I have a strong feeling that Matt’s departure came somewhat unexpectedly to the Moff and the timing left him little room to maneuver.  In a perfect world, I’m sure Moffat would have preferred to have had a full series (or at least half of one, given the recent trend) to build towards this climax; to start bringing his arcs to a proper close all culminating in one final epic conclusion at Christmas.  Unfortunately, with Smith’s decision coming so late in production, there was no chance to incorporate anything like this into Series 7; which ended up as a lead in to the Anniversary Special rather than a pending regeneration.  This left Moffat with just the christmas special a month later to wrap up his arcs, give Mr. Smith a proper swansong and also set up our new Doctor.  Under those circumstances it’s kind of a miracle that it works at all.

The fact that The Time of the Doctor airs so soon after The Day of the Doctor I feel also hurts it to some extent.  The 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who was probably the most significant moment in its history since it’s return to the airwaves in 2005.  With a record-setting simulcast, a pairing of two of the most popular Doctors and significant revelations and game changers throughout, The Day of the Doctor created waves that still haven’t fully settled.  To have to follow that up less than a month later with something as significant as the regeneration of the Eleventh Doctor seems really unfair in my opinion.  The Time of the Doctor should have been allowed to stand on it’s own and it should have been allowed more room to breathe.

Believe me, I’m fully aware of the budgetary issues with the BBC and the fact that they probably used 80% of their Who budget on The Day of the Doctor.  Even so, I can’t help wondering if The Time of the Doctor wouldn’t have benefited from being split into two parts (similar to David Tennant’s final episode The End of Time).  Re-watching the episode the other night it even feels like this may have been the intention if they’d been allowed.  The moment where the Doctor sends Clara back home in the TARDIS and the clerics all start chanting “Silence will fall!” just screams to be a cliffhanger.  This would have allowed them to start Part 2 with the recounting of the Doctor staying on Trenzalore for 300 years and would have helped sell the transition of time and made our adjustment to an older Doctor much easier.  But alas, the die has already been cast and we can chalk this up as a (somewhat) missed opportunity.

Suffice to say, It’s definitely not the best regeneration story we’ve ever gotten (that spot for me is still held by Caves of Androzani), but it’s certainly not the worst.  It was an enjoyable and highly emotional sendoff to the most popular Doctor of recent years that also managed to tie up several loose ends from his entire run…mostly.

I can already tell this is running a bit long so I’ll end this now and see you all for Part 2, where I do my usual dissection of particular aspects of the episode itself.   See you then!

To Be Continued…

~Colonel Graff

Doctor Who The Time of the Doctor poster