Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor – Review Sherlockabilia Shop Now Open

Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor – Review * 27 December 2013

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While our review below doesn't give explicit on-the-nose spoilers, we really recommend viewing The Time of the Doctor before you read it.

As is tradition, Doctor Who is now one of the stalwart fixtures in the BBC Christmas schedule, a regular occurrence that has only been happening for the last eight years, when David Tennant debuted as the Tenth Doctor. For 2013 though, Steven Moffat gives us a fitting, emotional send off for Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor, all while addressing years of canon-established rules and his own created mythology to tie a last bow (tie) on the actor's tenure as the Time Lord. 

There's an important comparison to make in terms of the writing though from the off - initially, The Time of the Doctor does not feel anything like a final adventure for this incarnation. Compared to the final year of specials for the Tenth Doctor by Russell T Davis, laden with a portentous sense of impending doom, this is a freewheeling, possibly overly-packed hour, with the mortality of The Doctor only addressed at the mid-point. It's possibly also an extremely brave thing to tackle lingering unanswered questions from Smith's entire run in the role in his final episode, and one that goes out on Christmas Day (no less) in front of the eyes of a crowd of partially casual onlookers.

But that's exactly what Steven Moffat does here in an ambitious hour that has no qualms to tell a tale that condenses hundreds of years into the time it takes to eat a Christmas dinner, labelling on continuity answers and corrections to both the lore of classic Who (The Regeneration limit) and his own imagination (What was that crack in the wall in series 5? And who blew up the Tardis? And who are The Silence, really? Etc.) In many ways it's an epilogue to the 50th Anniversary special The Day of the Doctor, in others a complete clearing of the decks to answer everything that has been left hanging in the air. The aim is to place the character in a final, unwinnable situation that will test him and stretch his mortality to the utter limit, until the lovely, almost literal deus ex machina that resolves all and resets The Doctor to zero.

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Everything comes down to that last five minutes though - an exquisite, eloquent and subtle piece of writing and performance. It infuses melancholy and metaphor to powerful effect - is Eleven talking just about his seconds-away Regeneration, or death in general when he says that "everything disappears, gone in a moment, like breath on a mirror" for example? (Also, it's perhaps the most beautiful comparison since the famous "tears in rain" moment from Blade Runner) And that's not even to mention the utterly unexpected, deserved return of an old friend after Smith has spoken his final line as the character.

And then, within instants, Eleven is gone and Twelve is there, Peter Capaldi debuting with a cracking first line and eyeball rolling worthy of Tom Baker. Again there's that subtlety in the writing spreading out elsewhere, the casting of this new actor mirroring exactly the age of William Hartnell fifty years ago. The new Regeneration cycle of thirteen additional incarnations justifies an older Doctor again. He has, with minor deviation, progressively become younger as those decades have passed, and here again we find ourselves with a young-old incarnation. Slightly alarming to look at, this new Doctor looks like he will lead the show into tonally different places once again, and with Steven Moffat still at the helm it's a trip we're anticipating for all sorts of reasons in the next year.        

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