That’s that, then, is it? The Doctor is gone, long live the Doctor. I’m sure “The Time of the Doctor” isn’t what most people thought it would be, and it might leave a percentage of fandom cold, but from where I’m sitting, next to my mom’s Christmas tree after a festive and joyful day, I can’t think of a better way for the Eleventh Doctor to end his tenure that began a week shy of four years ago when a 20-something goofball checked in to see if he had all his appendages, if he was a girl, and if he was ginger. There were lots of loose ends for writer Steven Moffat to tie up, but somehow he did it. Again, whether or you think he did a good job of it is another matter. I’ll say this, though: it had no potions or physics-defying not-deaths. Matt Smith got to be the hero he always was and go out with class.
As I said before, Moffat had a lot to do, what with us still not knowing how the Doctor ended up on Trenzalore, why the first question was the first question, why “silence will fall,” and how he could get around those pesky regenerations. It’s as though Moff creates problems just so he has to solve them, like he has a split personality when he writes. Granted, a lot of the problems stemmed from Series 6, which is easily my least favorite, and the least focused. It may seem like a hand wave the way things ended up, but it’s actually very clever (if easy), and it cleans the slate rather nicely for the next fellow. More on that later.
So, “The Time of the Doctor” is all about inevitability, fate if you will. We know, even if the characters don’t, that Smith is leaving the show and Peter Capaldi is taking over, but the whole of the series has been about changing the future. If “The Day of the Doctor” taught us nothing, it’s that not only can time be rewritten, but popular fan wisdom as well. If you don’t like the music, change the station; If you don’t like the future, make a new one. How does the Doctor reconcile not wanting to die, but knowing he must? The truth? He doesn’t, but that’s where friends come in, yet again.
After being tricked into going to Trenzalore by the Church of the Papal Mainframe, the Doctor finds in the perpetually truthful town of Christmas the crack in the fabric of the universe, the very same crack he faced before and made “The Big Bang” happen, only this time it’s a question being asked by a long-forgotten, and long-destroyed, world: Gallifrey. They need to know the Doctor is who he says he is, and so ask the question to which the Doctor cannot lie in order to come back into this reality. However, for him to bring the Time Lords back will mean the re-igniting of the Time War, with the Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Weeping Angels, and even the Terileptils (who get name-checked) all waiting to make it happen. The Doctor knows he can’t abandon these people, and the Papal Mainframe instigate silence to make sure he doesn’t speak the name. He sends Clara back to her home in the TARDIS and spends the next 300 years foiling every plot and attempt to attack the good people of Christmas, Trenzalore.
It’s this action that is the perfect farewell to the Eleventh Doctor. He’s the Doctor, more than any other, who has run away and not wanted to be tied to any one place or time. Remember how bent out of shape he got in “The Power of Three” after just a couple of days? So here is he, the Doctor who wouldn’t stay still, who lived many hundreds of years more than we’ve ever seen onscreen, compelled to stay put to save each and every life he can. He isn’t pissed off that he has so much more to do in this form; this is his last form, and he’s going to save every single person he possibly can, even if that’s only in one place. He’s always had a scheme or two, but this time it’s just him standing in between innocents and death. Finally, it’s Clara, who finds her way back to him for a third time, who is able to save him by beseeching the Time Lords from through the crack. And it works, because who else can eventually free them?
There’s tons of other stuff worth mentioning here before I get to the final scene, so here we go: I love that the Doctor makes friends with a Cyberman’s head. Adorable. I love how well Moffat writes Clara, and how well Jenna Coleman plays her. She’s the most compelling companion in ages. I love how everybody in Christmas draws pictures of their hero and celebrates him. I love how they figured out a way around Matt having shaved his head. Genius. I didn’t much care for the nudity joke, especially because it didn’t seem to matter beyond the initial joke, but it didn’t spoil things too much. I loved the puppet show with the Monoid puppet. I loved seeing old, senile Eleven, muttering to himself. And most of all, I loved seeing Matt Smith being Matt Smith.
Now, for the final scene. It was perhaps the most important thing to me that “The Time of the Doctor” did two things: 1) make sense on its own terms without being too complicated (which it did about 80%), and 2) to allow the Eleventh Doctor to go out with dignity and both appreciate the sadness of leaving without casting a pall over the new. The second passed with flying colors. Smith returned to his young self in order to say goodbye to Clara, but he also sees the first face his face saw with a surprise appearance by Karen Gillan. It was a bit hokum, but still really nice. Then, the Eleventh Doctor says his final words, and they aren’t “I don’t want to go;” they’re his (and Smith’s and Moffat’s) way of saying that remembering THIS Doctor shouldn’t mean casting aspersions on any other Doctor and that each incarnation is as important as the last or the next. It was classy, exactly as classy as the Eleventh Doctor (but the Thirteenth Form) always was.
I don’t know about you all, but the Eleventh Doctor was MY Doctor, and I will of course always remember the time when the Doctor was he. BUT! We get our first, very fleeting glimpse of the next Doctor, Peter Capaldi, who is just as intense and strange as we probably expected. He knows the color of his kidneys and doesn’t know how to fly the TARDIS, so we’re definitely going to have a lot to get used to, but we have plenty of time to make peace with our goodbyes to Matt Smith before we officially say hello to Peter Capaldi. Thanks for everything, Mr. Smith. You were splendid. Until our paths cross again in the 60th Anniversary Special in 2023, Geronimo!