(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode… or unless you don’t care if it’s spoiled for you. this is a love fest only — all complaints and bitching must come from a place of love / previous: “The Day of the Doctor”)
I’ve watched this episode four times now, and it annoys me more every time.
I get it: Steven Moffat wants his Doctor Who to be mythic. He’s been desperately trying to force that to happen for years. And “Time of the Doctor” is now the best-worst example of how mythic cannot be forced. It has to arise naturally. It’s what happens when a well-told story takes on a life of its own, by its own force of awesome. That has already happened to Doctor Who, and it doesn’t need harping on. The Doctor bums around the universe saving planets and picking up pretty girls and being a generally all-around amazing guy: that’s the mythic.
And yet… Here the Doctor is “the man who stayed for Christmas,” like that’s even a thing. It’s not even a thing for us humans here on Earth huddled around the TV on Christmas Day watching Doctor Who. (If Moffat had somehow contrived the Doctor to be Elijah finally showing up for a seder, that would make mythic sense!) And this mythic state of being the man who stayed for Christmas is announced to us by the Mother Superious of the Church of the Papal Mainframe, for whom Christmas can mean nothing. And this doesn’t make any sense within the context of the story except the town is called Christmas, for no reason whatsoever. And it’s always cold and dark and snowy in this town called Christmas, which really makes no sense, because it’s allegedly a farming community, a settlement of human who came to this planet from somewhere else. Who plants a farming community in a place where the sun shines only two minutes a day? What the hell are they supposed to be growing?
This story is like an onion of ridiculousness, in which every layer peeled away reveals another layer of WTF, and every single layer makes you cry some more.
The town called Christmas needs protecting because the crack in the universe is back, and the Time Lords, recently shot into another universe, want to come back through into their home universe. The Time Lords are broadcasting a question throughout all of time and space — “Doctor who?” — and even though no one can understand this message (it’s encoded) they’re terrified of it. Why? Because Moffat needs to get all the big baddies of the universe gathered around this. (Don’t people usually stay away from something they’re afraid of?) And even when they can finally understand it, they still shouldn’t be afraid of it, because the Doctor has been erased from the universe’s memory: that was the whole stupid reason for the existence of Clara Oswin Oswald. So all the evil alien races hearing the question, which they can’t understand anyway, should just shrug and continue going about their evil business completely unperturbed.
Side note: This “Doctor who?” thing has now become the most embarrassingly self-referential thing the show has ever done. Way worse than the question marks on the lapels.
So anyway, there’s a “truth field” around the town of Christmas, erected by the Time Lords. “A question only I could answer, a truth field so they know I’m not lying,” the Doctor says. Say what? Presumably the Time Lords know his name, so it’s not like anyone else could lie and trick the Time Lords into thinking it’s safe to come through. And an ability to lie on the Doctor’s part could be a good thing here! A lie could be a code to say, “Stay away, it’s not safe.”
Anyway! If no one else knows his name and so no one else can answer the question for the Time Lords, why doesn’t the Doctor just leave? Why does there need to be a siege of Trenzalore? Why must silence fall? “They’ll burn this planet to stop the Time Lords,” we’re told. But what’s stopping them now? They’ve always wanted to kill the Doctor. (And frankly, if they can’t kill him here, without his TARDIS and with no advanced tech beyond his sonic screwdriver, they’re utterly toothless and should be retired from villainy.)
Why not relocate the town? Why not get the humans off the planet entirely and resettle them somewhere else? Did anyone even ask them if they’d like to do that? Did anyone ask them how they feel about being in the middle of a centuries-long battle between the Doctor and a collection of the the worst bad guys ever? Sure, the Doctor is stranded without the TARDIS, but why couldn’t Tasha Lem take the Doctor and the townspeople away in her big spaceship and let everyone else blow the planet to smithereens? (Or just go away, because without the Doctor, no Time Lord return.) It’s not like there was any possibility of a reasonable resolution to this standoff that would allow the Doctor to finally give his people the thumbs-up… and as we see (and as we can presume the Doctor would have at least guessed), Gallifrey could close the crack and create another one as needed.
And wait a damn minute. Why would the Time Lords listen to puny primitive Earth human Clara Oswald when she speaks into the crack to say that his name isn’t important? Are we to believe that the Doctor has been sitting in front of the crack in the universe for centuries whittling toys and hasn’t been talking into the crack pretty much nonstop? Not once in all that time did he speak into the crack and say, “Hey, guys? You’ve created kind of a mess over here. Could you maybe stop broadcasting that question, find another crack in the universe, and send a slightly less ominous way to let me know about it?”
I mean, he’s got no one to talk to except a dead Cyberman head, which Moffat needed to toss in because he got rid of the Doctor’s companions, whose narrative purpose has always been, in large part, to be there for the Doctor to talk at and explain stuff. Clara supposedly loves the Doctor so much that she gets this sad:
at her Gran’s story about a beautiful man just standing there, so why isn’t she traveling with the Doctor all the time? Why is she teaching school and cooking turkeys and inventing boyfriends like she’s 12 years old and hanging around with her awful parents? (There was no leaf-on-the-wind, I guess, for her… is that her father and stepmother?) Why are the Doctor and the TARDIS just cheap tricks for her? “Just learn how to use iPlayer,” the Doctor moans, implying she has been annoying him with endless requests to hop back in time to see TV she missed. Clara is supposed to have brilliant hacking talents — we saw that in “The Bells of Saint John” — so she should be able to figure out how to use the very simple iPlayer.
But as is so often the case with Moffat, he doesn’t care if a line doesn’t make sense as long as it’s “funny.” “You can’t go to church with your clothes on.” Okay, why not? There’s a whole episode in that! But here it’s a nothing more than a pointless throwaway joke designed to elicit some titters.
And he doesn’t care if there’s no genuine emotion backing up the sentimentality he wants to force. In order for this:
to tug at the heartstrings the way it’s clearly intended to, we have to know this kid! We have to have seen his relationship with the Doctor develop. How can we feel any connection to him, or to this moment, without that?
There’s a full season’s worth of stories crammed in here, and this could have worked given time to develop it. Given what we see here, and what we know of the Doctor, I refuse to accept that he could spend centuries in one backwater village with nothing to do but repair toys without going insane. How did he manage that? Maybe he didn’t manage it — maybe he went insane! That could be an interesting story. “Oh, by the way, the Doctor spent centuries here, and everybody loved him” is a dull, unengaging story.
The regeneration is particularly enraging. There was no reason at all to jump to the end of the Doctor’s regeneration cycle, even if we have to accept that the War Doctor was a separate regeneration (which we didn’t; it wouldn’t take a lot of technobabble to shoehorn him in without altering the regeneration count). This looks like pure fanboy greed on Moffat’s part: he didn’t just want the 50th-anniversary story, he wanted the new-regeneration-cycle thing, too. There could have been years and years before the Doctor running out of regenerations was an issue — it didn’t need to be forced now. The thing with Ten’s hand regrowing counting as a separate regeneration directly contradicts what that episode told us. If we cannot trust anything anymore because “the Doctor lies,” then why should we trust this? Why shouldn’t we think Moffat will just rewrite this again later?
(Oh, and you know how we’re supposed to be touched by the poem-instead-of-a-joke in the cracker about how “Eleven’s hour is over now, the clock is striking twelve”? That doesn’t work when it comes right after we’ve been told this Doctor hasn’t been the Eleventh at all.)
When there are no rules — not even previously established ones — and anything can happen, that’s not a story. That’s chaos.
Random thoughts on “The Time of the Doctor”:
• Wait a sec. Matt Smith was willing to appear bald here after shaving his head for another role:
and the best Moffat could come up with was a trick for hiding a key? Why not “You can’t go to church without shaving your head”? And hey, was Karen Gillan wearing a wig here, too?
(Cuz, you know, she has also shaved her head for a role.) Imagine the possibilities if both the Doctor and Amy were bald! Maybe they visited a planet where hair is a currency, or they fell into a vat of hair-eating mold (h/t bronxbee for the mold idea). There could have been an incredible-looking flashback that tied into the main story somehow…
• I hope Clara’s family did not eat that turkey:
Because I don’t care about the time winds or vortex energy or whatever: that turkey is nowhere near being properly cooked.
• The Doctor’s only companion for centuries:
• “The Church of the Papal Mainframe” is “the security hub of the known universe,” and the Doctor has never even mentioned it before?
• The Silence must be the worst priests to make a confession to. You forget what you tell them, so you never feel that you’ve unburdened yourself and you never get any relief from your guilt. So what’s the point of them again?
• “There will now be an unscheduled faith change.” Seriously? And is the next line ever someone telling Tasha Lem, “There will now be a bloody great uprising among your pissed-off devotees”?
• Got yourself into a storytelling jam?
Just have any random character fly the TARDIS to where it needs to be. Easy peasy!
• Regeneration energy as a weapon?
• Ah, Peter Capaldi:
Please be the guy who doesn’t need Moffat to make his career, and so has the balls to say, “You can type this shit, George, but you can’t say it.”
(next: “Deep Breath”)