Matt Smith’s swansong was a rather mixed affair, which suffered from similar problems that the majority of series 7 had. That said, it was the best regeneration story we’ve had in the new series and that’s solely due to Smith’s tour de force performance. Spoilers everywhere.
I want to get the negatives out of the way first. The Time of the Doctor did suffer from pacing problems. The first fifteen minutes rushed by in a swirl of drama, the next half hour dragged as the Eleventh Doctor vowed to protect Christmas town and the final quarter once more flew by and was, quite literally, blink and you’ll miss it. There was just too much jammed into this episode. Five alien races (Daleks, Cybermen, The Silence, The Weeping Angels and the Sontaran) featured, each very minutely; we were introduced to yet another character that we’ve never seen previously but who knew the Doctor intimately; a three-series long story arc was wrapped up (albeit rather successfully); Clara’s family was formally introduced to the Doctor; the Doctor received a new regeneration cycle; and finally Eleven fell and Twelve rose, but Twelve was on screen for less than a minute!
The episode would have worked better if it was extended, not as long as Ten’s final which dragged even more than this, but perhaps by fifteen or twenty minutes. It would have allowed certain elements of the episode to play out in greater detail. Another nag I have about the episode is the Dalek’s appearance. They appeared only last month, in the last episode, and they were featured yet again here, more so than the other monsters combined. Maybe leave them for the entirety of series 8? We all know Peter Capaldi is going to be fantastic, so we don’t need to see a standoff with the Dalek’s to cement him in his new role.
But now onto the positives. Smith’s tenure has been plagued by unresolved plot points and The Time of the Doctor successfully resolved them all. A renegade faction of the Church (from A Good Man Goes To War) under Kovarian’s control blew up the TARDIS in series 5 and kidnapped and manipulated River into killing the Doctor in series 6. But in blowing up the TARDIS Kovarian and the Silent Confessional Priests cracked the fabric of the universe, from which the Time Lords attempted to break through. Are you all following? It is very complicated. The cracks formed the basis of Smith’s farewell as the Eleventh Doctor resolved to protect Christmas town from the universe which wanted to destroy Trenzalore and Gallifrey.
In minutes Eleven went from a fun, youthful Doctor with a Cyberhead as a companion and wearing holographic clothes, to an aged and withered old man waiting to die, looking like a cross between William Hartnell’s First Doctor and Catherine Tate’s Nan. But this change perfectly showcased the defining characteristic of Smith’s Doctor: both old and young simultaneously. Smith pulled it all off and made it seem a breeze to do so. During this section of the episode the Doctor was aged 300 years and with that age his fun went. The Doctor was waiting to die because he couldn’t regenerate. Old “Captain Grumpy” and Ten’s vanity problems also contributed a regeneration each and the Doctor’s regeneration cycle has come to an end.
Two more niggles feature during this sombre segment for me: the Doctor sends Clara back to Earth twice, and Clara returns to Trenzalore both times (the first time was effective, the second just boring and lazy) and Handles instantaneously ruined the Cybermen’s 47 year history by reducing the once fearful race to a humorous plot device (in a similar manner to Strax the Sontaran). We need a scary, atmospheric story to revive the Cybermen, otherwise get rid of them. Please.
As the episode reached its conclusion war reached Trenzalore, just as Tasha Lem (of the Church) predicted. Tasha was River.2, but instantly likably and I would like her to return. The war acted as a prelude to the graveyard shown in The Name of the Doctor and the explosive scenes were impressive to behold, even if some of the special effects were childish. Similar to its predecessor, a more humanised Clara (who is now no longer just a plot-device and is thankfully being fleshed out) was instrumental in the episodes climax which saw the Doctor, who was heading to his death, saved by the Time Lords. And he did need saving. The Time Lords granted the Doctor an entire new regeneration cycle as thanks for saving them and with that the cracks finally closed, taking the Time Lords with them. But surely Twelve will reopen them, right. Right?
With barely five minutes remaining Clara returned to the TARDIS to find a newly youthful Doctor removing his bowtie. This, for me, was the most heart-breaking scene of the episode. The bowtie is the Eleventh Doctor. We see glimpses of Amelia Pond running through the TARDIS before Eleven hallucinates one final moment with Amy, who tells him “Raggedy Man, good night.” Effective as this was, I would have personally preferred one final appearance of River Song. She just has to return next series. I feel like her relationship with Twelve would be fantastic to behold.
I literally blinked during the closing moments of the episode and Smith warped into Capaldi, instantly recognisable with his steely gaze. He commented upon his appearance and told a startled Clara that he didn’t know how to pilot the TARDIS and with that begins a long wait until series 8. The final moments saved the entire episode. Smith was fantastic, as usual, the regeneration wasn’t played out over twenty minutes like Tennant’s, and Capaldi, an amazing actor, took over the role. He’s going to be great, it goes without saying, and I can’t wait for his first series. But we will always remember when you were the Doctor, Matt.