Was there any way that this story could possibly live up to expectations? THIS story, THE last story of the Eleventh Doctor, THE story when Matt Smith regenerates, , THE follow-up to “The Day of the Doctor” with our first look at Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, THE story screened (within a day or so, probably) simultaneously across the globe. Surely it can’t live up to that kind of hype? Um, no, no it seems it can’t.
On the whole, this is not so much a Doctor Who story, more of a wrapping up of loose ends and an almost episode long drawn-out final scene for Matt Smith. There are various bits of running around but ultimately, not much actually happens apart from the regeneration.
It starts in reasonably promising style – the Doctor’s appearance at Clara’s Xmas dinner, where he appears fully clothed to us watching and to Clara but then reveals that he’s still actually naked and appearing so to Clara’s family made me laugh like a drain.
But when we head off to Trenzalore, we just begin the long slow end of the Doctor. Yes, we know the prophecy said that this is where he dies so it’s all a bit foreboding. And yes, it is a surprise to have it very simply confirmed that Smith is in fact the 13th Doctor (number 9 was actually Hurt’s War Doctor, Eccleston bumped to no 10, and Tennant managing to be both 11 and 12) and therefore the absolute last one. BUT, we also know full well that Peter Capaldi has been cast as the next Doctor (because there was a live TV special) so there is bound to be some timey-wimey-ness to allow the regeneration to take place, so it’s not like the Doctor’s impending “death” is anything to get too stressed about.
Coleman is reduced back to the companion that occasionally hangs out with the Doctor as opposed to actually travelling with him. She calls him up, gets sent away, comes back again, gets sent away again and then comes back again. She lets a big old tear run down her face (again), and gets to do the Impossible Girl bit (again) to save the day. Is it a little insulting to her character that at the very end, the Doc still hallucinates one last goodbye to Amy Pond?
Actually, it’s possibly more insulting that the better companion is an old cyberman head that the Doctor has called Handles. Handles’ final demise as he watches one last Trenzalore sunset is one of the episode’s more touching moments.
Smith, almost needless to say, is superb, playing his usual manic self, then a slightly less sprightly 300 year older self and finally a near to death self. He does manage to bring a slight tear to the eye as his doddery form makes it to the top of the tower for one last rant at the Daleks.
And then he explodes (thanks to Clara’s plea to the timelords) with an all new load of regenerations and obliterates the Daleks.
Back in the Tardis, young again, briefly, he finally regenerates into a boggly-eyed Peter Capaldi with a suitably wacky cliffhanger “would you know how to fly this thing?”
The Time of the Doctor would always struggle to follow The Day of the Doctor, I found myself surprisingly unexcited as this episode came round. Whereas the big anniversary episode managed to avoid being a greatest hits of Who, The Time of the Doctor became just that – menacing Daleks, a few Cybermen, Weeping Angels in the snow, hissing Silences and silly Sontarans.
A few nice moments, but otherwise a disappointing end to a great Doctor’s run.
I’ll get to a more full overview of Matt Smith’s era, but for now, will say that it’s heights were the very best of nu-Who but Season 6, especially its second half, let the whole period down.
Matt Smith, though, was never less than excellent. His final line was beautiful:
“I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”
So will I, Matt Smith, so will I.
PS - if you want lots more Who reviews, covering all 50 years, then nip over to "Review the Who", where you will find my, more reasoned, reviews of the Matt Smith era along with a boatload of great writing about the greatest show in the Universe.