New Who Review: “The Time of the Doctor”
The question’s not IF you cried, it’s when. The Doctor hangs around one place for a while, Matt Smith bids the show farewell, and Steven Moffat pulls at all the threads and brings everything into a neat little bow. It’s the end of an era, and the exciting start of a new one, because it’s…
THE TIME OF THE DOCTOR
by Steven Moffat
Directed by Jamie Payne
A mysterious planet is beaming out a message across all of time and space, which no spacefaring race can understand or translate, but fills each of them with fear. The planet is girdled with ships, all trying to discern the meaning of the message. The Doctor arrives, and with the help of the Papal Mainframe, makes his way to the surface. He and Clara arrive in a town called Christmas, and eventually learn the name of the planet…Trenzalore, the planet where he dies.
It is discovered that it is a weak point in the fabric of space, and someone is trying to break through. More correctly, someplace is trying to break back through. That being the planet Gallifrey, pushed out of the universe and into hiding by the collected Doctors in the anniversary episode. The message they are beaming is The First Question – the question hidden in plain sight – “Doctor Who?” The Doctor is supposed to answer the question, using his real name, so they will know it’s safe to return. But it’s NOT safe – now the assembled alien races know that’s what’s happening, and will do anything they must to prevent that return, including destroying the planet.
So The Doctor send Clara home, stays and protects the planet. For centuries. By the time Clara makes her way back, he’s aged to the point that he more than a little resembles himself in his first incarnation. He reveals to Clara that this is his last regeneration – this body is his last. So with the Daleks in the sky above a town called Christmas, he makes his final stand, knowing that he’s got nothing in the tank, hoping only that he can save a few more lives before his ends.
Moffat has done a wonderful job of pulling plot points back in from as far back as Smith’s first season, indeed back into Tennant’s run as well, to create a finale for both the season and Matt’s run on the show. One could argue that there’s a bit of “no it isn’t” in there, as well as a wee tad of deus ex machina, but one has to admit that both of those are as much a part of the fabric of the new series as the TARDIS.
GUEST STAR REPORT –
Shiela Reid (Gran) is in a rather exclusive club – she’s one of a handful of actors who’s been on both the original and new series. She played Etta in Vengeance on Varos. She played Mrs. Buttle in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (“What have you done with his body?!”) and is best know in the UK as a regular on the series Benidorm. Benidorm is a popular vacation destination in England, and was a running gag in the early days of the comic in Doctor Who Weekly, where it was The Doctor’s perennial desired destination.
THE MONSTER FILES – A lot of monsters get mentioned in the episode, and not all get seen on screen. The Tereliptils were a recurring race from the Davison era, and the Slitheen have been recurring since the Eccleston series. While they’re not mentioned, you can see a Silurian ship in the style of the one from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. On screen we saw the Daleks, the Sontarans (both played by Dan Starkey, though neither were “our” Sontaran, Strax), the Weeping Angels, the Cybermen and of course…
THE SILENCE – we get a bit of a retroactive explanation about the mysterious memory-wiping monsters we first met on screen in The Impossible Astronaut. There’s a bit of time travel involved (surprise, surprise) here as well – We’re seeing the initial version of the race in this episode, as a force of good – they’re the Father Confessors of the Papal Mainframe, and their memory wiping abilities are used not only to absolve you of sin, but to remove the memory (and presumably the guilt) that you even sinned in the first place. Timeline-wise, it’s assumed that The Doctor was unacquainted with them at all when he first met them in Astronaut, and learned more about them, and the history of how they came to fight him.
We first meet the warrior priests from what would become the church of the PAPAL MAINFRAME in The Time of Angels. Much time has passed by the time we see their later form in A Good Man Goes to War. Indeed, more than it seemed, as it’s implied by Tasha Lem that the soldiers from the Battle of Demons Run traveled back in time to fight The Doctor, in an attempt to more actively prevent him from ever reaching Trenzalore. The Kovarian Chapter must have broken off at some point during the events of this story – after the point that the church re-named itself the Church of the Silence and dedicated itself to protecting the universe from the return of the Time Lords.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS – Trivia and production details
“Anyone for Twister?” – There’s a somewhat infamous and hilarious clip of Matt and Karen Gillan playing Twister in a promotional clip for the Christmas celebrations from 2011. Twister was a rather controversial game when it was first released, especially after Johnny Carson started playing it on The Tonight Show with attractive celebrities like Zsa-Zsa Gabor. And considering The Doctor’s condition at the time, a mention of the party band Naked Twister would not be inopportune.
“Found it at the Maldovar Market” – That would be Dorium Maldovar, trader and ally of The Doctor. We last saw him in a state of decapitation in the Seventh Trancept of the Headless Monks at the end of A Good Man Goes to War. There’s no guarantee when that transaction took place – it’s possible the market stayed open under new management, or perhaps even with Dorium still managing; he did say he’d gotten his box hooked up with wi-fi.
While only introduced in this episode, “Handles” the disembodied Cyberman head now holds the record for The Doctor’s longest-time companion. He was with The Doctor from before he landed on Trenzalore, and was with him for the majority of him time there, which may have been as long as eight hundred years. I’m amazed he didn’t start calling it Wilson.
“The TARDIS doesn’t work by remote” – Except, of course, when it does. There’s more than a few times over just last season that the ability to home in on the key would have been staggeringly useful (calling it back from the South Pole in Cold War, for example), let alone the history of the series. There was a moment in Father’s Day where the key reacted when the TARDIS was called back into existence, but that was more a reaction to proximity, as opposed to an ability to call it back.
“You shaved your head” – Indeed he did – Matt shaved his head for the Ryan Gosling film How to Catch a Monster, as could be seen in various promotional clips. Since he was wearing a wig already, hanging a lampshade on it by making it part of the plot was rather witty.
“I’m gonna turn the engines on silent” – Or, more correctly, take the parking brake off. As we learned from River Song in Time of the Angels, The Doctor makes the old girl make that wheezing groan on purpose. Just as well, since as we learned in the anniversary, it bring hope to whoever hears it.
“I always knew it wasn’t over” – The Cracks were the arc plot from Matt’s first series. The were formed from the explosion of the TARDIS caused (as confirmed in this adventure by The Silence, at the command of Madame Kovarian. Ironically (which is how most things happen in time travel stories) their plan to destroy the TARDIS was what caused the very cracks in time through which the Time Lords were trying to return. Also, it’s strongly implied that what The Doctor saw in Room Eleven in The God Complex was a Crack.
“Seal of the High Council of Gallifrey – nicked it off The Master in the Death Zone” – That was during the events of the twentieth anniversary adventure The Five Doctors. The Master was tasked with tracking The Doctor down in the mad gameworld, and carried the Seal as provenance.
“The oldest question in the universe…hidden in plain sight” – Part of Dorium’s prophetic warning to The Doctor at the End of Good Man, it’s where we first hear of Trenzalore, “where no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer”.
“Just do as I say” – The Doctor tells the TARDIS to execute Emergency Program One, which takes a companion back to a place of safety in case of dire circumstances. He used it with Rose in The Parting of the Ways, but as with Rose, Clara chose not to go home quietly.
“Christmas has a new Sheriff” – There’s a parallel here to A Town Called Mercy – Now it’s The Doctor helping the people of a small town, tho for more noble reasons than the alien protecting the western Earth town.
“I can regenerate twelve times” – As many theorized, The War Doctor, and the abortive regeneration of Ten both counted towards his total. On The Sarah Jane Adventures, he jokingly commented that he could regenerate infinitely, a comment Moffat quickly explained was just him being whimsical. The limit was in place, and here it was tidily sorted.
“The Time Lord has entered the trap” – It’s been centuries since he fell for it before – this is the Dalek conversion last seen in Asylum of the Daleks, done here on a large scale.
“Information concerning The Doctor was harvested from the cadaver of Tasha Lem” – Oswin Oswald, one of Clara’s other selves, deleted knowledge of The Doctor from the Dalek central mainframe in Asylum, which resulted in them not recognizing him when he reappeared on their flagship. So technically, once the First Question was translated, the only thing they knew about The Doctor was him mentioning his name that one time. Only after recovering that data did they know who they were fighting.
“Tell me you will never send me away ever again” – Even Google knows…
“Flying the TARDIS was always easy…it was flying The Doctor I never quite mastered” – Like Vastra and Strax, and River Song before them, Tasha Lem arrives in this story fully formed, what what is clearly a long association with The Doctor already in place, at least in Moffat’s head. One can only hope that like the rest, we will see more of her, possibly from earlier in her life, possibly not. By this point in her life, she’s been fighting the Dalek programming for several centuries – she’s “against aging”, and while she may be human, she’s certainly a bit more than an off the rack model.
“His name is The Doctor” – From the first episode, The Doctor’s true name has been under question. It was made much more of an issue in the new series, but it’s not that odd an affectation. Any Time Lord that chooses to leave Gallifrey seems to take a title in lieu of a name, The Monk, The War Chief, The Master, The Corsair. As it was said in Day of the Doctor, his name is a vow, and has become far more his name than Theta Sigma, or any name he was born with or nickname in school.
“If you want my life – come and get it!” – The amount of energy generated by a regeneration certainly seems to be variable. When Eccleston changed to Tennant, it was little more than a light show, but when Smith came along, the pyrotechnics were enough to wreck the interior of the TARDIS. River Song was able to weaponize the excess regenerative energy in Let’s Kill Hitler, and then transfer all of it to The Doctor to save his life. Here, The Doctor is tossing it about like a sailor on leave. It certainly expended the budget – it’s almost certainly why the switch from Smith to Capaldi was so instantaneous, and practically off-screen.
“Raggedy Man…good night” – And that’s where I broke. Another secret kept blessedly secret, it is only fitting that “the first face this face saw”, be there at the end. even if only as a hallucination. Something interesting – both of the people in that scene were wearing wigs – Like Matt, Karen is now likewise rocking a Mia Farrow after shaving her hair for Guardians of the Galaxy.
“I’ve got new kidneys…I don’t like the color!” – Capaldi talked about kidneys during his audition – Steven Moffat wrote up some out of context scenes for Peter to read when he came in for his audition, as he had for Jenna Coleman when she came in to read for Clara. One snippet involved The Doctor taking mental inventory, discussing what he thought of his new kidneys, and coming to the horrific realization that he’d accidentally deleted how to hop, and French.
BIG BAD REPORT / CLEVER THEORY DEPARTMENT – Well, we got a quicker look back at the Return of Gallifrey than initially expected. The statement (belief?) by The Doctor that when the Time Lords return, it will be in peace is clearly not something is not believed by everyone, as the actions of this episode make clear. So not only will have to find his homeworld, he’s going to need a way to bring it back quietly, or at least safely.
“A whole new regeneration cycle” – Getting a new set of regenerations from the Time Lords was one of the most obvious answers to the 12 regeneration limit, and it’s the one they went for. And the fact that it’s another cycle, not merely one more, answers the question for a few decades, easy.
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO –
We know even less than usual at the end of a series. We know that Peter Capaldi did his first table read a week or so ago, which suggests that filming will begin soon, which further suggests we might see new episodes earlier in the year than first theorized. Save for Moffat himself, no names of writers have arisen. So aside from the stars of the show, there’s almost no info that’s come out yet. It’s both a frustrating and liberating feeling. But rest assured, as soon as anything interesting (and at least mild verifiable) comes along, we’ll be here to bring it to you.