John Ostrander: Wibbly-Wobbly Storytelling
As River Song is want to warn: Spoilers! There’s going to be a lot of talk in this column about what happened on this year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special, ”The Time of the Doctor.” There’s no way around critiquing the show without talking about what happened in it. If you haven’t seen it but intend to, you may want to avoid this column.There are plenty of other fine columns here at ComicMix so you can read them instead if you like.
The Doctor is dead; long live the Doctor. Matt Smith’s tenure as Doctor Who has given way to Peter Capaldi’s. It all happened in this year’s Christmas Special, The Time of the Doctor. I wish I could tell you it was wonderful but, in truth, I was underwhelmed.
Steven Moffat, the showrunner and the author of the episode, is a very clever writer. Sometimes he’s too clever and sometimes he’s not as clever as he thinks. For the Fiftieth Anniversary Special, The Day of the Doctor, he was wonderfully clever with deeply felt emotional moments, a thrilling climax, and a special appearance at the end which just knocked my socks off and dangled them from my ears. In this episode, Moffat was very clever and very good as he so often is. All of which made my dissatisfaction with the Christmas Special so much the greater.
The Time of the Doctor had two important issues to settle. It was to mark the regeneration, the transition, of the Doctor from Matt Smith to the new Doctor, now played by Peter Capaldi. Having now established that Matt Smith’s Doctor was the final one in the Doctor’s regeneration cycle, it had to establish how Capaldi’s Doctor was possible. Moffat decided also to bring together dangling threads from previous episodes. That makes it a very busy episode and one of its narrative problems.
One of the problems is a prophecy that occurs in an earlier episode, The Wedding of River Song, it says that on “the fields of Trenzalore, at the Fall of the Eleventh, when no creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked. A question that must never ever be answered: Doctor who?” Problem: Matt Smith’s Doctor is no longer the Eleventh Doctor. “The Day of the Doctor” introduced John Hurt as the War Doctor, who was now the Ninth incarnation and that made Matt Smith the Twelfth Doctor. If he isn’t the Twelfth Doctor, then all the hoohah of this being his final incarnation is just blather. The plot hinges on it.
There are a lot of problems with this story. Early on, it has his companion, Clara, frantically asking the Doctor to come to her apartment and pretend to be her boyfriend for a Christmas dinner she’s cooking for her parents and grandmother. This makes no sense to me. Clara is gorgeous and she can’t get a local guy to do the part?
When the Doctor and Clara get to Trenzalore, there is a small farming community of humans and the town is named Christmas. I guess we’re in the future. Beaming down, they find some Weeping Angels buried in the snow. The Weeping Angels were really creepy the first time I saw them; now they’re just annoying. Their powers change to whatever Moffat wants them to be. One touch and you’re dead. Or tossed back in time for some reason. One grabs Clara’s boot so she should be dead or tossed back in time or something but she’s not. The Weeping Angels then do not figure into the rest of the story.
All of the Doctor’s foes are gathered around the planet (been there, seen that in The Pandorica Opens) and we have the Daleks who were made to forget all about the Doctor except now they don’t anymore.
There is a crack in the wall that is a crack in space and time and the Doctor supposedly closed all that off in The Big Bang but, no, there’s one conveniently left. On the other side are the Time Lords who were frozen into a single point of time in a pocket universe in order to save them in The Day of the Doctor, except they’re broadcasting a message to the Doctor to see if its safe for his home planet, Gallifrey, to come back. This would evidently re-ignite the Time War and destroy the Universe. Not to mention Trenzalore and the human colony. The last time Gallifrey appeared out of its usual spot, it was going to destroy and replace the Earth (The End of Time). What’s a little consistency among friends?
The Doctor spends 300 years on Trenzalore (Clara is sent home but comes back in what, for her, is the same day.). The Daleks want to kill him before he dies of old age. Defiant, the old boy goes out to meet them. Clara convinces the Time Lords on the other side of the time/space crack that they need to save him so the they send him a new batch of regeneration energy, enough for a whole new cycle of lives. Never mind that, the last time we saw them, the High Council of Time Lords were trying to kill the Doctor. The Doctor focuses the excess regeneration energy to wipe out the Daleks and regenerates, after a soulful monologue and a nice cameo from a much loved companion, into his new self. Yay.
I could go on at even greater length than I have but the episode was simply too busy by half. New characters and concepts are tossed in and there’s a lot of explaining away of what we previously thought and, along the way, invalidates an episode that occurred at the end of the previous season. Things are shoehorned in and continuity is changed or disregarded where it’s not convenient. That’s bad writing and that’s disappointing when it’s from someone as gifted as Moffat and who told such a wonderful story just one episode earlier. This Doctor Who Christmas Special was coal in the stocking and it’s a damn shame it came on the 800th episode and such an important moment in the history of Doctor Who.
MONDAY: Mindy Newell
TUESDAY MORNING: Jen Krueger