Matt Smith‘s final adventure in Doctor Who gets The Doctor trapped in Christmas for centuries, sees the return of several old villains (and one former companion), and offers The Eleventh Doctor’s final moments on the plains of Trenzalore. The Christmas episode feels a little too big at times, like an event careening a bit out of control, and relies far too heavily on narration, but Steven Moffat wraps up Smith’s run with a nod to the very first episode of his three-and-a-half year run with the return of the Crack in space and time. And before the end, as prophesized, silence will indeed fall.
An undecipherable message ringing out from an otherwise ordinary planet in the far reaches of space brings The Doctor and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), along with numerous old enemies (Sontarans, Daleks, Weeping Angels, and Cybermen) who all feel compelled to answer the call. The only thing stopping the various fleets from invading the planet is the early arrival of the Papal Mainframe whose leader Tasha Lem (Orla Brady) refuses to allow anyone to step foot on the planet and enter the sleepy town known as Christmas.
Arriving on the planet with Lem’s permission The Doctor discovers the secret the space church wants hidden and how one word from The Doctor, if it’s the right word, could reignite the Time War and restore Gallifrey and the Time Lords back into their reality. Unable to abandon the planet to destruction from his enemies, and unwilling to say his name and allow the fighting to begin again, the Time Lord is stuck in a catch-22 as he will live out hundreds of years as Christmas’ protector while tricking Clara into returning home without him (twice).
I have some serious issues with the fact that by the end of the episode Matt Smith’s Doctor will have lived nearly as long as all of the rest of The Doctors combined. This, of course, means skipping quite a bit of The Doctor’s three centuries on Trenzalore as well as relying on some very hit-and-miss old-age make-up. It also means we’re a bit robbed of our final chance to see Clara and The Doctor together as they spend much of the Christmas episode apart. Even with these issues, and Moffat using the episode to wrap-up several lingering issues from Smith’s run, The Time of The Doctor works as a proper farewell to Smith who bows out at the end (as the show directly addresses the end of The Doctor’s regenerations) and Peter Capaldi (and his new kidneys) takes over as the Twelfth Doctor.
In an episode of far-reaching ramifications and big wrap-ups it’s the small moments that stand-out. Although we’re never given the backstory of the severed Cyberman head The Doctor loving refers to as Handles (Kayvan Novak), I enjoyed the goofy relationship between the pair. And, even as someone who has often railed against the sheer number of times Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) was brought back, I did think the uses of cameos for both Amelia (Caitlin Blackwood) and Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) were worthy additions to the episode. With a brand-new set of regenerations it appears I’m further than ever from seeing a Valeyard version of The Doctor, but I am curious to see how the show changes with an older actor in the role and how long Coleman chooses to stay as the new Doctor’s companion.